Padre Island National Seashore | Getting Back to Nature
If you’re yearning to get back to nature, try the Padre Island National Seashore for an experience unlike any other. The largest undeveloped barrier island in the world, the Seashore is more than 130,000 acres of dunes, grasslands, and beaches.
You may have heard whispers of the huge parties and bonfires of Padre Island - But that is South Padre Island, a completely separate region and a Spring Breaker’s delight. The Seashore is, instead a protected National Park and a haven for all sorts of family friendly activities.
At the Padre Island National Seashore, you can:
- traverse the scenic Grasslands Nature Trail
- keep on the lookout for critters and birds
- watch baby sea turtles make their way to the ocean
- listen to a park ranger or try a birding tour
- go off-roading on the beach
Grasslands Nature Trail
The quickest way to get a feel for the environment of the Island is to take a stroll along the Grasslands Nature Trail. Located just inside the park entrance, the trail is paved and only a short ¾ of a mile long, perfect for little legs. Here, you can get a glimpse of the plants and animals that populate the inland away from the beach. Don’t forget your insect repellant, though: the marshlike environment has the potential for mosquitos that are normally non-existent closer to the off-shore winds.
The Padre Island National Seashore is an untouched paradise of federally protected wildlife. While here, you may see one of the many hundred species of birds, fish, and mammals that make this park their home. Bring your binoculars for some prime bird watching in the early spring and fall, or go on a hike through the grasslands to try to get a glimpse of coyotes, deer, kangaroo rats, ghost crabs, and many others!
You may even fish in the Seashore! However, to do so, all fishermen must have a license, complete with a saltwater stamp. Fish in the Seashore vary -- expect anything from catfish to red drum to trout, and many anglers even opt to fish for shark.
Sea Turtle Hatchlings
One of the most exciting activities on the Seashore is watching baby sea turtle hatchlings get released to begin their lives in the open waters of the Gulf. A regular park program allows visitors to witness this phenomenon every summer!
Sea turtles (including the rare Kemp’s Ridley species!) often come onto the shore to make their nests and lay eggs. Volunteers and rangers alike then alert conservation experts, who transport these eggs from the nests to incubation facilities or corrals. Here, the eggs are lovingly cared for until the baby turtles enter a state called “frenzy”, where they become very active. Then, in the early morning, the hatchlings are brought to the northern end of the Seashore, where they are released to make their way back to sea.
The public is invited to attend many of these releases, which occur throughout the summer. There is no schedule, of course -- The hatchlings are ready when they’re ready! Keep an eye out on the website or call the Hatchling Hotline at (361) 949-7163 for up-to-date information on when the next release might be.
The Rangers at the Seashore are always willing to teach visitors fun facts about the wildlife, ecosystem, and region. There’s typically something for everyone - kids might enjoy the Junior Ranger exploration program, while Mom and Dad can take a leisurely beach walk with a ranger who will explore the Island’s ecology. There are even multiple birding talks, for anyone from beginners to experts, and and evening program that takes place under a starlit sky. Best of all, these talks are all included in the park’s basic entrance fee.
An online calendar will give you most times and details on these talks and others. If you’re already on your way to the Seashore, visit the Malaquite Pavilion or Visitor’s Center for more information.
The Seashore does have a main road, but to get to most places on the Island, you’re going to need a 4-wheel drive vehicle. These are permitted on the beach only, so as not to damage the fragile ecosystem.
What You Need to Know
- Entrance Fees: $10/ day per vehicle. The permit pays for entry into the park for up to 7 consecutive days. An annual pass is available for $20
- Hours: 24/7 365 days a year
- Parking: If you park on the beach, you’ll need a parking permit
- There are no public restrooms