Jana Birchum

Best Swimming Hole

Barton Springs

It’s midmorning on a toasty Friday in August, and Barton Springs Pool is filled to the gills with regulars and newcomers splashing about or lounging on the hillside. A glistening duck rides the waves near the diving board. Across the way, some teenagers take turns jumping in, climbing out, and jumping in again. A middle-aged man strides by in a Speedo. Want to lose your inhibitions? Head to the Springs. The first-time visitors are easy to spot by the way they drink in the size and beauty of this blessed spot in the heart of Austin. A tow-headed boy passes through the front gate and stops dead in his tracks. “That’s the biggest pool I’ve ever seen,” he murmurs in wide-eyed wonder. “Dude,” an older boy exclaims, “there’s fish in there!” Ah, summer. And fall, winter, spring. Barton Springs – the big mama of Texas swimming holes – is a year-round favorite, an institution steeped in centuries of spiritual, mythical, and frolicsome history. Families, students, friends, lovers, and lawmakers come here to exercise, socialize, read, think, and maybe gawk at an occasional topless sunbather, although sightings of that variety have grown scarcer over the years. The 1,000-foot pool draws its life from underground springs that generally run a brisk 68 degrees. It’s home to an assortment of aquatic plants and animals, including the endangered Barton Springs salamander. Longstanding traditions are sacred here. There's the annual Polar Bear Plunge, which brings out the heartier souls every New Year's Day, regardless of temperature. In frigid weather, the pool almost – almost – feels like a warm bath. And there’s the full moon swim, which takes place on a designated night of each month, with swimmers yipping and yelping into the darkness. It’s primitive and great fun, with the turnout for this event growing steadily since its inception about 15 years ago. Who needs an excuse to howl at the moon? Back at poolside on this Friday morning, another first-timer passes through the gate, pauses at the top of the stairs, and calmly sums up the scene in one word: "Wow."

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr., 512/974-6300

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