More than 1.3 million people visit Austin’s Zilker Park each year. It’s time for you to be among them! Zilker Park is one of the locals’ favorite places to find fun and fellowship. Live music and theater, sports and games, and simple enjoyment of the great outdoors await at this emerald isle at the heart of the city.
Zilker Park and Downtown Skyline. Credit Visit Austin.
A Quick History of Zilker Park
How did such a massive space in the center of the city get preserved as parkland? The answer involves an entrepreneur named Andrew Zilker and Texans’ love of a cold drink.
At just 18 years old, young Zilker emigrated to Austin to seek his fortune. He found it by making ice, a hot (cold) commodity in the Texas heat. Soon, he was a millionaire. And he used some of his wealth to buy land in what would become downtown Austin, eventually acquiring around 350 acres.
Sixteen years later, he made a plan to gift the land to the Public Free Schools of Austin, allowing them to sell it to the city and keep the proceeds for a school endowment. The deal also required that the land be earmarked for a public park. In this way, he both funded the school district and created Austin’s favorite park, all at once.
Barton Springs Pool. Credit Ryan Kyte.
What to Do at Zilker Park
A first-time visitor to the park might see the large expanse of lawn and wonder if there’s anything to do here. Yes! At 350 acres, the park is vast. The Great Lawn is home to many local events, but there’s so much more.
Play disc golf at the full 18-hole course, or play volleyball at one of five courts. Rent a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board from Zilker Boat Rentals to take out on Lady Bird Lake. Or walk along the water’s edge on the wooded Ann & Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
Take the kids to the playscape to climb and slide, and then go for a ride on the Zilker Eagle mini train (expected open date in late 2022). Then head to the Austin Nature & Science Center to dig for dinosaur bones and see inside a busy beehive.
Walk through Zilker Botanical Garden and absorb the beauty of native plants and flowers. Finally, take a refreshing dip in Barton Springs Pool. It’s a crisp 68 to 70° all year.
Blues on the Green. Courtesy of ACL Radio.
Events at Zilker Park
The Great Lawn is home to some of the city’s favorite annual events, like the ABC Kite Festival every March, and the Blues on the Green summer concert series. During the holidays, the park turns into the glittering Trail of Lights. And of course, we can’t forget the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which attracts artists from all over the world for two weekends in October.
Other events include the Zilker Summer Musical and Shakespeare in the Park at the Zilker Hillside Theater. And you can ring in the new year at the Polar Bear Plunge on January 1st at Barton Springs.
Austin City Limits Music Festival. Courtesy of C3 Presents.
Hours, Admissions, and Accessibility to Zilker Park
Zilker Park is open every day from 5:00am to 10:00pm, free of charge. Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Botanical Garden charge a small fee to enter, as do some special events.
The park is mostly flat, making it accessible in many areas. The Botanical Garden, Zilker Hillside Theater, and Barton Springs Pool are all ADA accessible. There are several parking lots spread across the park. Check the Park Transportation Map to find the closest parking to your destination.
Contributed by Kate McDermott.
Kate McDermott is a local copywriter, content writer, and cocktail enthusiast. She writes about and for restaurants, hotels, event companies, and more from her home in Way South Austin.