An unforgettable site
Bracken Cave is the summer home of more than 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), making it the world’s largest bat colony and one of the largest concentrations of mammals on earth. The emergence of these millions of bats, as they spiral out of the cave at dusk for their nightly insect hunt, is an unforgettable sight.
From May through September, guests can expect to experience a tornado of bats emerging from the beautiful Texas hill country setting. Advanced reservations are required. Please read our Bracken Cave Preserve visitation FAQs.
If you are trying to book a group visit for your club, troop, class or other organization, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2022 Bracken bat flight season has ended. Check back in March for the 2023 schedule.
The largest known bat maternity colony in the world
The bats of Bracken Cave comprise the largest known bat maternity colony in the world, producing millions of young each year. In March and April, expectant females return to Bracken after overwintering in Mexico, Central and South America. Most males roost elsewhere in smaller groups. In the latter part of June, females give birth to a single pup, nearly doubling the cave’s population.
After the bats give birth, the naked pups are left on cave walls in dense clusters called creches. These creches become densely packed, sometimes exceeding 400 pups per square foot. Babies roost separately from their mothers. The densely packed creches help keep the small, hairless pups warm while mom is out hunting. When the mother returns, she accomplishes a remarkable feat: she finds her own young among the millions of other pups through a combination of spatial memory, vocalizations, and scent. Mothers will visit the creche to nurse often during the day and return from feeding to nurse twice at night.
After four to five weeks, youngsters begin learning to fly under the most difficult of conditions. If all goes well on its first flight, a young bat drops into complete darkness, flies at a speed of at least 20 feet per second, and turns an almost complete somersault with millimeter precision to land on the cave wall just seconds after taking off. It must also avoid several collisions a second with thousands of other young fliers testing their skills, while at the same time relying on an echolocation system that is itself being tested for the first time.
Collisions with other bats or cave walls can be fatal. An emergency landing is certain death; the floor is teeming with millions of carnivorous dermestid beetles that can reduce a young bat to a cleaned skeleton within a few minutes. Fatalities are high, and at least half won’t survive their first year.
By late July, young bats are ready to test their flight skills outside the cave, joining their mothers to feed on insects. Although they are weaned soon after, their initial energy demands are high, forcing nursing mothers to consume nearly their body weight in insects each night. To find sufficient food, the bats often emerge up to three hours before sundown, creating one of the most spectacular sights in all nature, an event spanning several hours.
When can I visit Bracken Cave Preserve?
The bats of Bracken Cave are migratory, so bat flights are only held during the summer months (May-Sept). Reservations are required.
How do I schedule a visit to Bracken Cave Preserve?
All visitors to Bracken Cave Preserve MUST make advanced reservations. Most bat flights are reserved for Bat Conservation International members (available to purchase starting at $45), but we do offer some bat flights to the general public. The bat flight schedule is generally posted on this page by March of each year, and will provide details on how and when to make a reservation.
If you are interested in booking a private event or a group visit for your organization, please email email@example.com
Why isn’t Bracken open to the public to just stop by and go in?
The cave is located on private property that is owned, managed and protected by Bat Conservation International. To best protect this sensitive area, we must restrict access to small, reserved groups.
Is there somewhere nearby where I can stop and watch the bats from my vehicle?
The Mexican free-tailed bats that emerge from Bracken Cave Preserve quickly gain altitude and commonly fly at elevations of 3,000 to 10,000 feet. The bats are too high to see by the time they cross over the nearest streets.
I am a member. Am I guaranteed to be able to see a bat flight this summer?
Bracken bat flights are extremely popular and fill up each year. For 2022, we increased the number of bat flights as well as the number of visitors who may attend each night so that more members had the opportunity to attend, but we cannot guarantee a visit. We recommend registering as early as possible. If the bat flights do sell out, check back frequently since spots do regularly show up as members cancel their reservations.
How long does the visit last?
Plan to stay 2-3 hours depending on sunset. Please be on time. We cannot predict exact times when the bats will emerge, so we meet early enough so visitors have time before the emergence to learn about this important maternity colony.
I am a member. How many guests can I bring to a Member Bat Flight?
Members supporting BCI with a $45 annual membership or those who have added an annual membership to an adopt-a-bat: up to 3 guests for a total party of 4, including the member.
Members supporting BCI monthly or with a $60 annual membership: up to 5 guests for a total party of 6, including the member.
I am a member. How often can I visit?
Members can attend one Member Bat Flight at Bracken each season (1 Membership = 1 Member Bat Flight per year).
I am a member. Can I come to a public bat flight for free?
The few public bat flights offered directly support maintenance of the preserve. We depend on this revenue and therefore cannot offer them for free, even if member nights have filled to capacity.
What are the best months to view the bats?
July and August, because baby bats are born in June and begin flying in July; and days are longer which means more bat viewing time.
Can I leave early if I have something important to do?
Please be prepared to stay the entire 3 hours if you make a reservation with us. Arrangements can be made to leave early; please check with your guide upon arrival.
Where is the cave?
Turn left at Bracken Cave Road – look for the “BCI Event” sign.
If I am disabled, will I be able to make it to the cave?
We make every effort to accommodate guests of various ability, however Bracken Cave Preserve is a natural area. Pathways are not paved and can be uneven. We park persons with mobility needs as close as possible to the viewing area, but there is approximately 100 yards of mulched pathway between the closest parking or drop off and the viewing area. If you are concerned about your specific needs, please contact us ahead of time at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let your guide know at check-in if you will be needing accommodation.
How far do I have to walk?
Approximately ½ mile on gravel trails. Please consider physical limitations and the Texas summer heat when planning your trip.
Can I bring alcohol?
No alcohol is permitted.
Can I bring my dog (pet)?
No, only trained service animals as defined by the ADA are permitted to enter the Preserve. Additionally, if a particular service animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it, or of the animal is not housebroken, the handler will be required to remove the animal from the premises. Additionally, it is too hot to leave any animal in your car.
Can I bring my baby or young kids?
Please use discretion if you are considering bringing young children. Because Bracken Cave is located in a natural, unimproved area, children need to be supervised at all times and cannot “run-free”– so keep this in mind when making your reservation. Childcare services are not provided. Visits can last up to 4 hours and Texas summers are notoriously hot. We do not recommend bringing children under the age of 6 to Bracken for these reasons.
Can I smoke on the property?
No. Electronic cigarettes/vapes are also prohibited.
Can I bring a chair?
Chairs are not needed as there are benches.
Can I bring a snack?
Small snack foods are fine, but please, no coolers. Food attracts unwanted visitors, like fire ants and skunks.
What do I wear?
Comfortable clothes and closed-toed shoes. Please keep in mind the heat.
What should I bring?
Cameras (please no flash photography), binoculars, sunscreen, bug repellant, and bottled water (again, no coolers please).
Are there bathrooms?
There is a unisex port-a-potty with hand sanitizer.
It’s the weekend and no one is answering my emails or phone calls. Why?
Please keep in mind that BCI is not open on the weekend, thus reservation requests and questions are not processed until the following week.
Will my car make it in on the roads to the cave?
Roads leading to the cave are rough and dusty. You may need to wash your car after your trip to Bracken but other than that, you should be fine.
Motorcycles are not allowed on the preserve. Their noise disturbs the wildlife.
Motor homes and RV’s are not allowed on the preserve, as the roads are rough and parking is limited.
Can we camp overnight?
Overnight camping can be arranged for scouting and educational groups (fee applies). Please contact email@example.com
Can I carry my handgun on site?
No. Visitors are not permitted to bring firearms of any kind onto Bracken Cave Preserve.
Bracken Cave Preserve and COVID-19
Masks or COVID-19 vaccinations are not required to visit Bracken Cave Preserve. Bat flights are outdoors and there is plenty of room for physical distancing. Visit https://www.batcon.org/bats-covid-19-updates/ for information on Bats and COVID-19.