When most locals are asked to name their favorite things about Austin, Barton Springs Pool is often at the top of the list. The sprawling three-acre pool is fed by underground springs that stay at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
The pool is located in Zilker Park at 2101 Barton Springs Road. It attracts all types, including parents with small children, canoodling couples and rowdy college students. It really is fun for everyone, especially kids. Many people bring floats and rafts, while others swim laps or wade around in the shallow areas. On either side of the pool are rolling lawns, so many people lie on the grass and nap or read a book. There are plenty of shady and sunny areas, but the hillside is too steep in some areas for comfortable lounging.
The cool waters are extremely chilly upon entering, but provide a feeling of total refreshment, and the laid-back park environment makes this a great spot for lovers of the outdoors. To get a better idea of what to expect, check out this video from the PBS show The Daytripper.
One thing to be aware of is that a large amount of algae accumulates on the walkways around the pool and on the bottom of the pool, so it can get extremely slippery. While they’re not particularly fashionable, water shoes or water sandals aren’t a bad idea. The algae also sometimes coats the surface of the water. It's a little icky but otherwise harmless.
The pool charges a fee for entry and is monitored by lifeguards, and there are changing rooms and restrooms in addition to a small outdoor eating area. Glass bottles and alcohol are not allowed in the pool area. The pool ends at a small dam, but just on the other side of the fence, you can enjoy the all-natural side of the springs for free. This area has plenty of shallow water and rocks to sit on, and it’s an extremely popular place for people to bring their dogs to romp around (dogs are not allowed in the main pool area). If you feel like soaking in cool water but don’t want to pay the fee, you’ll enjoy this free and more natural version of the springs, and so will your pup.
If you park within Zilker Park, you will be charged $6 on weekends. To avoid this fee, park in the gravel parking lot next to the baseball field at 1078 Robert E. Lee Road, near the intersection at Barton Springs. Here are the fees for pool admission:
Children under 11: $1
Junior (age 12-17): $2
If you’ll be visiting often, you can buy summer passes, as well. The pool is occasionally closed for cleaning, and pool hours may change due to weather, so be sure to look up the schedule before heading out. Note that it can get very crowded on the weekends during summer, so you may want to avoid going mid-day if you don't want to compete with the crowds for parking spaces or the best spots on the lawn.
2017 Eliza Spring Improvement Project
One of the trickiest aspects of managing Barton Springs is keeping it open for swimmers while also protecting the endangered Barton Springs salamanders that live in and around the pool. From the 1920s until summer 2017, one of the springs feeding into the pool, Eliza Spring, was enclosed in a pipe. While this protected the water flow, it created a less than ideal habitat for the salamanders. In 2017, workers got rid of the pipe and turned the spring back into a free-flowing stream open to the air. This allows salamanders to move freely from Eliza Spring to the pool and back without having to swim through a dark pipe. For visitors, the stream is also much more visually appealing. And if you look closely, you might just see a salamander on his morning commute.
A major revamp of Barton Springs’ historic bathhouse is currently in the design phase and scheduled to begin construction in 2019. The nearby parking lot will be reconfigured, the entrances and exits will be redesigned, the plumbing will be repaired, and the central rotunda will undergo significant structural repairs. The facility was originally built in 1947. The bathroom and lounge areas have high walls but no roof, with lockers, changing areas and toilet stalls. The area receives heavy use virtually year-round from both one-time visitors and fitness-oriented swimmers who visit almost daily even in the winter months.
Protecting the Springs
Keeping the springs safe from development in the area is a constant struggle. The Save Our Springs Alliance leads many volunteer efforts and political initiatives aimed at preserving this natural treasure for future generations.