In a city filled with parks, Zilker Metropolitan Park has been voted Austin’s “most-loved park”. Step onto the 351 acres of tree shaded grounds and you will see why locals love this park.
Zilker Park’s grounds have long attracted tourists. In the 1830s a man named William Barton settled near what are now called Barton Springs. Barton soon realized that the pool created by the springs had the potential to attract tourists. He began promoting it as a picnic ground and swimming hole. Barton died in 1839, and his land eventually came into the possession of Andrew Jackson Zilker. Zilker generously gave the entire 351 acre area to the city of Austin in 1918. The Austin city government made improvements to the pool and grounds and Zilker Metropolitan Park was born.
Barton Springs Pool continues to be one the park’s major drawing points. This three acre pool is loved by serious and casual swimmers, as well as by sunbathers. It is rare to find a public swimming pool fed by natural aquifer spring waters and free from chemical purifiers. Please see the separate Barton Springs Pool article for more information.
Zilker has many attractions besides its famous pool. Children and adults alike enjoy riding the miniature train which circles the park. There is a great playground for the young ones.
If you love interactive sports you will enjoy Zilker’s sand volleyball courts, disc golf course, and two tennis courts as well as two multi-use fields.
If you prefer interacting with nature explore the natural world of the park. Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake) is a great place for fishing, and kayaking, canoeing, and other forms of paddle boating. No motorized craft are allowed on the lake.
Learn more about nature at the Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Austin Nature and Science Center (ANSC). Enjoy Austin culture at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.
Zilker Botanical Gardens spread over 30 acres, including the Mabel Davis Rose Garden, the Cactus Garden, and the Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Gardens. The Taniguchi Gardens were personally built by Mr. Taniguchi as a gift to the city when he was seventy years old. The Hartman Prehistoric Gardens are at the site where amateur paleontologists discovered dinosaur tracks in 1992; the tracks have since been covered up again to preserve them and the site has been turned into a Cretaceous habitat, featuring plants similar to those thriving when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
The Nature and Science Center opened in 1960 to provide education on the natural world to all age groups. Today the ANSC has several permanent exhibits as well as events throughout the year. You can enjoy exhibits featuring birds, mammals, invertebrates and amphibians, all native to the Austin area. Many of the exhibits’ inhabitants came to the center after being injured and rescued.
ANSC offers classes and hands-on activities for both adults and children. Grown-ups love the Naturalist Workshop. The staff enjoys catering to the wide-eyed wonder of the preschool crowd. Day camps and Nature’s Way Preschool are a great way to teach your child about the wonders of nature.
After exploring nature’s beauty, you can enjoy beauty crafted by human hands at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, which features two hundred works by Charles Umlauf. Umlauf exhibited artistic talent from the time of his childhood in Chicago and taught art at the University of Texas for forty years. His works are displayed in both indoor and outdoor exhibits. The visually impaired are invited to a hands-on-look at sculptures in the Sculpture Garden. If you are artistically inclined you can also participate in workshops on sculpturing and educational opportunities.
For a more culture, relax on the grass as the day draws to a close and enjoy a performance at the Zilker Hillside Theater. The Theater has been an Austin tradition since 1959.
Whether you simply want to picnic or walk around the park or you want to take advantage of the athletic and cultural activities you will enjoy this fine park in the heart of Austin. The park features five reservable areas and you can call the City of Austin Parks Department for reservations: (512) 974-6797