The inhabitants of Austin make it their mission to keep the city “weird,” but one of the weirdest spectacles the city has to offer comes directly from nature–and is completely free! The underside of the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest bat colony in the world. More than a million Mexican free-tail bats make their home there every spring. The majority of the bat colony is female, and they all give birth to their one pup before returning to Mexico. Seeing hundreds of thousands of bats exit the bridge to hunt at night is truly a crazy sight worthy of any bucket list, so take note of the tips and facts below to cross it off yours.
When’s the Best Time to See the Bats?
The pregnant bats roost under the bridge from April through May and give birth in early June. In late July and early August, the new bat pups are old enough to fly out to look for food on their own, so it’s the only time all 1.5 million bats fly out to hunt. Though some years the bats arrive as early as August and will stick around until as late as November, depending on the weather, the tail end of summer is considered to be peak bat-watching season. We know it’ll be dark out, but flashlights are not allowed when bat-watching. The bats are susceptible to light and can be temporarily blinded.
Where’s the Best Place to See the Bats?
When the bats leave at night for their hunt, they fly east over Lady Bird Lake. There is a walkway on the eastern side of the bridge- It is the best place to stand. Though be warned that you will be very close to the bats and there is the off chance that one might head toward the crowd. You can also set up shop on the hillside below the bridge. It offers a bit more space and is more kid-friendly than the busy Congress Street Bridge. Both locations run the risk that you could experience some falling guano (bat poop) so a hood or a hat could come in handy.
There is also the option of viewing the bat exodus from the water from a canoe or kayak. If you don’t have your own at the ready, you can book tours with Live Love Paddle (2-2.5 hours; $45/person) or the Moonlight Bat Float ($15/adult; $10/child).
For a view from the water with less of a chance of capsizing, you can take a boat tour. Featured on the Discovery Channel and by National Geographic, Lone Star Riverboat offers one-hour sunset bat watching tours ($10/adult; $8/senior; $7/child). Capital Cruises has public bat watching cruises ($10/adult; $8 senior; $5/child), and you can book a private dinner or party cruise, too. Departure times depend on the time of year and when the bats emerge from under the bridge, so make sure to check their website for specifics.