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 subdivisions mushrooming nearby, Hamilton Creek flows on gamely, making a little Niagara as it cascades over a limestone shelf into a steep wooded canyon. Generations of Austinites have played under the fifty-foot falls and swum in the big, round, bright-green lagoon. The pool is part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, so one might hope this magical spot will be preserved for many years to come. On busy summer weekends, consider pulling into Milton Reimers Ranch Park instead (the entrance is just south of Hamilton Pool) and hiking down to the Pedernales River. Be advised: Like many swimming holes, Hamilton Pool is occasionally closed due to high bacteria levels, so it’s wise to call ahead. If you’re hungry: Bring a picnic. Thirteen miles west of Texas Highway 71 on Hamilton Pool Road (FM 3238). 512-264-2740. Open year-round, 9–6. $8 per vehicle. Crowded on weekends - Picnic Tables - Shade.
6) Garner State Park
You can get into the Rio Frio almost anywhere the smaller roads running east from U.S. 83 cross it. The best place is at Garner, which, unsurprisingly, is the most popular of all the state parks for overnight camping. The ashe juniper-covered peaks that rise to the west between the river and the highway make a stunning backdrop to the bald cypress-lined river as it tumbles over rocky rapids into the slow, wide section leading to the dam. Tube, float, paddle, and grill your heart out all day, but be aware that the place is an absolute zoo on weekends, so you should plan on getting there very early. For a different experience, visit on a weekday morning, when you will have the park entirely to yourself. If you’re hungry: Bring a picnic. A quarter mile east of U.S. 83 on RM 1050. 830-232-6132. Open year-round; hours change seasonally. $6. Crowded on weekends - Picnic Tables - Shade - Rope Swing - Grilling - Camping.
7) Schlitterbahn West
A gol dang amusement park is the seventh-best swimming hole in Texas? Hey, recall that for the purposes of this article, what defines a swimming hole is flowing freshwater. Given that, how could I resist the Comal River-powered rides in the old section of the best water park in the country? The shady oak trees on the steep riverbank down which the rides swoop and glide give the place the air of a rural retreat, and the view across the leafy city does nothing to dispel this notion. When it’s your partner’s turn to shepherd the kids,