Barton Springs Pool is sometimes referred to as the “soul” of Austin and a visit to this delightful 3-acre natural swimming pool will definitely show you why! The cool 68-degree water fed by underground springs is utterly refreshing and draws a wide assortment of Austin’s citizenry.
The pool is located inside Zilker Park at 2201 Barton Springs Road. There is a parking lot on the west side of the pool (accessible from Barton Springs Road) that is free unless a special event is underway. Another entrance is located near the baseball fields on Robert E. Lee Road (near the intersection with Barton Springs Road) where parking is always free.
If you enter from within Zilker Park, you are welcomed to the pool by Philospher’s Rock, representing celebrated writers J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedicheck, who in years’ past met frequently near the pool for literary and philosophical discussions.
Barton Springs has a colorful history. The area was first settled in 1837 by William “Uncle Billy” Barton and it has attracted visitors craving its cool waters since then. The land was later purchased by Andrew Zilker, who deeded it to the City of Austin in 1918 and 1931. You can read more about Barton Springs Pool’s history and ecological significance on this web site.
Pool admission prices are very reasonable. It’s important to note ahead of time that dogs, food, drinks, glass objects, and coolers are not allowed. You can bring in water bottles with a re-sealable lid in your pool bag. If you want to pack a picnic to enjoy after swimming, you can leave it in your vehicle or just outside the gates of the pool.
While referred to as a “pool”–which might bring to mind a rectangular, chlorinated swimming pool with a level cement bottom–Barton Springs is a natural body of water. The rock surface on the bottom can be slippery! Water shoes will help you stay steady.
In keeping with the natural state of the water, you will see plants and fish in Barton Springs.
Nothing you can tell your kids (or yourself) will adequately prepare them (or you) for the chill you encounter when you step into the springs! You will hear lots of squeals of people acclimating to the water if you stand near the pool entry areas.
These ramps help you get used to the water slowly if you are not the “jump in and get it over with” type.
The southern end of the pool is shallow and a bit warmer. This is where younger children like to play and explore.
My son and I decided this looked a lot like a Bigfoot print in the limestone near the shallow end.
We also found this fossil that had a pearly shell.
This is the view looking north across the pool toward downtown. It does not do justice to the size of the pool!
In addition to being cold, the water is amazingly clear.
Unfortunately, we did not see any Barton Springs Salamanders.
The eastern bank of Barton Springs Pool is a popular spot for relaxing and getting some sun.
On the northern edge of the pool, you can see Barton Creek Spillway, an area that is accessible without an admission fee. It’s a popular place for wading and bringing along pets.
After our poolside walk, we relaxed in the cool shade of this magnificent pecan tree.
All of the swimming and walking worked up our appetites, so we capped off our visit with a stop at the Zilker Cafe for drinks and snacks.
Visiting Barton Springs is a great way to spend a summer afternoon (or really any of our hot Austin days that last well into the fall). Like many Austinites before them, your children will be dazzled by the waters of Barton Springs Pool.
Austin Active Kids Opinion: An afternoon at Barton Springs Pool is an unforgettable and essential part of any Austin childhood.
Outing Time: About 2.5 hours
Reminders: Bring sunscreen, towels, floats, rafts, balls, and water bottles with re-sealable lids. Remember, you cannot take in food, glass containers, or coolers.
The pool is closed Thursdays 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for maintenance and it can also close due to water quality or safety issues if there has been significant rainfall. Check the City of Austin’s Barton Springs Pool web site for hours or other announcements.
It’s always a good idea to check event listings for festivals or other activities that might be going on in the Zilker Park area that will cause traffic headaches or limit access to Barton Springs Pool. The Austin Chronicle calendar and the Austin 360 calendar are good starting points.
Of Note: Many community groups work to improve and protect Barton Springs Pool. This includes Friends of Barton Springs Pool (which conducts monthly cleanings and advocates for the pool) and Austin Heritage Tree Foundation and Barton Springs Tree Stewards (which help care for the extraordinary trees around the pool).