No matter if you’re visiting Austin, Texas for the first time or a repeat visit, or you’re a local, Austin is a city with much to offer in regards to outdoor fun. There’s a little bit of everything under the sun for everyone.
Ride the DoubleDeckerAustin.com and venture throughout Austin enjoying a Hop On and Hop Off tour of all Austin’s top attractions.
Or enjoy an awesome amphibious tour of downtown Austin and beautiful Lady Bird Lake via Austin Duck Ventures.
Both venues are located at 602 East 4th Street in Austin, Texas.
When the weather is warm, hundreds often swim, canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or pontoon party boat on Lady Bird Lake too.
But by far, one of the most exciting experiences is seeing and watching the bats fly the Congress Avenue Bridge. Nearly 200,000 people a year witness over 2 million bats fly from the bridge daily between March and early September.
But what you, like many others, may not know about are the best locations other than the Congress Avenue Bridge to see and watch the bats in Austin fly. There are a number of paid and free locations and experience types that provide a one-of-a-kind bat watching experience.
- See bats from the bridge
- Waterfront and waterside bat watching
- Aquatic and boating bat tours and cruises
- Panoramic and aerial bat viewing
- Spotting bats from parking garages
- Romantic and fine-dining bat experiences
So, what and where are the best bat watching locations and tours in Austin, Texas?
Well, let’s dive in and explore each of these unique bat watching locations and experiences. We’ll attempt to answer all your questions and more. We aim to help you solve or at least narrow down all the various considerations and available options to create a memorable bat watching experience.
The famed home of Austin’s bats: Congress Avenue Bridge.
What started as a pontoon toll bridge in the late 1800s is now one of the hottest places to visit for locals and tourists year-round.
The Congress Avenue Bridge hasn’t always been home to a thriving population of Mexican free-tailed bats. In fact, the bats didn’t claim Congress Avenue Bridge as their home until after a 1980s rehabilitation of the bridge. This rehabilitation made way for today’s thriving urban bat population and attraction.
The Congress Avenue Bridge is the number one location for many people to see, watch, and experience the evening emergence of the bats on a daily. Many spectators, near and far, gather along the sidewalk of the east side of the bridge away from the sun. It’s free to watch from bridge, but it’s certainly a first-come, first-serve experience.
There are a few things to note about the bridge. The northernmost end of the bridge, located near the LINE Hotel, is designated as the bat nursery. Most of the bats that call the Congress Avenue Bridge home are female bats ready to give birth to bat pups. Most of these bat pups hideout upside down on the north end of the bridge until they’re strong enough to fly and fend for themselves. It typically takes six weeks for most bat pups to leave the roost for their first flight.
The ideal spots are the south end and near the middle of the Congress Avenue Bridge. I personally like the bat watching experience from the middle of the bridge. It offers the opportunity to see both ends of activity as well as the middle. It takes nearly 2 hours for all 2 million bats to drop from the bridge and glide into flight.
Austin Statesman Bat Observation Center
If you’re not on the Congress Avenue Bridge to experience, then the next best place to see and watch the bats is just below the bridge. The Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail span east and west underneath the south end of the Congress Avenue Bridge. It’s located next to the Austin Statesman Bat Observation Center.
While Congress Avenue Bridge provides a somewhat aerial view of the bats, the Austin Statesman Bat Observation Center provides a bats overhead experience. Like the Congress Avenue Bridge, the conservatory experience is free. Space, both parking and watching, is limited. The view is somewhat limited to the sound end of the bridge with clear line-of-sight visibility to the northern end.
Families of children, especially toddlers to 10 years of age, often opt for the Austin Statesman Bat Observation Center instead of the crowded bridge experience. The Congress Avenue Bridge experience can also be a bit dangerous due to being highly trafficked in both directions during late-evening rush hour.
Bat watching from Canoes, Kayaks, Paddle Boats or Pontoon Party Boats
If the bridge and conservatory bat experiences are not your cups of tea, then maybe floating on Lady Bird Lake in a canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or pontoon party boat.
Each floating apparatus provides an up-close and personal experience with the bats. Water watchers can paddle, float, or ride under the bridge as they anticipate the bats dropping into their gliding flight.
There are many options to choose from for bat watching by way of the canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or pontoon party boat.
Austin Water Bikes
Located at the back of the Hyatt Regency Austin on the south side of the bank and west of the Congress Bridge is Austin Water Bikes. Austin Water Bikes, now closed, once offered the paddle bike experience.
Think of riding a bike adhered to two canoes or floating devices. Just as you use the pedals to accelerate and brake on a normal bike, this is also the same for the paddle bike experience. However, this experience is no longer offered due to COVID-19 shutting down the business for good.
The bat watching water experience via Live Love Paddle
Another option to experience the bats from the water is renting kayaks, canoes, nucnaoes, and paddleboards from Live Love Paddle.
They are located at 1610 East Riverside Drive next to Radio Shack (these things still exist? who knew!?), also known as AMLI South Drive.
In addition to offering affordable watercraft rental rates, Live Love Paddle also offers a near 3-hour Congress Avenue Bridge Bats on a Kayak Tour.
A romantic bat experience via Capital Cruises
Much like Live Love Paddle, Capital Cruises also offers various watercraft rentals to enjoy and experience all the sights and sounds of Austin that Lady Bird Lake has to offer.
But the one thing that sets Capital Cruise head and shoulders above its competition is the swan pedal boats. The swan pedal boats are a hit for those seeking a memorable romantic experience. You’ll see quite a few couples in swan boats taking in the bat watching experience.
In addition, Capital Cruises offers the following watercraft rentals:
- Swan pedal boats (favorite)
- Donut boats (small groups of 6-8 friends)
- Duffy boats
- Stand-up paddleboards
- Pontoon party boats.
They also offer a guided 2-hour bat watching tour that offers amazing skyline views of Austin as well as watching bats emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Bat Watching Sunset Cruises via Lone Star Riverboat
One of the most popular sightseeing cruises known around Austin is the Lone Star Riverboat bat watching sunset cruises.
It’s easy to spot the luxurious double-decked, paddlewheel riverboat named The Lone Star. You won’t miss this 75 foot long and 16-foot wide electric-powered paddle-wheeler amongst floating watercraft eagerly awaiting bats to emerge from the Congress Avenue Bridge.
In fact, the captain is often spotted shining a big red spotlight underneath the bridge in hopes of enticing the bats to emerge for their nightly flight.
Lone Star Riverboat also offers reserved cruise tours of Lady Bird Lake, including a Bat Watching Sunset Cruise. These tours last roughly 60-70 minutes and are offered to groups in three different boat sizes:
- The Southern Star
- The Northern Star
- The Little Star
It’s relatively inexpensive, but a great opportunity for families, friends, or companies to experience an evening out on the town watching the bats take flight.
A waterfront bat pass experience at Alta’s Cafe
Another great hideout to see the bats while enjoying a pastry to two over coffee or wine is Alta’s Cafe.
It’s adjacent to Congress Kayaks and is located at the Waller Creek Boathouse at 74 Trinity Street. It’s also surrounded by the beauty of Lady Bird Lake, and the hike and bike trail.
Alta’s Cafe is roughly 200-300 yards east of the Congress Avenue Bridge. So, you’re not located on or near the bridge like the aforementioned options. However, because the bats fly down the Colorado River, they fly right past Alta’s water decks and second-level deck.
Alta’s waterfront location and ambiance are great, and pastries, wines, and coffees make the bat watching experience that much more enjoyable.
Bat-dining Experience via P6 at The LINE Hotel
There are not too many places near the Congress Avenue Bridge that allow for a bat-dining experience. Of course, the aforementioned cruises offer a similar experience.
But if the water is not your thing, then the next best non-water experience to see and watch the bats has to be P6 at The LINE Hotel. The LINE Hotel is located at the corner of Congress and Cesar Chavez, 111 East Cesar Chavez Street.
P6 is on the rooftop of the LINE Hotel overlooking Lady Bird Lake and the east side of the Congress Avenue Bridge. It’s one of the best lakeside fine-dining experiences to witness the bats emerge from under Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge.
Have a few drinks and tacos while enjoying a beautiful sunset and witnessing the most bat-ocular aerial show on the face of the earth. Watching the bats from P6 at the LINE Hotel is an experience like no other in Austin.
Hyatt Regency Austin Hotel Parking Garage
Exactly diagonal to P6 at the LINE Hotel, immediately west of the Congress Avenue Bridge, sits the Hyatt Regency Austin Hotel.
The Hyatt offers an outdoor dining experience on the west side or opposite side of the bat flight exit of the Congress Avenue Bridge. However, the dining experience pales in comparison to the awesome aerial views offered at P6 at the LINE Hotel.
But don’t count The Hyatt out just yet though. The Hyatt’s 8-story parking garage offers a unique panoramic view of the bats on the south side of Lady Bird Lake and the Congress Avenue Bridge. The best viewing is likely just a few floors from the top of the Hyatt’s parking garage located at 208 Barton Springs Road.
The only downside is that parking, both valet and self-parking, is not free. Check Hyatt Regency Austin’s website for more information in regards to parking pricing, room rates, and amenities.
Hotels Rooms With Bat Watching Visibility
If you desire a full weekend experience or an overnight bat experience, then there are a few hotels in downtown Austin not far from the Congress Avenue Bridge.
In fact, a few hotels along both sides of Lady Bird Lake offer rooms facing the Congress Avenue Bridge bat experience. Call in-room service and create your own personalized dining and weekend experience watching Austin’s birds of the night.
Below are recommended hotels in downtown Austin near or not far from the Congress Avenue Bridge. Hotels are listed in order of priority and by which offers the best bat watching and viewing experiences
- The LINE Hotel (RECOMMENDED)
- Four Seasons Hotels (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
- Hyatt Regency Austin
- Embassy Suites Downtown
- Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake
The LINE Hotel and Hyatt Regency Austin
The closest two waterfront properties that offer amazing bat gazing and watching views are the Hyatt Regency Austin and the LINE hotel.
The Hyatt Regency Austin, located at 208 Barton Springs Road, offers rooms with north and east-facing views on the west side of the Congress Avenue Bridge. The LINE Hotel, located at 111 East Cesar Chavez Street, offers rooms with adjacent south-facing views on the east side of the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Four Seasons Hotels
About 200-300 yards south of the LINE Hotel sits the 9-story Four Seasons Hotel, located at 98 San Jacinto Boulevard. It offers exceptional views of Lady Bird Lake and much of Austin’s cityscape views south, east, and west.
In addition, most Four Seasons Hotel rooms face south and have full end-to-end window and balcony views of the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Embassy Suites Downtown
Much like how the Hyatt Regency Austin is located diagonal of the LINE Hotel, Embassy Suites Downtown is located at 300 South Congress. It is positioned south of Lady Bird Lake and Hyatt Regency Austin.
While Embassy Suites offers a bat experience, it only captures the most southern end of the Congress Avenue Bridge. If you’re fortunate to score a second-to-top or top-level suite at the Embassy, then you’ll enjoy a full panoramic viewing of the bats flying eastward.
But be sure to request a room facing north or east to ensure a good bat watching the view.
Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake
There are many more hotels and restaurants to list. However, one hotel that is often forgotten or simply not known for its bat watching experiences is the Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake.
Truth be told, the Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake is located nearly 2 miles slightly south and east of the Congress Avenue Bridge. It’s immediately adjacent to IH 35 — 20 North Interstate Highway 35. But like many of the aforementioned hotels, the Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake boasts a beautiful waterfront ambiance.
It offers 14 floors with many lovely lake views. Rooms located on the northwest, west, and southwest sides of the Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake off the best opportunity to view the bats. However, the common area pool patio offers a westward partial viewing of the Congress Avenue Bridge.
While you may not see the bats drop from the bridge to take flight, many often witness a ribbon of bats flying in clusters down Lady Bird Lake past the Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake.
Be sure to request rooms facing south or west, and don’t forget the pool patio option either.
And don’t forget about Austin’s parking logistics
While there is much excitement about discovering Austin’s most perfect bat watching location, please do not forget about parking. Review our top 10 parking locations, including free and paid options.
Also, be sure to add and allocate at least 20-30 minutes to find parking and to return to parking. If you are lodging at a nearby hotel, then parking expense is likely included. If you’re not lodging at a nearby hotel, bed, and breakfast, or Airbnb, then plan to budget at least $20-$25 per car to park for at least a 3 hour period.
Whatever location and experience type you select, we wish you well and hope that you have the most bat-acular experience once could ever hope for. See you there!