Pros:Gorgeous scenery, great swimming, several trails leave many hiking options.
Cons:Can be dangerous for little children unless they are watched carefully.
The Bottom Line: Hamilton Pool is a must-see destination if you love natural beauty and a respite from the heat of summer. Take the time to visit, you won't regret it!
Park info from Travis County website:
Directions: Hamilton Pool Preserve is approximately 30 miles southwest of Austin. Take Highway 71 west of Austin through the town of Bee Cave and turn left onto FM 3238 (Hamilton Pool Road). Travel 13 miles to the Preserve entrance, on your right.
Park Hours: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, weather permitting. No entry after 5:30 pm.
Park Information: (512)-264-2740
----- Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve -----
As a state protected preserve, Hamilton pool has been a big draw since Travis County designated it as a historic swimming hole in 1990. This isn't just a pool however, what makes this park different is the 50' tall waterfall at the head of the pool. As waterfalls go this one isn't huge, but it's big enough to appreciate and small enough to play around. The waterfall is caused by Hamilton Creek pouring over the upper lip of a large box canyon on its way to the Pedernales River 3/4 mile downstream.
The force and volume of the waterfall varies throughout the year depending on rainfall, but the pool level stays consistent from month to month even in dry spells. The Balcones Canyonlands Preserve encompasses 30,428 acres and is where Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve is situated. This endangered species habitat is owned by Travis County, Travis Audubon Society, the City of Austin, the Lower Colorado River Authority, The Nature Conservancy, the City of Austin, and also includes privately owned property.
----- Park Details -----
As a visitor to the greater Austin area this spring, I didn't know anything about Hamilton Pool. I agreed to go only after the friend I was visiting insisted we make the trip before I left. As you'll soon see I'm very glad I spent a day there and I hope to return at some point.
Entry fees to the park vary depending on your intent, and for the average visitor it's $8.00 per vehicle per day. Annual permits are $75.00 and overnight trailer/RV parking is $30.00 The parking area is quite large and has enough spots for 75 vehicles. Once full cars are admitted on a one in/one out basis. The gates are locked at 6:00pm and all visitors must be out of the park at that time. Men's and Women's bathrooms are available near the far end of the parking lot. Be forewarned that these bathrooms are more like outhouse/changing room style bathrooms, if the weather is very hot they do have an distinctive odor.
Pets are not allowed under any circumstances, even if the pet is left in your vehicle. Swimming is allowed in the main pool area, except when high bacteria levels exist in the water. During certain periods early in the summer cliff swallows next in the canyon walls above the pool. This contributes to high bacteria level and causes a temporary swimming ban. The pool may also be closed at times of flooding when water levels are too high. There are no lifeguards on duty at any time, swim at your own risk and please swim safely.
----- My Hamilton Pool Experience -----
Upon leaving the parking lot our group began the hike down the 1/4 mile trail to the pool area. The first 1/8 mile is a quick decent which takes place on many large rocky steps and ledges, most of which are angled or sloped in different directions. Leave your flip-flops at home for this hike, instead wear comfortable hiking shoes or walking shoes. There are also quite a few varieties of cactus near the edge of the trail, so it's best not to venture off-trail. After the first 1/8 mile decent the trail more or less levels out and follows the right bank of the Hamilton Creek upstream to the pool.
While hiking you'll find many beautiful views as the stream flows over and around roots, rocks, and ledges creating small to medium sized waterfalls. On your right is the very tall canyon wall which at times overshadows the trail. Once you cross the overflow stream you'll reach the small sandy beach and see Hamilton Falls for the first time. Depending on the angle of the sun you'll see either a brilliant turquoise or dark blue pool ahead of you. I was amazed at the range of color in this relatively small area, it's truly a gorgeous sight.
If you plan on swimming get ready for a cold blast and have your swimming legs on. The water temperature is usually quite cold due to the shaded nature of the area and the constant stream of fresh cold water. The beach drops quickly soon after entering, and after walking 15 or 20 feet out into the pool you are well over your head. Beware, this isn't a great place to bring the little ones unless you are very watchful.
The pool is surrounded on three sides by large boulders and huge chunks on rock jutting out into the pool. If you feel more daring and want to leave the beach behind you can venture out onto these rocks and indulge in a few dives into the ice-cold water. There are many different places to jump into the pool from varying heights. NOTE:Always swim in the area you are about to dive into and check to make sure there are no submerged rocks in your landing zone. Swim fun, but above all swim SAFE!
You can walk from the beach to the back of the waterfall via a pathway around the back edge of the canyon wall. This circles around behind the waterfall and allows you to walk right up to it and touch it. The day I visited (late in March) we were able to stand under the waterfall and let it cascade around us. It's quite the experience and I highly recommend it if the conditions are safe.
----- Taking the trail back -----
Once you've had your fill of the pool you can take the trail back to the parking lot or bypass the parking lot cut-off and continue the full mile to the Pedernales River. This trail also has some beautiful views of the Hamilton Creek and surrounding scenery. Quite a few signs at the edge of the trail remind you this is protected area and to stay on the trail. Remember, for everyone's benefit please take your memories with you and leave no trace behind.
The river is accessed by a steep sandy bank which feeds into the river itself. At this point the river is a good 75-100 yards across with a good sized group of rocks in near the center. The river is between 3 and 4 feet deep in most places, but there are also holes that vary from 6-7 feet in places. The current is quite strong in parts, and more so after heavy rains.
Use caution when wading or swimming in the river since I noticed several pieces of wood and other debris floating downstream. Younger children and pre-teens could be swept away if caught up or struck by a chunk of river debris.
----- Bottom Line -----
I really enjoyed my stay at Hamilton Pool Preserve and highly recommend visiting. It's worthwhile to call ahead and make sure the pool is open for swimming and to check conditions. As a family destination I would give my conditional recommendation as long as the children aren't too young. The long walk and deep water will most likely keep parents busy and tired by the middle of the day. However, for groups, couples, and families of older children this is the perfect day trip destination. I'll be sure to visit again the next time I'm in the Austin area, I have great pictures and even better memories of my visit.
Thanks for reading and feel free to comment!
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Best Suited For: Singles
Best Time to Travel Here: Mar - May