The best spots in Texas for bat watching – Chron

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Houston’s Waugh Drive Bridge in Buffalo Bayou Park is home to a year-round bat population.
A stunning close-up of bats hanging out.
A cauldron of bats gather in Bracken Cave.
Bats nestle together in Bracken Cave.
Everything is bigger in Texas—even the bat emergences. That’s right, bat watching in Texas is a can’t-miss activity.  
There are 47 species of bats in the U.S. and a whopping 32 of these call Texas home, making it the “battiest state in the country,” according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. Abandoned railway tunnels and natural caves and urban bridges, like Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge, are a few of the seasonal homes for these winged nocturnal creatures who put on a spectacular sunset performance. They swarm into the skies in a tornado-shaped mass exodus for their nightly feeding frenzy—each one can consume its weight in insects daily.
The most common species of bat in Texas is the Mexican free-tailed bat, which migrates to the Lone Star State in early February and gives birth around June. By August, the babies, called pups, are flying on their own, doubling the colony size. The bats head south for the winter to Mexico between late October and early November as the first cold fronts start to appear in Texas. Even the bats leave Austin and Central Texas for cedar season.
While this is a typical migration pattern, it can vary by site. Some locations have a year-round bat population, like Houston’s Waugh Drive Bridge in Buffalo Bayou Park. However, viewing a bat emergence during August and September when the pups can fly makes for a striking spectacle.
Keep reading for the best locations to watch bats in Texas spiral through the night sky. 
Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world. A population of roughly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live under the bridge from spring until fall.
The Texas capital is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world—roughly 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. In the early 1980s, this maternal colony began roosting under the bridge after it was renovated and now raises an estimated 750,000 pups each year. On weekends from May to September, volunteer bat educators from Bat Conservation International are on hand to answer questions at the Austin American-Statesman’s Bat Observation Area.
For a view from the water, Lone Star Riverboat and Capital Cruises offer boat tours for a fee. 
Admission: Free
Viewpoints: For a bird’s eye view of the bats in Austin, Texas, grab a spot along the rail of the bridge. Otherwise, bring a folding chair to watch from the lawn of the Austin American-Statesman’s Bat Observation Area, which has informational kiosks. 
Find it: 305 S. Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78704
Bats are a sight to behold as they decorate the sky above Bracken Cave.
Congress Avenue Bridge may be home to the largest urban bat colony in the world, but the world’s largest bat colony—population 15 million—resides north of San Antonio in Bracken Cave. The cave is an important maternal site for Mexican free-tailed bats and where the females gather to give birth and raise their pups. In 1991, the site was purchased by Bat Conservation International, which also owns 1,500 acres of the surrounding land. The area is being managed as a nature preserve, and plans are underway to open it to the public for bat education and research. The site is only open to members during the summer months.
Admission: From May to September, there are a series of members-only bat flight events and a few free opportunities for the public to visit. Consider becoming a member ($45) to attend the more frequent members-only nights. Advance reservations are required and open in March. Each visit is roughly three hours.
Find it: 26101 FM 3009, Garden Ridge, TX 78266
Bats soar high in the sky on the Frio Bat Flight Tour.
From mid-March to September, 10 million bats make their ascent into the sky at Frio Bat Cave in Texas Hill Country. The population of Mexican free-tailed bats at this privately owned cave is one of the largest in the state. It is also an excellent bird-watching destination. Keep an eye out for the cave swallow, canyon wren and rock wren near the cave entrance. Merlin, zone-tailed hawks, peregrine falcon and red-tailed hawks are known to hover near the hill to hunt the bats as they emerge. 
Admission: Bat tours are $12 plus tax for general admission. Discounts are available for children, seniors, military and first responders. Children five and under are free. Advance reservations are required.
Viewpoints: The top of the hill by the cave is the best viewing spot for the bats and birds of prey. 
Find it: FM 2690, Concan, TX 78838
Bats emerge from the tunnel at Old Tunnel State Park.
In early 1913, it took roughly 100 workers to bore 920 feet through solid limestone for a railway tunnel for the San Antonio, Fredericksburg and Northern Railway to connect the town of Fredericksburg with San Antonio. Before the tunnel was built, the journey took roughly a week. In 1941, the tunnel was abandoned and the tracks were dismantled. Roughly three million Mexican free-tailed bats and 3,000 cave myotis bats took advantage of the deserted site and established a seasonal residency.
From May to October, the tunnel at Old Tunnel State Park is a pseudo-maternity colony. The females use the tunnel when they are pregnant and lactating, but prefer to give birth in the more stable temperature and humidity levels found under nearby bridges and caves. The pups and their mothers all return to the tunnel starting in early August. The colony population peaks during August and September, which is the best chance of seeing the largest emergence of bats spiraling toward the sky.
In 1991, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department purchased the tunnel, which was taken over by the state parks division in 2012. Spanning 16.1 acres, it is the smallest state park in Texas. A series of educational programs about the history of the bats and area begin roughly an hour before the earliest posted time for the bat emergence.
Admission: Tickets are $5 for the upper bat viewing area and $2 for the lower bat viewing area. No tickets are sold on-site. Advance reservations are required.
Viewpoints: There are two viewing areas—an upper and a lower area. The latter offers the most close-up view. Note that children under four years old are not allowed in the lower area. The upper deck is open daily while the lower space is only available on Thursday to Sunday evenings. (As of November 2022, the upper deck is currently the only area open for visitors due to trail construction). Educational programs are offered on both platforms. 
Find it: 10619 Old San Antonio Rd., Fredericksburg, TX 78624
There is a year-round bat population at Houston’s Waugh Drive Bridge in Buffalo Bayou Park. The largest bat emergences are during the summer and fall.
One of the most surreal experiences in Houston is watching the emergence of roughly 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats from under the Waugh Drive Bridge. The mass ascension to the skies happens daily around sunset when the bats fly east along the bayou before scattering. The biggest indicator for an impressive emergence is weather—temperatures need to be above 50 degrees Fahrenheit with no rain. Unlike other spots in Texas, there is a bat population year-round under the bridge, but the population peaks in late summer and early fall.  
On Friday nights from March to October, Houston Area Bat Team members host a bat-centric question and answer session at the bridge. Boat trips are also offered on the bayou from spring to fall.
Admission: Free; boat trips available for a fee.
Viewpoints: There is a viewing platform next to the bridge on Allen Parkway on the southeast corner of the bayou bank. To watch from above, head to the east rail sidewalk on the bridge itself. The northeast bayou bank near Memorial Drive is another option. 
Find it: Waugh Drive, Houston, TX 77002
Bats take flight during an emergence from Bracken Cave.
Mass bat emergences are not predictable. Many of the top bat viewing spots in Texas have a website with an estimated time for the emergence. Even if reservations aren’t required, it is always best to arrive early to snag the best viewing spots.
Bats are finicky—bad weather and cold temperatures can affect the timing of their emergence. Ideal conditions are warm weather with no rain. They might not come out at all if conditions are not favorable.
Emergence behavior can be altered by bright lights and loud noises. Remain quiet and turn off the flash on your cell phone or camera.
Do not poke, bother or touch the bats. They are protected by Texas state law at the sites listed above.
Visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website for a full list of Texas bat-watching sites.
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Anna Mazurek is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Austin, Texas. Her work has been published in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, the Wall Street Journal and AFAR. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @AnnaMazurekPhoto and her travel blog,