Splash Down at Austin’s Splash Pads This Summer
No pool? No problem. Cool off for free at local sprinkler parks.
Splash pads offer sweet relief from the heat.
Splash pads have popped up across Austin like mushrooms after a rare heavy rain. The public spaces—paved areas fitted with fountain-style sprinklers, playscape-like features and sometimes colored lights—are gaining popularity with families and budget-conscious park planners alike. Splash pads don’t require life guards, dressing rooms or the kind of costly upkeep that pools need. They’re also places where parents don’t have to worry about kids getting in over their heads. And did I mention that splash pad admission is free?
The City of Austin lists nine splash pads around town, including sites in Pease Park, Clarksville, and Bartholomew Park. One big omission from its online list is for my money the best splash pad in town, located in Butler Park near Auditorium Shores.
Kids cool off in Butler Park's splash pad.
The location is hard to beat. Butler Park (nee Town Lake Park) occupies prime shoreline land with a great view of the Austin skyline across Lady Bird Lake, plenty of open space for Frisbee, catch and lounging, and a huge splash pad that puts on a light show after dark. I was there recently with friends, and while my teenager was too cool to run through the spray, another mom and I almost did—until we realized the chlorinated water would probably wreck our street clothes. Sometimes being a grownup is a bummer.
The pad was filled with younger kids—some in swimsuits, some in play clothes—happily beating the 107-degree heat while parents joined in or looked on. We stayed until the splash pad lights came on just after dark, a thrill for the kids who got to play in the light show.
The Butler Park splash pad lights up at night.
Butler has restrooms and water fountains near the splash pad, walking and biking paths, and free parking on Lee Barton between the park and the Dougherty Arts Center. There’s a convenience store across Barton Springs Road in case you need to stock up on cold drinks and snacks.
What to bring: Sunscreen, insect repellant, swimsuit, towel, chair or picnic blanket
Photos: BCRP, Pixajen and Lomo-Cam, all used under Creative Commons license