Why Is Hippie Hollow Clothing-Optional?

The Austin park is the only beach in the state where public nudity is allowed.

By Matt LargeyAugust 4, 2017 9:30 am, , ,

From KUT:

About 85,000 people visit Hippie Hollow every year.

The park on the shore of Lake Travis, just outside Austin, is well-known as a place where you can go to get some sun – without the tan lines. It’s thought to be Texas’ only clothing-optional public park.

But how did it get that way?

I went out to visit – for the first time – on the day the Hill Country Nudists were holding their annual Big Nude Day at the park. Like on most weekends, dozens of people were lounging in the sun, swimming in the lake and drinking beer (discreetly).

The event’s organizer, Mitch London, shows me around Hippie Hollow. It’s important to point out that it’s not just “nudists” at the park; there are many more visitors for whom nudity is not a particular lifestyle.

“If you come out here and just sit here and not do anything and not talk to anybody, yeah everybody is going to look at you kind of weird,” London says. “But if you come out here and [say,] ‘Hey, how you doing? I’m new,’ or whatever, they’re going to welcome you into this family, basically.”

Most of the people at this particular event are 50-plus. They’ve been coming to Hippie Hollow for decades. There are many younger people in other parts of the park.

“Young people are usually more uptight about their body image,” says Becky Kent. “At this stage, who cares? I’ve done everything I can do. It didn’t work or it did work, you know? Who cares what we look like?”

All but a handful of the people at this part of the park, known as Radio Rock, are not wearing clothes. (Full disclosure: I am wearing shorts and a T-shirt.)

Remember: This is public property, owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority and managed by Travis County. So why is it legal for people to be fully naked at this public park?

Peter Babb, the digital content manager at KUTX, asked about how Hippie Hollow became clothing-optional as part of our ATXplained project.

Use your cursor or open in the YouTube app on a phone or tablet to take a 360-tour of Hippie Hollow. 

The early cays

The LCRA manages the Highland Lakes, including Lake Travis. Back when it dammed up the river and made the lake, it set aside a few spots along the shore for public access. McGregor Park, as Hippie Hollow was officially known, was one of these.

It was basically just wildland, with no trails, bathrooms or parking. Still, people would go down there to swim – sometimes naked. That went on for decades at McGregor, so the legend goes.

And then, the hippies showed up.

“It’s been called Hippie Hollow since I was a child in the ’60s,” says Tracy Cluck, a fourth-generation Austinite whose dad was a park ranger. “I’m thinking by ’67 everybody knew it as Hippie Hollow.”

The park had its share of problems. Neighbors would complain about noise, trash, drugs and people parking on the street. You can find newspaper reports from the 1970s of people getting busted for skinny-dipping.

“Someone would get arrested, they’d have to make bond and there were jury trials,” Cluck, who’s now a lawyer, says. “No one was convicted.”

At a couple of points, state lawmakers took notice and tried to do something to stop the nudity. Bills were introduced to outlaw the behavior, but those efforts didn’t go anywhere.

In 1977, neighbors filed a lawsuit to shut down the park. That, too, went nowhere.

Travis County takes over

In 1985, Travis County struck an agreement with the LCRA to take over management of Hippie Hollow. When the county took it over, it put in parking and trails and started charging admission.

“They just were going to maintain it. Keep it safe and clean,” says Ken Oden, the Travis County attorney at the time. “There wasn’t a lot of rules. Hardly any rules.”

But the county didn’t say anything about nudity. It was just kind of understood that naked people were going to be there.

Read more.

Matt Largey/KUT

Mitch London, activities director for the Hill Country Nudists, says he was going through a bit of a midlife crisis when he decided to check out Hippy Hollow.

Photo courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman

Hippie Hollow was emblematic of Austin's tolerated counterculture. This Statesman archive photo, dated July 1977, included a note that read Nude sun bathers and dad sunbathe at Hippie Hollow.