Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge
Austin TX 78701
The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, offers much more than one of the fastest ways to cross Lady Bird Lake -- it is also home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. The 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that roost in the crevices under the bridge are harmless towards humans and consume roughly 15,000 pounds of insects on a nightly basis. During the spring and summer months, hundreds of visitors-locals and tourist alike-will gather along the bridge and in boats along the river at sunset to watch the bats take flight in one giant swarm against the evening sky. These beautiful and helpful creatures have evolved from misunderstood "pest" to unmissable attraction and unofficial mascots for Austin, celebrated in statues, murals, handmade jewelry and more.
How to Get to the Congress Avenue Bridge
Naturally, being the bridge of a major thoroughfare, very little parking is available directly at or near the bridge itself. However, metered parking is available less than a mile south in the trendy South Congress (or SoCo) district that is commonly used by visitors who wish to take a leisurely, sight-seeing stroll before visiting the bats. Capital Metro, the city of Austin public bus service, also provides several buses running along South Congress including the MetroRapid 801 bus line with luxury seating and faster service.
Best and Worst Time to Go to the Congress Avenue Bridge
For the diehards really wanting to make a weekend of it, the Austin Bat Festival occurs near the end of August every year when the city closes off the bridge for music, local art vendors, children's activities and a general celebration of all things bat-related. Of course, not everyone is looking for the festival experience: if you would rather mingle with a more manageable crowd, any warm summer sunset will do just fine.
Admission to the Congress Avenue Bridge
The bridge is free to access at all times except during the Austin Bat Festival, when there is a low admission fee for adults. If you are hoping to watch the bats on the water, prices for canoe and boat rentals or admission aboard a guided tour boat can vary greatly. As a standard, most canoe and paddle boat rentals cost roughly 10 to 12 dollars an hour and most sunset and bat watching tour boats cost the same per adult. Anything above that is either providing a more extensive tour down Lady Bird Lake or is overcharging.
Must See/Do at the Congress Avenue Bridge
The Austin Bat Festival is strongly recommended for travelers in August, as it provides activities throughout the day as well as the evening. During the rest of the summer months, it's worth the extra cost to see the bats in their roost from the water if you can afford it-and if the prospect of a million bats flying overhead doesn't sound too nerve-rattling.
Other Places to Visit Near the Congress Avenue Bridge
Night Wing, an unmissable, rotating sculpture of a purple bat, lies just south of the bridge across from the Austin American-Statesman building, and is only the first of several important public art pieces that line South Congress Avenue. In addition to the many murals and public sculpture pieces, the SoCo shopping and dining experience is sure to please, with several local music venues, a variety of cuisines within walking distance and the world famous Allens Boots. But if you'd rather take in some fresh air than hit the concrete, the Austin Hike and Bike Trail runs under the bridge and ten miles along Lady Bird Lake.
Insider Tip for Visitors to the Congress Avenue Bridge
Try to arrive before sunset and you might be able to lay down a blanket on the lawn just below the bridge and along the hiking trail, where you can enjoy an afternoon picnic before getting a front row view of the bats. Or, for those who do find themselves watching from the bridge, be sure to keep a little cash in your pocket as there are sometimes local arts and crafts vendors selling their merchandise.
Author's bio: Rob C. is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and breakfast taco enthusiast in Austin, Texas.