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just add water

School’s out for summer! To get our summer started off right, we went on a quick and easy outing to Ricky Guerrero Pocket Park at 2006 South 6th Street in South Austin’s eclectic and historic Bouldin Creek neighborhood. Yes, you read correctly…there is a South 6th Street running north/south in this neighborhood that is bordered by Barton Springs Road to the north and Oltorf Street to the south. (South 6th Street does not connect directly to either one of these more well-known streets.) Plan your route ahead of time if you are not familiar with the area since this location is a little off-the-beaten-path.

Ricky Guerrero Pocket Park is nestled along the banks of West Bouldin Creek. Even though the park has a playscape and a splash pad, the boys wanted to check out the creek bed first!

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The water from recent rains had receded but there were still some small pools.

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In one of the pools, we found dozens and dozens of tadpoles!

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We went to the small playscape, which is geared toward younger children.

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My 7 year old thought the fake cannon was pretty fun!

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And the swings, too.

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There was also a nice picnic area.

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The splash pad was pretty crowded with very young children when we arrived. Once it was a little less busy, my boys were ready to cool off in the water.

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As you can see, the splash pad is relatively small but all of the kids were having a blast. It’s very well-shaded and that is a huge plus in the hot summer months.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: This tiny 2-acre park is perfect for kids 7 and under.
Outing Time: Under 1 hour.
Reminders: Ricky Guerrero Pocket Park has restrooms and picnic tables. Bring drinks, snacks, and towels. A lot of the kids were having fun playing with empty cups in the water from the splash pad so maybe bring along some empty cups, too!
If you will have older kids with you, think about packing activities (like balls or games) that are more geared toward their age.
The Bouldin Creek neighborhood has a rich history, which you can read about here. The 54-acre West Bouldin Creek Greenbelt is located slightly north of the park, at 1200 South 6th Street. We did not visit this area but you can read about it in this Austin Explorer article.

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We decided to have a preview of summer fun today and headed to Lake Pflugerville Park (18216 Weiss Lane) for a swim! This park has something for everyone, including an 180-acre reservoir for swimming and a 3-mile trail for walking or jogging.

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We arrived around 11:15 a.m. and the park was not too crowded.

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The boys were very interested in this unusual playscape feature.

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We walked to the lakeshore to take a look around.

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The sand made it feel like we were at the beach!

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The boys couldn’t resist wading into the water.

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Before long, they had changed into their swimsuits and were ready to take the plunge!

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More families showed up to enjoy the lake but it wasn’t too crowded. Many people were better prepared than we were, with chairs, pop up shade canopies, lunches, beach toys, etc.

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The lake isn’t just for swimming. There were windsurfers.

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And people in kayaks.

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If you don’t have your own equipment, you can rent it on site!

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Lake Pflugerville Park also has a pavilion with tables to enjoy your snacks or meal.

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After 1.5 hours of swimming, the boys wanted to take one final run at the playscape.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: You could play for an hour or play all day at Lake Pflugerville Park!
Outing Time: Just over 2 hours.
Reminders: The park has restrooms, water fountains, picnic tables, and grills. There is not much shade. Bring hats, sunscreen, pop up shade canopies, small tents, etc. Other items you might need are: snacks, picnic lunch, water and other drinks, towels, bathing suits, and sand or beach toys. Please note that there are no lifeguards on duty at Lake Pflugerville! Make sure to pack your life jackets or other swimming support gear (depending on your kids’ swimming skills) and watch your children carefully.

Special events like the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon and the Pflugerville Pfirecracker Pfestival occur at Lake Pflugerville so check the City of Pflugerville’s online calendar or other community calendars, especially if you go on a weekend or holiday.

Our friends at Free Fun in Austin visited Lake Pflugerville in 2011.

Haven’t heard of St. Edward’s Park? You’re not alone! This quiet 80-acre park is nestled along Bull Creek at 7301 Spicewood Springs Road and not anywhere near St. Edward’s University in South Austin as the name might lead you to think.

Driving along curvy two-lane Spicewood Springs Road west of Loop 360, you could easily miss the small parking lot on your first pass.

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My plan upon arriving was to take the kids and dog on the Creek Trail as described by Austin Explorer. Basically, we should have headed north. Due to bad planning on my part (which primarily consisted of not studying the map below until we were leaving the park), we ended up trekking around within the red oval on the map below. This kept our total distance covered to less than 1 mile. Truly, my boys and our border collie were just fine with that because it meant we had more time to play and explore along the creek!

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From the parking lot, we started down this trail, which was surrounded by cactus.

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The trail was flat and we had no problem walking. We later realized we missed the path to connect us to the northern section of the creek trail.

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We knew that this downward slope meant we were probably getting close to the creek, anyway.

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Eureka….the tiniest waterfall in Texas! Do you see the little splashes of water at the bottom?

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We continued along the trail and found this old dam.

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You know what happens next, right?

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Check out the huge fish we saw while walking along the dam!

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Just a few yards farther along, we came upon this crossing to the Hill Trail. My sons thought this looked like a really wonderful place to hang out for a while. Sounds like a plan to me! (Believe it or not, this charming area was just a stone’s throw from cars going by on Spicewood Springs Road.)

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We easily found our way back to the parking lot by sticking to the paths that we could tell were closest to Spicewood Springs Road.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: If you don’t mind your head spinning a little from the trails crisscrossing (or if you plan your route ahead of time), you will be good to go for an easy and exciting outing for your kids.
Outing Time: 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: About 1 mile total. We plan to go a lot farther on our next visit!
Reminders: Bring along drinks, snacks, and towels. There might be some cleaning up to do!
Our area creeks ebb and flow depending on rainfall. If there hasn’t been much rain, the creek will not have the same levels of water as seen in these pictures. Always avoid stagnant water. In the St. Edward’s Park parking lot, make sure to secure your vehicle.
Learn about the area’s history and environmental significance in this Sun City Hiking Club description. Here’s more about St. Edward’s Park in this Austin Explorer article and also in an Austin Post column.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In keeping with the natural state of the water, you will see plants and fish in Barton Springs.

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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.

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These ramps help you get used to the water slowly if you are not the “jump in and get it over with” type.

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The southern end of the pool is shallow and a bit warmer. This is where younger children like to play and explore.

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My son and I decided this looked a lot like a Bigfoot print in the limestone near the shallow end.

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We also found this fossil that had a pearly shell.

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This is the view looking north across the pool toward downtown. It does not do justice to the size of the pool!

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In addition to being cold, the water is amazingly clear.

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Unfortunately, we did not see any Barton Springs Salamanders.

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The eastern bank of Barton Springs Pool is a popular spot for relaxing and getting some sun.

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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.

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After our poolside walk, we relaxed in the cool shade of this magnificent pecan tree.

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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.

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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.

THE RUNDOWN:
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).

Craving cool water in the summer heat, we visited Deep Eddy Pool (401 Deep Eddy Avenue) this afternoon. This famous pool is a true Austin landmark: it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The land around Deep Eddy Pool was settled by Swedish immigrant Charles Johnson in the 1850s. In 1902, his children opened Deep Eddy Resort, named for a deep hole in the limestone bed of the Colorado River that caused the water’s current to form an eddy. The land was sold to A.J. Eilers in 1915 and he built the concrete pool. The City of Austin purchased the site in 1935. The Deep Eddy Bathhouse was constructed in 1936 and was the first Works Progress Administration project in Austin.

Today, Deep Eddy Pool beckons visitors from all walks of life. Deep Eddy Bathhouse serves as the entrance to the pool. You go down a flight of stone steps to the pool, where you can look for some shade to stow your pool bag. There is not any shade over the pool itself, so be prepared for full sun with swimming shirts, hats, and sunscreen.

This pool literally has something for everyone! There is a shallow wading area for very young children, a section that is about 4 feet deep for older children, another section that is 8 feet deep for the truly adventurous, and swimming lanes. The pool’s water source is a well that provides cold, clear water, which is not chlorinated. Even on the hottest days, you will feel refreshed!

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My 6-year-old enjoyed watching the bigger kids explore the deep side of the pool.

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As part of Austin’s Art in Public Places project, an incredible mosaic mural was installed at Deep Eddy Pool in 2011.

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The mural includes a timeline detailing Deep Eddy’s history.

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My children enjoyed examining the unique tiles that make up the mural.

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The pool seemed noticeably less crowded around 4 p.m., when we were getting ready to leave. Next time we visit, we will plan to arrive then!

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Deep Eddy Pool has something for everyone. Jump in soon!
Outing Time: About 2 hours
Reminders: Check the pool’s web site for schedules and events like Splash Party Movie Nights before you go. Admission to the pool is free for infants, $1 for children ages 1 – 11, $2 for kids 12 – 17, $3 for ages 18 – 61, and $1 for ages 62 and up. Coolers and food are not allowed in the pool area. There is a snack shop on site that offers a variety of treats, including Jim-Jim’s Water Ice.

Summer is definitely here! The heat was getting to us so we decided to check out the Pease Park Splash Pad (1100 Kingsbury Street, Austin, 78705).

Not only is Pease Park historic, it is also home to Austin’s famous Eeyore’s Birthday Party.

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There were many other kids playing on the splash pad to escape the afternoon heat but there was still plenty of room for everyone.

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This water feature seemed to be the most popular: all of the kids wanted to play under the “umbrella” of water.

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After getting cooled off, we went down to the banks of Shoal Creek for some fossil hunting.

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It was a little too hot in the afternoon for the playscape, but we will return one morning to climb and slide!

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If you would like to add a little hiking to your splashing and playing, you can access the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail at Pease Park. This trail goes all the way north to 38th Street.

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Easy way to have some fun in the sun
Outing Time: About 1 1/2 hours
Reminders: There is not a lot of shade near the playscape or splash pad so you might want to plan this outing for the morning hours. Or, a shorter-than-usual outing for the afternoon is another option. If the splash pad water is not running when you arrive, look for the button on top of the purple pillar.

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.