Go Explore: South Padre Island

We can’t believe we haven’t written about this hidden gem sooner. The Texas-based park protects 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies and tidal flats that are teeming with wildlife. It is a safe nesting ground for sea turtles and a home to over 380 bird species. It also has a rich history, including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554, giving you plenty to do and explore.

Where to Explore

Bird Island Basin: Located on the bay side of Bird Island,this destination gives boaters access to Laguna Madre and is one of the most popular spots for windsurfing in the country. It also offers opportunities for kayaking, birding and fishing. Don’t worry about lugging around a bunch of gear either—rentals and lessons for both kayaking and windsurfing are offered!

Malaquite Swimming Beach: This beach, just in front of the Pavilion, is the only area closed to both public vehicles and pets, making it a great place to let your family run and explore without worry. Watch the sunset along the water and take in the serenity of nature.

Malaquite Visitor Center and Pavilion: The Visitor Center is the perfect place to grab brochures and learn about the area’s distinct seashells, jellyfish and other marine life. The Pavilion offers the perfect spot to have a picnic in the shade and even use the showers if you have been staying at the camping facilities without this amenity.

Grassland Nature Trail: If you are wanting to explore past the beaches and take a look at the natural dunes, this is the perfect trail for you. It is only .75 miles and easily accessible for all levels of hiking abilities.

Little Shell and Big Shell Beach: This is the place to beachcomb on a four-wheeler. Here you’ll find various clusters of shells to admire and collect. It is 20-30 miles down South Beach and is usually secluded due to its distance.

Port Mansfield Channel: This man-made waterway was built with rock jetties that are the perfect place to view dolphins, sea turtles and other wildlife that might not be able to be seen in swimming areas. Fishing is also a popular activity on the channel.

Where to Kamp

All campgrounds in Padre Island are open year-round, but do note that they are only available on a first come, first serve basis.

Malaquite Campground: Tucked into the dunes with a view of the Gulf of Mexico, this campground is only a half mile north of the park’s visitor center. Each campsite comes with a picnic table and grills. If you are tent camping, you can fit two tents and the site has the capacity for two vehicles, as well.

Bird Island Basin Campground: Located a short distance away from the boat ramp on the waters of the Laguna Madre, these campsites offer fantastic opportunities for windsurfing, kayaking, boating, birding and fishing. RV and tent camping are  both options at this campsite.

North Beach: As the name implies, North Beach is the shoreline that runs along the northernmost section of the National Seashore, along the Gulf of Mexico. All camping in this area is open to RV and tent camping.

South Beach: Opposite of North Beach, South Beach is the shoreline that runs along the Gulf of Mexico from the south end of Closed Beach to the Mansfield Channel, about 60 miles in total length. This campsite can sometimes be hard to get to because there are no paved roads, but that just means you get to drive along the beach and take in the view on the way to your campsite!

Yarborough Pass: Located in the Laguna Madre, 15.5 miles south of the visitor center, Yarborough Pass is Padre Island’s hidden treasure. To find the campground, drive to the 15-mile marker and backtrack approximately 100 yards. Look for a notch in the foredune ridge and turn right. There are no camping facilities, which means you might want to bring along a Privacy Shelter if you need to shower. The biggest plus of site? It’s located directly on the beach.

What To Do

Canoeing and Kayaking: Kayaking and canoeing offer unique opportunities exploring Padre Island National Seashore in both the salt water of the Laguna Madre and the open ocean. The Laguna Madre boasts shallow waters and protected areas that are perfect for both the beginner paddler and the seasoned explorer. Sea kayaking can be challenging, but offers unique fishing opportunities.

Fishing: Fishing has been one of the biggest attractions at Padre Island, long before its designation as a national seashore. Visitors may fish along the entire length of the Gulf of Mexico beach in the Laguna Madre, at Yarborough Pass and at Bird Island Basin. To fish anywhere within the park requires a valid Texas fishing license and a saltwater stamp, which are only sold outside of the park at any local gas station or tackle shop.

Birding: With more bird species than any other city in the U.S., Padre Island National Seashore has won the competition for being the “Birdiest City in America” for the past 10 years in a row. Needless to say, with its 130,000 acres of undeveloped land, Padre Island is an exceptional place for birdwatching.The best time to birdwatch there is either during early spring or during fall and winter, when thousands of birds migrate through the park or spend the winter here.

Fun at the Beach: The beach is naturally filled with activities for all ages! Outfit the kids with a bucket and beachcomb to search for seashells of all shapes and sizes. As you would expect, swimming at the National Seashore is also an option. You can swim in the recreation area at Bird Island Basin or in the Gulf of Mexico. However, please remember that safety is important, and there are no lifeguards on duty.

***If caught in a riptide, do not panic. Swim parallel to the beach until you are free from the flow, then swim to shore. Do not attempt to swim to shore against the flow. Relaxing and moving with the water, not against it, is key to your survival if you are caught in a riptide.***