One of the most unique and beautiful natural swimming and hiking spots in Texas sits about an hour-and-a-half drive from Killeen-Fort Hood.

Hamilton Pool Preserve, a 232-acre site at Dripping Springs, near Austin, features a 50-foot waterfall spilling over limestone outcroppings, down into a collapsed grotto and canyon, forming a large, shaded pool fed by the Pedernales River and Hamilton Creek.

Along with the pool, the preserve is home to the Golden-cheeked Warbler and a great variety of other birds. According to the Travis County parks website, “The diverse vegetation of Hamilton Pool ranges from semi-arid species in the uplands to riparian species in the canyon. The uplands of the preserve are a juniper and oak savannah with a variety of native grasses and wildflowers. Several rare plant species including canyon mock-orange, red bay (western-most colony of this eastern species), and chatterbox orchid are known to occur in the canyon areas along Hamilton Creek.“

Prior to the 1800s, Tonkawa and Lipan Apaches lived in the area. In the mid-1860s, Morgan C. Hamilton owned the property now known as Hamilton Pool Preserve. His brother, Andrew Jake Hamilton (the 10th governor of Texas), evidently visited this beautiful grotto while he was governor. In the 1880s, the Reimers, an immigrant family from Germany, bought the property to raise sheep and cattle. Legend has it that their eight-year-old son discovered the collapsed grotto.

“Although ranchers might have considered the grotto a safety hazard for their livestock, the Reimers soon realized its value as a recreational area and opened the property for public use. Around the turn of the century, only a handful of people had the transportation to come out and enjoy the cool, serene surroundings. By the 1960s, and on into the 1980s, Hamilton Pool’s popularity had soared, as visitors packed the legendary swimming hole,” the website states.

That popularity led to concerns about damage to the park’s fragile ecosystem, and so a number of protective measures were established, including limiting the number of people visiting the park at any one time. Reservations are required to enter the park, and swimming is not always allowed, depending on recent rainfall amounts and bacteria levels in the water. Guided hikes are available and pets are prohibited. Also not allowed are camping, cooking, drones, fireworks, glass containers, ground fires, alcohol consumption or tobacco products.

For more information on operating hours, reservations, frequently asked questions and more, visit parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/hamilton-pool-preserve.

Meanwhile, for a little summertime fun closer to home, the city of Killeen’s Family Aquatics Center features an array of water-filled activity including a 10,350-square-foot multi-use pool, 2,180-square-foot bath house, 25-meter lap pool, three water slides, a bowl slide, shade shelters, spray grounds and tot slide.

The center at 1800 E. Stan Schlueter Loop is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, through Aug. 17. It is closed Mondays. Day passes, season passes and facility rentals are available. For more information contact the city of Killeen.

Long Branch Park Pool in Killeen is also open Tuesday through Sunday from June 1 through Aug. 17, and then weekends through Sept. 2.

In Lampasas, Hancock Springs Free Flow Pool is one of the last free-flowing spring-fed pools in Texas with water staying at a cool 69 degrees, no matter how hot it gets outside. The spring is at Hancock Park, Highway 281 South in Lampasas. Adult admission fee is $3.50 per day and seniors and children are $2.50. The pool is open Thursday to Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.

Hanna Springs Pool, a 7,000-square-foot facility at 501 E. North Ave. in Lampasas, includes a bath house with showers, restrooms and dressing areas. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. Closed Monday.

Belton Lake Outdoor and Recreation Center, at the intersection of North Nolan Road and Cottage Road, has a number of activities for families to enjoy. Camping sites, picnic pavilions, horseback riding trails, hiking, mountain biking, as well as a man-made beach complete with a downhill water slide and more are available. Military patrons pay $3 per car; all others are $10 per vehicle. Go to hood.armymwr.com for more information.

For some indoor entertainment, head on over to Central Texas College’s Mayborn Science Theater and its ongoing lineup of new weekday matinees, classic movie showings, and Laser Friday presentations. Saturday matinees run all day, and weekday matinees are on Wednesdays. Classic Movie Night is the third Friday of every month at 5:30pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $5 per person, per show. For complete show descriptions, directions, membership information and more, visit starsatnight.org.

Fort Hood’s Apache Arts and Crafts Center is open Tuesday through Saturday for those interested in do-it-yourself projects, including picture frames, ceramics and ceramics birthday parties for kids. Contact MWR for more information.

For the more athletically-inclined, Killeen’s Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park offers a variety of high-flying attractions. With almost too many activities to mention all in one place, the complex at 2102 Jennifer Drive, between West Jasper Drive and Highway 190, includes not only trampoline-jumping, but such things as a Sky Rider indoor coaster, ropes course, climbing walls, obstacle course, tubes playground, trapeze, dodgeball and slam dunk zone. For more information on the park, go to www.urbanairtrampolinepark.com/locations/texas/killeen.

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