What to do in Mustang Island State Park

Mustang Island State Park is 3954 acres with about 5 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico in Nueces County, south of Port Aransas. It was acquired from private owners in 1972 and opened to the public in 1979.

The earliest known inhabitants of Mustang Island were Karankawa Indians, known for their fierceness and cannibalism. The Karankawas were a hunter-gatherer people, and depended heavily on shellfish and mussels for food. Encountered first by Spanish explorers, the Karankawas survived in the region until the 19th century. The island was first named "Wild Horse Island," then "Mustang," because of the wild horses, called "Mestenos," brought to the island by the Spaniards in the 1800s.

The first historical record of Mustang Island was by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, who charted this section of the Gulf coast in 1519. In 1747, Captain Joaquin Orobioy Basterra landed here and trekked overland to a bay which he named San Miguel Arcangel. The bay was renamed Corpus Christi by Diego Ortiz Parrilla, who made detailed explorations of the coast in 1756. A notable event occurred in 1553 when a Spanish treasure fleet was encountered a hurricane off Padre Island. Many ships were lost, and only two survivors lived to reach Mexico.

Padre Island was part of a Spanish land grant to Padre Nicholas Balli about 1800, and the Balli family established a ranching tradition that continued for several decades. Records show that an Englishman named Robert A. Mercer and one H. L. Kinney both ran cattle on Mustang Island in the 1850s and that Uriah Hayden obtained a patent on land in the state park area in 1858. A small fort was built on Mustang Island during the U.S. Mexican War, 1846-48, to guard the entrance to Aransas Bay. During the Civil War, the coastal area was blockaded by the Union Navy, but the conflict ended with no major battles occurring in this area. Ranching resumed, and a meat-packing plant was built and operated until the 1880s.

Regular steamship service between Mustang Island and New Orleans began in the 1850s, with the first deep draught shop sailing through Aransas Pass in 1859. Mercer's Dock, a small port settlement, was destroyed in an 1875 hurricane, and was replaced by another called Mustang Island. In the passing years the community was known as Ropesville and Tarpon before finally being named Port Aransas about 1910.

Mustang Island State Park offers visitors a multitude of outdoor recreation activities. A strong emphasis has been place on the island's natural environment and as such there are ecological tours available.

For nature enthusiasts, Mustang Island is a coastal barrier island with a unique and complicated ecosystem, dependent upon sand dunes. Coastal dunes are the product of wind-deposited sand anchored by sparse mats of vegetation. The height of well-vegetated dunes may reach 35 feet, though 15-20 feet is average. The dunes are capable of reducing the destructive might of hurricane-driven waves and protecting bay and mainland areas. In some areas, inland and bayside dunes occur, which are generally smaller but spread over larger areas than the primary beach-side dunes. The vegetation holding the dunes in place is drought-resistant species such as sea oats, beach panic grass, and soilbind morning glory. Studies have shown that these plants and their progeny can collect enough sand to build a 15-foot dune in three years. The island animal community is dominated by rodents such as pocket gophers, spotted ground squirrels, grasshopper mice, rice rats and cotton rats. Other small mammals include opossums, raccoons, striped skunks, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, and armadillos. A small population of coyotes are present, as well. Large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds are common, as well as several species of hawks and a large variety of songbirds, most of which are migratory. An estimated 600 species of saltwater fish inhabit the waters along the coast.

Facilities near the park headquarters include campsites with water, electricity; shade shelters; and restrooms with showers. Facilities at the north end of the developed area (day-use only) include ample parking, portable toilets, and rinsing showers. Facilities south of the main swimming area include open-beach; primitive campsites (undesignated); widely spaced convenience stations with portable toilets, rinsing showers, and bulk water supply. The first-come, first-served area accommodates about 300 camping units. The 5-mile open beach allows hiking and mountain biking. We recommend calling the park concerning beach conditions (high tides, etc.), which would determine if camping is allowed.

Activities include camping, picnicking, fishing, swimming, hiking and mountain biking on 5 miles of open beach, sunbathing, hiking, surfing, and excellent birding, especially during spring and fall migrations. Additionally, interpretive ecological tours done on request.

Mustang Island State Park is situated within the Gulf Coast region of Texas. To reach the park, travel southeast from Corpus Christi on State Highway 358 to Padre Island; cross the JFK Causeway; continue one mile to traffic light; turn left onto State Highway 361 (used to be Park Road 53), and go 5 miles north to park headquarters for a total distance of about 22 miles.

Mustang Island State Park is located at an elevation of 8 feet. Temperatures within the park range from an average January minimum of 46 degrees and an average July maximum of 94 degrees. The average annual rainfall is 30.2 inches. Current weather conditions can vary from day to day. For more details, call the park or Park Information at 1-800-792-1112.

P O Box 326
Port Aransas, TX 78373

Phone: 361/749-5246

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