Austin Active Kids went on our first out-of-town excursion: San Marcos or bust!
We arrived at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment (201 San Marcos Springs Drive) at 10:15 a.m., just after opening. (More info on hours and visiting options below.) If it’s been a while since you last visited, you might not know that what once was called Aquarena Springs and then became Aquarena Center has evolved in more ways than just its name.
Longtime central Texans, erase from your minds your previous experience of this center in its “theme park” incarnation; in 2012, the old visitor’s center and other buildings, including the underground theater, were torn down and removed, with the ultimate goal, under the stewardship of Texas State University and the Rivers Systems Institute, of returning San Marcos Springs and Spring Lake to their natural state.
These days, the Meadows Center is a research and educational center dedicated to ensuring clean, abundant water for the environment and all humanity, starting with the preservation of Spring Lake, which happens to be one of the largest artesian springs in the world. Fortunately, the famous glass-bottom boats are still in service!
Our glass-bottom boat tour guide was very knowledgeable about the springs, their history, and their ecological significance. 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. We will be talking about this boat ride for a long time!
THE RUNDOWN: Hours, Prices, Parking and more
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A whole day’s worth of fun in just a few hours!
Outing Time: About three hours (not including travel time to and from San Marcos).
Hours, Prices & Parking: The Meadows Center is open Monday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. A 30-minute glass-bottom boat ride costs $9.75 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for children ages 3-12, and just $5 for Texas State University students, faculty and staff members. The first boat heads out 30 minutes after the Center opens, and the last one goes out 30 minutes before close.
On weekends, 45-minute extended boat tours are available for $13.25 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $8 for children ages 3-12. Children 2 and younger always ride free. No reservation is required for glass-bottom boat tours during regular Meadows Center hours unless you’re with a larger group.
There are also other fun-sounding options available like stand-up paddling and kayak tours of the lake and guided wetland tours.
There is a large onsite parking lot available, but all vehicles parked at the Meadows Center must display a valid Texas State parking permit from 7:00 p.m. Sunday until 5:00 p.m. Friday. If you visit during that time and do not have a permit, you’ll need to purchase a one-day temporary permit for $3 at the pay-and-display station that’s located near the ticket kiosk. Learn more about Meadows Center parking policies here (scroll down the page to find the Parking section).
For more information, visit The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment website.