On the downstream side of Barton Springs pool in downtown Austin, the water spills through a small dam and continues down the creek on its way east to the Colorado river. Right there at the pool’s downstream spillway, souls of all types congregate in the cool water, at the spot affectionately known as Barkin’ Springs. Its de facto name not only describes its popularity among dog owners, but its contrast to Barton Springs pool upstream.
Where Barton Springs might be slotted as the social soiree of hip Austin swimming holes , Barkin’ Springs is the Sex Pistols show. It’s like the difference between a martini bar and a frat party. Without going too far down the comparison rabbit hole, just consider Barkin’ Springs as the free version, complete with more grit, and some daresay more fun.
At Barkin’ Springs, you will swim with other people’s dogs. You will laugh at drunk people as they try wading over the rocks. You may be offered a beer, or a hit off an odd-smelling, hand-rolled cigarette. You may join in with homeless people singing in the shade. You will slip and fall into rushing water as it pours out of the upstream pool. And you will see that everyone, people and dogs alike, all have giant smiles on their faces. And you will love it.
Here are five basic tips to enjoy your time at this free-for-all party spot on the creek:
- Check your "sophistication" at the door. – Barkin’ Springs is for everyone. Not to say that other sites aren’t, but this place is home to those who proudly uphold the 'Keep Austin Weird' tag.
- Lower your expectations. – This place is a wonderful free swimming hole, and it has the feel of being in direct rebellion against Barton Springs Pool (which charges $3). It is not all tidy and roped off and life-guarded. It is a free spot for anyone, especially those who want to have a good time with their dogs, or their six-packs of beer. It is a place for fun, not necessarily suave style.
- Lower your center of gravity. – As you walk toward the water’s edge, the concrete and rock surfaces are slippery and strewn with hard bumps to trip over. And once in the water, the current is rushing and will carry you downstream, over rocks. Being able to float in this current is one of the best aspects of the place, but stay either squatted or laying down, or your shins or butt will hate you in the morning.
- Get in the water already! – If you’re going to a swimming hole, get wet! The water’s clean (enough), and it’s a chilly 68 degrees, but that’s no excuse to just lay out and bake in sun. Get. In. The. Water. Sit there with a brew. Swim in it with the dogs. Stay in there until you’re shivering, get out and dry off for a bit, then get back in. This is what Texas summers are made for.
- Have Fun! – Meet the people around you. Don’t ogle the topless women or the thong-wearing men, just talk to them. Pet the dogs who walk over your towel. Throw them their ball. Be nice to the officers who occasionally enforce the leash law (or public intoxication law). Compliment the toothless man singing at the top of his lungs, or the guy playing the didgeridoo. Relax. This is Austin, and this is Barkin’ Springs.
Update: City officials just announced that, beginning September 2, 2014, police will begin enforcing a ban on alcohol consumption at the spillway. So go have some brews at one of these spots instead of bringing your own to Barkin' Springs.