Day Trips

Take a dip in these secret swimming holes.

San Marcos River at Luling
San Marcos River at Luling (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Secret swimming holes are the ones that the locals frequent, but they seldom divulge the not-so-hidden location. I'm going to tell you about a few of the good ones I have found, but you have to promise not to tell anybody else. These are just between you and me. Promise?

Folks in Georgetown have Blue Hole just north of downtown. It's a really nice place, and the city's parks department has cleaned it up and brought some control to the outrageous behavior that some people seem to think has to go along with being wet in public. Blue Hole is where the guy at the convenience store sends visitors when they ask where the local swimming hole is.

The locals congregate at a place downstream from town on the San Gabriel River called Mankin's Crossing. About seven miles east of town where TX 29 crosses the river is a low-water crossing that has been a favorite swimming hole for generations. According to the historical marker at the county road leading off the highway, the limestone riverbed offered a good place for farmers to cross the river with their loaded wagons on the way to market.

Mankin's Crossing was once a community, but all that is left is a few houses along the road. The state highway department built a low concrete bridge in 1931. It was replaced by a bigger bridge in 1958 when TX 29 was turned into a major highway.

On weekends, families bring the dogs, kids, inner tubes, and lawn chairs to enjoy the cool waters. There is plenty of parking and the sheriff's deputies make an occasional check to be sure everything is kept socially acceptable. There are no facilities such as tables, restrooms, or drinking water at the site.

Luling has a nice municipal pool in a lovely park, plus the residents are within easy driving distance of Palmetto State Park with its horseshoe-shaped bend in the river. But locals tend to hang out under the U.S. 90 bridge over the San Marcos River west of town.

On the highway a sign points to a rest area on the east end of the bridge. Take that road past the single state-maintained picnic table to the river. This isn't the cleanest of parks even though there are several homemade signs imploring visitors to not litter. There is a small camping area under a group of trees and a large parking area near the bridge.

Daredevils enjoy the rope swing hanging over the water from a tree on the opposite bank. Families enjoy the small sandy beach that is partially shaded. My favorite is walking downstream a little to the sand bars that are less crowded.

Further upstream there are some great swimming holes in and around San Marcos. One of the most popular is the Cheatham Street Dam in Rio Vista Park. From Aquarena Springs to the interstate highway, the San Marcos River is a great swimming hole and float trip.

When the crowds get to be too much for locals, those in the know head to the crossing on the Blanco River. Years of periodic flooding have deposited piles of sand at the Old Martindale Road low-water crossing. This spot is a little hard to find, so be prepared to drive around a little looking for it. Head east of town on U.S. 80. At the county line take a right on County Line Road and then make the first right. Take Old Martindale Road about 2.25 miles to the river. Parking can be a problem here, so watch for the "no parking" signs.

Folks in Wimberley are a little more friendly about visitors cooling off in the Blanco River in their town. Years ago the town resigned itself to the fact that the old bridge under RM 12 was going to attract swimmers like June bugs to a porch light. Rather than fight the seasonal flow of waterbugs they have tried to control it as best they can.

Parking is on the south side of the bridge and necessitates a fairly long walk, but the trek is worth it. Tall cypress trees shade parts of the water. The current has worn deep veins in the limestone riverbed, making swimming pools surrounded by wading pools. This is one of the best swimming holes around. The biggest downside is that all of the riverbank is private property and the owners and residents are a little touchy about strangers using their lawns. In severe droughts this spot can dry to a trickle.

The best river swimming hole around, and I realize that is a pretty bold statement, is the Llano Slab outside of Kingsland. This isn't a secret swimming hole like some the others, but it is used mainly by locals despite being written up in several statewide magazines.

Although the Llano River low-water crossing isn't an official public park, the area chamber of commerce includes the site in their tourist information. The river is wide and shallow here where it runs over an outcropping of granite. There is lots of room for folks to spread out and enjoy the gentle current or to find a deep pool to soak in.

To get there, take FM 1431 through Kingsland about 1.5 miles and make a left turn on FM 3404. There is no drinking water or trash barrels so don't be guilty of not taking your beer cans home with you.

It seems like some people still expect their mothers to follow them around and pick up their trash and used baby diapers. None of these places are maintained parks. If you go you have to promise to treat them like you would own back yard. In fact, they are often someone else's back yard, so be mindful of private property rights. Bring your own drinking water, take your trash home with you, and have a good time.

Coming up ...

Wimberley's Outdoor Movies: The Corral Theatre's July schedule includes A Knight's Tale, July 7-8; The Mummy Returns, July 14-15; Shrek, July 20-21; and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, July 28-29. Gates open at 8pm, admission is $3, bring your own lawn chair or use theirs. 512/847-2513.

Pari-mutuel Horse Racing Meet brings the ponies to the Gillespie County Fairgrounds south of Fredericksburg on TX 16, July 7-8, 21-22. 830/997-2359.

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