Aquarena Center and the Children’s Park

Austin Active Kids went on our first out-of-town excursion: San Marcos or bust!

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We arrived at Aquarena Center (921 Aquarena Springs Drive) at 10:15 a.m. If you haven’t visited in the past few years, erase from your mind your previous experience of Aquarena Springs in its “amusement park” incarnation. The old visitor’s center and other buildings (including the underground theater) are being torn down and removed. The ultimate goal under the stewardship of Texas State University and the Rivers Systems Institute is to return Aquarena Springs–specifically San Marcos Springs and Spring Lake–to its natural state.

Fortunately, the famous glass-bottom boats are still in service. The 30-minute boat ride costs $9 for adults and $6 per child over age 4.

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The glass-bottom boat tour guide was very knowledgeable about the springs, their history, and their ecological significance.

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The lake below was clear and beautiful. One of our favorite parts of the tour was seeing spring water bubbling up through the limestone far below us (visible as the circular areas in this photo).

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We will be talking about this boat ride for a long time!

Next, we went to the education center to see the new aquariums.

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The aquarium area is relatively small but that didn’t make the creatures within any less fascinating to the kids (or me). The highlight of the aquariums was the Texas blind salamander, an endangered species that lives only in the Edwards Aquifer beneath and near the City of San Marcos. I could not believe the creature on display was real! I asked a staff member, who told me that not only was he real but when he moves he has robotic motions. Despite my waiting around, he stayed still during our visit.

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Our next stop was about 1.5 miles away: the Children’s Park at 205 South CM Allen Parkway. This park has an incredible playground, lots of shade, and several picnic tables. We ate lunch and took advantage of the sprawling playscape.

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Across the parking lot is a trail along the San Marcos River. If you head north on the trail (to your left from the playground) and walk less than 1/4 mile, you will find a scenic area where you can enter the river for wading and splashing. The water was cold and refreshing!

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The kids found a lot to investigate in and around the river. There were some other visitors enjoying the river (including these folks floating by) but it didn’t feel crowded.

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My sons were happy to have a friend along to share in this adventure.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A whole day’s worth of fun in just a few hours!
Outing Time: About 3 1/2 hours (not including travel time to and from San Marcos)
Reminders: Pack water, snacks, lunches, towels, bathing suits or change of clothes, water shoes, nets, and buckets.

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