Barton Springs – Austin, Texas - Atlas Obscura

Barton Springs

Home to an endangered salamander, a full moon celebration, and a large spring-fed outdoor swimming pool. 

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Nowhere is cherished by Austinites more than this masterpiece of mother nature, with its unique traditions, features, and history. Barton Springs, a set of natural water springs in Austin’s Zilker Park, is an important space for humans and animals alike.

The springs have a long, rich history. The water from Barton Springs comes from the Edwards Aquifer, which is about 100 million years old and made up of limestone from the Cretaceous period. The history of human activity dates back at least 10,000 years. There is evidence that the Tonkawa Native American people who are indigenous to the region considered the springs to be a sacred site, and would gather there for purification rituals.

Barton Springs is made up of four springs: Parthenia (also known as Main Barton Spring), Eliza Spring, Old Mill Spring, and Upper Barton Spring. Parthenia is the largest, discharging an average of 31 million gallons of water per day. It feeds the Barton Springs Pool, a recreational outdoor swimming pool that was built in the 1920s.

In the daytime, Barton Springs is filled with noisy summer camp children and sunbathers, but an entire new world opens up at night. Once a month, locals gather for the Full Moon Party, where swimmers celebrate by howling in unison together under the moonlight.

Austinites care very deeply for these springs, and many have turned to environmental conservation advocacy to help keep the springs alive and healthy. The spring system is part of one of the most consequential aquifers in America, serving as the primary drinking water source for over two million people. Additionally, it provides habitat for several endangered and threatened species, two of which, the Barton Springs salamander and the Austin blind salamander, can only be found within the confines of this pool. 

The Barton Springs salamander was first described in 1993, and was added to the United States List of Threatened and Endangered Species in 1997. For decades, the Barton Springs Pool had been cleaned with bleach, but the discovery of the at-risk amphibian forced the city to find a new way to clean the pool.

Know Before You Go

Barton Springs is accessible year-round every day of the week except Thursday. The pool is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a small admission fee and lifeguards present from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Both entrances are wheelchair friendly.