Padre Island National Seashore lies on the west coast of Texas and is part of the world's longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world. The vegetation holding the dunes in place help protect against hurricane-driven waves and protect the bay and the mainland areas.
Padre Island National Seashore
The National Park Service and its Park Rangers work hard to protect 70 miles of pristine beaches, the Laguna Madre and numerous threatened and endangered species that call Padre Island National Seashore home.
Today, visitors have endless recreational opportunities to go and explore throughout its 133,918 acres filled with wildlife, its rich history including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554, and even get an opportunity to see Kemp's Ridley sea turtle hatchling release.Padre Island remains a place where nature can balance itself while we humans can be surrounded by this natural wilderness as we play on the beach. It is possible to experience true quiet and solitude on the island with the huge, magnificent dunes behind you and the brilliant, sparkling water in front of you.
Malaquite Visitor Center
All first time visitors to the Padre Island National Seashore should stop at the Malaquite Visitor Center. This is the perfect place to get oriented with the park and get a park brochure. Kids will love the interactive touch tables and get their Jr. Ranger book. Make sure to also get weather and road conditions if you plan on driving on the beach.
Visit the Laguna Madre
The Laguna Madre is located in the heart of the Padre Island National Seashore and is one of the world's most unique areas.
It is perhaps one of six Hypersaline lagoons (the water in the lagoon is saltier that the water in the ocean) known to exist on the planet.
This lagoon is protected inside Padre Islands Seventy Miles of of Barrier Island coastline.
Today, visitors can come and do numerous activities here including bird watching, camping, canoeing/kayaking, windsurfing and more.
Padre Island is a Bird Watchers dream destination. In Fact, Corpus Christi is the park's closest city has won the title of America’s Birdiest City ten years running.
It is home to Rare and Endangered Species and is an immigration route for Migratory Birds.
Padre Island is situated on the Central Flyway and is important to over 380 migratory bird species. This is nearly half of all bird species documented in North America.
The Central Flyway is the bird migration route that follows the Great Plains in the U.S. and Canada. Birds have chosen this route because it provides them with good sources of water, food, and cover.
Wildlife viewing opportunities are abundant. It shouldn't be difficult to see coyotes, White Tail Deer, ghost crabs, Peregrine Falcons, and armadillos.
It is home to important habitats for marine and terrestrial plants and animals. These include some rare and endangered species such as the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle.
Watch a Sea Turtle Hatchling Release
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles are both the smallest and the most endangered sea turtle in the world. During their mid-April to August nesting season, the Ridleys and Loggerhead Sea Turtles return to the island to lay their eggs. The Padre Island National Seashore is one of the few places we can see newly hatched Ridley turtles released back into their native habitat.
2019 had 25 public releases and 16,082 people attended. Needless to say this is a popular event here at the park. Most releases happen between mid-June through August are open to the public take place at 6:45 a.m. on Malaquite Beach in front of the Visitor Center.
Once your arrival date is near, you can check the Sea Turtle Program Facebook Page or call (361) 949-7613 to see if there is a planned public hatchling release date when you visit the park.
Hike the Grasslands Nature Trail
The Grasslands Nature Trail is located just past the parks entrance. The trail is a short ¾ mile paved loop trail that gives park visitors the opportunity to learn about much more about the park besides seeing just the beach with several park interpretative panels.
Novillo Line Camp
It's hard to imagine that this beautiful setting used to be a cattle ranch. Here you can see the last remaining structure left from the Dunn Family Ranch and its days of using this area to corral cattle.
Driving Padre Island National Seashore Beach
If you come properly prepared, a drive on the beach should be a highlight for everyone. The first thing everyone should do is go to the park's visitor center and check on weather conditions and beach conditions.
After leaving the visitor center, continue on the park's main road until the pavement ends and the beach begins. The beginning of the beach is milepost 0 and the road continues down 60 miles along the beach. The first 4 miles is pretty solid and most visitors shouldn't run into many issues.
You will then see a large sign at milepost 4 (pictured above) warning anyone that passes this sign is doing so at their own risk and the beach conditions are only suitable for high clearance 4X4 Vehicles.
Also note, tow trucks can be extremely expensive and can easily cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to get you out of here.
The first four miles will give most park visitors plenty to explore as well as enjoying time to spend on the beach, watch birds, go swimming or anything else they want to do on the beach. Just remember to watch out for vehicles here.
Park Ranger John Pro Tip:
Just because you rented a 4X4 at the local rental car company does not mean you are ready for off-road driving!
Trust me! I have stories from every year as a Park Ranger of someone renting a four-wheel vehicle and doing something they shouldn't be doing costing them a good time and lots of money.
Their first comment is always "I don't understand why I got stuck when I rented a four-wheel drive?"
Here are a few tips from a park ranger to help you have a safe and enjoyable off-road adventure.
- Always go with a buddy and never go out alone. Remember that there is no cellular service out here and you will be depending on yourself to get back.
- I always recommend people who have some background in off-road vehicle use before heading out. There is an old but great book out there called Guide to Safe Common Sense Off-Road Driving. You can also find a free download of this book on the Jeep Jamboree's website. Make sure to read the section about driving in sand.
- Have a full-size spare tire, a good jack, tire gauge, and a tire pump.
- Have a First Aid Kit
What I can promise you is that if you come prepared, read and follow the Guide to safe common sense Off-Road Driving book, check with the park visitor center before heading out and follow the rules on the NPS website, you should be well prepared to have a great time on the beach!
Padre Island National Seashore has numerous opportunities over its 65 miles of beaches.
It is one of the best warm winter family vacation spots! Enjoy the beach while it is snowing at home.
This is the only beaches closed to vehicular traffic. Needless to say that this beach is ideal for families and little kids. Closed Beach begins at the north beach access road and ends where the main park paved road ends.
The Malaquite Swimming Beach is a part of Closed Beach. This part of the park is closed to both vehicles and pets. The visitor center can assist individuals with wheelchairs so they too can get their toes in the sand too with a special beach wheelchair available free for loan.
Located at the park's northern boundary, North Beach is open to both RV and primitive tent camping at your own risk. Camping on North Beach is free with your park entrance pass but requires a free permit from the kiosk located at the beach entrance.
South Beach is where park visitors begin the beach drive just past the park's visitor center. It's a great place to go fishing and primitive camping on the beach.
Little Shell and Big Shell Beaches
Attention beachcombers: Little Shell and Big Shell Beach is the place for you. These two beaches are sections of the shoreline where seashells can be found in larger concentrations than any other part of the park. Just remember, you will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get out here.
Park visitors can get out on the ocean and on the Laguna Madre. The Laguna Madre has shallow protected waters good for both beginners and experienced paddlers while the ocean is for experienced paddlers.
Padre Island National Seashore Camping Options
Malaquite Campground is a beautiful campground located on the Gulf of Mexico. It has breathtaking views, amazing sunrises and a short walk to Malaquite Beach. Be prepared to find total relaxation as you fall asleep hearing the waves crash and having the coastal breeze brush across your skin.
Bird Island Basin Campground
This is yet another beautiful campground in Padre Island National Seashore! Instead of being on the Texas Gulf Coast, this campground lies on the Laguna Madre. Be prepared for epic sunsets, incredible bird watching, and windsurfing. In fact, this area was ranked by Windsurfing Magazine as the best flat water sailing site in the continental USA.
Things to know when planning a trip to Padre Island National Seashore
Location: North Padre Island, southeast of the city of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Exercise caution when using a GPS: Many GPS units and phone GPS will send you miles out of the way. Fortunately, it is extremely easy to find. Simply read the directions below.
Park Directions: Head east through Corpus Christi on Highway 358. After crossing the JFK Causeway onto Padre Island, Highway 358 changes to Park Road 22. Continue about 10 miles south on Park Road 22 to reach the park entrance.
Visitor Center Hours: Malaquite Visitor Center is open 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., 364 days per year. Closed December 25 for Christmas.
Padre Island National Seashore and South Padre Island are two different locations.
These two destinations are over 100 miles apart. Both names are similar as they are on a long barrier island (Padre Island) but each destination is at opposite ends of the island. There is no direct drive to each destination thus requiring a 3-4 hour drive to get from one destination to another.
Cellular Service: Don't expect any cellular service within the park. You may get lucky and get service at the parks visitor center but it is not reliable.
National Park Sites near Padre Island National Seashore
If you are looking for a place to stay check out these south Padre Island Hotels.