Extending 113 miles along the Texas Gulf Coast, Padre Island is comprised of stunning dunes of fine white sand, thriving grasslands, saltwater marshes and myriad wildlife. With 70 miles of natural seashore, 133,918 acres of which are protected in the National Seashore, Padre Island is one of the largest stretches of undeveloped beach in the United States.
Excellent opportunities exist for: saltwater fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, boating and other water sports. If you are interested in offroad/4x4 driving, fifty-five miles of the beach are accessible strictly via four-wheel-drive vehicle; 8.5 miles are available for standard passenger vehicles.Wildlife viewing opportunities are numerous, including: coyotes, white-tailed deer, South Texas pocket gophers and jackrabbits. During their mid-April to August nesting season, some endangered Kemp's Ridley and loggerhead sea turtles return to Padre Island to lay their eggs. Common shorebirds seen along the Gulf beach year-round include: laughing gulls, caspian terns, black skimmers, brown pelicans, great blue herons, sanderlings, long billed curlews and killdeers. A full 350 bird species are native to Padre Island.
To avoid confusion, please note that 133,919-acre Padre Island National Seashore and the ever-popular Spring Break hangout of South Padre Island are not one in the same. An impassible channel separates Padre Island into two parts: the 80 mile undeveloped portion that comprises Padre Island National Seashore, and the much smaller but highly developed resort town of South Padre Island near Texas' border with Mexico.
With that said, camping on the offroad-accessible section of Padre Island National Seashore is the epitome of tranquility. Prior to setting off down-island, check at the Ranger Station for driving conditions and make sure you have the basic offroad driving accessories (shovel, wood planks, extra gasoline, common sense, etc.) and plenty of drinking water.
An extensive visitor center, picnic area and developed campground are available at Malaquite Beach. Primitive camping is allowed at no cost along the entire length of the Gulf beach and selected areas along Laguna Madre. Since Laguna Madre is located on the central flyway, migrations bring thousands of bird species to the lagoon and freshwater ponds.
The only designated hiking trail on the island is located just after the entrance station. The easy 3/4 mile loop Grasslands Nature Trail provides an enlightening glimpse at the components of a barrier island, including interior grasslands, stabilized dunes and freshwater marshes. Obtain a nature trail brochure at the entrance station or visitor center and follow the numbered posts along the trail. Interesting sights include migrating sand dunes -- some of which move between 35 and 85 feet per year -- and several freshwater ponds which attract numerous bird species, turtles, coyotes and other wildlife.
According to the National Park Service, 95% of all the debris found on Padre Island's beaches originates from the Gulf of Mexico, rather than park visitors. Official beach cleanups are held in September and April, and you can provide an invaluable service by picking up trash you encounter during your visit. For volunteer information, call (800)678-6232.
Location: Approximately 30 miles southeast of Corpus Christi; from Corpus Christi, take the John F. Kennedy Causeway (State Highway 358) southeast across the bay to Padre Island. At the junction with State Highway 361, proceed south on Park Road 22 for about 11 miles to the entrance station.
Hours: Open 7 days a week year-round.
For more information write: Padre Island National Seashore, 9405 South Padre Island Drive, Corpus Christi, TX 78418-5597.
Or call: Ranger Station, (512)937-2621. Recorded daily report on tides, weather, water temperature and driving conditions, (512)949-8175.