'Whirlpool patio' gathering space opens on Violet Crown Trail

The Austin Urban Trails Program and Hill Country Conservancy have announced that the "Whirlpool Patio" on the Violet Crown Trail is now open.

Located near the trailhead at Latta Drive and Convict Hill, Austin Public Works said the Whirlpool Patio serves as a gathering place and educational piece along the trail. Students who use the trail can use this space as an outdoor classroom on field trips to the Whirlpool Cave.  

The Whirlpool Patio design includes a hardscape spiral design that references the nearby Whirlpool Cave. Limestone and grout form contrasting colors in the spiral, and boulders surround the spiral to create a place for visitors to sit and enjoy the space.

Austin Public Works said the design’s inspiration was to foster an environment where school children visiting the nearby Whirlpool Cave can learn. With its proximity to the parking lot, the new patio can serve as a meeting place. It also functions as a reference point to help orient trail users.  


Located near the trailhead at Latta Drive and Convict Hill, the Whirlpool Patio serves as a gathering place and educational piece along the trail.


Nico Hauwert, Ph.D., is a Professional Geoscientist and a Program Manager for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve as part of Austin Water's Wildlands Conservation Division. Hauwert says he has been leading field trips to the Whirlpool Cave for over thirty years. The Whirlpool Cave is one of the 62 caves required to be protected by the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan and is managed by the Texas Cave Management Association.

Pre-pandemic, Austin Public Works said around 1,000 to 2,000 people visited the cave each year. 

Hauwert explained that "the Whirlpool Cave is challenging and can be really scary for young kids who have never been underground. So, it’s important that students know what to expect before we enter the cave. The Whirlpool Patio will help students feel more comfortable and excited about the adventure to come."

The Violet Crown Trail passes through lands that recharge water entering the Edwards Aquifer. Over time, rainwater seeps through the rocks and forms caves underground called karst. These caves take hundreds of thousands of years to form and are home to unique and endangered species. The area where karst holds water are called aquifers, and the Barton Springs Edward Aquifer stores drinking water for around 60,000 people. 

Austin Public Works said The Whirlpool Patio aims to bring attention to this often-unseen world underground.  

Once complete, the VCT will be a 30-mile nature trail that will connect Zilker Park to Hays County. Austin’s Urban Trail Program is coordinating with Hill Country Conservancy to build portions of the trail through urban areas to serve people commuting by bike or on foot.