On my recent trip to Texas, I learned a lot about the bat watching boat tours offered in Austin that take visitors to see the infamous city bats. I had heard the stories of the massive bat colony residing in Austin, and wanted to find a unique way to see them instead of lining up on the bridge with hundreds of others. Taking to the water was the best idea because it gives a unique perspective from below as the bats emerge from their slumber and take off into the night sky. Below are some tips and recommendations for booking your own bat watching boat tour.
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When to take a bat watching boat tour in Austin
Best Time of Year
The best time to see the infamous Austin bats fly over Lady Bird Lake is between March and November. If you’re looking to see the bats in full force, however, I recommend aiming for the warm summer months of July and August, with August being peak bat watching season. I still saw some of the bats in Austin in very early March, but there weren’t as many as you can expect later in the year.
Best Time of Day
The bats come out just after sunset. If you walk or boat under Congress Avenue Bridge before the sun goes down, the bats can be heard squeaking in the dark bridge crevices above you, getting ready to leave as soon as it’s dark enough. Be sure to get yourself a good viewing spot before the event begins, or book yourself the ultimate viewing opportunity on one of the bat watching boat tours in Austin.
What kinds of bats live in Austin, Texas?
The type of bats that live in Austin, Texas are Mexican free-tailed bats. They migrate from Mexico in the spring, and return in the fall. Of all the bridges along the Colorado River running through Austin, the entire colony of Mexican free-tailed bats choose to live under Congress Avenue Bridge. Their birthing season is in June, and the peak time for bat watching is in August. In August, the number of bats under the bridge reaches about 1.5 million, according to Visit Texas.
Which companies to use for bat watching boat tours in Austin
I used Capital Cruises to book my bat watching boat tour when I was in Austin. The entire experience was very smooth, and I would highly recommend them. The bat watching boats from Capital Cruises can be easily spotted by the iconic giant bat placed at the stern. Their check-in spot and dock is located right along Lady Bird Lake, and we showed up 30 minutes prior to departure and got a good seat on the boats. The tour, which lasted about an hour, took us cruising down the Colorado River for a sunset view of the Austin skyline. I enjoyed the bat facts and history from our tour guide about the building and sights around us.
After the sun went down, we made our way to Congress Avenue Bridge. I could see tons of people lined up on the bride, their dark silhouettes outlined against the night sky. People in kayaks were scattered around in the water as well, parked and waiting with a front row view for the bats to emerge. Our tour guide was prepared with a high powered red light, which had no effect on the bats, and allowed us to catch a good glimpse of them under the bridge and other darker areas. They are small bats and we had overcast skies, so they didn’t show up well in my photos, but I was happy I got to see them in person.
Lone Star Riverboat
The other boat company in Austin that operates bat watching boat tours is Lone Star Riverboat. I didn’t use this company, but I saw their check-in location at Lady Bird Lake and it looked very organized. Their red and blue boats stood out on the lake while we were out bat watching. Their tour seems to last about an hour as well, and they also were staffed with tour guides sharing the history of the bats and downtown Austin.
Tips for bat watching boat tours in Austin
- Show up early to get a good spot on the boat
- Bring a jacket as that breeze shows up on the water at sunset
- Bring a good camera. I prefer the Sony A6000 Mirrorless camera.
- Bring your own beverages and snacks, as there were none sold on the boat or dock
- Consider packing some binoculars if you’d like a closer view of the bats