When you think of Austin, Texas, most likely BBQ, cowboy boots and live music comes to mind. But one of the most unique things to do in Austin is see the famous bats fly out from under Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. This amazing marvel only happens certain times of the year. So if seeing the Austin bats is on your bucket list, then continue reading to learn when’s the best time to see bats in Austin and more!
With more than 1 million Mexican free-tailed bats living under or in the bridge, it is believed to be the world’s largest urban bat colony in North America. And it’s a maternal colony, so that means mother bats raise an estimated 750,000 bats under the bridge each year.
The bats started roosting in the Congress Ave Bridge in the 1980s. At first the public was alarmed by the bats and feared them. However through education and the help of Bat Conservation International, the people of Austin now love the bats and they are an international tourist attraction.
During bat season, from spring until fall, you can watch them every night with the best emergence happening on hot dry nights.
The colony can been seen exiting the bat bridge as they blanket the sky and head out for food, eating pounds of insects in a single night. This experience is truly unique and something only to be seen in Austin.
I have seen the free-tail bats a few times. So from my experience, this post shares everything you need to know about how to see the bats fly from under South Congress Bridge. So this information will help you determine the best places and the best time to see bats in Austin.
Best time to see bats in Austin
Seeing the bats in Austin is a very unique thing to do. So make sure to add this to your bucket list of activities while in Austin.
In the winter months the Austin Bats fly south to central Mexico. And therefore the only chance to see them is from early March until late October or early November. Usually before the first cold snap hits.
And with that being said, the absolute best time of year to see the bats is during spring migration from mid to late March to mid April. And also when the baby bats are learning to fly in the warmer months from late July until end of August.
The most amazing emergences have happened in years of severe drought. And heavy rains can damper or ruin bat viewing, so always check the weather before arriving.
The bats come out just after sunset or twilight, so this is the best time to see bats in Austin. Just make sure to check the current sunset time, as it varies through the year.
TRAVEL TIP: How to know if the bats are in Austin? If the bat tours are operating then that means the bats are back in Austin or haven’t left yet.
How to watch the bats in Austin
There are a few ways to view the Congress Bridge bats. You can see them from either the WATER, LAND or BRIDGE.
With all three view points you will be able to see the bats. However they each offer a unique perspective. So pick the one or two that are best for you and sit back, stand or relax and enjoy the nightly flight!
Bat views from the WATER
One of the best spots to view the bats is from the water. You have a unique view point because you are directly in front of the bridge and also get a great view of the Austin Skyline. This is more of an overall experience especially if you’re being lead by a tour guide.
Boats and kayaks are both available for rental or you can join a kayak or boat bat tour. The bat boat watching tour is around $13 per person, so it is a very affordable activity. And there are a few tour companies to chose from with prices all about the same.
I would suggest making a reservation in advance. However, if they are booked, don’t worry you will still be able to see the bats, just in a different way! More on that below.
Bat Watching Boat Tours and Kayak Tours
Bat views from the GROUND
Another way to see the bats is from the ground. There are a few areas near the feet of the bridge on both sides of Congress Street bridge to sit and wait for the bats.
Like the bridge, its a very popular place, so I would arrive a half hour or so before sunset to find the best view. There are places to both sit and stand and you can always walk around when the bats come out. So don’t fret if you are running late!
Some of the best areas on the ground are:
- The observation deck on the northeast side of river. This is adjacent to the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. It provides an unobstructed view of the bats, bridge and water.
- The new bat viewing platform located beneath the northeast end of the bridge. It shows the most columns of emerging bats.
TRAVEL TIP: Bring a blanket to sit on if you don’t want to sit on the grass or dirt.
Bat views from Congress BRIDGE
Another great option to see the bats is on South Congress Avenue Bridge. Viewing is located on the bridge railing. So I would advise to arrive early to get a good front-row spot. Otherwise it could be difficult to get a good view. The bridge can get really crowded. And you may have to stand for over an hour waiting on the bats so wear comfortable shoes.
Try to get a spot on the bridge somewhere between the middle and northeast end of the bridge. This location is know to be the best for unobstructed views of the bats against the night sky.
TRAVEL TIP: Bring drinking water as the nights are warm in the summer
Transportation to see the bats
Austin is a very walkable and bike friendly city. My first recommendation would be to walk, use the bike trail or scooter over to the Congress Bridge. Most likely you are staying near downtown Austin and the bridge is not far away and makes for a nice walk around Lady Bird Lake.
There is some parking around the park, but if you plan to drive, make sure to arrive early to find a spot. Also, there is some free parking at 1st Street at the park and paid parking at the nearby Hyatt Regency Austin or the Palmer Events Center.
Bat Watching Etiquette
There are a few rules of etiquette to follow while watching the bats. So for the best watching experience for you and others, please adhere to these rules:
- No white lights shone on emerging bats
- No loud noises within 100 feet of the bridge
- No drone within 20 feet of emerging columns
- No capturing or handling of bats
Places to stay in Austin
There are many places to stay in Austin from hotels to Airbnbs. And there is also one campground located in the city. So you have many options for accommodations.
I always enjoy finding unique experiences and to see Austin bats is definitely one of them. Whether you see the bats from above or below the bridge it will be a memorable experience.
If you would like to learn more about bats and help with their conservation, then check out Bat Conservation International. And also for a Bat-tacular experience, attend the Austin Bat Fest, its the only festival on the Congress Street Bridge with live music, adult beverages, costume contest and bat viewing. So make sure to check it out if you’re in town late August to early September.
So, I hope this guide helps to answer your questions and makes it easy to see the famous Austin Bats under Congress Bridge.
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