Padre Island National Seashore

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For years, legends have been told of great treasures hidden on Padre Island and just off its shores. The stories are of fortunes of gold and silver carried by Spanish galleons lost at sea and of vast sums of money and gems buried in the sand. Some of this wealth has indeed been found, and more may be discovered in the future. Meanwhile, there are natural treasures just as great—perhaps even greater—to enjoy in Padre Island National Seashore.

Located along the south Texas coast, this sparkling preserve by the sea embraces 70 miles of white sand and shell beaches, windswept dunes, wild landscapes of grasslands and tidal flats teeming with shore life, and warm offshore waters. The national seashore is one of the longest stretches of primitive, undeveloped ocean beach in the United States. Throughout this coastal wilderness you can enjoy the riches of relaxation and recreation. If you're a beach lover, the sun, sand, and surf of Padre Island are ideal for swimming and sunbathing almost all year. If you enjoy fishing, you can choose between the Gulf of Mexico and the shallow, extremely salty waters of Laguna Madre—both are renowned for their bounty of gamefish.

For those who delight in the discovery of a seashell of exquisite design and color, or a peculiar piece of driftwood, there are miles of shoreline for beachcombing. Campers can wake to the sights and sounds of water and island birds such as gulls, herons, and ducks that live by the water's edge. If it's adventure and a chance to get away from it all that you seek, you can hike or drive a 4-wheel-drive vehicle along the long roadless Gulf beach. For those who like to poke around in the past, Padre Island has a history of small Indian tribes that once hunted and fished here, shipwrecks, hurricanes, cattle ranches, and oil and gas exploration.

There are many ways to see the sights of Padre Island and to enjoy its many seaside pleasures. One is by driving along the scenic roads and sandy beaches. All vehicles can travel on the 8 1/2-mile paved park entrance road, North Beach, and the first five miles of South Beach. Four-wheel-drive vehicles can continue "down island" from South Beach another 55 miles to Mansfield Channel. The soft sand and slippery shells can make the going tough along this stretch of the beach, so carry emergency tools. Before you take your first four-wheel-drive trip on Padre Island, talk with a park ranger about what to expect. The dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats are off-limits to vehicles, as is the Malaquite Beach area. The noise of the surf may drown out the noise of your engine; be careful when approaching others. The speed limit on the beach is 15 miles per hour unless otherwise indicated. Vehicles must be state-licensed and display a valid state safety inspection sticker.

Another way to explore the island is by hiking. The Grasslands Nature Trail, a 3/4-mile loop trail, winds through a grasslands-and-dunes area. A guide pamphlet is available at the trailhead. Mosquitoes inhabit this area, so bring insect repellent. Western diamond back rattlesnakes, though rarely seen, are found here, too. Hiking across the dunes is discouraged. Beach hiking can be slow going but rewarding, especially if you like birdwatching or beachcombing. Birders may spot many of Padre Island's 350 native bird species. Beachcombers may collect shells and other treasures of the sea, live animals and objects of historical or archeological value cannot be taken. Summer mornings, winter and spring days at low tide, and after a storm are the best beachcombing times. Metal detectors are prohibited.

Warm gulf waters and the hot Texas sun are ideal for swimming and sunbathing all year except January, February, and March, when uncomfortably chilly temperatures can occur. Swimming is permitted all along the beach. Lifeguards are normally on duty at Malaquite Beach in the summer. Surfing is popular along some parts of the beach, too, however it is not permitted at Malaquite Beach. Never go in the water alone, and beware of dangerous currents, undertows, Portuguese men-of-war, and stingrays.

Other ways to enjoy the water are boating, water-skiing, and sail surfing in Laguna Madre. Small power boats, fishing boats, sailboats, and other small watercraft can navigate its waters. The park's only boat launching ramp is at Bird Island Basin; boat launching is not permitted on the Gulf side. Boaters should carry nautical charts and keep an eye on the weather and other boaters.

Fishing is an all-season sport on Padre Island. Surf fishermen commonly catch redfish, speckled sea trout, black drum, and whiting in the Gulf, while in Laguna Madre fishermen pull in sheepshead, croaker, and flounder. A Texas state fishing license with a saltwater stamp is required.

Other year-round activities are camping and picnicking. Malaquite Beach Campground, a developed campground for tent and recreational vehicle camping, overlooks the Gulf. Primitive camping is allowed at designated sites along Laguna Madre and all along the Gulf beach except in the Malaquite Beach area. Campfires are permitted at the campground and on the beach. Keep your fires under control and well away from dunes and grasslands vegetation. Put fires completely out with water before burying them. Picnickers may use shaded tables in the Malaquite Beach area, or simply spread out a blanket on the beach.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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