5 kids. 7 hours. 12 splash pads.
For years I have dreamed of staging an impromptu splash pad hop. Loading my bathing suit clad children in the car and setting off on a local waterscape tour, armed only with the Splash Pad Map, sunscreen, and drinks. On Tuesday we did it, calling it the Austin Splash Pad Challenge, and our DIY waterpark day was even more fun than I expected. It was (nearly) all the entertainment of an amusement park, minus the lines, life jackets, and stress. For the expense of gas and food, we had one amazing adventure, visiting all 12 of the City of Austin splash pads, fountains and waterscapes in one day.
The City of Austin has temporarily banned public gatherings. Please stay home. The Free Fun in Austin calendar is only for live digital events at this time.
As usual, however, my spur of the moment outing could have benefited from some actual planning. We should have left home earlier in the morning, for example, instead of waiting until lunchtime when it was already hot and everyone was hungry. And, I probably should have packed a picnic, instead of opting to drive through Sonic (although you could argue that eating fast food made it more of an authentic waterpark experience – yes, let’s go with that).
I will share photos from the splash pads below, in the order that we visited them, along with any field notes from our stops. But before I start, here are two general tips to consider when planning your own splash pad outing. 1 – Protect your belongings. A reader told me last year that someone stole her phone out of her bag while she and her child splashed nearby. 2 – Keep in mind that the splash pads break fairly frequently, so it’s a good idea to have a Plan B. Most of the splash pads are located close together, so it’s helpful to know your options before heading out.
East of I-35
Bartholomew Park | 5200 Berkman Drive
Field notes: The best thing about this splash pad is the brand new shade cover, installed in 2013, which covers the entire water play area. Press a button and the water features will activate for 15 minutes. There is a playground for small children with lots of natural shade, as well as two larger playgrounds and swings for older children with no shade at all. A nearby covered pavilion offers picnic tables, and bathrooms are a short walk away. The splash pad area had quite a lot of litter on the ground when we visited. Hopefully this is not always a problem. Some of the families at the splash pad had brought along balls and cups for the kids to play with in the water, which was a great idea (wish I’d thought of it!).
Chestnut Park | E. 16th Street @ Chestnut Avenue
Field notes: This was our fourth visit to Chestnut Park and the fourth time we discovered the splash pad not working. Water on the ground tricked us into thinking that the fountain had recently been on, but I think the jets were just leaking. I called 311, as the park sign instructed, to report that the splash pad was not operating correctly. The kids played for a bit on the playground located next to the splash pad. The park also offers a small pavilion with tables for shaded picnics. This is a pocket park, so it’s pretty tiny. (You can see a photo of the splash pad working on the Austin Parks Foundation website.) Next, we headed to Rosewood Park, which is just minutes away from Chestnut Park.
Rosewood Park | 1182 Pleasant Valley
Field notes: In addition to the partially shaded splash pad, Rosewood Park boasts a free pool, tennis courts, and a great pirate ship playground. The only downside is that if the nearby rec center is closed, it’s a hike to the restroom by the outdoor amphitheater. (The pool may have one; it was closed when we visited.) The splash pad features take turns operating, which encourages kids to run around chasing the water. Press a button for 15 minutes of water.
Lott Park | 1108 Curve St.
Field Notes: This splash pad was my 5-year-old’s favorite, but I think that was mostly because we had the place to ourselves and he loved the crazy blue slide. There is no shade over the splash pad and the only restroom option is a nearby porta-potty. Closed Wednesdays for maintenance.
Metz Park | 2407 Canterbury St.
Field Notes: There is shade in the park, but not directly over the splash pad. My boys enjoyed the small playscape. If you visit when the rec center is open, you can use their restroom if needed. Otherwise, there is one at the bottom of the hill, behind the center. For more information, read Nicole’s review from 2012.
West of I-35
Liz Carpenter Fountain | 1000 Barton Springs Rd.
Field Notes: We parked in the lot behind Doughtery Arts Center and walked through Butler Park to get to the splash pad. There are restrooms close to the parking lot. Liz Carpenter Fountain is my older kids’ favorite. It is the only one of the 12 splash pads that does not have any play equipment nearby, but Doug Sahm Hill is pretty great for rolling down. There is no shade over the fountain and the ground gets mighty hot in the sun. Water shoes are advisable. Closed for maintenance Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon. For information, call (512) 495-9163.
Ricky Guerrero Park | 1100 Brodie @ 2006 S. 6th Street
Field Notes: The Ricky Guerrero Splash Pad wins for best natural shade! I also appreciated that 3/4 of the splash pad is enclosed. We enjoyed our first visit to this park and will definitely be back. Restrooms are located right next to the splash pad. For more information, read Sarah’s review. Closed on Wednesdays for maintenance.
Dick Nichols District Park | 8011 Beckett Rd.
Field Notes: The “waterscape” at Dick Nichols Park is not really a splash pad. It’s just a dolphin (according to the sign; I thought it was a seal) that spits water for a minute every time you press a button. But, the playground is amazing (with three flying fox ziplines) and my boys loved the volleyball courts (which were stocked with volleyballs). There’s also a free pool.
Clarksville Park | 1811 W. 11 Street
Field Notes: This is a pretty low-key splash pad; nice for younger children. Both the splash pad and the playscape are shaded.
Pease Park | 1600 Parkway at Kingsbury
Field Notes: This splash pad is fairly similar to the one at Rosewood Park (minus the shade), so we didn’t stay very long. It was a nice, open layout that could accommodate plenty of children. For more information, read Nicole’s review from 2012.
Eastwoods Park | 3001 Harris Park Avenue
Field Notes: The splash pad was broken so, rather than post my boring photo of a dry, concrete slab, I cheated and used a photo from Nicole’s review of the splash pad from 2012. Also of note, the only nearby parking spots we could find required payment.
Bailey Park | 1101 W 33rd St
Field Notes: Bailey Park was a great spot to finish up the day! There’s no shade, but the water is everywhere, coming at you from above and below. The kids got drenched (again) and didn’t want to leave, even though it was past dinnertime and we were all hungry. Tennis and volleyball games were going on in park, near the splash pad. I appreciated that the restrooms were right next to the water. There is no playground, only swings. You can see a better photo of the splash pad in Sarah’s review here.
And there you have it! Water fun around every corner. If I were to attempt an Austin Splash Pad Challenge again, I think I would visit the splash pads east of I-35 one day and do the ones west of I-35 another, so the kids could spend more time at each location. One thing I didn’t count on was that my boys wanted to spend a long time exploring each playground, as well as the splash pad, at every park. I felt bad rushing them along so we could cover more ground.
I apologize for leaving out some details in my notes, like the bathroom situation at each park. Having a one-year-old baby along for the ride proved to be a bit distracting. If you have tips for visiting your favorite splash pad, please share them in the comments below!
For the full list of Austin area splash pads, and the map that I used for our outing, head over here. Also, I started a hashtag on Instagram for our adventure. Check out our photos by searching #splashpadchallenge and add your own photos this summer using the same hashtag. I look forward to seeing them. Happy splashing!