zilker park

For over 50 years, the Austin Nature and Science Center has educated Central Texas youth about the natural world around us. This wonderful facility–a favorite of ours–is located on the western edge of Zilker Park, at 301 Nature Center Drive. The Austin Nature and Science Center’s parking lot is located off of Stratford Drive, under Loop 1 (Mopac).


You are welcomed in style by this beautiful arch, Arboreal Passage by Colin McIntyre, which was part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places Program.


A trail takes you to the top of a hill, where you will find the Ashford McGill House, which was built in the 1870s and is now the home of Nature’s Way Preschool.


We were excited to be back at the Austin Nature and Science Center!


There used to be a bee hive near the front door to the Austin Nature and Science Center, but it looks like the bees have “moved out!”


The first stop was the Naturalist Workshop: our kind of place!


This handy board tells you what creatures have recently been spotted at the Austin Nature and Science Center.


My sons’ favorite part of the Naturalist Workshop is the Trade Counter. You can bring special items like rocks, seashells, or seed pods to trade in for points that you can then use to select a new treasure. The Trade Counter is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday – Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.


We went outside to see the wildlife exhibits.


Most of these animals have been orphaned or injured and could not survive in the wild. This opossum was very cute but I couldn’t get a good photo of him through the fence.


We were amazed by the size of this raven!


The bobcat’s name is Conan. He is an ex-pet who arrived at Austin Nature and Science Center in 2003.


The wildlife exhibit has helpful signs to teach you about each animal.


We were sad to see that Martha the coyote had passed away. We always stopped by to see her when we visited in the past.


The next area is my favorite: Birds of Prey! This exhibit features owls, hawks, and vultures.


My 10-year-old son felt like the Great Horned Owl was watching him.


At the back of the Birds of Prey area, you can access the Zilker Nature Preserve and Trails.


The trails have been improved and expanded since we last visited.


Time to explore!


We crossed the dry creek bed (Medicine Wheel Creek according to the map above).


We weren’t sure what Lookout Point was but it sounded fun. Up we went!


The climb to Lookout Point was pretty steep! It began as a trail and then was rocky toward the top.


This is how we felt when we made it to the top: exhausted.


The view was worth it!


After enjoying the view from Lookout Point, we returned to the trail entrance since the gate to the nature trails closes at 4:30 p.m. We definitely want to come back again and spend more time on the trails! Next, we checked out the Small Wonders exhibit, which includes all sorts of tiny creatures.


Don’t miss the realistic bat sculptures by sculptor Chris Levack on your way in!


Inside the Small Wonders exhibit, you will find birds, snakes, fish, and more! This Gulf Coast Toad was pretty serene.


We went back outside to look at the pond.


After that, we stopped at the Dino Pit, an outdoor paleontology exhibit.


The shovels were irresistible and so was the sand!


My youngest son had a big find: this Hot Wheel!


After a lot of digging excitement, we passed this beautiful stream and relaxed for a few moments before we went home.


Austin Active Kids Opinion: A good mix of indoor and outdoor fun for nature lovers of all ages!
Outing Time: 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: On the nature trail, we probably walked about 3/4 mile (total) to Lookout Point and back.
Reminders: The Austin Nature and Science Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. Sundays. This facility has no admission charge but donations are appreciated. The trail to Lookout Point is very steep and could be treacherous for very young children or those new to hiking. Use caution.


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).

This morning, we loaded up the dog in the car and headed to the Zilker Park area for one of our favorite outings: the Rock Island on the Zilker Great Lawn and Lou Neff Point.

We arrived around 9:30 a.m. With cloudy skies and a nice breeze, the 80 degree weather felt relatively cool.

We parked in one of the small lots off Lou Neff Road (accessed from Barton Springs Road).

The kids’ immediate impulse was to run across the Zilker Great Lawn to the Rock Island (in the center of the picture below).


My boys quickly joined other children exploring the Rock Island.


I took our dog Eva Green (a border collie) to play nearby with some of the friendly dogs enjoying the lawn. She had a blast!


Once I rounded up the dog and kids, we ventured east across the lawn, crossed the Zilker Zephyr railroad tracks, and accessed the hike and bike trail at Lady Bird Lake. We walked along the trail to a small area where you can feed the ducks. These swans really steal the show from the ducks! Don’t let their beauty fool you: they hiss when they are displeased.


This mother duck and her ducklings were really delightful to see.


The kids enjoyed feeding crackers to the wildlife.


After we generously sprinkled the ducks and other birds with crackers, we walked to Lou Neff Point and contemplated this splendid view of the city.


We returned to the trail and started to make our way back to the parking lot. The boys and the dog were pleasantly worn out from running around. We had so much fun that we definitely plan to do this again soon!

Austin Active Kids Opinion: A simple yet wondrous kid-friendly outing!
Outing Time: A little over an hour.
Reminders: The Zilker Great Lawn area has port-o-potties but no public restroom facilities. Talk to your kids ahead of time about not running up to dogs they do not know. Don’t forget a brief mention of trail etiquette: stay to the right and watch for bikes. Pack water, snacks, something to feed the ducks, and hand sterilizer or wet wipes.