Grab a tube and ride one of these rivers.
COMAL RIVER, New Braunfels (from Interstate 35, take the Texas Highway 46 [Loop 337] exit heading west, turn left on Common Street [the second stoplight] for 1 mile, left on Union Street for 1 block, then right on South Street; 830-620-6262). A spirited ride down “the chute”—a concrete, S-shaped slide down Stinky Falls—launches you into the calm, turquoise waters of the shortest non-navigable river in the world (the 2.2-mile Comal begins and ends, merging with the Guadalupe, within the New Braunfels city limits). You can spend all day in perpetual tubing bliss: drifting down the waterway, then catching the shuttle back to the chute to do it all over again. Shuttle fee included in tube rental.
FRIO RIVER from Leakey to Concan (in the Hill Country; from Concan, head north on U.S. 83 for 8 miles to FM 1120; put in at the low-water crossing; 830-232-6131). This stretch of the Frio makes a picturesque scene—spindly cypress trees and limestone cliffs line the banks of the cool, clear, jade-colored water. Expect powerful currents and rapids when the water level is high.
LOWER GUADALUPE RIVER below Canyon Lake, Gruene (from Interstate 35 just north of New Braunfels, take exit 191, head west on Texas Highway 306 for 1 mile, turn left at the Texaco station onto Hunter Road and continue until it dead-ends into Gruene Road, then turn right and cross the river; 800-572-2626). With generally calm waters and a few small rapids, this popular (and crowded) stretch of the lower Guadalupe provides the quintessential tubing (or “toobin’,” in river rat vernacular) experience. You can float all day on the river—from the first bridge through Hueco Falls and Gruene—along with rowdy clusters of families, frat brothers, and friends, towing a well-stocked cooler (in its own tube, of course).
MEDINA RIVER from Peaceful Valley Road to Tarpley Crossing/Texas Highway 470 bridge (in the Hill Country; from Bandera, head north on Texas Highway 16 for 4 miles and turn right on Peaceful Valley Road for 1/4 mile; enter where the road crosses the river; 830-796-3553). This approximately four-mile (three-hour) stretch of the limestone-bedded Medina curves adventurously through wooded canopies and scenic Bandera County pastures (complete with cows and goats). Call ahead to check river conditions; the tubing is best when the water level is moderate.
SAN MARCOS RIVER at City Park, San Marcos (from Interstate 35, take exit 205, head west on Texas Highway 80, which becomes Hopkins Street, for 1?2 mile [passing two railroad crossings], turn right on Bobcat Lane [passing another railroad crossing], then left on Jowers Road to City Park and Lion’s Club Tube Rental; 888-200-5620). The pristinely clear, calm, 72-degrees-year-round San Marcos River—home to such protected ecological rarities as albino lobsters and Texas blind salamanders—has somewhat limited public access. The best entry point is City Park for a tranquil, one-mile ride to a small waterfall dam at Rio Vista Park. Jennifer Olsen
What Lies Beneath
Where divers and snorkelers see wonders down under.
BALMORHEA SWIMMING POOL, Balmorhea State Park (in West Texas; from Fort Stockton, head west on Interstate 10 for about 47 miles, then south on Texas Highway 17 for about 7 miles; 915-375-2370). Clear spring waters and a beautiful desert setting draw divers and snorkelers from as far away as New Mexico to mingle with minnows and turtles. Standard pool amenities make for family fun. Diving from 8 a.m. to midnight daily; $3, children under 13 free.
DIABLO EAST DIVE COVE, Amistad National Recreation Area(from the Del Rio courthouse, head west on U.S. 90 for 12 miles and turn right at the sign for Diablo East, just before the bridge; 830-775-7491). Divers and snorkelers can now enjoy sparkling clear waters in the spring and summer, thanks to the flourishing hydrilla, which also provides an excellent environment for catfish, sunfish, largemouth bass, and such scaly oddities as gizzard shad and alligator gar. When the lake level is cooperating (which, at 37 feet below normal, it isn’t right now), you can explore old, submerged Mexican ranch buildings. Free.
FLOWER GARDEN BANKS NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY (in the Gulf, 105 miles directly south of the Texas-Louisiana border; 979-779-2705). The northernmost coral reefs in the continental U.S. teem with colorful Caribbean species. Go in February and March to swim with schools of hammerhead sharks or in late summer to see the coral spawning, though you’ll have to book early. Group outings only; call Rinn Boats of Freeport (979-233-4445) for your local tour operator. Weekend trips start at around $350 per person.
SPRING LAKE, AQUARENA CENTER, San Marcos (921 Aquarena Springs Drive, 512-245-7541). You’ll have to take a two-day scientific diving course to enjoy this federally protected habitat. Along with day and night dives, you’ll spend time in the classroom studying the area’s unique ecological balance. Snorkelers and the less educationally minded can still get up close and personal with turtles and crayfish in the San Marcos River between the Aquarena Springs Drive bridge and Rio Vista Park. Call to book a diving course; $195 per person.
“VALHALLA” MISSILE SILO (30 miles south of Abilene; 915-686-7333). Excellent visibility and the been-there, done-that factor are enough to make jaded scuba junkies trek to West Texas for the creepy thrill of diving this flooded cold war relic. Not for the novice; you’ll need a reasonably thick wet suit, lights, and your equilibrium as you float above the tangle of metal debris the salvage crews left on the silo floor, 120 feet down. Group outings only; call the Family Scuba Center in Midland (915-686-7333) for your local tour operator. Prices range from $45 to $120 per person.
WINDY POINT PARK ON LAKE TRAVIS (from the intersection of RR 620 and FM 2222, west of Austin, take 620 south for 1 mile, turn right on Comanche Trail, continue for 3 miles, and turn left on Bob Wentz Park Road; the entrance is immediately on your right; 512-266-3337). Windy Point Park features handy equipment carts, platforms for diving instruction, and on-site tank fills and is great for snorkeling too. Check out underwater attractions like the (almost scary) metal shark. Take snacks for the fish. Open daily from 8 a.m. until dark; $5 weekdays, $10 weekends, children under 12 free. Charlie Llewellin
Beautiful beaches, far from the madding crowd.
BEACH ACCESS 6, South Padre Island (from town, head north on Padre Boulevard [Park Road 100] until you see the sign, about 5 miles; turn right and you’re there; 800-767-2373). This is the place to spend a quiet afternoon at the beach—a challenge in this tiny resort town that was recently ranked the number three spring break destination in the world by the Travel Channel. Here you can enjoy the same blue water, clean beach, and Gulf breezes as everyone at the south end of the island, without the beer bongs, banana boats, and blaring boom boxes. You’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Free; no amenities.
BOCA CHICA BEACH (from Brownsville, head south on U.S. 77, exit onto Texas Highway 48, head east on 48 for 2 miles, to the junction with Texas Highway 4, and continue east on 4 for 22 miles, where the road runs into the beach; 800-626-2639). Dunes line this pretty seven-mile stretch of beach between the Brazos Santiago Pass and the mouth of the Rio Grande (the name “Boca Chica” is Spanish for “small mouth”). A remote spot south of South Padre—you can see the high-rise condos on the horizon—Boca Chica is a perfect day trip from anywhere in the Valley. The sand can get soft, so use a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Free; no amenities.
MALAQUITE BEACH, Padre Island National Seashore (from Interstate 37 in downtown Corpus Christi, head south on the Crosstown Expressway, turn left on Texas Highway 358 [South Padre Island Drive] for 9.5 miles, where it becomes Park Road 22, then continue east on 22 for about 13 miles; 361-949-8068). This jewel on the national seashore boasts a fifty-site campground, amenities (including chair and umbrella rentals), and a spectacular view from the lookout tower atop the visitors center. Best of all, you won’t have to worry about the exhaust from cars driving by when you hang out on the beach. Permit $10 per vehicle (valid for seven days).
SAN JOSE ISLAND (take the ferry at Woody’s Sports Center, 136 Cotter Street, Port Aransas; 361-749-5252 or 800-211-9227). It’s a short ferry ride from Port A to this ranching island owned by Fort Worth’s Bass family. Once you get past the trash that accumulates by the dock and the jetties, you hit a nice stretch of beach that is perfect for walking, sunning, swimming, and shelling (go all the way to the fence to find sand dollars). The dunes make a nice windbreak, and the jetty is a fishing hot spot. Free; no amenities. Ferry $9.95 round trip, children 5 to 12 $4.95, under 5 free; call for schedule.
STAHLMAN BEACH, the village of Surfside Beach on Follets Island, east of Freeport (from Surfside Beach, head east on Texas Highway 332 and go over the bridge; you’ll run into the beach; 979-233-1531). This city recreation area offers four miles of beach that are ideal for picnicking, shelling, and playing in the surf. Locals think this spot is prime—which says a lot, considering that the island boasts 21 miles of shoreline, a mile-long jetty for catching flounder and other fish, saltgrass marshes for spotting migratory birds, and a pier for crabbing. Permit $8 per vehicle (valid through December). Patricia Busa McConnico
Take The Plunge
Perfect, old-fashioned swimming holes.
BERGHEIM CAMPGROUND AND RV PARK, Bergheim (in the Hill Country; 103 White Water Road; from Boerne, take Texas Highway 46 east for 15 miles to Bergheim, then turn north for 5 miles on Farm Road 3351; 830-336-2235). Perched on a bluff above the Guadalupe 8 miles upstream from Guadalupe River State Park, this private camp has seven hundred feet of frontage along a tight, fast-moving part of the river; several holes carved by currents swirling around the cypresses are deep enough to dunk in and the floating is excellent. Day use 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; $3, children under 4 free.
BLANCO RIVER STATE PARK, Blanco (in the Hill Country; 1/2 mile southwest of the town square on U.S. 281; 830-833-4333). It’s hardly the only dammed-up part of the Blanco worth a breaststroke (Five Mile Dam near San Marcos comes to mind), but this state park gets extra points for ladders on both ends of the dam and a cement-sided wading pool below its northern half. Day use 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $3, children under 14 free.
BLUE HOLE RECREATION, Wimberley (in the Hill Country; 1?4 mile east of the town square on FM 3237; 512-847-9127). This could be the last summer that this privately owned campground on Cypress Creek is open to the public, so grab a rope and swing into a narrow trench where the water temperature is between 68 and 72 degrees no matter how hot the weather. Day use Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sundays 10 to 6; $5 (minors must be accompanied by a parent or present a signed release form; form available at bluehole.net).
DINOSAUR VALLEY STATE PARK, Glen Rose (in North Texas; from the center of town, head west on U.S. 67 to the junction with FM 205, then continue west on 205; 254-897-4588). Beneath a high bluff on a bend in the Paluxy River is Glen Rose’s Blue Hole, which is surrounded by boulders and ranges in depth from 12 to 21 feet (the wading is best a little downstream from the hole). Dinosaur tracks are clearly visible on the river’s rock bottom. Day use 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $5.
EDGAR’S RIVER TERRACE, Leakey (in the Hill Country; 8 miles south of town on U.S. 83 near Farm Road 1120). Garner State Park and Neal’s Lodge in Concan aren’t the only premier swim-and-float spots on the translucent Rio Frio. A mile upstream from Garner is an aqua jewel of a swimming hole. Twenty feet deep next to the giant cypress, it has limestone shelves for sunning and wading, a fifteen-foot boulder to jump off of, and best of all, a consistent flow from a nearby spring. The catch: You have to rent one of the four funky cabins at Edgar’s River Terrace ($75 for up to four people, 830-232-6626) or the modern doublewide ($135 for up to four) or the vacation home ($400 for up to eight) at Johnnie’s Happy Hollow convenience store across the creek (830-232-5266). It’s worth it.
GUADALUPE RIVER STATE PARK (in the Hill Country; 3350 Park Road 31; from Bulverde, head north on U.S. 281 to the junction with Texas Highway 46, turn west on 46, then north on Park Road 31, about 7 miles in all; 830-438-2656). A twenty-foot-high limestone shelf puts a prominent bend in the river that creates a half-mile-long, first-class swimming hole. The gravel bottom near the banks is shallow enough for you to safely wade some distance into the river, while the current in the middle, through a string of deep pools, provides a giddy downstream float. Day use Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays till midnight, Saturdays till 10, Sundays till 8; $4, children under 13 free.
HINMAN ISLAND PARK, New Braunfels (Hinman Island Drive, next door to Landa Park; 830-608-2160). Less than a mile downstream from Comal Springs, the biggest spring complex in the state, and just upstream from “the chute,” the city-owned tube run, is one fine stretch of swimming river. The drop-off into the blue, Caribbean-clear water is fairly steep, limiting wading opportunities, but the straight two-hundred-yard stretch is made for doing laps. The north bank is cemented and has steps leading into the water. Open 6 a.m. to midnight daily; free.
KRAUSE SPRINGS, Spicewood (in the Hill Country; from the junction of U.S. 290 and Texas Highway 71, in southwest Austin, go north on 71 for 28 miles to Spicewood, turn right on Spur 191 for 1 mile, then turn right on County Road 404 for 1/3 mile; 830-693-4181). On a blazing-hot summer day, the 66-degree waters of Krause Springs are all the affirmation anyone needs that there is no sweeter, more delicious form of water recreation than lazing away at a swimming hole. This family-owned campground on a low bluff above Cypress Creek, near the shores of Lake Travis, has all the essentials: clean, clear moving water, a walkable rock bottom, holes deep enough to immerse yourself in, rocks for sunning, and plenty of shade trees (cypresses on the creek). The two fern-choked waterfalls gushing from the hillside make it all dreamy. Day use 9 a.m. to sunset daily; $3, children 4 to 11 $2.50, under 4 free.
MEDINA KAYAKS AND RIVER RANCH, Medina (in the Hill Country; 761 Haley Lane; from the town post office, take Texas Highway 16 north for 3.4 miles and turn right at the green kayak; 830-589-7215). Some of the finest swimming holes in Texas can be found at low-water crossings over the blue-green Medina River around Bandera, Medina, and Kerrville. This primitive private campground is even better, because it is off the highway and its half-mile stretch of the Medina has not one but several holes. Day use sunup to sundown daily; $6 per car with up to four persons, $2 each additional person.
TONKAWA FALLS RV PARK, Crawford (west of Waco; 1 mile east of Crawford on FM 185; 254-486-0105). If Crawford’s highest-profile semi-resident wants to burnish his green image, he should take a dip in Tonkawa Falls, the town’s natural jewel, now that Dann Abbe has cleaned up and reopened this swimming hole in Tonkawa Creek. The twelve-foot falls form a large pool flanked by rock ledges to jump from. Day use 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $2. Joe Nick Patoski
Laps Of Luxury
Inn spots with inviting pools.
CIBOLO CREEK RANCH, Shafter (in West Texas; between Marfa and Presidio on U.S. 67; 915-229-3737, 866-496-9460, fax 915-229-3653). It’s not the biggest or the fanciest hotel pool in the state (although it’s very nice), but it must be the most remote. (The closest airport with scheduled commercial flights is 237 miles away in El Paso.) This isolation translates into spectacular, star-studded nighttime swims that no big-city hotel can offer.
THE FAIRMONT DALLAS (1717 N. Akard Street, in the Arts District; 214-720-2020, 800-441-1414, fax 214-720-5269). The antithesis of the kidney-shaped pools abhorred by lap swimmers, the Fairmont’s heated Olympic-size number, on the third-floor terrace, gives it to you straight, with nothing but crisp ninety-degree angles as far as you can paddle. Diversions include admiring the equally angular rooftop gardens and watching jets zip by overhead.
FORT CLARK SPRINGS MOTEL, Brackettville (in southwest Texas; in the gated community of Fort Clark Springs on U.S. 90; 830-563-2493, 800-937-1590, fax 830-563-2254). You don’t come here for the modest motel rooms in the former barracks; you come here because motel guests can enjoy the private community’s emerald treasure, the third-largest spring-fed pool in the state. Set beneath centuries-old oaks, this stunning pool is fed by Las Moras Springs, which gushes millions of gallons of 68-degree water a day.
HILTON EL PASO AIRPORT (2027 Airway Boulevard, 915-778-4241, 800-445-8667, fax 915-779-1276). Hike the four flights of stairs to the top of the Texas Twister—at 211 feet, the longest open-flume hotel water slide in the U.S.—for a view of the Franklin Mountains and a corkscrew ride down into the drink. Palms, pines, willows, and Italian cypress grow around the slide, shielding it from the desert sun. Two other pools give more-sedate swimmers ponds of their own.
THE HOUSTONIAN, Houston (111 N. Post Oak Lane, north of the Galleria; 713-680-2626, 800-231-2759, fax 713-680-2992). If you crave serious aquatics in a woodsy, country-club-like setting, the Houstonian is the place for you. Free classes in everything from water fitness to aqua therapy are held in the three heated outdoor pools.
HYATT REGENCY HILL COUNTRY RESORT, San Antonio (9800 Hyatt Resort Drive, off Loop 1604; 210-647-1234, 800-233-1234, fax 210-681-9681). Landscape designers did a dandy job of recreating a Hill Country water paradise. A gently flowing canal for tubing leads from a shaded, natural-looking pool to a pond with a sandy beach, all surrounded by limestone outcroppings and native vegetation. The only thing missing is blue lips (the water is heated).
PORT ROYAL OCEAN RESORT CONDOMINIUMS, Port Aransas (6317 Texas Highway 361, 361-749-5011, 800-242-1034, fax 361-749-6399). As if taunting the Gulf, just across the boardwalk, this unabashedly over-the-top water world sports four whirlpool spas and four connected free-form pools with a swim-up bar, a swim-up grill, and a twisting water slide.
THE ST. ANTHONY, San Antonio (downtown at 300 E. Travis, 210-227-4392, 800-996-3426, fax 210-227-4391). Ply the heated waters of the blue-tiled pool on the sixth-floor terrace of this historic 1909 hotel and soak up urban views of the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, the Tower of the Americas, and businesses on the south bank of the River Walk.
THE WARWICK HOTEL, Houston (5701 Main Street, in the Museum District; 713-526-1991, 800-223-6800, fax 713-526-0359). The terrace around the egg-shaped second-floor pool is bedecked with lounging marble nudes, enormous potted palms, and bougainvillea trees. Hollywood with a hefty dose of Liberace, this is a pool where you swim without getting your hairdo wet and recline on your chaise in a gold lamé wrap and high-heel sandals with silk flowers on the toes.
THE WESTIN LA CANTERA RESORT, San Antonio (16641 La Cantera Parkway, off Loop 1604 near Interstate 10; 210-558-6500, 800-228-3000, fax 210-558-2400). At this posh resort you can flop from one of the six curvaceous pools into the next like a fickle frog. Just be careful where you jump when you get to the one on the edge of the cliff, which affords a great view of golf-coursed Hill Country. Suzy Banks
Land O’ Lakes
Come on in; the water’s fine.
ARTESIAN SPRINGS (about an hour north of Beaumont; from Newton, head east on U.S. 190 for 6 miles, then turn left on FM 2626 for 4 miles; 409-379-8826). Is it a lake or a swimming hole? Who cares when the sandy shores are this soft and white, and the cool, clear waters bubble up to the surface? The densely forested camp—the Blanchard family’s sixteen-year labor of love, complete with cabins, nature trails, and more—was spared from last summer’s wildfire, which ravaged land only a mile or so away. Day use 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily; $4, children under 2 free. Suzy Banks
BENBROOK LAKE, Benbrook (about 10 miles southwest of downtown Fort Worth; head south through Benbrook on U.S. 377, turn left on Lakeside Drive, then right on Beach Road; City of Benbrook 817-249-3000). If this spot hadn’t been totally landlocked, we would have thought we were on the Gulf shore as we drove through the gates to Baja Beach. A long stretch of fine sand crunches beneath your toes, and two small slides in the water keep the kids happy. Open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; $3, senior citizens and children under 13 $2. Katy Vine
CEDAR LAKE, Cleburne State Park (in North Texas; from Cleburne, take U.S. 67 southwest for 6 miles, then turn left on Park Road 21 for 6 miles; 817-645-4215). Size isn’t important if you’re a no-wake lake with spring-fed waters as crystal clear as these. Paddleboat and canoe rentals, the weathered green concession stand on the tree-lined shore, and overly friendly resident ducks give this 116-acre lake the nostalgic feel of an old-time summer camp. Day use 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $3, senior citizens born before August 1, 1930, and children under 13 free. S.B.
CRYSTAL SPRINGS BEACH, Maud (in northeast Texas; 3 miles west of town on U.S. 67; 903-585-5246). This twelve-acre spring-fed lake, which opened to the public more than fifty years ago, sports a four-hundred-foot-long serpentine water slide, a three-hundred-foot-long trapezelike cable “ride,” two playground slides set out in the water, and possibly the longest sandy beach this side of Cozumel (okay, this side of Lufkin). May 26 through July: open Wednesday through Saturday and Memorial Day 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays noon to 6; call for August schedule; $5.50 Wednesdays and Thursdays, $6.50 Friday through Sunday, $1 off for children 3 to 6, under 3 free. S.B.
DEVIL’S WATERHOLE, Inks Lake State Park (in the Hill Country; from Burnet, go west on Texas Highway 29 for 9 miles, then turn left on Park Road 4 for 3 miles; 512-793-2223). The mix of Spring Creek’s waters cascading over granite boulders, a tranquil cove, and coral-colored gravel shores makes this spot devilishly alluring—and devilishly crowded on weekends. Day use 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $4, senior citizens $2 (free if born before August 1, 1930), children under 13 free. S.B.
LAKE DAINGERFIELD, Daingerfield State Park (in northeast Texas; from Daingerfield, go east on Texas Highway 49 for 2 miles, then turn left on Park Road 17; 903-645-2921). It’s a short stroll down a lush, grassy slope from the retro-cool concession pavilion to the steps leading into this limpid eighty-acre gem in the Piney Woods. A swim platform—an easy dog paddle from shore—beckons. Day use 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $2, senior citizens $1 (free if born before August 1, 1930), children under 13 free. S.B.
LAKE MINERAL WELLS STATE PARK, Mineral Wells (in North Texas; from town, go east on U.S. 180 for 2 miles, then turn left on Park Road 71; 940-328-1171). The seventy-paces-long beach here is quieter on weekdays, when the nearby boat ramp isn’t busy, and if you hit the park early enough in the morning, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views of the tree-covered hills across the lake and purple martins plunging through the cove to their house on the edge of the water. An old-fashioned stone park store offers, among other things, six kinds of canned beans. Day use 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $3, senior citizens $1 (free if born before August 1, 1930), children under 13 free. K.V.
LAKE TEJAS, Colmesneil (in southeast Texas; from town, head east on FM 256 for 1 mile; 409-837-5757, extension 100). Who said staying wet can’t serve some higher purpose? Entrance fees at this fifteen-acre spring-fed lake fill the coffers of the Colmesneil school district. You can do your part for public education by leaping from the multilevel diving platform or wading in from the sugar-sand shores. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day: Sunday through Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays till 8; $2, children under 12 $1. S.B.
LAKE WHITNEY, Walling Bend Park (in north-central Texas; from Whitney, take Texas Highway 22 south for 10 miles, turn right on FM 56 for 2 miles, then turn right on FM 2841 for 1 mile; 254-694-3189). The operator of this dramatic park—the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—strongly advises against jumping off the limestone cliffs, which is probably why teenagers persist in doing it despite frequent injuries and one fatality. Swimmers with a sense of mortality can enter the clear waters a toe at a time from gentle, shaded slopes. Open daily 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; free. S.B.
RAY ROBERTS LAKE STATE PARK, Isle du Bois Unit (in North Texas; from Sanger, go east on FM 455 for 9 miles and look for the park entrance on your left; 940-686-2148). This park on the south shore of the lake offers a clean, sandy beach in a roped-off cove with clear water. A nearby store provides goodies for picnicking at one of the dozen covered tables as you watch swallows swoop overhead. Day use 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; $3, senior citizens born before August 1, 1930, and children under 13 free. K.V.
Make a splash at these water parks.
Adventure Bay, Houston (13602 Beechnut, in southwest Houston; 281-530-5979). There are flashier water parks in Houston, but if you want to avoid the teen scene, give this family-friendly park in the Alief area a try. You’ll still find thrilling rides like the Gulf Scream—a nearly vertical, 45-foot body slide—that will bring out your inner adolescent. Through May 26 and August 11 through September 16: open weekends. May 27 through August 10: open seven days. Call for hours; $18.99, senior citizens $5, children 42 inches tall and under $13.99, under age 4 free. Food and nonalcoholic beverages allowed.
FireWater Water Park, Amarillo (Interstate 40 at Whitaker, 806-342-3473 or 866-234-3473). This Panhandle attraction features a 45-foot tower with five fast corkscrew slides and an 11,000-square-foot wave pool. The Sidewinder, an enormous, half-pipe flume slide that lets you experience zero gravity, opens this season. Through May 26 and August 20 through September 3: open weekends. May 26 through August 19: open seven days. Call for hours; $11.95 (weekends $13.95), senior citizens $8.95, children 54 inches tall and under $9.95 (weekends $11.95), under age 3 free. No food or drink allowed but concessions available.
NRH2O Family Water Park, North Richland Hills (9001 Grapevine Highway, 817-427-6500). Midway between Fort Worth and Dallas, this municipal facility has raised the bar for city parks. With some twelve attractions, it boasts the world’s tallest and longest uphill and downhill water coaster, the Green Extreme. Through August 12: open seven days. August 13 through September 9: open weekends. Call for hours; $13.45, children 47 inches tall and under $11.45, under age 3 free. Food and nonalcoholic beverages allowed.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort, New Braunfels (305 W. Austin Street, 830-625-2351). It may have a funny-sounding name, but people in the amusement park business don’t laugh when they hear “Schlitterbahn.” The 65-acre complex is regarded as the leader in the genre for its natural setting, distinctive labyrinthlike layout, and cutting-edge water-ride technology, and it was recently voted the number one water park in the U.S. by the Travel Channel. Unlike, say, Las Vegas’ Wet ‘n Wild, where the commode-shaped Royal Flush ride sends visitors swirling down a giant bowl, Schlitterbahn doesn’t owe its success to hype or silly gimmicks. Since it opened with four slides in 1979, the park, which uses water from the adjacent, spring-fed Comal River for some of its rides, has grown: slowly and with respect for the area’s natural resources and existing architecture. Its new $13 million spin-off, Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark on South Padre Island, is scheduled to open this month. Through May 18 and August 20 through September 15: open weekends. May 19 through August 19: open seven days. Call for hours; $26.50, senior citizens $20.99, children 3 to 11 $21.95, under 3 free. Food and nonalcoholic beverages allowed.
Wet ‘n’ Wild Waterworld, Anthony (8804 S. Desert Boulevard, 20 miles northwest of downtown El Paso off Interstate 10; 915-886-2222). Real mountain ranges provide a natural backdrop for this 37-acre man-made oasis. You’ll forget you’re in the desert if you visit the new Amazon area, which includes a wave pool, cane-roofed cabanas, and a four-hundred-foot slide that sends you spinning and sliding through dark tunnels and waterfalls. Through May 19 and August 18 through September 3: open weekends and Labor Day. May 25 through August 12: open seven days. Call for hours; $17, children 4 to 12 $15, under 4 free. Food and nonalcoholic beverages allowed. Eileen Schwartz
Skimming the surface
Cool waters for windsurfing.
Bird Island Basin, Padre Island National Seashore (from Interstate 37 in downtown Corpus Christi, head south on the Crosstown Expressway, turn left on Texas Highway 358 [South Padre Island Drive], which becomes Park Road 22, and continue to the end of the road, about 30 miles in all; 361-949-8173). This internationally known spot on the Laguna Madre side of the national seashore is one of the windiest places on the Texas Gulf Coast. But that isn’t the only thing it has going for it. The flat, shallow water (about two to six feet deep) makes it a superb area for beginners to get their feet wet and for speed sailors to go full throttle. Padre Island National Seashore fee $10 per vehicle (good for seven days); Bird Island Basin fee $5 (day pass) or $10 (good for a year).
Oleander Point at South Cole Park, Corpus Christi Bay (from Interstate 37 and Shoreline Drive in downtown Corpus, head south on Shoreline for 3 miles until it becomes Ocean Drive; the park will be on your left; 800-766-2322). Home to the U.S. Open Windsurfing Regatta in May, this locale is for the more advanced sailor who wants to jump the swells (the high winds and deep water make for choppy seas). The hillside is a good vantage point for spectators. Free.
Windsurf, Inc., South Padre Island (from the Queen Isabella Causeway, head north on Padre Boulevard for 3 miles, then turn left on Carolyn Street until it dead-ends at the waterfront; 956-761-1434). You can rent everything you need right here at Windsurf and surf for free or bring your own gear and pay a $3 launch fee. The average wind speed in South Padre Island is eighteen miles per hour, and this in-town site is right on the Laguna Madre, which means warm, shallow water. “People can ride out on the bay for miles and still stand up if they fall off or have a problem,” says Windsurf owner Phillip Money. Shop open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Patricia Busa McConnico
Have a drink in the drink.
The Hotel Galvez, Galveston (2024 Seawall Boulevard, 409-765-7721, 800-996-3426, fax 409-765-5780). The stucco arches, tropical greenery, and blue tile lend this bar a Caribbean air, so it’s fitting that frozen pina coladas are a favorite libation. Hotel guests only.
Moody Gardens Hotel, Galveston (Seven Hope Boulevard, 409-741-8484, 888-388-8484, fax 409-683-4937). If the Jetsons ever visit the Island, they’ll feel right at home at this oddly futuristic stucco-and-Plexiglas swim-up bar. Piped in music—from Jimmy Buffet to the Beach Boys—sets the tone. Hotel guests only.
San Luis Resort, Spa, and Conference Center, Galveston (5222 Seawall Boulevard, 409-744-1500, 800-445-0090, fax 409-744-8452). Colorful frozen drinks like the Melon Mist, made with melon liqueur, and the turquoise Tidal Wave, made with blue curacao—most of them garnished with a paper umbrella—rule at this insanely popular palapa bar surrounded by lush landscaping. Even kids join in, sucking down more than five hundred virgin pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris on sunny weekends. Hotel guests only.
Sheraton Fiesta, South Padre Island (310 Padre Boulevard, 956-761-6551, 800-222-4010, fax 956-761-6570). With the water in the swim-up-bar area heated to whirlpool temperatures, the best way to chill is from the inside out with a frozen strawberry daiquiri. After a couple of these concoctions, some of the strange sea creatures painted on the bar’s backsplash may start to look familiar. Hotel guests only.
The Wyndham Anatole, Dallas (2201 Stemmons Freeway, 214-748-1200, 800-996-3426, fax 214-761-7520). If you start to prune up in the pool before you finish your frozen peach margarita, you can shuffle on over to the land-based side of the bar and still stay cool under the misting machines. Hotel guests only. Suzy Banks
Where the surf’s up.
Isla Blanca Park, South Padre Island (from the Queen Isabella Causeway, go south on Park Road 100 for 1 mile; 956-761-5493). Surfers waiting for the next tropical disturbance in the Gulf to churn up those once-in-a-blue-moon monsters know that the rest of the time, the waves get better the farther south you go. So if you’re serious about surfing, don’t stop until you reach the jetties off Isla Blanca Park, at the southern tip of Padre Island. The combination of the prevailing southeasterlies, the point break, and offshore sandbars translates into waves that actually hold their shape long enough for you to get a decent ride. Open daily 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; $4 per vehicle ($2 after 5 p.m.).
Nueces County parks beaches, Padre Island (from Interstate 37 in downtown Corpus Christi, head south on the Crosstown Expressway, turn left on Texas Highway 358 [South Padre Island Drive] for 9.5 miles, where it becomes Park Road 22, then continue east on 22 to Padre Balli Park or turn north on Texas Highway 361 to J. P. Luby Surf Park and Port Aransas Park; 361-949-8122). Three county park piers north of the Padre Island National Seashore—Bob Hall Pier at Padre Balli Park, Horace Caldwell Pier at Port Aransas Park, and J. P. Luby Pier—are the busiest surfing spots on the Coastal Bend; the bitchin’ waves around Bob Hall are worth putting up with other boarders and fishermen—not to mention sharks—competing for the same space. Open around the clock; $5 per vehicle (one-month pass).
Port Mansfield Cut, Padre Island (you can either drive 25 miles up the beach from South Padre to the Port Mansfield Cut and paddle several hundred yards across the channel to the north jetty or drive on the sand the 130-mile round trip to the cut from the entrance to the Padre Island National Seashore, 8 miles past the entrance to Padre Balli Park on Park Road 22, which is the extension of Texas Highway 358 [South Padre Island Drive]; 361-949-8068). The jetties at the Port Mansfield Cut catch the winds in similar fashion as the jetties at Isla Blanca, meaning more waves and less mush. The trick is getting there. Open around the clock; $10 per vehicle (one-week pass). Joe Nick Patoski
Dive, we said
Public pools that leave others high and dry.
Abilene State Park Pool, Buffalo Gap (150 Park Road 32; from town, head west on FM 89 for 5 miles and turn left on Park Road 32; 915-572-3204). Surrounded by tall trees and partly filled with water from spring-fed wells, this pool is a veritable oasis in West Texas. Along with the striking red sandstone pavilion nearby, it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the thirties. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend: open Thursday through Sunday noon to 8 p.m.; $3, children under 13 free. Jennifer Olsen
Balmorhea Swimming Pool, Balmorhea State Park (in West Texas; from Fort Stockton, head west on I-10 for about 47 miles, then south on Texas Highway 17 for about 7 miles; 915-375-2370). Swim with the fishes in one of the world’s largest (1.75 acres) spring-fed pools. Plunging to 25 feet at its deepest point, this tranquil, rock-walled pool is also home to turtles, aquatic plants, and at least one watchful duck. The clear water, from the San Solomon Springs, remains between 76 and 78 degrees year-round. Open daily from 8 a.m. until half an hour before sunset; $3. J.O.
Barton Springs Pool, Austin (2201 Barton Springs Road, 512-499-6700). Because it is a beloved local landmark, and also because it is centrally located among a vast population of sweltering working stiffs, Barton Springs gets the blue ribbon in our ranking of public pools (though Balmorhea in West Texas is a close second). The 68-degree springwater offers cold comfort on sizzling summer days. Although the surface of the three-acre pool accumulates a brownish muck in some areas, other areas are so clear that a friend once spotted some money on the bottom, dove down to get it, and came up waving a $20 bill. The best time for a dip is at dusk, when the place gets serene: Herons take flight, lone hippies practice their yoga headstands, bats skim the water for flies under the spotlights, and old ladies with pinned-up hair wink at you as they glide by. Open Monday through Wednesday and Friday through Sunday 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursdays 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.; $2.50 weekdays, $2.75 weekends, children 12 to 17 $1, under 12, 50 cents. Katy Vine
Burger’s Lake, Fort Worth (1200 Meandering Road; from downtown, take Henderson Street [Texas Highway199] north, turn left on River Oaks Boulevard, right on Roberts Cut-off, then left on Meandering Road to the turnoff, about 1 mile; 817-737-3414). Locals have packed this one-acre, sandy-bottomed pool for the past 72 years, and with good reason: Who could resist the flying trapeze? The floating platform, twenty-foot slide, and five diving boards are perfect for cannon-balling into the chlorinated springwater. Through September 3: open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; $10, children under 7 free. K.V.
Comanche Springs Pool, Fort Stockton (on Spring Drive in Rooney Park, just south of town on U.S. 285; 915-336-2751). Once fed by the historic Comanche Springs, this bright-blue-bottomed cement pool has a definite West Texas feel, what with its views of the rugged landscape and its wrought-iron fence with cutouts of boots, wagons, and such. The bleachers at one end of the pool were built for watching July’s annual water carnival, but they’re also a good perch for sunbathing. May 28 through September 1: open daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; 50 cents. J.O.
Deep Eddy Pool, Austin (401 Deep Eddy Drive, off Lake Austin Boulevard; 512-472-8546). This sprawling well-water pool is divided by a low concrete wall: On one side is a wading area; on the other side, serious lap swimmers do their thing. The setting is idyllic, with grass, trees, and proximity to the Town Lake hike and bike trail. On summer Saturday nights the “splash party movies” bring out the kid in everyone. Through October 28: open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., weekends 10 to 8; $2, children 12 through 17 $1, under 12, 50 cents. Eileen Schwartz
Hancock Springs, Lampasas (in Central Texas; on U.S. 281 just east of Sulphur Creek, 512-556-6831). While this spring’s sulfurous water smells like rotten eggs, folks have been coming here for well over a hundred years for its purported healthful properties (in the 1880’s Lampasas was even billed as “the Saratoga of the South”). So follow the doctor’s orders and gaze at the nearby creek while you take the waters in the natural-bottom pool. June 2 through August 2: open Mondays and Saturdays 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Sundays 2 to 6; $2, senior citizens and children under 12, $1. K.V.
Landa Park Pool, New Braunfels (350 Aquatic Circle, Landa Park, 830-608-2164 or 830-608-2170). A massive palm tree looms over the sparkling water of Landa Park’s Olympic-size pool. On the other side of the clubhouse, a natural-looking sanctuary of meandering spring-fed waters offers slides, a playscape with a giant, water-squirting mushroom, and more. Through May 25 and August 20 through September 3: open weekends 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 26 through August 19: open daily 11 to 8. $4, senior citizens and children 3 to 17, $3. J.O.
Memorial Park Swimming Pool, Houston (6402 Arnot; from Memorial Drive north, turn right on E. Memorial Loop Drive, then take the first right; 713-802-1662). You’ll find this Olympic-size pool nestled in an urban wilderness (Memorial Park is Houston’s version of Central Park). Tall pines and covered picnic tables provide welcome shade, and a water slide adds to the attraction. May 26 through September 3: open Tuesday through Friday noon to 2 and 3 to 6, Saturdays noon to 5, Sundays 1 to 5; free. E.S.
Moore Park Pool and Blue Hole, Del Rio (in Moore Park, near the intersection of U.S. 277 and U.S. 90; 830-774-8522). Moore Park is home to the city’s Olympic-size public pool as well as several spring-fed swimming holes, some banked with retaining walls, along San Felipe Creek. The pool features a large spiral water slide and shaded wading areas for the little ones. May 26 through September 3: open Monday through Friday 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., weekends noon to 9; $2, senior citizens $1, children 13 to 17 $1.75, under 13 $1.50. E.S.
Nations-Tobin Pool, El Paso (8831 Railroad Drive; from Patriot Freeway north, take the Railroad Drive exit; 915-759-8434). A view of the Franklin Mountains, a separate wading pool, and ample shade make this pool with a small diving area our pick in El Paso. Other bonuses include a big, twisty slide (two flights of stairs to get to the top) and picnic tables. Through May 28 and August 12 through September 3: open Saturdays noon to 5 p.m., Sundays 1 to 6. May 29 through August 11: open Monday through Thursday 1 to 4:30 and 7 to 9, Fridays 1 to 4:30. $1.25, water slide 75 cents (must be at least four feet tall). E.S.
Palm Beach, Galveston (Moody Gardens, One Hope Boulevard, 409-744-4673 or 800-582-4673). Part pool, part beach, part theme park, this man-made lagoon surrounded by lush landscaping is the best freshwater swimming option in this neck of the woods. Plus, the imported white sand is groovy. Through May 27: open weekends 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 28 through August 19: open daily 9 to 6. August 25 through October 7: open weekends 9 to 6. $7.95, senior citizens $6.75, children 4 to 12 $5.75, under 4 free. E.S.
San Pedro Springs Swimming Pool, San Antonio (2200 N. Flores at Myrtle Street, in San Pedro Park, directly across from San Antonio College; 210-207-8480). Part of the oldest park in Texas (circa 1731), the recently renovated pool—originally built in 1927—is surrounded by green, gently rolling hills and oak and cypress trees. A limestone walkway offers a pleasant place to stroll or lounge in the sun with a book, perhaps one borrowed from the park’s branch of the San Antonio Public Library. May 26 through August 5: open daily 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; 75 cents, children 7 to 12 50 cents, under 7, 25 cents. J.O.
Tietze Pool, Dallas (intersection of Llano and Skillman streets, in the Lakewood Heights neighborhood; 214-670-1380). One of the oldest pools in Dallas is also the prettiest, located in a park that takes up an entire block. Three 1947 red stone buildings—the entryway, restroom, and pavilion—give it an old-timey feel. May 26 through August 12: open Thursday through Monday noon to 7 p.m. (noon to 4 the first and last weeks of the season); free. K.V.
Washington Park Pool, Midland (1801 E. Indiana Avenue, 915-687-3782). This brand-spanking-new pool with a fun, colorful playscape area is in a lovely park with possibly the largest collection of big oak trees in Midland. Spiral down the circular water slide or step into the unique, zero-depth entry (it’s like walking into the ocean). May 27 through August 12: open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday through Sunday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays till 8; $2, children under 12 $1. J.O.