Appreciating the Blue Hole, the Source of the San Antonio River

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The Blue Hole is a modest place, but it’s still a must-see for people who love San Antonio. Along with other springs in the Headwaters area, the Blue Hole is traditionally considered the source of the San Antonio River, so it’s an important place for appreciating how water has shaped our city and its culture for ages. Visiting the Blue Hole is a brief, free, family-friendly excursion, and may spark curiosity about where San Antonio gets its water from and how we can conserve it for future generations.

What Is the Blue Hole?

The Blue Hole, also known as the San Antonio Spring, Ojo de Agua, or Yanaguana, is located in the Headwaters at the Incarnate Word preserve on the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio and Alamo Heights. When the water level in the Edwards Aquifer is high enough—at least 672 feet above sea level as measured at the J-17 well—clear water surges up from cracks in the limestone and spills into a riverbed that eventually becomes the San Antonio River Walk that we know and love. For a detailed account of the science and history of the Blue Hole, see “San Antonio Springs and Brackenridge Park” by Gregg Ekhardt at the Edwards Aquifer Website.

Riverbed of the San Antonio River downstream of the Blue Hole, San Antonio Springs | San Antonio Charter Moms

The history of human settlement around the Blue Hole dates back approximately 12,000 years. From 1869 to 1897, the area around the Blue Hole was the estate of George W. Brackenridge, familiar to readers of this blog as the settlor of the education-focused George W. Brackenridge Foundation, until he sold the land, his house (now know as the Brackenridge Villa), and its contents to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

Brackenridge Villa at the University of the Incarnate Word | San Antonio Charter Moms

Just to be clear—there is another Blue Hole in the region, a popular swimming hole near Wimberley. There’s also an East Texas Blue Hole.

How to Visit the Blue Hole

The Headwaters at Incarnate Word are open every day of the year from dawn to dusk. Admission is free and there is no need for tickets or reservations unless you are coming with a group. The best times to go are evenings and weekends when it’s easier to find parking on the Incarnate Word campus. The Headwaters site has directions and a map showing how to reach the Headwaters trails from either the Highway 281 North frontage road or from East Hildebrand.

Pass by a sand volleyball court on the way to the Blue Hole, San Antonio Springs, source of the San Antonio River | San Antonio Charter Moms

The Blue Hole, as you can see on the campus map, is accessible from a walking trail that winds past a sand volleyball court. A left turn into a wooded area brings you to a low stone wall encircling the spring.

Path to the Blue Hole, San Antonio Springs, source of the San Antonio River | San Antonio Charter Moms

When the aquifer is high enough, the water flows freely from the spring. The surface of the water is disturbed by the constant upward push of water from underground. Small fish dart around in the water, and the riverbed is a patchwork of mud and leaves.

Water inside the Blue Hole, San Antonio Springs, source of the San Antonio River | San Antonio Charter Moms

However, when the aquifer is low due to pumping from wells, the Blue Hole is dusty and the riverbed is dry. During those dry times, recycled water keeps the San Antonio River flowing downstream.

Blue Hole, San Antonio Springs, source of the San Antonio River | San Antonio Charter Moms

The spring is a small and humble place compared to the river as it goes through the artsy Museum Reach, the touristy San Antonio River Walk, the naturalistic Mission Reach, and beyond. Nevertheless, the Blue Hole has a sacred feeling. There is a bench nearby inscribed with the words, “Be still and know.”

"Be still and know." Bench near the Blue Hole, San Antonio Springs, source of the San Antonio River | San Antonio Charter Moms

On our recent visit, my kids wanted to skip around and play, but they also took the time to sit on the bench, look out over the river, and enjoy a quiet moment in the shade.

Learn More About San Antonio’s Water

Visiting the Blue Hole with your family is a good way to start a discussion about where San Antonio’s water comes from. The Edwards Aquifer is a remarkable thing, but the water supply is limited in times of drought, so our citizens need to practice conservation and our city needs to plan for the future by securing other supplies of water.

In addition to the Blue Hole, there are other family-friendly places to learn about water.

Water flowing from the Blue Hole, San Antonio Springs, source of the San Antonio River | San Antonio Charter Moms

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sachartermoms

Parent-activist and education blogger in San Antonio, Texas, USA. Helping parents make informed school choices and explore cultural activities.

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