Visit to Hamilton Pool

Drive just 30 miles southwest of Austin to find one of the most beautiful natural areas in central Texas: Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve. Last Saturday we drove out for a hike, arriving about an hour after it opened, and found something we’d never experienced there before: no one else. The serenity and beauty of the place made me feel like I was in heaven. For a while I just sat and gazed around me.

Hamilton Pool is a collapsed grotto. The limestone roof caved in thousands of years ago, creating a circular opening in the domed roof, part of which still arches over the clear pool below, where swimming is permitted if the water quality is good (nesting swallows in the cliff above the pool and pollutants from runoff after heavy rains sometimes cause unsafe bacterial levels).

A 50-foot waterfall spills from the roof, and thanks to recent rains it flowed like a veil over the lip and traced an arc of ripples in the pool. Part of it splashes onto a large, smooth rock that rises out of the water—perfect for sitting on and letting the cascade cool you off on a hot summer day. A dirt trail leads behind the waterfall into the back of the grotto.

Looking up, you see ferns clinging to the damp limestone of the roof, growing upside down like a soft green fringe.

A steep, rickety stair provides access down the cliff on one side of the pool…

…and then you’re under the vast roof. Those slabs of limestone from the collapsed roof are huge, some of them about 20 feet long. If you squint into the middle left of the photo, you can see a blue-shirted figure at the top of one of the slabs. He’s six feet tall, which gives you a sense of scale.

Behind the stones the trail circles around the rear of the grotto. This part is flat and easy to walk on. Further on, you have to scramble over slabs of limestone to get all the way around.

Enormous conical stalactites hang from the roof, dripping with calcareous water and clothed with moss and ferns.

Around the other side, you can look back and see the stair, as well as the dotted line of ripples in the middle of the pool that marks each waterfall coming over the roof. The water is green because of the limestone and beautifully clear. Fish swim in the pool, and cliff swallows fly in and out over your head.

Another look.

There’s a small sandy beach on the sunny side of the pool, and I sat with shoes off and feet in the cool water while my family practiced their stone-skipping techniques. Three couples eventually showed up, awed as we were by the beauty of the place. One young couple stripped right down to swimsuits and dove in, enjoying the pool in a way I’ve yet to do. I was sure wishing I’d worn my swimsuit so that I could have backstroked under that waterfall when we had it to ourselves. Even so, we enjoyed a good half hour of paradise, and it was ours alone.

From the waterfall you can hike along Hamilton Creek through a box canyon for three-quarters of a mile to where it meets the Pedernales River (pronounced by locals “Purdanalez”). The creek is lined with majestic bald cypresses whose knees poke up out of the water, and huge boulders that have broken loose from the limestone walls over the millennia dot the canyon floor.

We spotted this toad along the trail, and he held still for a portrait. Perhaps he was charmed, as we were, by the magic of Hamilton Pool.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

42 Responses

  1. janet says:

    My goodness Pam, those pictures are really wonderful. What a gorgeous place. How nice to get there before anyone to enjoy the serenity of it all. To imagine this green lush oasis in central Texas is pretty amazing! Thanks for sharing this beautiful setting.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the pics, Janet. Central Texas actually has quite a few beautiful oases besides Hamilton Pool. We’re blessed with a number of rivers, natural springs, man-made lakes, honeycombed limestone hills, and verdant greenery. There’s a reason why the Texas Hill Country is such a popular vacation destination. —Pam

  2. Frances says:

    Hi Pam, what an idyllic spot, even more so when you were the only ones there. That has to contribute mightily to the dreaminess of it. The imagination could run wild with storylines of ancient times, bathing maidens and magic all around. The dripping ferns are are like eyelashes.

    It really was magical to have it to ourselves, Frances. The place does have a history. I understand early settlers enjoyed the pool, as well as Native Americans before that. —Pam

  3. Les says:

    What an unique place, plus it has one of my favorite trees. I would have had to find a way to take a dip.

    Yes, the untaken dip in the pool is nagging at me, Les. I won’t make the same mistake if the opportunity arises again one day. Are you a big fan of the bald cypress? It’s a stately and lovely tree. —Pam

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Wow, you captured the charm of this place with your photos Pam. It is beautiful. I haven’t ever seen those ferns that grow upside down like that. They are very rare around here. What a beautiful place.

    It truly is, Lisa. —Pam

  5. Gail says:

    So majestic, Pam…thank you for sharing its magical beauty with us. The stalactites hanging from the roof, dripping water and covered in moss and ferns was spectacular. gail

    My pleasure, Gail. —Pam

  6. Lady J says:

    Isn’t it beautiful?! I’m not even a good photographer and my photos came out just as nice, it’s got THAT much natural beauty! I too have yet to actually take a dip in the pool. But someday I’ll be there when it is also open for swimming!

    I hope you get to enjoy that swim one day, Lady J. —Pam

  7. Jean says:

    So gorgeous. I have great memories of the place. Before it became an official nature preserve we used to go out there on hot days, swim around, and then camp overnight along Hamilton Creek. You’ve captured its beauty perfectly.

    You must have some special memories of camping out there, Jean. It’s such a lovely place. —Pam

  8. Jenny says:

    Would you believe me if I told you that this is where we went on our honeymoon. One week after I arrived in the USA and the day after we were married, a friend lent us his red Triumph Spitfire for the day, as a wedding present, and we headed out to Hamilton Pool. We had no car of our own. At that time it was private and $1 to get in. We were to find ourselves back in Texas 27 years later and on a similar gorgeous day in February we went back to Hamilton pool on our 30th wedding anniversary. That place is very special to us. Thanks for posting those wonderful pictures.

    Jenny, somehow I just knew you were going to have a story about Hamilton Pool! I love your honeymoon tale, complete with borrow Spitfire and $1 admission. Since it was February, perhaps you didn’t get to swim, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if you told me that you both went skinny-dipping under the waterfall. ;-) —Pam

  9. Ann says:

    I know where I’m going on my next weekend field trip… Hamilton Pool has been on the list for awhile, but your pictures have moved it to the top.

    Ann, you definitely need to see it. Next on my list is Westcave Preserve, which I’ve yet to visit. —Pam

  10. Randy says:

    Just beautiful, Pam. I’m convinced that you never sleep. Taking all these trips, writing, working and maintaining a garden. I don’t know how you do it. What do you eat to keep your strength up? Sometimes it take all my energy to get thru the work day. You must take good vitamins or something.:-)

    Randy, sleep is actually rather low on my priority list. Not a good habit, I know. I don’t take vitamins, but I do highly recommend Chuy’s chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce. ;-) —Pam

  11. Randy says:

    PS. I forgot to mention raising younguns too!

  12. Town Mouse says:

    That’s amazing! I’m starting to change my mind about Texas ;->

    Town Mouse, do you mean you have preconceptions about what Texas looks like? It’s a big state with enormous variety in geography and climate. I’m biased enough to think that central Texas has the lion’s share of the state’s natural beauty, but there’s plenty to see and enjoy from Houston to El Paso and from Dallas to McAllen. Come see for yourself sometime. —Pam

  13. I feel more peaceful just looking at these pictures. What a wonderful place – and how fortunate you were to be able to experience it without crowds around.

    I felt lucky indeed, Dorothy. I’m glad you enjoyed the pics. —Pam

  14. Just beautiful. The waterfall was something else, and your shot of it from the back was priceless.~~Dee

    Thanks, Dee. I’m glad you enjoyed it. —Pam

  15. Brenda Kula says:

    Oh, it looks heavenly. Tranquil. Just my sort of spot.

    You should visit one day, Brenda. There’s lots to see in the Hill Country around Austin. —Pam

  16. Jen says:

    Love these photos, what a amazing place.


    I’m glad you enjoyed them, Jen. —Pam

  17. Lola says:

    Awesome. I lived in Dallas for a short time & I never knew that there were places like that. Sure wish I’d visited it while there.

    I wish you had too, Lola. Maybe on a return visit someday? —Pam

  18. Fantastic place……must put it on the list to visit next time I am in your area…….

    Yes, do. And if tours are offered, check out Westcave Preserve as well. —Pam

  19. Becky Lane says:

    Ooh! I went there on a date back in college, some 30 or so years ago. Isn’t it amazing?

    It’s a romantic spot, all right. I can see why couples would enjoy a visit. —Pam

  20. Chookie says:

    What a lovely spot, and not very far away, either! I’m impressed at the lack of vandalism, too.

    I hadn’t given that any thought, Chookie. I wonder if the park service has had to worry about that at Hamilton Pool. Hope not! —Pam

  21. chuck b. says:

    So dreamy.

    Yes, dreamy indeed. —Pam

  22. We’ve been there when only a few people were around, so while not totally alone, had that same otherworldly feeling with the swallows going back and forth and the upside down ferns. We’ve been there with out-of-town visitors but none of us ever went swimming either.
    Your photos captured Hamilton Pool perfectly, Pam!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Thanks, Annie. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the same peace there. —Pam

  23. cheryl says:

    absolutely beautiful! It would be fun to read or hear the Native American tales about the place.

    Yes, it would. Those tales may only be told through artifacts, I suppose. —Pam

  24. Liisa says:

    what a lovely adventure! And, how lucky you are to have had the place to yourselves for a bit. Your photos are absolutely beautiful.

    Thanks, Liisa. I’m glad you enjoyed them. —Pam

  25. MNGarden says:

    That looks like such a refreshing area. I bet it is full when the weather gets hotter.

    Yes, it will be. And the weather is hot enough this week to drive a lot of people out there. —Pam

  26. Jenny B says:

    Hamilton Pool is such a magical place–even more so to find it deserted, and to have all to yourselves for half an hour! How early did you have to go in order to find it that way? Lovely photos. I especially like the one of the limestone stalagtite with the ferns and moss hanging down. Your description was very poetic–“Enormous conical stalactites hang from the roof, dripping with calcareous water and clothed with moss and ferns.” Beautiful!

    We meant to arrive at 9 am, when it opens, Jenny. But we actually arrived just before 10 am. A photographer with a tripod was leaving the pool as we walked down to it, and then it was just us for a while. —Pam

  27. Laura Z says:

    Beautiful photos! I didn’t realize how giant it is until the third photo with the person in it. I’m cooling off just looking. Glad I found you on Blotanical!

    I’m glad you did too, Laura. Thanks for saying hi. —Pam

  28. Vikki says:

    It reminds me of cenotes in Mexico. Beautiful.

    I’d love to see a cenote in Mexico, Vikki. Ah, so many wonderful places to see in the world… —Pam

  29. Bob Pool says:

    Great pictures of a great place. I think the first time I swam there was 1963. My Mom fainted at the top of the stairs and my Dad carried her down to the bottom. When she came to she was so mad because she had to walk back up and she was so scared of heights.

    Ha! Geez, seeing someone faint at the top of those steep stairs would have scared me to death. —Pam

  30. Mamaholt says:

    My Daddy went to UT in the 40’s and he used to tell a story about Hamilton Pool. He and a bunch of buddies drove there with a keg, intent on having a good ole’ time. They were so drunk by the time they got there that they couldn’t carry the keg so they decided to roll it. The story goes that the keg got out of control and rolled to it’s eventual demise – breaking apart and spilling all the beer right into the pool. I can’t guarantee the accuracy or truthfulness of the story as my Daddy was a fine Irish storyteller, but he always maintained that it really happened.

    Such a magical place, keg or no keg.

    I love your dad’s story, Mamaholt, true or not. (I’m going to believe it though.) Thanks for sharing it. —Pam

  31. Jacqui S. says:

    Did you know this natural treasure was included on Preservation Texas’ “Most Endangered Places List” this year? They wanted to call attention to the fact that “Hamilton Pool Preserve is suffering from its own popularity as a recreational destination as well as from minimal regulation and increased suburban development. In May 2007, Hamilton Pool and Hamilton Creek suffered major silt and erosion runoff during the construction of a residential subdivision upstream. The damage to Hamilton Pool, Davis Creek, Cripple Creek, Hamilton Creek and 10 unnamed tributaries in the surrounding area has been devastating.” For more info visit

    Thanks for the info, Jacqui. No one wants to see Hamilton Pool loved to death. —Pam

  32. Thanks for the reminder, Pam – I can’t believe nobody was there on a Sat. morning! What luck. I’ve never been, but my husband has and we’ve recommitted to going.

    We were lucky indeed. I hope you get to make a visit too. Take your swimsuits so you don’t have my regrets about not swimming there. —Pam

  33. irena says:

    so beautiful. how lucky that you had it all to yourself even if only briefly. gotta love those upside down ferns!!!

    Aren’t they beautiful? The whole place is a treasure, Irena. —Pam

  34. Thanks for posting this–it’s the best visual tour of a remarkable place. Beautiful images in path-order so we could follow along the trail. Super!

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Kathleen. —Pam

  35. Germi says:

    Breathtaking. Stunning. Awe-inspiring.

    This was truly special, Pam! It is a remarkable space – and your photos bring it alive for us! I swear I could SMELL it! Thank you, thank you, thank you!


    You are so very welcome, Germi! I wish everyone could go and experience it as we did on this lucky day. —Pam

  36. Tatyana says:

    Ohhhhhh! Ahhhhhhh! Just looking at the water color makes me feel good! Wonderful images, Pam!

    Thanks, Tatyana. That water was chilly and clear, just beautiful. —Pam

  37. Anna says:

    I’ve never been there without at least a little bit of a crowd. How lucky you were to have it to yourselves for a while! Great pics!

    Thanks, Anna. It was a very special visit for us. —Pam

  38. FlowerLady says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful place. It is so soothing, I’m sure it was wonderful being there alone for awhile.


    It sure was. I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual tour. —Pam

  39. Robin says:

    What a lovely place and how sweet to have it all to yourselves!

  40. […] the cave’s roof collapsed, opening up this section of the cave to the sky. It reminds me of Hamilton Pool, which is just a few miles down the road from Westcave and was indeed formed the same […]

  41. […] week, when the balmy weather included a high of 80 degrees, we went for a hike at Hamilton Pool, a beautiful collapsed grotto (click for a previous visit). After skipping a few stones in the […]

  42. […] level of the pool, which includes a stylized grotto reminiscent of Hill Country treasures like Hamilton Pool and Westcave […]