If you’re going to explore the great outdoors of Austin, you might as well do it on the cheap. Here are some easy ways to do it.
Congress Avenue Bats: This is one of the best known events in Austin, and it’s always completely free. Every night, from mid March to November, 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats – the country’s largest urban bat colony, by the way – emerge from under the Congress Avenue bridge to search for food. The result is a sky that turns almost completely black – it’s really sight to see. It’s definitely worth doing at least once in your life. 100 Congress Ave.; www.austin360.com/search/content/events/special/bats.html.
Zilker Park Boat Rentals: Established in 1969, Zilker Park Boat Rentals offers access to canoes and kayaks for the general public hoping to go for a paddle along Lady Bird Lake. With more than 100 boats, it’s a great place to go when you’re feeling adventurous. And with rental prices of $12 an hour and $40 for the day, you can take your time out on the lake. Even better, the Web site offers two-for-one coupons, where you can rent one boat and get the second boat free OR rent one hour and get a second hour for free – quite a deal, right? It’s open from 9 a.m. to dark on weekends and 10 a.m. to dark on weekdays. Dogs are welcome. A photo ID is required for rentals. 2201 Barton Springs Rd.; (512) 478-3852;www.zilkerboats.com.
Bicycle Sport Shop: Bicycle Sport Shop actually has several Austin locations, but this one is ideal if you’re looking to rent a bike and go tooling around areas such as Zilker Park, South Congress Avenue or downtown for the day. You can rent a cruiser (read: Specialized Crosstrail) for four hours for $20 – or $32 for 24 hours. Want something better for the trails? Hop on a mountain bike for $28 for a half day or $38 for 24 hours. Other types of bikes, including kids bikes and tandems, are also available for rent. Oh, and if you rent an electric bike Monday through Thursday you receive 15 percent off. The shop also hosts weekly rides for people hoping to get more involved in the local biking community. 517 S. Lamar Blvd.; (512) 477-3472; www.bicyclesportshop.com.
Cypress Valley Canopy Tours:Think zip-lining is just for the jungles of Costa Rica? Think again. Cypress Valley Canopy Tours offers you the opportunity to go zipping through the trees of the Hill Country and land on platforms as high as 40 feet up in the air. Sounds fun, right? It is. Individual tours are $75, but if you’re traveling with kids, one child ages 10 to 17 can fly free. Discounts are also available for groups of 20 or more or corporations. Tours are available from 9 a.m. to dusk Tuesday to Saturday and from noon to dusk on Sunday. Closed Monday. 223 Paleface Ranch Rd. off TX 71 in Spicewood; (512) 264-8880; www.cypressvalleycanopytours.com.
University of Texas Astronomy Star Parties: Star party. Sounds pretty fun, right? It is. Hosted by the University of Texas Astronomy Department, free “star parties” take place on the roof of Robert Lee Moore Hall every Wednesday starting around 8:30 p.m. Just take the elevator to the 17th floor, then follow signs to the telescope. All ages are welcome. Viewing times can change throughout the year, so call ahead for details. Viewings are also available on Friday and Saturday at Painter Hall, 24th Street and Inner Campus Drive. Robert Lee Moore Hall, University of Texas campus at the corner of Dean Keeton and Speedway; (512) 471-5007;http://outreach.as.utexas.edu/public/parties.html.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: This beautiful spot features native plants wildflowers of the central Texas Hill Country, with gardens, trails, meadows and ponds that transport you to a Zen-like state. Opened in 1995, the center is a place every Austinite or visitor to Austin should visit at some point. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily and admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and students (13 and older), $3 for children (5 to 12) and free for members and children under 4. If you want to bypass the admission fees, however, you can always sign up to be a volunteer – help is always needed. 4801 La Crosse Ave.; (512) 232-0100; www.wildflower.org.