The Congress Avenue bridge spans Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin and is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America known as the Congress Bridge Bats. This colony is estimated at 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats. Each night from around mid-March to early November, the Congress Bridge Bats bats emerge from under the bridge to blanket the sky as they head out to forage for food. This event has become one of the most spectacular and unusual tourist attractions in Austin Texas. The most spectacular bat flights are during hot, dry August nights, when multiple columns of bats emerge. During a rainy season (rare in Austin), there are more insects out and the bats do not have to leave as early to forage for food and you may not see as many bats. If you're on a boat looking up at the bats, the contrast against the evening sky helps show them better. There is a decent spot to watch the bats along the Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail just East of the bridge on the South side of Lady Bird Lake. Many people will watch them from the bridge above. Both spots can get very crowded and neither provides as good of an experience as watching it from the water on one of the tours listed below.
Cool Ways to View the Congress Bridge Bats
1. Capital Cruises Bat Watching Tours
Capital Cruises is home of the largest electric paddle wheel boat in the country and the now famous Sunset Bat Watching excursion that offers a spectacular view of the Congress Bridge Bats as they fly out overhead where the contrast against the evening skyline helps them stand out. This tour fills up nearly every night during bat season sometimes a few days in advance. Prices are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $5 for kids. You need to arrive about 30 minutes before sunset to get on the boat and buying tickets in advance is highly recommended during peak summer months as they sell out nearly every night, including weekdays. Use this link for Capital Cruises Bat Watching and Sightseeing Tours to learn more.
2. Lone Star Riverboats Bat Watching Tours
Like Capital Cruises, Lone Star Riverboats also offers bat watching tours along Lady Bird lake. Both companies offer weekend afternoon tours, but Lone Star also has a Friday night tour. Both companies tend to operate as roll over for the other especially when one boat is booked for a private event. The tours vary some, but the same great bat watching from beneath the bridge in the comfort of a seat is available here too. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $7 for children under 12, and children under 2 are free. This is a great tour for the views of downtown and the Austin bats. I'd recommend some water on hot summer nights. Use this link for Lone Star Riverboats Sightseeeing Tours to learn more.
3. Live Love Paddle Kayak Bat Watching Tours
Kayaking on Lady Bird Lake with Live Love Paddle's bat watching tour is one of our favorite ways to view the bats. The cool water of the Colorado river beneath you drops the temperature nearly 10 degrees. Plus the view of downtown at sunset can make for some spectacular photos that are almost as amazing as the bats themselves. Tours start at 1602 East Riverside Drive, cost $45 per person, and tandem boats are available. The minimum weight on bat-watching tours is 30 lbs and maximum weight is 275 lbs. That means THIS TOUR IS KID FRIENDLY. Tours start just before dusk so times vary with the season. Use this link for Live Love Paddle's Austin Bat Wathing Kayak Tours to learn more.
4. Mike's Bikes and Tours
Another exercise-friendly way to view the bats is Mike's Bikes and Tours. They feature a bike tour of Lady Bird Lake whose final stop includes watching the Austin bats departure into the evening sky. This tour also showcases some of downtown Austin's popular tourist attractions inluding Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Park, the Steive Ray Vaughn statue, and the floating boardwalk. These are some of the most picturesque spots in Austin. This tour costs $64 per person and like the other tours listed above, it has a varying start time due to the bats leaving at sunset. You can use this link to read more about Mike's Bikes and Tours information.
Don't Miss the Yeti Flagship Store
Located directly across the street from the bats main departure point is a store with a different personality than your typical retail outlet. Yeti was founded in Austin in 2006 and they chose this iconic intersection to open their first store front. The Yeti Flagship Store elevates the consumer experience by inspiring visitors to go out and explore the wild as it captures a core tenet of the brand in 8,000 square feet. It's a gathering spot for locals and out-of-towners to enjoy a cold beer, listen to music, watch a film or learn from a pro. There's plenty of mercandise to explore and purchase and the store features an energy that is unique to Austin and the Yeti brand. Plus there's a bar on the side where you can buy a cold one! It's definitely worth dropping by before or after your bat watching experience. Use this link to learn more about The Yeti Flagship Store on South Congress Avenue.
Where to Eat When Viewing the Bats
Zax Restaurant and Bar
Following the bats' schedule and thus the sunset can lead to needing a bite before or after the viewing experience. We recommend catching a bite at Zax Restaurant in Bar a short block away from the Congress bridge. They feature a great dinner menu with sandwiches, hamburgers, pizzas and salads for around $12 - $14. They also offer an upscale entrees list featuring several fish, pork, steak, and even duck entrees ranging from $22 - $30. The restaurant offers a nice indoor area, a great patio, and a long bar with 20 beers on tap helping it offer something for all occasions and palettes. Use this link to learn more about Zax Restaurant and Bar. Also check them out on Diamond Tables here for 25% off the check at select days and times.
While You're in Town, Check Out Our Friends at Haunted ATX!
If you're looking for something fun to do in Austin, make sure you check out our friends at Haunted ATX. They offer two of the most unique tours in town. Their main tour, features a visit to several Haunted sites around Austin. You climb into a classic Cadillac hearse that has been converted into a spooky limousine and visit several historic Austin landmarks that are reportedly haunted or have experienced paranormal activity, including the Driskill, Tavern, Clay Pit, and Littlefield House. You get out of the hearse frequently and go inside the establishments, but there's not too much walking involved. The Haunted Tours are fun, inspiring, and a little scary at times. If you're interested, they offer a VIP upgrade option to get a private tour and customer pickup. Use this link to learn more about Haunted ATX Hearse Limo Tours.
South Congress Avenue near downtown Austin (aka SoCo shopping district) is known for its Bohemian energy. Supporting the Keep Austin Wierd motto, you can find hip new stores, funky restaurants, and groovy bars.
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