Seeing Austin’s famous bats is a must-do on any checklist for tourists and locals alike. Austin is home to the largest urban Mexican free-tail bat colony in North America, and we love to celebrate these winged creatures that dwell underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. Seeing the bats swoop and fly in huge swarms is quite an amazing site! Read on for all to know before you go check out the bat show…
When to see the bats: “Bat Season” takes place every year from March to November, and bats emerge around sunset to feed on a variety of flying insects such as mosquitoes and moths. Each June, mama bats give birth to a pup who’s ready to fly by August (and colonies generally double at this time of year). Typically, late July and early August is considered “peak season” to see a spectacular show. They usually start to emerge from the Congress Ave. bridge around 20 minutes before sundown.
Take note that the bats emergence is dependent upon many factors, such as the weather and time of year. You can call the “bat hotline” at (512) 327-9721 to see when bats are expected to emerge downtown.
Where to see the bats: On any given summer night, you will see crowds standing along the Congress Avenue Bridge. It’s usually best to line up about around the southeastern part of the bridge about a half hour to an hour before sunset for a good view. For something a little more kid-friendly for those who don’t want to simply stand and wait, you can spread out a blanket and picnic on the hillside at the Austin American Statesman (below the bridge) and wait for the bats to emerge. Your view may not be as close-up, but you can still see them as they head over the treetops on the water’s edge. If you’re planning to watch from the bridge, you’ll choose from any nearby downtown parking lot. Click here for info abut parking at the Statesman.
While you can see from land for free with either option noted above, we personally think the BEST way to see them is from the water. Read about our fun experience aboard the Lone Star Riverboat Sunset Bat Watching Cruise for a guided tour of the lake that’s full of plenty of interesting bat info. Or check out Capital Cruises that hosts several public tours and themed cruises, too. If you prefer a more intimate bat-watching experience, you can rent kayaks and canoes by the hour from several businesses along the shoreline. Check out our list of Where to Rent Kayaks, Canoes, and SUPs on Lady Bird Lake.
Where to find more bats in the Austin area: While Austin’s Congress Ave Bridge is home to 1.5 million bats, they aren’t the only bats in the area. In fact, you can plan some bat-viewing any of these nearby sights, too:
- Round Rock: You can see swarms of bats emerge near the intersection of IH-35 and McNeil. Head to 601 North Interstate 35 Frontage Road in Round Rock. You’ll find free parking nearby.
- Bracken Cave: While visiting Braken Cave will take a bit more planning and is located about an hour northwest of San Antonio, this is where you’ll find 15 million bats — the world’s largest bat colony! The bat viewing is managed by Bat Conservation International and you have to become a member to sign up for a viewing session, but we hear it is absolutely worth it.
- Old Tunnel State Park: You’ll find approximately 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats at Old Tunnel State Park, located about about 15 miles south of Fredericksburg. The bats roost in an abandoned railroad tunnel and emerge nightly from May through October. Admission to the park is free, but there is a $5 charge (cash only) for access to the bat viewing area. You can call (866) 978-2287 to get the latest info.
For even more bat excitement, you can mark your calendars for Austin’s annual Bat Fest, always taking place in mid-August. You’ll find live music, food & drinks, arts & crafts, and all things batty.
Happy bat-watching! We hope you enjoy the spectacle of seeing Austin’s unoffical mascots!