When the sun's out and the temperature is climbing, there's no better place to enjoy Austin's rugged, hilly scenery and handsome, human scenery than Hippie Hollow Park, a lovely expanse of precipitous limestone cliffs and promontories set along the eastern shore of serpentine Lake Travis (which is actually a dammed expanse of the Colorado River, and no, not the one that runs through the Grand Canyon but a much smaller river in Texas).
Hippie Hollow is unusual - and popular - for one major reason: it's the only public park in Texas where nudity is officially permitted. It's not surprising that you'd find such a place on the outskirts of liberal, countercultural, and gay-friendly Austin. One particular section of the park has a hugely loyal following among gay sunbathers, who flock here just about any day of the year there's sun and temperatures above 50 degrees.
Of particular note, the gay community a few big gatherings throughout the warmer months. Kicking off the season, Splash Day Weekend is held by several key gay bars and other Austin community businesses the first weekend in May - this year it takes place over May 3-5, 2013. Then at the close of the summer season, Splash Weekend at Hippie Hollow is held over Labor Day weekend. This year the Splash weekend is August 30 to September 2, 2013 (Labor Day weekend), for Last Splash - it's shortly before Austin Gay Pride, held a week later.
Also of note for revelers is Memorial Day Weekend, which is May 25 and 27 in 2013. This is when the spring Splash Weekends had been held for many years, and according to many locals, it remains still an extremely popular weekend with LGBT Austinites each spring. According to a fun and informative e-mail from a fan of the Memorial Day festivities at Hippie Hollow, "Please know that the real First Splash Day is Memorial Day weekend and is attended by sexy young gym babies sunning on the rocks, toned and topless lesbians on party barges, and well-to-do Daddies with their personal yachts."
Well what's not to like about that? Of course, anytime the weather is good, it's fun to drop by this beautiful park.
Hippie Hollow is about a half-hour drive northwest of Austin - You get here by taking the MoPac Expressway (or Hwy. 1) north for about 5 miles from the west side of downtown to Hwy. 2222, which leads west about 12 miles to the park (just follow the signs - it's not hard to find).
The slightly trickier part is finding your way to the gay section once you're at the Hippie Hollow's parking lot, and you've paid the rather steep day-use fee ($12 for vehicles, $5 for pedestrians and bicyclists). Once you've parked, walk down the stone steps to the paved pathway, and at the public bathrooms, turn left and start walking. If it's a nice day, you'll almost certainly encounter men and a handful of women strolling nude along the path, and sunning themselves on the rocks below, which extend from the paved path to the water.
Leave it to the gays to stake out the remotest terrain. In this case just keep following the paved trail as it winds...and winds...and winds...as far as it will go - it's about a 15-minute stroll. Gradually, your gaydar may sense more kindred souls lying on the rocks, and at the end of the paved section, steps and a path lead to an expanse of rocks that constitutes the unofficial gay section. If it's a weekend or busy summer day, you may hear dance music blaring from an armada of pleasure boats moored just offshore, typically hoisting rainbow flags high in the air and packed with scantily attired or nude revelers and sunbunnies. Interestingly, although the gay section does draw its share of nudists, it's actually the one part of Hippie Hollow where you're likely to see plenty of sunbathers and swimmers in suits and shorts.
It can not be stressed enough: watch your step. The rocks are steep, and if you're swimming, be careful not to dive or swim into a rocky section submerged just below the water surface. Lives have been lost here. And it's not too hard to slip, especially if you're focused more on the cute nekked twinks lounging in the sun than the occasionally treacherous terrain.
Along the limestone cliffs you'll find little cliques of sunbathing friends. It's all harmless and fun...sex on the rocks (or anywhere in public) is strictly forbidden here, but that doesn't mean you can't swap phone numbers with the cute creatures you mingle with during your visit.
Heed the park's myriad rules and warnings, and note the strictly enforced hours - all of this info is posted on the park's website. Another excellent site on the park offering additional information is HippieHollow.com. From the gay section you can also see, perched high on a soaring cliff about half-mile away, a massive restaurant called the Oasis. This festive Tex-Mex restaurant with a gadzillion terraces and decks overlooking the lake burned almost entirely to the ground (it was struck by lightening) in 2005, but it's been impressively rebuilt with beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces. The food's eh - decently prepared standbys like smoked-chicken enchiladas and guac-and-chips). It's a fun place for cocktails and brunch or a sunset dinner, before or after a visit to Hippie Hollow. The owners made a further expansion recently, reopening as a full outdoor retail and entertainment village.