Editor’s note: This post has been updated as of September 9, 2019, with additional reporting by Christina Boudreaux. The core of this post was originally published in 2011 and written by Heidi Gollub, making the stories a bit dated, but still worth telling. All pricing, hours, and other info are up-to-date for 2019.
My eight-year-old son loves the television show The Daytripper with Chet Garner. On Saturday morning, we sat down together to watch the final episode of Season 2 on KLRU, where Chet visits south Austin, and boy – what a finale! If you didn’t already know how amazing Austin is, this episode would make you want to get here in a hurry. My son sat transfixed as he watched Chet dive repeatedly into Barton Springs Pool, and he asked, “Can we go there?”
I said, “Sure.”
He said, “I mean, right now.”
And, since my husband had just mentioned that someone should probably go grocery shopping, I answered, “You bet! Let’s go.” Four kids scrambled to get into their bathing suits and off we went (my husband stayed behind to do the grocery shopping – he’s the best!).
Now, I have a confession. I have never been to Barton Springs. I have been close, peering in through the fence, but I have never actually gone inside. There were two things that held me back: the pool is deep, and I thought my children would surely drown, and it costs money. Why would I pay to get in when we could play in Barton Creek, just a few feet away, for free?
Well, at $4 per child and $9 per adult, admission didn’t really break the bank. The price has increased in the past few years, but for an occasional family-friendly outing, it’s still an affordable Austin adventure. (For residents, the price drops to $2-3 per child and $5 for adults.) At noon on Saturday, I was surprised to find there was no line to get in (although that was not the case later in the afternoon). There were a lot of people at the pool when we arrived, but it is so huge that it didn’t feel crowded.
It turns out, there is a shallow side of the pool. That was a pleasant surprise! We spent most of our time at this end of the pool, where I could easily keep an eye on my kids and not worry for their safety. The water ranges from ankle deep to knee deep, from the end of the pool to the first lifeguard stand. The only problem my kids encountered was slipping on the algae-covered pool floor. My daughter said it was like ice skating, gliding across the natural rock and gravel bottom. Water shoes probably would have helped with this predicament. Some clever parents had brought along rafts and tubes, so their kids’ toes never even touched the bottom.
My eight-year-old was happy to sit in the shallow end, trying to catch minnows, the entire time we were at the pool. So, that wasn’t much different from what he does in Barton Creek. The main difference here was that I felt comfortable with the shallow water and didn’t need to watch him quite as carefully.
The water was cold, of course. Barton Springs is a natural spring-fed pool, with a year-round average temperature of 68 degrees. But on a 100+ degree day, that feels just about perfect! The only time I got chilly was when we ventured to the deep end, so my daughter could try the diving board. We didn’t stay there long, though, because kids are not allowed to wear water wings in the deep section and my younger boys couldn’t bear to not be in the water.
My kids loved Barton Springs Pool, but I dragged them away after three hours, to visit the neighboring Barton Creek. Just steps down from the Zilker Park playground, next to Barton Springs Pool, is Barton Creek. The creek is free! There are, however, signs posted that you are not allowed to swim in the water.
Of course, the sign also says “All Pets on Leash,” and there were cheeky leash-less dogs swimming all over the place. In any case, we were careful to only walk in the water and not swim (I know, I know – the dogs weren’t the only cheeky ones). Walking was actually a bit tricky to do because the creek bed is rocky and uneven. I cut my poor bare foot trying to navigate the shallow water, so, again, water shoes probably would have come in handy.
My nature-loving eight-year-old preferred the creek to the pool in the end, because he saw more fish in the creek. And, when my daughter claimed to see a snake in the water, I couldn’t drag the kids away. It was all too exciting for them.
Overall, both Barton Springs and Barton Creek are fun for kids. Ultimately, though, since Barton Creek has no lifeguards and no nearby restrooms, I think Barton Springs is worth the money you pay for admission. Just be sure to bring an extra $5 for parking in Zilker Park, if you plan to visit on a weekend, holiday, or special event.
For more information on Barton Springs Pool, including what items you are not allowed to bring, visit here.
To see The Daytripper schedule, so you can watch it on KLRU, visit here.
Barton Springs Pool
2201 Barton Springs Road