The best way to beat the Austin heat is to splash around in one of Austin’s municipal swimming pools. There are plenty of places to get your feet wet around town, but there’s only one Barton Springs.
In a city full of amazing things to do, the Barton Springs Pool is one of the best. Every Austinite should visit at least once (or at least once each summer), and every Austin visitor should devote at least half a day to exploring this spring-fed pool.
We’ll explain what makes the Barton Springs Pool so special. Plus, we’ll cover everything you need to know before you go — from the prices to the pool rules. Trust this guide to help you stay cool in the pool!
What Makes the Barton Springs Pool So Special?
The Barton Springs Pool is inextricably linked to Austin’s history and its modern day ecology. It’s one of the things that helps make Austin, Austin.
The History of Barton Springs
In 1837, in the early days of Austin’s history, William Barton — yep, that’s the man the springs are named after — bought the land and named the three springs located inside what is now the pool facility after his three daughters.
He named the largest spring after his daughter Parthenia. Located near the diving board in the Barton Springs Pool, Parthenia is the spring that feeds the pool.
The spring near the north entrance is Eliza, and the spring near the south of the pool is Zenobia. While these two springs are still located within the pool facilities, they’re no longer open to the public because of environmental and safety issues.
After the Barton family, Andrew Zilker, the man who lends his name to Zilker Park, bought the land in 1901. Less than two decades later, he sold the land to the City of Austin to be turned into a park. So, Andrew Zilker is the reason we can all enjoy the springs today.
In the 1920s, the City of Austin took on a few public works projects to improve the pool facilities and make the pool more comfortable for visitors. They added sidewalks and a dam. And in 1947, they added the bathhouse.
The pool has been an essential meeting place for Austinites ever since. Legend has it that state legislatures devised several Texas laws at the pool, and actor Robert Redford learned to swim in the Barton Springs Pool when he was just five years old.
Ecology of Barton Springs
Not only does the pool hold historical significance, it’s also an important part of the Texas ecosystem.
Barton Springs is a system of four underground springs. The fourth spring — the only one not located inside the pool grounds — is in Barton Creek about a half mile upstream from the Barton Springs Pool.
All four natural springs are part of the Edwards Aquifer. One of the biggest artesian aquifers in the world, the Edwards Aquifer provides most of the water supply for San Antonio and Austin, among other Texas towns. It’s also the source of many popular swimming holes in Austin.
The aquifer is home to a variety of rare and endangered species, including the endangered Barton Springs salamander and the Austin blind salamander. Barton Springs and the surrounding areas are the only places in the world where these two creatures can be found. Because of this, Barton Springs is a federally protected habitat.
After the salamanders were discovered, the City of Austin, the state of Texas, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted studies, which ultimately concluded that salamanders and swimmers at the Barton Springs Pool could peacefully coexist. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a salamander during your visit.
What’s It Like to Visit the Barton Springs Pool?
The Barton Springs Pool is three acres long — long enough to make an Olympic-size swimming pool look like a plunge pool. If you’re a lap swimmer, you’ll have plenty of room to get your exercise. (Although, your lap count may not sound as impressive as it usually does.) And if you like to swim in the deep end, this pool gets as much as 18 feet deep.
The pool is surrounded by grassy slopes where you can find a spot to sunbathe or lounge under the shade of a pecan tree. Whether you visit in summer or winter, the water temperature will be a consistent 68-70 degrees — just the right temperature to cool off in the summer or warm up in the winter.
You should expect to share the pool. In addition to being a local hotspot, Barton Springs Pool is a popular tourist attraction and gets over 800,000 visitors each year. But because of the pool’s large size, you typically won’t end up swimming shoulder to shoulder.
When Is the Best Time to Go?
The Barton Springs Pool is open year-round from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday of the week, except Thursday. On Thursdays, the pool is open from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. to swim at your own risk. It then closes for cleaning from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and opens again from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a lifeguard on duty. Every other day of the week, there’s a lifeguard on duty from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
If you want to avoid the crowds, Barton Springs gets the fewest visitors in the winter. For the bravest Austinites, the pool even hosts a New Year’s Day event — the Polar Bear Splash — where swimmers start the New Year by jumping into the 68 degree water.
The pool is most popular in the summer when everyone in Austin is looking for a place to cool off, but because tourists tend to visit Austin in the spring and fall, the Barton Springs Pool sees plenty of visitors in these seasons as well.
You should expect the biggest crowds on weekends from 1-5 p.m. If you’re an early bird, you can take advantage of free admission between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. The pool will also be much quieter during this time, but you will have to swim at your own risk — there won’t be a lifeguard on duty until 8 a.m.
How Do You Get to the Barton Springs Pool?
The pool’s address is 2201 Barton Springs Rd. — also known as William Barton Dr. It’s on the south side of Austin, just south of the Colorado River. You can get there from S Lamar Blvd. or the MoPac Expy.
There’s a parking lot for the pool, but it often fills up during peak hours in the summertime. For summer 2022, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department launched a pilot program to offer more parking options for Zilker Park. With this program, you can park in the One Texas Center Parking Garage at 505 Barton Springs Rd. and take a shuttle from the parking garage to Zilker Park.
The shuttle service is free, and it’s available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer. It will drop you off in Zilker Park about a two minute walk from the pool. No coolers or pets are allowed on the shuttle, but service animals are welcome.
How Much Does It Cost?
You can purchase daily or seasonal swim passes to the Barton Springs Pool. The season pass includes parking at Zilker Park.
The fees are different for residents and non-residents. Infants under one-year-old and veterans get in for free, while seniors over age 80 can get a free season pass.
Here are the prices for day passes and season passes for everyone else.
- Child, age 1-11: $2
- Junior, age 12-17: $3
- Adult, age 18-61: $5
- Senior, age 62+: $2
- Child, age 1-11: $4
- Junior, age 12-17: $5
- Adult, age 18-61: $9
- Senior, age 62+: $5
Resident season pass fees:
- Child, age 1-11: $65
- Junior, age 12-17: $125
- Adult, age 18-61: $190
- Senior, age 62+: $65
- Family of four with two adults and two children or juniors: $370
Non-resident season pass fees:
- Child, age 1-11: $95
- Junior, age 12-17: $155
- Adult, age 18-61: $280
- Senior, age 62+: $95
- Family of four with two adults and two children or juniors: $515
The best way to buy your day or season passes is through the ATXSwims app for iPhone or Android. You can also buy day passes in-person at the pool with credit, debit, or exact change. You can buy season passes in-person at the Parks & Recreation Department’s Aquatic Swim Office, which is located at 2818 San Gabriel St. and is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What Are the Pool Rules?
Before you head to the Barton Springs Pool, you should check the austintexas.gov website for notice of pool closures. While closures aren’t common, they do happen during flash flood warnings, thunderstorms, and other inclement weather conditions. The pool may also be closed if the water conditions are unsafe or if there’s been a medical emergency.
For safety reasons, pool visitors aren’t allowed to bring food, glass, coolers, alcohol, frisbees, footballs, soccer balls, or other hard balls into the pool area. There’s also no smoking allowed at the pool.
Make a Splash at the Barton Springs Pool
While Austin is home to many incredible pools — from family-friendly municipal pools to swanky hotel pools — there are none that shine as bright as the Barton Springs Pool. Maybe it’s the way that natural spring water sparkles in the Austin sun. Or maybe it’s the many people this pool has welcomed that make it so special.
Either way, the Barton Springs Pool is a can’t-miss destination in Austin, Texas. To learn more about the best things Austin has to offer — from the best restaurants to the best events — visit ATX Guides.