1) Barton Springs Pool
Now that it has been blessed twice—by Taoist monks from China and Tibetan monks from India—maybe the springs will survive the whirl of progress that continues to transform the capital. It’s long been the jewel in the city’s violet crown, and rightly so. Just below the diving board, the spring that feeds the pool—named Parthenia after one of “Uncle Billy” Barton’s daughters—pushes out an average of 27 million gallons a day, making it the largest of the many that flow out of the Balcones Fault in this area. The combination of a beautiful setting, beautiful people, and cold, refreshing water makes Barton Springs the best swimming hole in the state. Recipe for a perfect afternoon: Combine towel and sunscreen, add people- watching and shade to taste, and bake until ready for refrigeration. Repeat until sunset. For best results, add your honey. If you’re hungry: burgers and shakes at P. Terry’s. In Zilker Park, at 2101 Barton Springs Road. 512-476-9044. Open year-round; hours change seasonally. $3. Crowded on weekends - Shade - Lifeguard - Grilling.
2) Blue Hole
This gorgeous spot on Cypress Creek in the heart of Wimberley Valley is probably the quintessential Texas swimming hole. Tall old-growth bald cypresses and other trees cast pools of shade so picture-perfectly that one might imagine this to be a mirage constructed to taunt the hot and sticky. After a battle with developers in 2005, the Village of Wimberley purchased the 126-acre tract and designated it a regional park, with plans for tennis courts and a soccer field. Hmmm. All I ask is that they leave the swings. If you’re hungry: black bean tacos at the Cypress Creek Café. 333 Blue Hole Lane. 512-847-0025. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day, Sun–Thur 10–6, Fri, Sat, & holidays 10–8. $5. Crowded on weekends - Shade - Rope Swing.
3) Brinks Crossing
Shady trees, a sandy beach, a large rocky area for sunbathing, and the deep brown river make this a top-notch swimming spot. To sniff this place out, I used Guerrilla Swimming Tactic No. 2, according to which you explore anything named River Road to see where it leads (Tactic No. 1 is a secret I will take to my grave). Never has Tactic No. 2 paid such dividends! A hidden gem, and the ground was noticeably freer of beer cans and other detritus than most public spots. Gold stars to those who keep it that way. If you’re hungry: Bring a picnic. Where Center Point River Road crosses the Guadalupe River. Free. Shade.
4) Balmorhea State Park
The San Solomon Springs push out 22 million to 28 million gallons a day at Balmorhea, and the resulting oasis is worth a stop (or even a long detour) any day. The huge L-shaped pool (one and three quarters acres!) has plenty of room for the bales of turtles, schools of small fish, thronglets of children, and gaggles of scuba divers that gather in, around, and under the water. Screw up your courage and take a plunge off the high dive. The hole’s strange moniker was derived by combining the names of Messrs. Balcum, Moore, and Rhea, the gentlemen who developed the land, in 1906. If you’re hungry: homemade burritos at Balmorhea Grocery. Off Interstate 10, on Texas Highway 17 South just past Balmorhea. 432-375-2370. Open year-round, 8–sunset. $7. Picnic Tables - Shade - Grilling - Camping.
5) Hamilton Pool
Oblivious (for now) to the