Austin Skyline

Photo Credit: Riley Heruska

As you drive into Austin, Texas, you’ll notice that the surrounding areas vary drastically from the landscapes you’ll spot in other areas of the Lone Star State. The Texas Hill Country is peppered with green trees, rivers, lakes, and of course, a hefty dose of state pride.

Other than an outstanding music scene, Austin is revered for its natural beauty by residents and tourists alike. As you meander through the city streets, you’ll spot bikers and joggers every other minute. One glance at the lake on a beautiful day reveal dozens of paddle boarders making their way under the city’s famous bridge. Even the dog policies in bars and restaurants reveal that this is a city that embraces its wild side, including pets and outdoor activities.

If you’re dropping by the Texas capital for a weekend or more, and you want to check off a few things on your bucket list, here are the top five activities to check out. Beware: you’ll find yourself thirsting for more of this quirky, green city.

1. Dive into Crystal Clear Water at Jacob’s Well

Jacob's Well

 Photo Credit: Riley Heruska – 

One of the most popular (and unique) destinations in the Austin area, Jacob’s Well is a magical sight to behold. As you begin your hike to the spot, you’ll wander through paths lined by trees as you question the existence of this mythic swimming pool. Then, you’ll finally stumble upon it: a rocky outcropping that looks over a literal hole.

Jacob’s Well is a large natural spring that travels deep into the ground and brings forth surprisingly clear, clean water. It’s quite cold, so be prepared for goosebumps and shivers, but you won’t want to stay on dry ground for this experience. Be brave and leap off the rocks into the 30-foot-deep hole, and if you can, dive into it with some goggles.

Obviously, be careful when it comes to diving in this hole. It’s one of the most dangerous scuba diving destinations in the country, but as long as you’re sticking to simple goggles and staying near the surface, you’ll be fine. If you do decide to scuba dive, make sure to do so with a guide and the proper safety precautions.

Grab tickets in advance and reserve your slot at the pool to ensure you can actually swim inside its strikingly blue waters. If you aren’t able to, you can hike to it and simply snap a few photos, even without reservations.

2. Hike, Bike, or Fish at McKinney Falls State Park

If you’re chasing waterfalls while in Austin, head to this state park that’s been around for more than forty years. You can visit the upper and lower falls, hike across several designated trails, and really get a feel for the trees and plants that are found in the area. During the spring months, you’ll see roads lined with vivid bluebonnets, the Texas state flower.

Occasionally, you might even glimpse some residential wildlife in the park, including white-tailed deer and coyotes. Do be careful not to tread on any Western diamondback rattlesnakes, though.

3. Swim Through the Freezing Water at Barton Springs

 Barton Springs

Photo Credit: Riley Heruska

Few other swimming pools in the world rival the uniqueness of Barton Springs. Hidden in Zilker Park is a pool the size of three acres that’s fed from four natural water springs. People crowd into the area to test their bravery in the 68-degree water and to snorkel in the natural limestone pool.

Originally, the water from the springs wasn’t contained in the swimming pool that it is now, but the modern design is partially why so many tourists seek it out. Imagine swimming in a giant man-made pool that’s full of crystal clear, natural water, as well as small creatures and plants.

My recommendation? Plan to visit Barton Springs during the hottest months of the year. If you dive in during the spring, your teeth will probably chatter from the cold, but a swim during the blistering hot Texas summer might actually feel refreshing.

4. Paddleboard or Kayak on Lady Bird Lake

 Lady Bird Lake

Photo Credit: Riley Heruska

You know the body of water you always see in pictures of the Austin city skyline? That’s Lady Bird Lake, and locals will use any excuse to get out on it when the sun is shining. Visit any of the numerous paddleboard or kayak rental shops lining, then try your hand at a new watersport. Not only will you get to experience the water and surrounding trees in a new way, but you’ll also get to take in the city from a different perspective.

5. Reserve Spots at the Surreal Hamilton Pool

 Hamilton Pool

Photo Credit: Riley Heruska

Like Jacob’s Well, this destination requires advanced planning in order to reserve a spot, but the pool is well worth the effort. A short hike through foliage leads you to the hidden gem. Miniature waterfalls sprinkle down from an overhanging cliff that surrounds this natural pool. Swallows dart in and out of holes in the ceiling to build nests. Large boulders around the water’s edge make for interesting climbing opportunities.

Although taking in Hamilton Pool from the shallow end is interesting, I’d highly recommend blowing up and inner tube and floating out into the middle. The striking walls and constantly-falling droplets of water deserve to be observed from a close range, and it’s way easier to lounge in a tube than it is to swim across the entire pool repeatedly.

Pick and Choose Your Poison

Depending on how long you’re in Austin, you might not have time to hit all of these amazing spots in one trip. Remember, you’ll also have to cram all of the scrumptious restaurants and awesome bars into your agenda, so plan accordingly. Whichever natural wonder you decide to visit, you’ll have a wonderful time and glimpse that Texas beauty everyone keeps talking about.