There are over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats who call Austin home. Emerging at dusk to search for their dinner, this sight is one of the things Austin is known for, and it’s a great family-friendly activity that kids of all ages will love.
Below are a few options for optimal bat-watching in Austin and beyond.
Head to downtown Austin, which is perhaps the most popular way to see the bats emerge.
- Sit on the lawn or stand on the bridge. The easiest thing to do is to pack a picnic and head down to the Statesman’s Bat Observation Center in the northwest corner of the parking lot at least an hour before dusk. Street parking is available nearby, and there are several parking lots, as well, which are a bit of a longer walk. There is signage which will tell you more about the bats and you’ll be surrounded by many other families doing the same thing. You can read more about this option here. If you have older kids who don’t mind standing for longer periods of time, you can find a spot on the southeastern part of the Bridge about an hour before dusk. The best part is that these options are both free!
- Take a boat tour. Capital Cruises and Lone Star Riverboat both offer public sightseeing cruises which are about an hour in length and cost $10 per adult, $7-$8 for kids. Departure times vary slightly, depending on what time of year it is, and you do need to arrive a bit in advance. Compared to hanging out on the ground, this is a little more comfortable, and you can usually snack on the boats while you listen to the guide tell you more about different spots along Lady Bird Lake. If you have kids who have a hard time sitting still or who have a daredevil streak, this option might be too stressful to be worthwhile.
- Canoe or kayak to the bridge. If you have your own canoe or kayak, you can get up close and personal with the bats, along with anyone else who has the same idea. Several vendors rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboards near the bridge. You can also book a bat tour with The Texas River School, which hosts a monthly Moonlight Bat Float, complete with music from local musicians. This is a great option as it benefits their non-profit work to take at-risk kids for adventures on the water. Live Love Paddle also hosts bat tours.
- Enjoy the view while you eat. The north side of Lady Bird Lake has several hotels with restaurants which claim to have the best bat watching available. One casual option is Alta’s Cafe, which is located atop the Waller Creek Boathouse. There are a few piers along the north side of the Lake which also offer a great vantage point to see the bats.
Bat Viewing Opportunities Outside of Austin
Round Rock. Nearly half a million bats emerge from a spot close to the intersection of IH-35 and McNeil. Head to 601 North Interstate 35 Frontage Road in Round Rock with your blankets and something to cover you in case of any guano falling from the sky. Free parking is located nearby.
Bracken Cave. Austin may be the largest urban bat colony, but Bracken Cave, located half an hour northwest of San Antonio, is the location of the largest bat colony and one of the largest concentration of mammals on Earth. In 2014, the cave and land surrounding the cave came under the management of Bat Conservation International. Members have the opportunity to visit the cave certain times each year and the public can sign up for a few nights (note that 2016 is already full).
Eckert James River Bat Cave. The Nature Conservancy manages the Eckert Cave, which is about 16 miles from Mason, Texas. Tours run from Thursdays-Sundays from mid-May until early October. Some sunrise viewings of the bats returning from their nocturnal hunts are also offered.
Old Tunnel State Park. On Thursday through Sunday evenings, from May through October, visitors ages 4 and up who pay admission can view over three million bats emerging from an abandoned railroad tunnel near Fredericksburg. Bat viewing opportunities are available seven nights a week, and nightly educational presentations are giving Thursday through Sunday.
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About the author: Nicole Basham is a native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life,” or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”