Zilker Botanical Garden: Budget-Friendly Outing for Families

Zilker Park always promises a good time, and there are so many reasons why it’s considered “Austin’s most-loved park.”  It seems to offer an endless supply of fun for children. No matter if I suggest going to the playground, riding the Zilker Zephyr, digging for dino bones at the Austin Nature and Science Center, or just climbing on the big rocks and running in the field, my kids will always unanimously say “YES!” when asked if they want to go to Zilker.

My personal favorite part of the park is the Zilker Botanical Garden. Visiting on Mother’s Day has always been a tradition for us, but no special event is needed to stop in and enjoy its beauty. My boys and I went this past Monday morning (in the rain, no less) and had a great time.

The Zilker Botanical Garden is located on 31 acres of varied topography that shows off an array of native, hybrid and exotic plants. For a low fee of $1 for children (ages 3-12) and seniors (age 62 and over), $2 for adult residents of Austin (ages 13-61), and $3 for non-resident adults (ages 13-61), you can explore a Japanese garden with koi ponds, a Pioneer Village that includes a cabin built in 1840, the pretty rose garden, a butterfly trail, a cactus trail, and the Hartman Prehistoric Garden that showcases a statue of an ornithomimus surrounded by plants originating from the Jurrasic period.

After parking in the lot, the first thing I suggest is to pop into the Garden Center and pick up a map. There you can also find a printed “nature challenge” to follow with the kids. My kids have not yet done the challenge because they are always motivated to explore the grounds on their own plan, but one of these days we’ll have to try it out. The website also offers a self guided tour guide (pdf) that is designed for school teachers, but it could also be of interest to parents wishing to guide their kids through the park with bits of educational information. While in the Garden Center, it’s also a great idea to stop for a bathroom break before heading off on the trails.

My boys are usually most interested in the butterfly garden and the Hartman Prehistoric Garden so that’s the direction we head first. When we arrived on Monday, a section of the Pioneer Village was roped off and under construction. (If this area is of great interest to you, I suggest calling before you go to inquire about its renovation status.) We found ourselves by the Vegetable Garden and the Swedish Blacksmith Shop when the skies grew dark and it started to downpour. Lucky for us, we could take shelter in a convenient (and adorable) gazebo nearby long enough for me to act out scenes from The Sound of Music and embarrass my kiddos.

The kids were energized by the rain and found that it added more excitement to our adventure. Once the rain was down to a drizzle, we headed down the path towards the Prehistoric Garden. By this time, the kids were acting out an elaborate story of dinosaur hunters, and I was merely trailing along behind. They pretended to hear footsteps of a great T-Rex, they pointed out giant palms and ferns, and (man-made) footprints on the path. They love the little waterfall in that area of the park, and we were all taken with a little green heron that was catching fish just under the waterfall. The boys had great fun spotting the ornithomimus statue through the trees. And by this time the rain was pouring again and we were being eaten by mosquitos, so I had to move things along quicker than they preferred. (Learn from our mistake and don’t forget to put on bug spray before you go.)
We made our way through the Rose Garden where the kids argued over which flower I might like best. (Three boys can ALWAYS find something to argue about!) We took a few moments at the pond by the cupola to spy a tiny baby turtle and some various fish.
We ventured on to the Japanese Garden and couldn’t believe the size of the koi swimming around with long, fancy tails. The kids pretended the Japanese Tea House was a “jail that bad ninjas locked them into” (not a lot of zen moments for them, but they thoroughly enjoyed their pretend play). And they were thrilled walking through the bamboo trail, laughing hilariously at me when I unknowingly leaned against a rock wall covered in daddy longlegs. (Yikes!)

On this trip to the Botanical Garden, we were not able to walk around the Cactus Garden because we ran out of time before the big rainstorm hit with booms of thunder. This did save me from constantly yelling, “Watch out for prickles!”. But we’ve enjoyed it previously, and it’s certainly worth checking out to see some impressive native plants.Know Before You Go:

  • While it is NOT free, it is easily worth the low fees ($1 for kids and seniors, $2 Austin resident adults, $3 non-Austin resident adults). But do note that you will need to pay with cash or check.
  • No food is allowed in the park.
  • You may be surprised how much time you can take strolling around the grounds. So be sure to stop in the bathroom when you arrive to avoid rushing the kids from afar if they have a potty emergency.
  • Take a camera as you will surely find something picture-perfect to photograph.
  • Hours vary by season.

Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Road
Austin, Texas

Freelance web producer, Heidi Okla is mom to three boys (ages 4, 6, and 8), and can’t pass up any opportunity for fun family adventures.



  • Julian L Fernandez

    Hi Heidi,
    A New Entry’s mission is to serve individuals who are experiencing either homelessness, substance abuse dependence, or are formally criminal justice involved and have the desire to reintegrate into the community to become hope inspired and productive members of our community. Our hope is that we can help them find their true identity outside of the past and move them forward to have sustained successful living. We are committed to this, while maintaining our supportive multi-touch approach to participant involvement and the safety of our community. Our focus is serving the under-served, indigent and veteran population.
    Many of our clients and/or Veterans are battling dual diagnosis, homelessness and/or poverty, which is keeping them trapped in the cycle of addiction. Fundraising allows us to stop turning individuals away and start igniting hope, passion and purpose into their life so they can become active and productive members of the Austin Community.

    In 2016, we served over 300 homeless adults and/or Veterans by providing them substance use treatment and/or Recovery supportive housing. We use a multi-touch and evidence based approach to giving those we serve the tools necessary to reintegrate into society and become productive members of the Austin Community. We are proud to say that last year we had over a 60% successful completion rate, which 30% higher than national average.

    I am asking if you could help us in bringing our clients to see great free places in Austin? The staff and clients would be honored and this opens up caring for our homeless Veterans and our clients. We are asking for information to go see what Austin has to offer for Free. I am working with a limited budget a we’ll be taking sack lunches on our outings.

    Look forward to hearing from you

    Thank you,

    Julian L. Fernandez
    Events Coordinator
    A New Entry, Inc. at the McCabe Center
    1915 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    Austin, Texas 78702
    (512) 464-1250 #164
    [email protected]

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