This three-acre, 1,000-foot-long swimming hole beats as the literal and metaphorical heart of Austin. Ten to 80 million gallons of water, depending on rainfall and aquifer conditions, gush every day from Parthenia Spring right under the diving board. Another spring flows into Barton Creek upstream from the pool, while a third adjacent to the pool and a fourth just downstream bubble into rock enclosures. These springs together equal Texas’ fourth-largest springs system.
A natural limestone-and-gravel bottom spooks some swimmers, and thrills others. I like to use a dive mask to look for plants such as water celery and hyssop, sunfish, bass, or even the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. The water’s depth varies from a few inches over smooth rock at the upstream end to about 17 feet at its deepest point. Enter via several sets of steps and ladders, or take a big leap—but brace yourself, the 68-degree water takes your breath away. Plenty of sun worshipers and people-watchers take advantage of grassy slopes on either side of the water. Hardcore types attend the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim, a 30-year-plus tradition. Brr.
Barton Springs Pool (scheduled at press time to reopen this spring after a three-month restoration project) is at 2201 Barton Springs Rd., 512/867-3080; www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool. Call for hours and admission fees.