Padre Island National Seashore
If you spy an East African impala springing across the dunes on day 3 of a backpacking trudge down Padre Island National Seashore's 70 miles of beach, don't worry you're not hallucinating. Despite ranger warnings that such an expedition is "the second best thing to the Petan Death March," you've probably just sighted one of the exotic breeds that occasionally swims across the Laguna Madre from mainland ranch country.
But make no mistake about it Padre's salt, sand, sun and wind take their toll on the heartiest trekker, and the required water-haul (the island is dry beyond visitor center fountains) doesn't help things. No swaying palm trees here. No trees at all. And no ukulele players. What Padre Island does offer, in generous doses, is complete and total isolation. With the exception of a passing ranger, you will see no one for days 30 miles down the island. So go. Build a driftwood fire a few feet from towering dunes. Wade-fish for meals. Commune with cormorants and coyotes. Let whipping sands scour your inner demons.
If you're trekking, you'll need water, bug spray, a shelter besides your tent and determination. Better yet, rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle in Corpus Christi, cram it with food and drink, and head down the island until supplies run out.
Besides solitude, Padre's other offering is world-class windsurfing. Year-round wind speeds of 25 mph increase to 35 mph in the spring, when farmers northwest of Corpus Christi plow black croplands, sending hot air upward and sucking southeasterlies inland to fill the void. Boarders seeking glass-calm cruising conditions put in at Bird Island Basin, Padre's only boat launch three-and-a-half miles past the park entrance on the Laguna Madre. An on-site concession rents rigs, as does Wind and Wave in nearby Corpus Christi. If you don't mind skylines, milk the bump-and-jump conditions for forward loops at Oleander Park in Corpus Christi Bay, where the U.S. Open of Windsurfing takes place each Memorial Day.
Recuperate at the Tarpon Inn, an 1886-era hotel in the slow-moving fishing village of Port Aransas, 19 miles from Padre. An autographed scale from one of Franklin Roosevelt's trophy tarpons graces a lobby wall, along with 7,000 others. Yankee-'n-Betty's Flounder Run at 129 Alister serves up the freshest garlic-baked flounder in town.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication