The Austin Bats are Austin's most popular visitor attraction. 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 Austin Bats emerge from under the bridge to blanket the sky as they head out to forage for food. This nightly event is considered the most spectacular and unusual tourist attraction in Austin Texas. Below are 5 steps to see the bats in Austin.
1. Check to See if the Bats Are in Austin
The Austin bats nightly departure is seasonal. They fly South for the winter like their feathered friends. They usually arrive in early March and leave in late October after the first cold snap hits. As climate change leads to warmer weather, they are slowly arriving earlier and sometimes arrive in late February. The easiest way to know if they are flying is to check to see if the tours listed below are offering tours. They open up tour season when the bats arrive and close it down after they leave.
2. Plan Your Arrival Time
The Congress Bridge Bats make their nightly departure 30-60 minutes before sunset. During bat season this can range from 7:30PM - 9:00PM because the sun sets at different times through the year. Use this link to check the local sunset time in Austin and plan to get there 90 minutes before so you get a good seat.
3. Determine How You Want to See the Bats
You can view the bats for free by standing on the bridge and also in a bat viewing area located on the southeast corner of Congress Bridge and Lady Bird Lake. If you're on a budget, free bat watching is a great experience. However, it can get a little crowded on the bridge and leave shorter people without a decent view. Coronavirus concerns may also leave you wanting a little more space than the bridge typically provides. There is also a bat viewing area that is a little less packed than standing on the bridge. We highly recommend a bat tour that puts you on the water looking up as the contrast of bats flying against the dusk sky is the best way to view them. Below are the best bat watching tour options in Austin.
A. Capital Cruises Bat Watching Tours
Capital Cruises is home of the largest electric paddle wheel boat in the country. They feature a now famous Sunset Bat Watching excursion that offers a spectacular view of the Congress Bridge Bats as they fly out from beneath the bridge where their 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 $13.00 for adults, $10.00 for seniors & $8.00 for kids 3 to 12. 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 to learn more about Capital Cruises and buy tickets.
B. Lone Star Riverboats Bat Watching Tours Like Capital Cruises, Lone Star Riverboats also offers bat watching tours along Lady Bird lake. 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 $13 for adults, $11 for seniors, $8 for children under 12, and children under 2 are free. This is a great tour for the views of downtown and the Austin bats. Use this link to learn more about Lone Star Riverboats and buy tickets.
C. 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 $55-$60 per person. Tandem boats are available for first time kayakers who want to share the load. The minimum weight on bat-watching tours is 30 lbs and maximum weight is 275 lbs, which means this tour is kid friendly. Tours start a little earlier than the boats because there's a little trek to get to the optimum spot. Use this link to learn more about Live Love Paddle and buy tickets here.
4. Figure Out Where to Park
If you're staying downtown, Congress Bridge Bats are potentially within walking distance from your hotel. Catching an Uber is affordable. Hopping a scooter adds a little excitement as well. If you're driving in, there is a some free parking on the Southwest corner of South 1st street and Lady Bird Lake. However that area often fills up for the bat watching tour guests and locals using the Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail. You can pay to park in the Hyatt parking garage which is across the street. And there are other paid parking areas at the Austin American Statesmen and Palmer Events Center.
5. Prepare for Conditions
Last but not least, we need some tips on how to prepare. The most spectacular bat flights are during hot, dry August nights, when multiple columns of bats emerge. During the rare rainy season 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. That does NOT mean mosquitos will not be rampant. We recommend bringing some bug spray. Regardless of when you choose to go, it's likely going to be hot and we recommend a bottle of water or two to manage the evening.
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. Their main tour features a visit to several Haunted sites around Austin. Their private tour features a classic Cadillac hearse that has been converted into a spooky limousine that takes you to several historic Austin landmarks that are reportedly haunted. They also offer a public van tour that is a little more affordable. Use this link to learn more about Austin ghost tours from Haunted ATX.