Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Great Outdoors

Summertime Splash

By Pam LeBlanc

June 2024 Issue

Inks Lake swimmers

I'll take a cypress-lined river or a fish-filled lake over a human-built pool any day.

Floating on my back or drifting slowly through a blue-green world ranks at the top of my to-do list on a sultry Texas day. It feels like a full-body hug from Mother Nature, and I don't mind the possibility of coming nose to nose with a turtle or crawfish.

Luckily, plenty of Texas parks serve up idyllic swimming holes, and I've got favorites.

Wherever you head, channel your inner river otter. Wild swimming is all about playing. Dive down deep, turn a somersault, let a damselfly land on your nose. You won't want to get out. Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, a big, dish-shaped oasis with crystal-clear water and a natural bottom, delivers the singular experience of a spring-fed swimming hole plopped in the middle of a desert. You can launch into the watering hole from a bouncy springboard, then gaze down on swirling catfish while you chug across the pool. You might even see a scuba diver gliding among the undulating plants at the pool's bottom.

Balmorhea swimmers

You'll have to hike a mile down a gravel road past the occasional free-roaming tarantula to reach the water's edge at Devils River State Natural Area, but you'll be glad you made the trip. This turquoise ribbon of water, one of the most pristine and remote rivers in Texas, is the stuff of dreams. Make your way upstream to see where springs flow from the base of a rocky cliff, or just hover mid-stream while turkey vultures soar overhead. For your own bird's-eye view, climb to the top of a cactus-covered ridgeline.

The water looks like glass most days at Inks Lake State Park. Aim for a spot called the Devil's Waterhole. There, you can perch on a boulder with your toes dangling in the water while you watch daredevils leap off the opposite cliff.

If you like to swim in rocky inlets, check out Possum Kingdom State Park, where my prime activity is floating (inflatable pool toy optional) in assorted coves. There's also a roped-off swim area, where you don't have to worry about passing boats. You could spend the entire weekend exploring.

If your definition of swimming leans more to the bobbing-like-a-carrot-in-a-bowl-of-soup side of things, put Martin Dies Jr. State Park on your list. The park's small, roped-off swim area is nothing extraordinary, but the setting — towering pine trees and nearby swampy inlets — sets it apart. I love pitching a tent at the park and wandering through the campground on my way for a morning dip.

For actual swimming, as in logging a mile or so without stopping, I beeline it to Blanco State Park in the Hill Country. From park headquarters, most people turn right to go to the campground or the swim area — there's a small cemented-in pool next to the dam where kids play. But I turn left instead. Drive under the overpass and park near the shaded picnic tables. From any of the gaps in the brush along the bank, you can slide into the green-blue water and start swimming languid laps up and down the river.

Pam jumping into Blanco River
Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine 
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