Hamilton Pool

Balcones Canyonlands Preserve / Austin, Texas, USA

About Hamilton Pool


Hiking Distance: 1 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2016-03-12
Date last visited: 2016-03-12

Waterfall Latitude: 30.34208
Waterfall Longitude: -98.12691

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Hamilton Pool was easily our favorite Texas waterfall.

Even though the falls was modestly sized with a plunge of roughly 50ft into its namesake pool, we thought it was the stuff surrounding the pool and waterfall that made this place so scenic and memorable.

Hamilton_Pool_204_03122016 - The Hamilton Pool Waterfall
The Hamilton Pool Waterfall

As you can see in the photo above, the Hamilton Pool featured a deep cave-like grotto.

This allowed us to stay cool and sheltered from the hot sun, but the grotto was so deep that it also let us view the waterfall from a variety of positions (including behind it).

Under more benign conditions than during our visit, it was also possible to go for a swim, which seemed to be a popular activity in Texas (probably underscoring how hot it could get here).

Indeed, this was the kind of attraction that we certainly didn’t expect to see in a state with more of a reputation for being flat and hot.

Hamilton_Pool_118_03122016 - Context of the Hamilton Pool and its waterfall as seen from inside the deep cave-like grotto
Context of the Hamilton Pool and its waterfall as seen from inside the deep cave-like grotto

Nevertheless, we could totally see why it was immensely popular despite there being controlled access into the preserve.

Controlled Access to the Hamilton Pool

Speaking of controlled access, visiting the Hamilton Pool was actually a little tricky.

First off, the Hamilton Pool Preserve didn’t open until 9am.

On the day of our visit, it didn’t open until 1pm due to flooding and some trail damage earlier that morning.

There were employees at the entrance (see directions below) who would turn vehicles away if it was too early or if it was closed.

Hamilton_Pool_001_03122016 - Lining up to enter the Hamilton Pool Reserve just minutes before the place officially opened
Lining up to enter the Hamilton Pool Reserve just minutes before the place officially opened

So that created some chaos in that people were marauding back and forth if they couldn’t find temporary pullout parking near the entrance.

When they finally let us drive up to the gate, we had to wait in another queue that quickly piled up (say within 10-15 minutes of opening).

It got to the point that the employee managing the back of the queue had to turn cars away again in order to prevent vehicles from spilling out onto the Hamilton Pool Road.

Once we finally rolled up to the entrance kiosk, we paid the $15 in cash or check (a pretty steep price to pay in cash), then managed to find parking in their lot.

Hamilton_Pool_233_03122016 - Lots of people chilling out at the beach across from the Hamilton Pool. Given such popularity, it made sense that they had to restrict access
Lots of people chilling out at the beach across from the Hamilton Pool. Given such popularity, it made sense that they had to restrict access

Note that their vehicle entry fee as of our visit in March 2016 actually created a perverse incentive to carpool to the preserve instead of walking or biking here as they’d charge $8 per person!

So if you came as a couple or a group, you’d already be paying more than if you had carpooled!

Talk about economic incentive to do the opposite of being environmentally friendly!

Anyways, after parking the car, we then started the roughly 1/2-mile hike (each way) to the Hamilton Pool and waterfall.

There were some picnic tables and toilet facilities around the trailhead, but we wasted no time to get started.

Hamilton_Pool_085_03122016 - View of the impressive Hamilton Pool Waterfall from near the opening of the deep cave-like grotto adjacent to the Hamilton Pool
View of the impressive Hamilton Pool Waterfall from near the opening of the deep cave-like grotto adjacent to the Hamilton Pool

One more thing I should mention is that I have a feeling that the somewhat chaotic experience of rushing to the entrance right when they opened (and turning away those who missed out) may not be sustainable.

So by the time you read this, Travis County Parks may impose a different system to better accommodate more people and alleviate the chaos.

Hiking to the Hamilton Pool

Even though the signs said the Hamilton Pool trail was moderately strenuous, it really wasn’t that bad.

The trail started off by descending on a combination of dirt and rock slabs.

Hamilton_Pool_018_03122016 - Julie and Tahia traversing a somewhat slippery rocky surface when the trail descended closer to the Hamilton Creek
Julie and Tahia traversing a somewhat slippery rocky surface when the trail descended closer to the Hamilton Creek

I guess it was the rocky sections that made the footing a bit on the slippery side.

This was especially the case since it was wet from all the rains that had taken place during the week we were in Austin.

After a few minutes of this descent, we reached a junction where the trail on the left went to the Pedernales River (though that trail was closed).

Of course, we veered right and walked along the Hamilton Creek in the upstream direction as the trail now passed by some interesting rock formations as well as a small escarpment.

Hamilton_Pool_243_03122016 - This section of the trail to the Hamilton Pool skirted along Hamilton Creek, which might have been flooded and caused a delayed opening time on the day of our March 2016 visit
This section of the trail to the Hamilton Pool skirted along Hamilton Creek, which might have been flooded and caused a delayed opening time on the day of our March 2016 visit

Along the way, we noticed that there was the end of some road near the trail junction, but this was a maintenance road for park employees (though it seemed to confuse our GPS when we routed to this place).

As we got closer to the Hamilton Pool Waterfall, there was one stretch of trail that was right up against the creek.

I’d imagine it was probably this part of the trail that was flooded earlier in the morning and caused the delayed opening on the day of our visit.

Soon afterwards, we reached the wide Hamilton Pool, where the trail split off in two directions as it looped around the pool.

Hamilton_Pool_141_03122016 - Walking within the deep alcove adjacent to the Hamilton Pool switched between tight squeezes like this and rock scrambles
Walking within the deep alcove adjacent to the Hamilton Pool switched between tight squeezes like this and rock scrambles

There was a beach-like area past the small footbridge on the left side of this fork, and this was where most of the sun bathers chilled out at.

Meanwhile, the established trail continued beyond the beach and into the deep cave-like grotto.

Within the grotto, the trail more or less alternated between being an obvious trail and a rock scramble.

This was especially in one section where it was hard to squeeze between the grotto wall and some huge rock slabs, and we found it easier to climb the rocks to get around that kind of a tight squeeze.

Hamilton_Pool_151_03122016 - Walking behind the Hamilton Pool Waterfall as the trail continued to loop around the Hamilton Pool itself
Walking behind the Hamilton Pool Waterfall as the trail continued to loop around the Hamilton Pool itself

Then, the trail went behind the main part of the Hamilton Pool Waterfall, where it got a little bit on the misty side causing the trail to get wet and slippery here.

Beyond the misty part, there were some ladder-like steps climbing back up to more established trail again before descending back down to the junction to complete the loop.

In any case, we spent nearly 90 minutes away from the car.

Most of that time was spent taking photos and just soaking in the festive atmosphere from all the people who descended upon this beautiful place.

Hamilton_Pool_187_03122016 - Looking back towards the Hamilton Pool Waterfall as the trail continued to loop around the Hamilton Pool itself
Looking back towards the Hamilton Pool Waterfall as the trail continued to loop around the Hamilton Pool itself

That said, we definitely worked up a sweat given that the return hike was mostly uphill when we left Hamilton Creek.

Photographing the Hamilton Pool Waterfall

Apparently, the early afternoon was a difficult time to take photos because the sun was almost right on top of the north-facing waterfall.

Meanwhile, the bright sunlight also created some pretty harsh contrast between the shadowy grotto area and the bright pool itself.

I’d imagine that early morning or late afternoons would be the best time to take photos.

Hamilton_Pool_225_03122016 - Unobstructed view looking directly across the Hamilton Pool towards its waterfall from the beach area
Unobstructed view looking directly across the Hamilton Pool towards its waterfall from the beach area

Furthermore, it appeared that the views of the Hamilton Pool Falls was less obstructed by foliage the further to its left we went.

It was more difficult to get a clean look at the falls towards its right side.

Authorities

Hamilton Pool resides in the Hamilton Pool Preserve near Austin in Travis County, Texas. It is administered by the Travis County Parks. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Hamilton_Pool_011_03122016 - This was the very start of the trail to the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_012_03122016 - At first, the trail was pretty straightforward as it followed an obvious dirt path with some shade provided by the trees
Hamilton_Pool_013_03122016 - Then the Hamilton Pool trail became a bit rocky and uneven, which made the footing a bit slippery where the rocks were still wet from all the rain during our stay in Austin
Hamilton_Pool_017_03122016 - Julie and Tahia continuing on the Hamilton Pool Trail as the rocky sections became more frequent
Hamilton_Pool_020_03122016 - We saw a handful of numbered signposts like this one, which indicated that this trail was an interpretive trail. But we noticed that they were mostly ignored as people headed straight for the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_022_03122016 - Tahia and Julie continuing the descent on the trail to the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_023_03122016 - Julie and Tahia approaching the trail junction where the Hamilton Pool Trail and Pedernales River Trail intersected, but the Pedernales River Trail was closed
Hamilton_Pool_025_03122016 - Now the Hamilton Pool Trail passed besides these interesting rock formations beyond this warning sign
Hamilton_Pool_029_03122016 - Then the Hamilton Pool Trail passed by this impressive little escarpment
Hamilton_Pool_033_03122016 - This was where the Hamilton Pool Trail was right up against Hamilton Creek, and I suspected that it was this stretch that might have been flooded earlier this morning thereby keeping the preserve closed until afternoon
Hamilton_Pool_037_03122016 - This footbridge over Hamilton Creek looked new, but it ultimately got us to the beach fronting the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_038_03122016 - At the beach area by the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_041_03122016 - Our first clean look at the Hamilton Pool Waterfall, which came from the beach area
Hamilton_Pool_045_03122016 - Context of someone checking out the Hamilton Pool and its companion seeping waterfalls from the end of the beach area
Hamilton_Pool_050_03122016 - Looking up at the rim of the impressive cave-like alcove at the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_077_03122016 - Long exposed look at the context of the rim of the cave-like alcove and the Hamilton Pool with its waterfall
Hamilton_Pool_072_03122016 - Broad view of another family enjoying the sand on the beach of the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_092_03122016 - Bright long-exposed look at the Hamilton Pool and waterfall with more of the neighboring waterfalls standing out
Hamilton_Pool_176_03122016 - This person was checking out the percolating water that caused some moss and algae to grow on this combination of stalactite and stalagmite from within the grotto by the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_095_03122016 - Inside the deep and well-shaded grotto by the Hamilton Pool as I continued following the trail inside its depths
Hamilton_Pool_102_03122016 - Within the grotto looking beneath some stalactites towards the Hamilton Pool waterfall
Hamilton_Pool_105_03122016 - Context of the deep alcove and the Hamilton Pool Waterfall just to give you a sense of how deep this alcove goes
Hamilton_Pool_107_03122016 - The presence of these large slabs of rock was evidence that every now and then, c hunks of rock would fall from the ceiling of the grotto at the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_111_03122016 - Broad view of the Hamilton Pool Waterfall shot from within the deep alcove
Hamilton_Pool_132_03122016 - Long exposed look at the Hamilton Pool Waterfall from within the deep alcove
Hamilton_Pool_135_03122016 - Looking more in at the deep alcove that plenty of people were walking within to experience the Hamilton Pool
Hamilton_Pool_143_03122016 - Context of the approach to the backside of the Hamilton Pool Waterfall and where people are scrambling to get there
Hamilton_Pool_145_03122016 - Broad view trying to show the Hamilton Pool Waterfall on one side and the beach on the opposite side as seen from within the alcove
Hamilton_Pool_147_03122016 - The Hamilton Pool Trail now started to go behind the waterfall for an even more unusual perspective
Hamilton_Pool_211_03122016 - Looking back at the trail going around the Hamilton Pool from within the grotto
Hamilton_Pool_153_03122016 - The Hamilton Pool Trail was a bit misty and wet behind the waterfall, but as you can see from all the people here, it was a popular spot to be
Hamilton_Pool_209_03122016 - Looking ahead at some steps ascending after I had gone behind the Hamilton Pool Waterfall
Hamilton_Pool_188_03122016 - Looking back across the Hamilton Pool Waterfall after having gone behind it and ascending the stepladder
Hamilton_Pool_194_03122016 - Long exposed look back at the Hamilton Pool Waterfall using the railings as a makeshift tripod
Hamilton_Pool_198_03122016 - Looking back at the profile of the Hamilton Pool Waterfall showing the alcove that I had walked through to get here
Hamilton_Pool_185_03122016 - This was the view back at the Hamilton Pool waterfall after climbing the stepladder within the grotto
Hamilton_Pool_216_03122016 - Looking back at the Hamilton Pool Waterfall after having gone behind it
Hamilton_Pool_184_03122016 - Looking back up at the overhanging alcove on the other side of the Hamilton Pool, which wasn't nearly as deep
Hamilton_Pool_218_03122016 - Descending out of the other side of the crescent alcove that went behind the Hamilton Pool Waterfall
Hamilton_Pool_181_03122016 - Looking back at the steps I had to descend from the other end of the crescent alcove behind the Hamilton Pool Waterfall
Hamilton_Pool_180_03122016 - Looking through some foliage towards the Hamilton Pool Waterfall from the other side of Hamilton Creek
Hamilton_Pool_219_03122016 - The view of the Hamilton Pool waterfall was a bit obstructed on the right side
Hamilton_Pool_220_03122016 - Looking towards the very busy beach area fronting the Hamilton Pool from the other side of Hamilton Creek
Hamilton_Pool_224_03122016 - Once again back at the beach and looking across the Hamilton Pool towards the Hamilton Pool Waterfall
Hamilton_Pool_228_03122016 - I seized the moment to take this long exposure shot of the Hamilton Pool Waterfall when clouds momentarily blocked the sun
Hamilton_Pool_237_03122016 - When I finally had my fill of the Hamilton Pool Waterfall, I noticed this interesting look at some cypress trees along Hamilton Creek on my way back to the car
Hamilton_Pool_242_03122016 - Going back across the flood-prone part of the Hamilton Pool Trail on the way back to the parking lot

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Since we based ourselves in Austin, we’ll describe the driving directions from there.

We’ll first describe the route sticking to the main highways even though the GPS had us take a more direct route on a slower road, which we’ll describe later.

From downtown Austin, we found our way to the Hwy 290 (either south along the I-35 or south along the 1-Loop).

We then headed west on the Hwy 290 until reaching the Route 71 at the next light shortly after the freeway ended (roughly 3.3 miles west of the 1-Loop junction with the Hwy 290).

Next, we turned right onto Route 71 and followed this surface road for nearly 9 miles to the Hamilton Pool Road, where there was a signposted traffic light.

Hamilton_Pool_003_03122016 - The parking lot at the Hamilton Pool Preserve after finally making it past the queue and paying the vehicle fee
The parking lot at the Hamilton Pool Preserve after finally making it past the queue and paying the vehicle fee

We then turned left onto the Hamilton Pool Road and followed this two-lane paved rural road for a little over 12 miles to the signposted Hamilton Pool Preserve entrance on the right.

Overall, this drive took us around 45 minutes though probably a large chunk of that time was spent waiting for traffic lights.

Other Bits of Info about Driving to Hamilton Pool Preserve

Alternatively, at the junction of the 1-Loop and the Hwy 290, instead of staying on the 290 to the 71, the GPS had us take the Southwest Parkway for almost 7 miles to the Route 71.

Then, we turned right to go north onto the Route 71 for the next 4.5 miles to the Hamilton Pool Road, where we turned left and followed that road like the directions above to get to the entrance of the preserve.

Finally, as mentioned before in the introduction above, we were turned away from the entrance by the employees there for showing up too early.

So we (and many others) were busy driving back-and-forth along Hamilton Pool Road killing time (and gas) before they’d finally let us in the entrance.

The nearest pullouts that we could find was actually near the Stage Coach Ranch Road, which was a short distance west of the entrance to the Hamilton Pool Preserve.

They eventually let us in less than five minutes before the official opening.

Just to give you a sense of geographical context, Austin was about 195 miles (3 hours drive) south of Dallas and 169 miles (2.5 hours drive) west of Houston.

Brief sweep from just the beach area opposite the waterfall across Hamilton Pool


Long movie doing the entire loop trail around the Hamilton Pool while showing off the various angles of the waterfall and some detail of the collapsed grotto

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Tagged with: balcones canyonlands, austin, travis county, hill country, texas, waterfall, preserve, hamilton creek



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Johnny Cheng

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Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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