I drive to the end of the road. It’s led to a small parking lot behind ball fields. I spot a path, start walking it, and pass a woman who’s dripping water from her soaked clothes – she has made a little trail of drips to follow. The drip spots veer off the main path, down a smaller side trail, down a slippery, sandy hill and into wooded cover. Then, beyond the cover, I see the beach, edged by the gently sweeping Colorado River. Who would’ve guessed I’m so close to downtown, and yet so far away.
What a great intro, huh? The suspense, the mystery. Intriguing with every step.
But in all honesty, I’m not blowing any big cover about Secret Beach. It’s still a relatively hidden place, but that’s compared to, say, the Capitol. While I’ll keep things interesting and let you discover on your own how to get there, it’s easy enough to find, and once there, you won’t have the place all to yourself, unless it’s early in the morning on a weekday. It wasn’t always this way.
Up until just a couple years ago, the place was indeed a very little known alternative to the crowds and cold water of Barton Springs and other Austin swimming holes. For decades, hippies and other fun-loving, long-time Austinites had a tight-lipped monopoly on this place. Then over the years, more and more people caught on to the fun the place offered. Then the tubes came. A local tubing shuttle company, with perfectly good intentions to share the wealth of natural waterborne fun, started bringing their tubing customers there. No harm. But then a little more trash started getting left on the beach. Then the city put up its signage. And so goes the story, just like almost every other “secret” spot near almost every other city in the country.
Secret Beach is yet another lesson in the importance of maintaining the sacredness of natural places. Not necessarily about keeping secrets, but about living in more respectful connection with our outdoor spots. More people equals more risk of spoiling a place. Not “spoiling the secret” as much as actually spoiling the physical place with trash, pollution, potential wildfires, and all those other wonderful things we humans tend to leave in our wake.
But thankfully, the gradually increasing popularity of Secret Beach hasn’t spoiled it. If you can find your way there, you will find a free, spacious sandy beach to lay out on; you can share some beverages, swim in the moving waters of the Colorado, enjoy a little wildlife, and generally feel like you’re in a hidden wilderness playground – all while only minutes from the middle of Austin.
Tip: If you’re not bringing your own picnic supplies – which I highly recommend – there are some great little spots to eat nearby. This is far-east Austin, so don’t expect ritzy, but even better local dives, like Jalapeno’s Taco Bar. Their Torta Cubana is awesome. For brews, check out any of the excellent east-side outdoor bars mentioned in my Austin's Best Outdoor Bars list.