Zilker Park

Zilker Park is for Everyone

August 11, 2023

Austin is a vibrant and diverse city, known for its numerous attractions and fun. But what often gets overlooked in the hustle and bustle of everyday life are the natural gems that make the city so great. 

Zilker Park is known as Austin's playground, for adults and kids alike. In 1917, Andrew Zilker donated 350 acres of land that has since become a slice of green heaven, lined with hiking and biking trails. A beloved space to enjoy cold water swims, bike trails, gardens, sprawling lawns, rock gardens, live music festivals and so much more, Zilker Park is an essential part of Austin culture. Here's a look at the top things to do — plus some hidden gems.

The Great Lawn

Great Lawn

Let’s start with the Great Lawn. It’s a big, open field surrounding Rock Island (which is, of course, an island of rocks), and it’s where most of Zilker Park’s large public events are held. Here you can find the Austin Kite Festival, Blues on the Green concerts, the Austin Trail of Lights and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. On non-festival days, you’ll see plenty of dogs playing frisbee with their humans, and lots of folks soaking up the sun on the grass, even bringing hammocks and hanging them between the trees in the area. Such a lovely way to spend a day. After all, it's called the Great Lawn for good reason.

Cool Off

Cool Off

Austin gets hot, and you need to cool off. A favorite destination for locals and tourists alike with Zilker Park is Barton Springs Pool. It’s a massive 3-acre underground spring-fed pool with water that consistently stays 68-70 degrees. That sounds great for a super hot, middle of summer day, but it can be pretty cold on most other days, so you may want to bring something to float on. 

This is a fantastic place to immerse yourself in Austin's culture. It's never rowdy—portable speakers aren't permitted, nor are coolers with outside food and drink. Instead, you may catch the beat of an informal drum circle or see a yogi posing as the sun sets. Folks line up to cannonball at the moss-covered diving board, and below, younger people lounge on unicorn floats.

Barton Springs Pool is a must-do for any outdoor enthusiasts, but it will top a local's list as well because a municipal fresh-water pool in a natural setting is so rare.

Just downstream from the shores of Barton Springs Pool, is Barton Creek. Here you can find over 160 canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards to rent at reasonable prices. It’s the perfect place to bring friends and family to enjoy a relaxing outing on the water. 


No summer visit is complete at Zilker Park without a visit to the Hillside Theater. This beloved outdoor theatrical venue, The Zilker Hillside Theater, has been home to engaging events, shows, and concerts for over 50 years. Across the parking lot from Barton Springs, you can enjoy fantastic and free shows, all year long! You can see some of Austin's best live music, Shakespeare, a summer musical, and more. Pack a picnic and get cozy for your visit!

Zilker Park Crewneck Sweatshirt

The Austin City Limits Music Festival

One of the most popular events in Zilker Park is the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which takes place over two weekends in October. The festival features diverse musical acts, local food vendors, craft booths, and much more. The festival is loud and bustling and a great way to experience the energy and excitement of Austin’s music scene.

For the Kiddos

The playground is a favorite spot in the park for kids, where they can climb, slide, and even make music! The giant fire truck is perfect for climbing and adorable photo ops 

Also fun for tikes, is watching the blacksmith in Pioneer Village and tracking dinosaur footprints in Hartman Prehistoric Garden.

If you’ve got young (or older!) budding paleontologists in your group, the Dino Pit is an outdoor paleontology exhibit, built for permanent display at the Austin Nature & Science Center. Texas fossils are buried deep within the pit, just waiting to be unearthed. Kids can dig for dinosaur bones with shovels and then use brushes to examine their discoveries closely.

Austin Nature and Science Center is also home to a variety on creatures, from reptiles to raptors. Kids can learn about Central Texas animals, then hunt for some in the wild. Be sure to ask to borrow an Eco Detective Kit, which includes binoculars for birding along the center’s nature trails. 

Botanical Gardens

One of the most popular attractions in Austin is the Zilker Botanical Garden. There is so much beauty to take in here, and so much to discover! In addition to the well-known rose garden and Japanese garden and Tea House; the botanical garden also features a butterfly trail, a cactus and succulent garden, a prehistoric garden (dinosaurs!), Pioneer Village, and even a seasonal Faerie Trail!

Each year, the Woodland Faeries return to Zilker Botanical Garden to enjoy a summer vacation in Austin in adorable little homes that have been designed and built by volunteer faerie architects such as local gardeners, families, schools, clubs, and community groups. These intricate, whimsical abodes are made with natural materials such as twigs, bark, shells, rocks, etc. Faerie wings and wands are available for purchase in the Chrysalis Gift Shop located inside the Garden Center to add to the magic.

If that wasn't enough, life sized dinosaur sculptures of Ornithomimus, the species of dinosaur believed to have left the tracks, stand in the center of the gardens.

The Umlauf Sculpture Garden

The Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Tucked in to a quiet corner of the park, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden showcases the work of Charles Umlauf, a renowned sculptor who lived and worked in Austin for many years. The tranquil space is dedicated to the late American sculptor and the garden features over 50 sculptures, including bronze and stone figures of humans, animals, and mythical creatures. Visitors can also explore the artist’s former studio, which has been preserved as a museum.

The Zilker Nature Preserve

Many visitors to Zilker Park overlook the Zilker Nature Preserve on the park’s western edge. This secluded nature preserve is hiding in plain sight. Tucked inside The Austin Nature and Science Center sits a lovely natural oasis. This secluded wilderness area features hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and stunning views of the surrounding hills. Watch for deer, foxes, and other animals that call the preserve home.

Zilker Park Racerback

The Disc Golf Course

If you're itching to play a game, check out the Zilker Park Disc Golf Course for a unique and challenging outdoor activity. The course features 18 holes that wind through the park’s rolling hills and oak trees. Disc golf is a fun and affordable way to enjoy the outdoors, and the Zilker Park course is a favorite among locals. Bring your own disc (BYOD)!

Fun for Everyone

Zilker Park T-Shirt

From the secluded wilderness of the Zilker Nature Preserve to the charming Hillside Theater, there’s something for everyone in this beautiful Austin landmark. So next time you’re in the area, take some time to explore the park’s lesser-known attractions and discover the magic of Zilker Park.


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