5 Sweet Texas Swimming Holes

In the searing heat of summer, these soothing spots offer a chance to chill and play

As quintessential to Texas as Lone Star Beer, barbecue, and Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnic, swimming holes are vital to surviving the region’s sweltering summers. Ordinary concrete pools don’t compare to the transcendent calm of clear spring water, old-growth trees, and wide-open skies. Texas is home to many lakes, rivers, and spring-fed holes, each boasting its own unique natural magic—and dangers. Swimming has risks, and some swimming holes aren’t staffed by lifeguards. Stay safe by obeying posted sign, Young swimmers, especially, should wear life jackets. 

With so many choices, how do you decide where to go? Here are five favorites from our book, The Swimming Holes of Texas (University of Texas Press, 2017).

1 Balmorhea State Park

9207 Texas Highway 17 South, Toyahvale

432-375-2370; tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/balmorhea

Hours: 8 a.m.–7:30 p.m. (or sunset, whichever comes first).

Entrance fees: $7; free for ages 12 and under.

 

Photo by Carolyn Tracy

The enormous pool of pristine spring water coupled with the vast unobstructed view of the Davis Mountains makes Balmorhea an unforgettable swim experience. This spring-fed pool holds 3.5 million gallons of clear, clean water. In the center, 25 feet underwater, San Solomon Springs pours out 15 million gallons of crystal-blue, 72- to 75-degree water every day. A concrete embankment runs around the pool’s diameter and offers several easy access points via metal ladders, concrete steps, and a wheelchair lift. The park’s pool was closed last year to repair structural damage and reopened in March 2019.  

Developing the park was a major Civilian Conservation Corps project. From 1936 to 1941, CCC workers lived at the site, and built the V-shaped, 1.75-acre pool, the bathhouse, a concession building, San Solomon Springs Courts, and other features. Stop in the main office, where you can pick up souvenirs and swim supplies, and peruse photographs of their work in progress. 

2 Boykin Springs Recreation Area

Angelina National Forest

Forest Road 313, Zavalla, 

936-897-1068; recreation.gov

Hours: 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

Entrance fees: Free. Camping fees apply.

 

Photo by Carolyn Tracy

About 10 miles east of Zavalla, Boykin Springs Recreation Area holds a 9-acre, spring-fed lake that’s a centerpiece of CCC work. This small, quiet lake has a rocky bottom and is surrounded by forest, offering a serene, all-natural swim experience. On the other side of the road, near a CCC-built picnic pavilion, is Boykin Creek. Head to the right of the parking lot and keep an eye out for the path down the bank to the shallow creek bed. On your left, you’ll see a small spring-fed wading area that’s undeveloped and unsupervised, nestled at the nexus of narrow natural conduits for the water. This spot is popular with campers. The water is shallow and opaque; take care while walking—the bottom consists of large, uneven boulders that drop off without warning. This sprawling park affords plenty to explore. Lace up your hiking boots while your swimsuit dries, and get lost in the towering piney woods.

3 “Come and Take It” Historic Swimming Hole

US Highway 183, beneath the Guadalupe River bridge, Gonzales

Hours: Natural, undeveloped swim spot. Swimming is dependent on weather and water levels.

Entrance fees: Free.

 

Photo by Carolyn Tracy

Anyone who has studied Texas history knows that Gonzales is the birthplace of Texas independence and the site of one of the most famous phrases uttered in Texas history: “Come and Take It!” Modern Gonzales, south of Interstate 10 between San Antonio and Houston, is festooned with flags and two monuments commemorating the famous declaration of settlers who refused to turn a cannon over to Mexican soldiers and is just around the corner from a terrific spot to swim. 

Head south on US 183 out of the center of town and watch for a sign pointing toward the historical markers. Hang a right, check out the monuments, and then continue down the road around a small, grassy hill with picnic tables shaded by trees. Here, you’ll discover a natural, completely undeveloped section of the Guadalupe River, part of the Independence Paddling Trail. The water runs swift at this spot. Wade in at the bottom of the riverbank and be prepared for the current. Sit down and hold on to the stones that line the riverbed or swim farther out where the water deepens. Life jackets are recommended for young swimmers.

4 Dinosaur Valley State Park

1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose

254-897-4588; tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/dinosaur-valley

Hours: 7 a.m.–10 p.m. overnight camping is allowed.

Entrance fees: $7; free for ages 12 and under. Camping fees apply.

 

Photo by Carolyn Tracy

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Swim with the dinosaurs! Well, not quite, but at Dinosaur Valley State Park, about 60 miles southwest of Fort Worth, you can swim the Paluxy River, a tributary of the Brazos. The eroded riverbed reveals tracks left by dinosaurs that roamed Central Texas more than 100 million years ago, when the land was at the edge of a shallow ocean. Pick up a map at the visitors booth and look for the tracks. 

Take your pick of entry points into the blue, inviting Paluxy River. The prime swim spot is at Main Track Site.  Depending on the time of year, the rocks can be under water and slippery or above water and dry, so take care when crossing them to view a set of dinosaur tracks. A wheelchair ramp and stairs lead from the parking area to a concrete pathway above a set of narrow limestone steps that take you down to the water’s edge. No lifeguard is on duty.

5 James Kiehl River Bend Park

118 River Bend Road, Comfort

kendallcountyparks.org

Hours: 7 a.m.—dusk.

Entrance fees: Free.

 

Photo by Carolyn Tracy

In rural Comfort, you’ll find a 25-acre park named in memory of a local young Army veteran. This is a simple, pretty place to swim in the Guadalupe River and relax in the shade and sun. 

The swimming area is accessible via several paths; the main one is a sloping dirt trail that takes you to a concrete bridge on the north boundary of the park. On the west side of the Guadalupe River, within the park boundary, you’ll find an enchanting place, ideal for sitting and soaking. This small, secluded, and shaded space in the middle of nowhere feels like a piece of magic. No lifeguard is on duty; swim at your own risk. Hiking trails are available, including the Pecan Loop, which takes you along the old San Antonio and Aransas Pass rail bed. Bring water; there’s no potable water available. It’s a bit of a drive to get here, so families with restless kids who might be looking for a little more to do than splash and poke around might want to consider plans before making the trip.

Edited and excerpted with permission from The Swimming Holes of Texas, by Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy, University of Texas Press, 2017

Top photo: The Blue Hole on Cypress Creek near Wimberely, Texas. | Randy Green / Alamy Stock Photo