As Texans suffer through one of the worst summer heat waves in recent years, we’re seeking relief wherever we can find it. Our state’s iconic swimming holes seem like a natural choice, but the drought is leaving many would-be visitors high and dry. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which tracks drought conditions around the country, 51.8 percent of the Lone Star State was in extreme or exceptional drought as of July 12. Swimming holes are shrinking, and spring flows are dropping.
We checked around the state to find out which parks are closed and which are open but with less-than-optimal swimming conditions. Conditions can change quickly, so be sure to call or check a park’s website for the latest information. And just so you don’t self-combust while reading this, we’ve included a few suggestions of where you can still take a flying leap into cool, clear water (and for more Texas water ideas in general, see dozens of suggestions here).
Fort Clark Springs, Brackettville
The third-largest spring-fed pool in Texas, located on the grounds of a military fort that operated from 1852 to shortly after World War II, closed this spring after flow from Las Moras Springs slowed significantly.
Jacob’s Well, Wimberley
The slightly mysterious, emerald-green swimming hole that looks bottomless—the main shaft plunges 140 feet into the abyss—closed June 29 and will remain off-limits to swimmers for the foreseeable future. Hays County officials say low spring flow, along with the threat of high bacteria levels, pollutants, and poor visibility, spurred the move.
Tonkawa Falls City Park, Crawford
Just east of Crawford, Tonk Creek usually spills over a limestone embankment and forms a cool pool, perfect for lollygagging. But this season, the swimming hole never even opened, thanks to low water levels and poor water quality.
Open but With Poor Conditions
Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin
In wet years, Barton Creek might flow with enough water to make swimming—or at least lounging on a boulder with your toes swishing in a natural pool—possible well into summer. Not this year. The usual pools, including Gus Fruh, Twin Falls, and Campbell’s Hole, had mostly dried up by early May. However, Barton Springs Pool, the crown jewel of the Austin parks system, has plenty of water and is open for business as usual.
Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose
Water quality has dropped along with the water level in the Paluxy River at the park, known for the footprints dinosaurs left in the mud millions of years ago. Officials are asking visitors not to enter stagnant and standing water. “Avoid getting river water in your nose or mouth as it may contain dangerous amoebas,” a note on the park’s website says.
Guadalupe River State Park, Spring Branch
Park officials are warning visitors that the water in the river is ankle-deep, warm (a toasty 94 degrees on July 14), and not moving—all conditions that contribute to bacteria and algae growth. And until dry conditions improve, the park’s campground showers are closed too.
Hamilton Pool Preserve, Dripping Springs
It used to be tradition to stand under the overhang and let water spill on your head. This year, though, the drought has reduced the waterfall to a trickle, and swimmers aren’t allowed near the overhang because of the threat of falling rocks. Even the current limited access could change depending on bacteria levels and rainfall, so swimming is not guaranteed, even with the mandatory reservation you need to enter.
Milton Reimers Ranch Park, Dripping Springs
Water levels are so low in the Pedernales River where it twists through Milton Reimers Ranch Park that the deepest pool has only a foot or two of water. The park, mainly known for rock climbing and mountain biking (the bicycle flow trail, a downhill path spiked with berms, rollers, and drops, is a hoot!), remains open.
Pedernales Falls State Park, Johnson City
Until the drought eases, swimming is discouraged at this Hill Country park, where the Pedernales River flows over massive slabs of limestone. “The heat combined with the algae blooms, stagnation, and potential bacteria growth, makes swimming an activity we would not recommend . . . at this time,” officials posted on the park’s Facebook page. If you do decide to venture down to what’s left of the river, you must navigate steep rock stairs. One section, about a half mile away from the parking lot, is about three feet deep but gets crowded fast.
Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale
This spring-fed oasis in the West Texas desert is home to two species of endangered fish—the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia—and the best diving board in the state. It’s been taking the edge off the searing Texas heat since the thirties. Although the motel rooms and campground are closed for renovations, the swimming pool and day-use areas are fully open.
Blue Hole Regional Park, Wimberley
Daredevils take flying leaps from the rope swings that hang from the huge cypress trees at the Blue Hole, one of the prettiest swimming holes in the state. The water is a little lower than normal, and the end of the creek bed has gone dry, but the swimming is good. Reservations are required.
Burger’s Lake, Fort Worth
It’s business as usual at retro-vibed Burger’s Lake, a one-acre, spring-fed pool where visitors can bounce off diving boards, swing on a 25-foot trapeze, or zoom down waterslides and chutes.
Camp Tonkawa Springs, Garrison
This property has served, in turn, as a Boy Scout camp, a fox-hunting camp, and a source of water for Ozarka. Today it’s a privately run park where visitors can swoop over a spring-fed lake on a rope swing or swish their toes in the clear, cold water from a footbridge that crosses the lake.
Daingerfield State Park, Daingerfield
A floating platform beckons swimmers into Little Pine Lake, created in the thirties when the Civilian Conservation Corps built an earthen dam here.
Hancock Springs, Lampasas
In the 1880s, people flocked to Lampasas for its mineral springs. Today, 68-degree spring water still flows into a swimming pool built in 1911. It’s deep, too—you dive down eight feet at the center.
Krause Springs, Spicewood
Thirty miles west of Austin, this fern-lined oasis has never closed because of a drought. The family-owned camping and swimming site features a man-made pool filled with spring water up top and a natural swimming hole down a rocky embankment below. “The water in both pools is normal level,” says co-owner David Krause. “Some of the springs have slowed down, but there’s still plenty enough water to swim.”