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5 Things to Know For Your First Visit to Hamilton Pool Preserve

On my first big road trip of 2023, the first stop I made was at Hamilton Pool Preserve TX, a place that I had been wanting to check out for man years. Like you (probably) I saw all the beautiful photos of this place and that’s what drove me to make the trip there.

However, after exploring it, I was a bit disappointed and if you’re thinking of visiting this place too, this post will really help you understand everything you need to know before you go there and decide ahead of time if it’s even worth it.

Quick info about Hamilton Pool Texas:

  • Name: Hamilton Pool Preserve
  • Location: Texas, 40 minutes from Austin
  • What is it? A cave with a waterfall and swimming area you hike to
  • Hike distance: 1/2 mile in and out
  • Hike difficulty: Easy
  • Is it family friendly? Yes
  • Rating: 4 out of 5
  • Recommended? In my opinion Hamilton Pool is not as amazing as I hoped (reasons explained below), but overall it’s a nice place to visit at least once if you’re in the Austin area.

5 things to know:

  1. A reservation is required (do it a month in advance!).
  2. Access to the best parts of Hamilton Pool (the cave) is limited/restricted.
  3. The photos of Hamilton Pool you see vs what it looks like in real life are very different.
  4. There is a short hike required to get to the pool.
  5. There are many other areas near Hamilton Pool worth exploring before or after.

While these are summaries of the things to know, it’s important that you get more context and info so let’s cover each of them here:

How to guarantee you get a Hamilton Pool Preserve reservation (permit):

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Getting Hamilton Pool reservations is actually easy but timing is important (do it a month out). I went there in mid January and actually got my reservation in early December (40 days beforehand). I would recommend that you do the same. As the season gets warmer and people start trying to get there, you will find that it becomes tougher and tougher to get that reservation, so in my case I signed up a month ahead of time and that’s for January.

Usually during the winter season you can probably see open slots for signing up a few weeks out, but if you’re planning on visiting anytime in the Spring or Summer (peak times), then I would say sign up for a reservation several months out! Here is a link to reserve a spot in Hamilton Pool Preserve. Another thing to know is that when you do sign up to get a reservation, it has to be within a few hours time as the slots close even if they don’t fill up.

Unfortunately the cave areas of Hamilton Pool are closed off indefinitely:

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Hamilton Pool Preserve is itself a large pond area but there is also a large cave section behind that pool that used to be accessible to hike into. When I went there, I discovered that it was closed off due to there being a danger of rock fall. While I understand the risks and why they closed it, there are 2 problems which make revisiting Hamilton Pool in the future a deal breaker for me:

  1. The best views in my opinion of Hamilton Pool Preserve are inside that cave area.
  2. I talked to one of the rangers there about the cave area reopening and they said there is no estimate on when that’ll happen and to my memory, it’s been closed for over a year now.

So if you’re thinking of visiting Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve with the intent to get the same great photos you see online, keep in mind that for the foreseeable future that won’t be possible. For me, seeing the cave area of Hamilton Pool was what I really went there for and because it was inaccessible, I was very disappointed but again I understand why it’s there. 

What about the Hamilton Pool waterfall? Can you see it?

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Yes but it all depends on how much rain was in the area prior to your visit. When people see photos of the Hamilton Pool waterfall (like the one above which I think is called Dripping Springs) it’s usually shown when the water is at peak flow. But when I arrived here, it was basically a small sprinkle. To my knowledge the best times to see the Hamilton Pool waterfall at it’s peak is during the beginning of spring and possibly summer (considering there is no drought).

Hamilton Pool Preserve photos vs what you really see are very different:

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That’s how it was for me at least and those are 2 photos I found on Canva.com. When I first reached Hamilton Pool, I was a bit surprised to see a very different, dark cave area vs what I thought I’d see based on the photos online. Here’s a few noticeable differences based on my experiences:

1) The Hamilton Pool waterfall was barely flowing like I said earlier:

I get it, I was there during a low water flow season.

2) The cave areas of Hamilton Pool is where the best views are but remember, it’s closed:

Some of the best Hamilton Pool Preserve photos I’ve seen were taken inside the large cave with the waterfall in the distance but as long as the cave area is forbidden to enter, it’ll be impossible to get those types of photos. If you don’t mind that, then you can still visit Hamilton Pool and have a good time. For me, I’d love to get as many amazing photos of this place in addition to swimming and hiking here.

3) If you want to see the light green glow of the Hamilton Pool water, you have to be there at the right time:

And I’m guessing it’s in the afternoon. In my case I arrived at 10:30 a.m, but to get to see that beautiful water you see in the photo above, you need to be there around 12 pm to 2 pm. That is when the sun shines over the pool and you can see it better (do know that there are fish in that water too).

4) Visiting Hamilton Pool Reserve during a certain season matters too:

A lot of the photos I see of this place are taken during warmer seasons and I arrived there during winter (I also swam in the pool regardless), but the point is the nature surrounding Hamilton Pool during winter seasons just isn’t anything as close to the beauty you would see if you went during the spring or summer seasons.

You have to hike about 1/4 miles to reach Hamilton Pool:

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Here’s a quick preview of what to expect as you get into the Hamilton Pool Reserve:

  1. First, you’ll drive past a ranger station to show your reservation.
  2. Once it’s confirmed, you’ll park your car close to the station.
  3. Then you’ll see a trailhead sign to Hamilton Pool Preserve.
  4. That hike is short but a bit rocky in places and takes about 1/4th miles to reach (easy hike to navigate so you won’t get lost in the woods).

Regardless of what season you go to visit this area, I would recommend starting as early as you can (get there at 9 am) because there will be lots of people filling up the area. I was fortunate to be there myself for an entire hour before groups starting coming there.

You also don’t have to wear any sort of special gear to do the hike to Hamilton Pool (but it does help), but just keep in mind that there is a hiking trail you have to take to get to it. I would say that hiking in crocs or even hiking in jeans to this place is totally fine, but don’t forget to bring swim wear for the actual pool. The hike to Hamilton Pool from the parking lot is downhill for the most part, but it’s not long.

Be sure to explore areas near Hamilton Pool Preserve:

Lots of people go to this area exclusively to see Hamilton Pool Preserve and while you can spend a whole day there, I think you’d be missing out because there’s so many other things to see close by! I personally discovered that there is an entire region worth of hikes and other adventures to check out there. Here are just some of the many places you explore nearby:

1) Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center:

It was closed when I tried to visit during January, but there are hikes and other cool caves to see there and it’s only a 5 minute drive from Hamilton Pool too!

2) Pedernales Falls State Park:

This is actually about 20 minutes from Hamilton Pool and may be one of the best state parks in Texas to check out. There’s swimming, probably less crowds and many scenic spots to see.

3) Cyprus Valley (tree house rentals):

I was shocked that you can actually see and rent tree houses here!

4) Reimer’s Ranch region:

You can also explore the Reimer’s Ranch area (as the ranger suggested) near Hamilton Pool. It’s a large region with hikes, kayaking, swimming and more adventurous places to check out. You can even get a map from the ranger at Hamilton Pool to get more info.

5) Ash Cave at Hocking Hills (unrelated area, but it’s way better than Hamilton Pool Reserve):

One of the reasons I was so drawn to Hamilton Pool Preserve was because it reminded me of an amazing place called Hocking Hills State Park that I found in Ohio, where one of it’s best attractions is a place called Ash Cave which in hindsight I would say is 100x more beautiful and amazing than Hamilton Pool. Here is a comparison:

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It is an even larger cave, with an even larger waterfall you can check out (although there’s no swimming there). I just had to mention it because of the similarities it has to the Hamilton Pool spot.

6) Bonus: More beaches with waterfalls!

I consider Hamilton Pool Preserve to basically be a beach waterfall area and if you like seeing these kinds of spots, I have a huge list of many more beaches with waterfalls you can see (on that list is Hamilton Pool and Ash Cave, but there’s also many more).

More questions about Hamilton Pool Texas:

How much does it cost to go to Hamilton Pool?

There is a $12 online reservation fee and an $8 additional fee to pay when you officially get to Hamilton Pool Preserve.

Is Hamilton Pool worth visiting?

I would recommend going to Hamilton Pool once, but more importantly be sure to see the parks, attractions and sights near it.

What should I wear to Hamilton Pool?

I would bring regular hiking clothes for the hike to Hamilton Pool and swimming gear for when you reach it like swimming trunks and towels.

Are there bathrooms in Hamilton Pool?

Yes there are portable bathrooms at the parking lot to Hamilton Pool Preserve.

Overall my first (and possibly) only visit to Hamilton Pool Preserve was OK but not as outstanding as I had hoped it’d be, although even if I knew about the cave closure and timing, I’d still go just to see the area and in truth, it is beautiful there, just a lot less beautiful than what I had hoped for because of the closures in place.

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