The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, June 18, 2004, Columns

Swimming holes not only define summer by giving us lasting memories, but they are also a necessity when the mercury begins to hover around the century mark. Is there anything better on a lazy summer day than lounging around in a cool pool, watching the world go by?

Texans are blessed with hundreds of fine places, some natural and some man-made, in which to get wet and cool off. About this time every year somebody asks me what my favorite swimming hole is. So, just for my closest friends I made this list of my favorite not-so-secret swimming spots.

Krause Springs, west of Austin off TX 71 in Spicewood, makes almost every Top 10 list of swimming holes in the state and for good reason. Beginning in the 1950s, Elton and Jane Krause began turning a former hog farm into a tropical oasis.

There are 32 springs on the property, and two of them feed a large swimming pool on a bluff just below the main house. The Krauses have landscaped the grounds with picnic tables and flower beds to enhance the natural wonder of the location.

All of that would be inviting enough, but below the bluff, Cypress Creek provides a natural swimming hole with fern-lined walls kept moist by the dripping springs. There are large rock slabs to spread out on and towering cypress trees shading the creek that meanders through the property.

Finding the Krauses can be a little difficult. When you get to downtown Spicewood, which consists of a single intersection, turn right on County Road 404 and look for the signs. The park also has a campground with hookups and hiking trails. No pets are allowed, and admission is a very affordable $3. For more information, call the Krauses at 830/693-4181.

Sometimes you feel a little wild and want a swimming hole that is unconstrained but offers enough room for a little privacy. The Llano Slab isn't really a park, but the public is allowed to use the low-water crossing on the Llano River. The pink-granite gravel washed out of the nearby hills creates islands that divide the river into channels. You can find just about any kind of water here that you like, from rushing rapids to deep pools.

Despite the uncommon beauty of the location, litter can be a too-common problem. Upstream from the road seems to offer the fewest crowds and cleanest swimming areas. Bring everything you might need to the Slab because there are no drinking water provisions or restrooms. The closest services are in Kingsland, about two miles away. The low-water bridge is at the end of FM 3404, 1.5 miles south of FM 1431 on the western edge of Kingsland.

Lake Somerville State Park is a surprising parcel of paradise hidden off U.S. 290, east of Austin. Constructed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in the Sixties, the lake doesn't attract large crowds but does offer a wide range of activities. Bring the bicycles, hiking boots, or horses to enjoy the trails that wind around the shoreline. After a good workout, cool off at one of the beaches in one of the five parks on the lake. Of course, they have campgrounds if you want to spend the night.

The best beaches and facilities are at the Birch Creek unit of the Lake Somerville State Park, on the western end of the lake. The Nails unit of the state park has a smaller beach, which also has a volleyball court and playground. The parks are about 100 miles east of Austin, but can really be worth the trip. For more information, call the park at 409/535-7763.

My favorite swimming pool has to be the Wave Pool in Seguin's Max Starcke Park. Big fans make the waters swell in regular intervals to the delight of swimmers. It is not the same as being at the ocean, but it's a lot of fun. The surf is just big enough to toss the big blue inner tubes around like corks, but not too big to be frightening. The community pool also has wading pools for the smaller swimmers. The park is south of the courthouse on Austin Street. For more information, call the city at 800/580-7322

679th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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