Austin cruises occur primarily on the Colorado River, which runs through the center of the city, and on the lakes and reservoirs along its course that have been created by a series of dams. This is not to be confused with the longer Colorado River that rises in the state of Colorado, flows through several states, and empties into the Gulf of California. The Colorado River that runs through the city is a different river all together, and it is the longest river in the United States with both its source and mouth within Texas. It originates near Lubbock, flows in a southeasterly direction through the city, and finally empties into the Gulf of Mexico. This Colorado River offers a great way to get out and see the attractions of Austin, or enjoy a relaxing perk on your vacation.
The history of Austin has been shaped by major flooding of this river, and in the 1930s and 1940s a series of six dams were constructed creating reservoirs along its course that today provide recreation including fishing, boating, and camping. One of the reservoirs is with the Austin city limits, and Lake Austin cruises in the city are very popular. In 1960, a seventh dam within the city created another downtown reservoir—Lady Bird Lake (named for the former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson) that is also popular for those interested in a hiking or cycling day trip without ever leaving the city. Scenic Austin dinner cruises (as well as music and cocktail cruise) can be booked on both lakes, though most motorized watercraft is prohibited from Lady Bird Lake just above the dam and around Lakeshore Park and Fiesta Gardens. This makes this part of the reservoir excellent for peaceful kayaking and canoeing. Both Lakeshore Park and Fiesta Gardens provide the location for a number of special events and festivals each year.
Except during exceptional flood periods, both lakes resemble very wide stretches of river more than the kind of lake you might normally expect. So, your Austin dinner cruises have more of the feel of river cruises. Some Austin cruises are, in fact, onboard vintage paddlewheel steamboats, like the Mississippi river cruises you can experience from New Orleans to St. Louis. You can see both banks of the river and the cityscape at all times.
Austin bat cruises are one of the most unique tourist attractions to be found in any American city. They occur in the section of the river that comprises both Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake. In 1980, the Congress Street Bridge (aka Bat Bridge) in the downtown area was reconstructed. The new crevices created under the bridge became a roost for Mexican free tailed bats, which spend a good eight months of the year in the southwestern part of the United States. Like all species of bats throughout the world, these flying mammals sleep in dark caves, abandoned buildings, and under bridges during the day, and emerge at dusk to feed. In the case of the Mexican free tailed bat, they consume up to 30,000 pounds of insects (including mosquitoes and garden pests) each night, providing a valuable service to the surrounding area. The bats comprise the largest urban bat population in all of the United States, and the spectacle of them blanketing the sky is quite spectacular. Coincidentally, the largest population anywhere in the U.S. of this species is found not far away in Bracken Cave near San Antonio.
The best time to go to for your most rewarding Austin bat cruises is from about mid-March to about the first of November. While Austin bat cruises provide one of the most unique ways to view the spectacle, you can experience it on a kayak, with just you and a companion floating quietly along under the blanket of bats. You can also enjoy the spectacle completely free just by showing up and standing along the bridge at the appropriate time. Land tours that include sightseeing in the city can be booked to end at the bridge at dusk. These are often combined with Austin dinner cruises that embark before dusk for cocktails, watching the bats and the sunset followed by dinner and possibly live music.
Most of the hotels catering to tourists can assist you with booking Austin cruises during your vacations. Some luxury hotels along the river, such as the Four Seasons Austin, are located along the Lady Bird Trail that you can walk along and find boat rentals. The beautiful Lake Austin Spa Resort has kayaking programs on the water.
Image: ACVB Photo