Three months after getting the itch to swim at Hamilton Pool Preserve, I finally launched my body into the glinting green-blue pond this morning.
I spent a good three and a half hours lolling in the natural swimming hole, letting water spill over the lip of the enormous overhang onto my head, and scampering around the boulders that surround the water.
The pool feels a little like a Hawaiian oasis dropped in the middle of the Hill Country. It formed thousands of years ago, when the dome over an underground river collapsed. Today, trails are worn, signs of erosion are obvious, and the tiny gravel beach is perpetually packed, but the place, to me, still feels serene and almost Jurassic.
The park switched to a reservation system in 2016 to alleviate overcrowding and relieve traffic snarls on Ranch Road 12. I went online to book a spot back in June, but the soonest opening I could get was today.
Online reservations, which cost $10 plus a $1 service fee, are needed between March 1 and Oct. 31, and on weekends and holidays during November and December.(A quick check today showed a few mid-week slots available in September and October, but weekends booked through the end of October.) You also need an additional $15 in cash once you get to the pool for the entrance fee.
To make a reservation, go to https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/hamilton-pool-preserve. You’ll have to choose betweena morning or afternoon reservation (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.); each reservation includes one vehicle with no more than eight people.
Wear sturdy shoes, because you have to walk a quarter of a mile on a rocky path to get to the pool. And just because you have a reservation, you might not be able to swim. The pool occasionally closes due to high bacteria levels. Call the public information line at 512-264-2740 before you go.
No lifeguard is on duty, but plenty of life vests are available for visitors. Diving is not permitted due to submerged rocks. No pets are allowed either.