The state capital of Texas, Austin, is known as one of North America’s most thrilling destinations. Every year, the city welcomes millions of tourists who arrive to take in the pure-Austin aura. Visitors from all over the globe find themselves indulging in delicious tacos, historical structures, impressive street art, fantastic live music scene, great bars, and of course, the bat watching. Austin is a unique destination that is popular for its ‘general’ weirdness. Watching Congress Bridge Bats fly from Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to Lady Bird Lake. It is a sight not to be missed, regardless of whether you are fascinated by these creatures or not.
Bat Viewing Overview
In the year 1980, the South Congress Bridge was rebuilt, but the support structure of the bridge, including the arches, pylons, buttresses, and posts are from the original construction. During the reconstruction, small gaps were introduced on the underside of the bridge, which attracted the Mexican free-tailed bats residing under the north side of the bridge. Now, these gaps under the congress bridge serve as a home to more than 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats!
Just minutes before sunset during the months from March to October, these bats fly towards the east side of Austin in search of food. These bats are a crucial part of Austin as they are responsible for consuming more than 20,000 pounds of bugs every night. It is due to these congress bridge bats that Austin’s bug problem stays under control. The accumulation of these Mexican free-tailed bats makes Austin home to the largest urban bat colony in North America.
Bat Viewing Spots
There are several bat watching spots in Austin which help the visitors, as well as Austinites, catch a fascinating sight. The bat watching scene is a major reason why this city attracts both local as well as foreign tourists.
Standard Viewing Areas
There are three standard viewing areas where the people gather to experience one of the world’s most amazing bat watching.
Congress Avenue Bridge
The best vantage point of bat watching in Austin is the eastern side of the walkway of the congress avenue bridge. It is the point from where the bats emerge from to fly towards the eastern lady bird lake. Many people bring along their blanket and eatables to enjoy a small picnic. The point offers a very close view of the bats as they emerge from under the bridge. However, the bats disappear after a very short while behind the trees.
Butler Hike and Bike Trail
The butler hike and bike trail are one of the most admired locations in Austin. Not only is this a locals’ favorite but also receives a top rank in Austin’s best tourist attractions. It is the heart of the city and a great spot to witness the city’s bat scene. It makes bat watching experience fun, active, and super-exciting.
Statesman Bat Observation Center
Adjacent to the congress avenue bridge sits the Statesman Bat Observation Center. It is a very popular place where people visit specifically for bat watching in Austin. Visitors can park their cars in the on-site paid parking. It is the only location that has signs placed around to help spectators learn some Austin bat facts and information.
Lady Bird Lake
The Austinian bats begin their journey from underneath the North Congress Bridge and fly towards the eastern side, into Lady Bird Lake. The lady bird lake is another popular location where Austin’s birds of the night fly to after sunset. There are a number of ways you can enjoy bat watching from the lady bird lake.
The first option for bat watching at lady bird lake is through the lone star riverboat trip. It is a one-hour long trip with the southeast side of the First Street Bridge as its starting point. The tour begins 30 minutes before the sundown and comprises of 60 people.
The capital cruises’ dock is another point in the lady bird lake from where a visitor can experience the best of Austin’s bat watching. People can get in large tour boats with a group or can rent canoes, kayaks, and even a giant floating swan.
Another option that people can choose is the live love paddle. It is not a crowded bat watching spot in Austin. It offers a two-hour long urban kayaking tour that is led by guides who enlighten the paddler with facts about Austin bats and various other attractions.
Austin Kayak Tours
For travelers in Austin, the Austin Kayak Tour is always on the list. It is a two-hour bat tour where experienced instructors accompany the bat watchers.
For anyone who wants to enjoy a completely different view of bats flying from the Congress Avenue Bridge. On the eastern side, the best spots for bat watching are the Pleasant Valley Road and Longhorn Dam. There is a bridge that lies just above the dam, and many visitors head to this location to enjoy a unique bat watching experience.
Restaurant Bat Viewing
Many visitors look for a sophisticated and relaxing bat viewing experience, and for such visitors, Austin has introduced a number of restaurants along the entire path from the Congress Avenue Bridge to the Lady Bird Lake. The Line Hotel and Four Seasons Hotel are the two spots that offer several bat-viewing restaurants that offer the most exceptional sights.
When to See the Bats?
The ideal period to plan a bat watching trip in Austin is in April and May. It is the gestational period of the Austin bats, and it is the time when bats come out of their caves in search of food. The mother bats are hungry and need food. The peak season of bat watching is from late July to early August. It is the end of the nursing period, and the baby bats begin to fly on their own. With baby bats fling out, people can witness a gorgeous sight of flying bats.
The bats leave their caves when its cooler. Therefore, to enjoy the best of bat watching people need to arrive at the spots around 5:30 p.m. Arriving early helps people get the perfect spot and a great parking spot. The bats leave for 7 to 8 hours and return 30 minutes before sunrise. However, this time is not the best to enjoy bat watching as these night birds do not return together.
Where to Park?
The perfect parking area lies close to the American Statesman Office. It is located at 305 South Congress Avenue, which is in close proximity to the Congress bridge. The parking fee here starts from as low as $7 for four hours. For anyone who does not want to pay for the parking, they can choose any of the free lots located along Riverside Drive. They will have to arrive early as the free spots are the first to be filled. For more parking information check out Austin Parkopeida.
The most exciting time to visit Austin for bat watching is during the Austin Bat Fest that takes place every year in the mid of August. It is the bat migrating season, and the city takes advantage of it and provides its visitors as well as the locals to enjoy it in full swing. Live music, fun activities for children, and delicious food awaits the visitors at the Austin Bat Fest.
Austin’s bat watching is one of the biggest attractions for not just the locals but also for the tourists. It adds to the city’s weird vibe, which is one of the features that attracts a huge crowd of tourists comprising of both locals and foreigners.