The Naked History of Hippie Hollow
By Steven Morvant
In a city that prides itself on being weird, Hippie Hollow remains one of Austin’s most unique places. At this county park, stone steps wind their way down a rocky shore on Lake Travis. The Texas sun’s harsh rays are reflected off of the clear waters as the trees provide some shade to bathers. The only thing missing? Clothes.
Hippie Hollow is the only clothing optional public park in all of Texas, yet its history is more than skin deep.
The park was originally known as McGregor Park and wasn’t initially a place designated for nude bathing. At its start, the park was owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority and was opened to the public without an admission fee. The cultural revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s saw new crowds flocking there, with people bringing excessive trash, drugs and noise to the park.
And, of course, the park, on Comanche Trail, began to see a bunch of skinny-dipping hippies.
This change in climate angered people who lived near the park, and in 1977 neighbors filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to shut it down permanently. Meanwhile, skinny dippers were arrested, yet rarely, if ever, convicted.
In 1985, Travis County took over management from LCRA , made improvements to the park, installed a booth to charge admission and reopened it as a clothing optional park open to all ages.
“It’s a real jewel here in Central Texas. The only spot of its kind out here,” said Chris Powers, a regular at the park. “It’s ours. And that right there needs to be protected at all costs.”
Jesse Griffith, another park regular, said he has always liked places that allow nudity.
“I’ve met tourists at Hippie Hollow that were just in paradise there,” he said.
This arrangement remained in place until 1995, when a nudist group held a children’s poster contest that was intended to promote body positivity among young people. The idea of posters featuring nude children caused an uproar in Travis County, once again putting the park in danger of being closed. Instead, the county settled to make the park for ages 18 and up and put up new signs designating that children were not allowed in the park.
Over the years, the secluded section on the far end of the path became a popular hang-out and meeting spot for those in the LGBTQ community. The park is now a part of local gay pride celebrations, with Splash Days and other events celebrating the gay lifestyle. On Splash Days, the park is filled with people, music, party barges and boats with proceeds from the events going to benefit the LGBTQ community. The first Splash Day of the season, called First Splash, is typically held over Memorial Day Weekend and kicks off gay pride in Austin.
While nudity is acceptable, lewd behavior of any kind has never been allowed at Hippie Hollow. Those caught breaking the rules will be removed by a park ranger and can face legal consequences. The rules posted at the park entrance and online establish that Hippie Hollow is intended to be a safe, comfortable place for everyone to enjoy nature – naturally.
Today, Hippie Hollow remains an inclusive place for everyone, provided they’re 18 years old or older. Nudity is not required, and its common to see people merely topless, in a bathing suit or fully clothed.
Mike Imhoss had always thought about giving nudism a chance, but he didn’t try it until he moved to Austin. At the time, Imhoss was going through new life changes and was experiencing a spiritual awakening. He decided to go to Hippie Hollow because he could come with just his soul and not be distracted by clothes.
“I definitely believe this is the first place I’ve ever been to where I’ve really felt the feeling of non-judgment,” Mike Imhoss said. “I’ve seen all kinds of people of different ages, shapes, sizes.”
After his first time at the park, Imhoss liked the lifestyle and went back again. And again. And again. Imhoss loved it so much that he encouraged other people to give it a try.
“If anyone’s interested, you don’t feel you need to take off your clothes, but it’s something to experience,” Imhoss said.
At the entrance, a cash-only booth with a park ranger collects the $8 per person entry fee before a car is let into the parking lot. No nudity is allowed in the parking lot, rather, visitors have to wait until they reach the giant sign announcing that nude bathers are likely to be present beyond that point.
After that, it’s all up to you whether or not you’re ready to make the plunge.