The Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore in South Padre Island, Texas has continued to be an undeveloped wilderness for nearly its entire existence. A visit to the island is like stepping back in time thanks to the National Seashore's desire to preserve Padre Island in its natural state. Padre Island is named after Padre Nicolas Balli, a Spanish priest who established the island's first settlement in around 1804.

Before this time, only nomadic Native American, the survivors of three shipwrecks in 1554, and Spanish troops or ships are know to have visited or inhabited the island. Throughout its existence, the island has been owned by four different nations: Spain, Mexico, Republic of Texas, and the United States. Photo: st_matty/Fotolia



Spain owned the island until the Mexican Revolution of 1820. Mexico then owned Padre Island after revolution until 1836, when the Republic of Texas claimed the area. The United States gained ownership of the island when it acquired Texas after the War with Mexico of 1845-1848. Throughout its history, Padre Island has been known by numerous names, with its current one being the most recent. Other names the island was known by are "la Isla Blanca" and "Isla de los Malaguitas." Padre Island was used primarily for ranching from 1804 to 1970. The exception to this is the development of tourism, including the establishment of the National Seashore and the development of the South Padre Island town. A Navy bombing range once existed on the northern section of Padre Island from World War II to 1960.

Visitors to Padre Island can find information on a wide variety of topics, such as seashells and jellyfish, at the Malaquite Visitor Center. The center also provides free daily programs and has several exhibits showcasing the park's plants, animals, and history. Special beach wheelchairs are available for wheelchair users to borrow. A ramp leads from the Pavilion to Malaquite Swimming Beach.

Closed Beach

Being the only beach on 65 miles of Padre Island's seashore that is closed to public vehicles, Closed Beach is an ideal beach to let children run around and explore.

North Beach

North Beach can be reached via a paved road just before the entrance gate to the park. The beach, located at the northern boundary of the park, is open to RV and primitive tent camping. Campers can get a free permit to camp from a kiosk at the beach entrance.

South Beach

South Beach runs from the end of the main paved park road to sixty miles south, ending at the Port Mansfield Channel. The beach's sixty miles provide spectacular opportunities for surf fishing. Driving on the beach is permitted, however, much of the beach requires 4-wheel drive. Like at North Beach, camping is allowed an permits can be received from a kiosk at the entrance. Photo: Jeff/Fotolia

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»Things to See

Things to See

Bird Island Basin

Windsurfing is one of the popular activities at the Bird Island Basin, which can be found on Padre Island's bay side. This location is one of popular windsurfing spots in the United States. The basin is also great for kayaking, camping, fishing, and birding. Equipment rentals, as well as kayaking and windsurfing lessons, are offered at a concession. Both RV and tent camping are permitted for a fee.

Grasslands Nature Trail

The Grassland Nature Trail offers visitors an opportunity to see what exists past the beach and behind the sand dunes. This paved, three fourths of a mile trail can be found just beyond the entrance gate to the park.

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Novillo Line Camp

At one point in time, Padre Island was used primarily for ranching. A short walk to Novillo Line Camp will take you back to the past where cattle were corralled by cowboys. The camp is the last remaining structure from the Dunn family cattle ranching operation.

Yarborough Pass

Backtracking around 100 yards from South Beach's 15-mile marker will lead park visitors to Yarborough Pass. A 4-wheel drive down an access road from South Beach or boating in from the Laguna Madre are the only ways to reach this area. Camping is allowed with a free permit from the kiosk at South Beach.

Little Shell and Big Shell Beaches

Visitors to the park can drive 10-15 miles along South Beach to find Little Shell Beach. Another 10-15 miles down South Beach is Big Shell Beach. These two beaches offer great opportunities for finding seashells. It's also an excellent area to go beachcombing with a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

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Port Mansfield Channel

Port Mansfield Channel, a man-made waterway, cuts through Padre Island. The channel was created to provide a way for barges and other vessels to reach Port Mansfield. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is required in order to reach this area that cuts through the island about 60 miles south of South Beach's entrance. Port Mansfield Channel marks the park's southern boundary. Rock jetties located at the channel, constructed during the channel's creation, offers a spectacular spot for viewing green sea turtles, dolphins, and other wildlife that might be swimming the the area. The water around the rock jetties is also great for fishing. The Port Mansfield Channel area, including the last five miles of South Beach, also provides possibly the best shelling in the Padre Island park.

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Laguna Madre

Padre Island's Laguna Madre is possibly one of only six hypersaline lagoons in the world, making it a rarity. A hypersaline body of water contains more salt than an ocean. The Laguna Madre is perhaps one of the most unoticed natural wonders in North America. Just looking out onto the water of the lagoon, the Laguna Madre might not seem too different from other bodies of water around the world. However, underneath the water's surface, the lagoon's life is unique. The area is also great for windsurfing, boating, fishing, birding, and more. Photo: bodnarinq /Fotolia

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Kayaking and Canoeing

Canoeing and kayaking in the salt water of the open ocean or the Laguna Madre gives visitors a unique view of and way of exploring Padre Island National Seashore. The Laguna Madres, with its protected areas and shallow waters, is perfect for beginner paddlers and seasoned paddlers alike. Sea kayaking also provides unique fishing opportunities, however, is can also be difficult.

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Corpus Christi has won the award for "Birdiest City in America" for 10 years in a row for having more bird speicies than any other city in the country. With this being said, it's no wonder that Padre Island is a spectacular place for birdwatching with its 130,000 acres of undeveloped land. Early spring or fall and winter are the best times to go birdwatching at the Padre Island National Seashore. This is when thousands of birds migrate through the park or stay for the winter.


Since long before Padre Island became a national seashore, fishing has been one of its biggest attractions. Fishing is allowed in the Laguna Madre, Bird Island Basin, Yarborough Pass, and the entire length of the Gulf of Mexico beach.

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The world's longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island exists at the Padre Island National Seashore. Other ecoysystems are present on the island in addition to the protected coastline, such as rare coastal prairie, wind tidal flats that are full of life, a dynamic and complex dune system, and the hypersaline lagoon environment of the Laguna Madre. Several rare, threatened, and endangered species of terrestrial and marine animals and plants call the Padre Island National Seashore and surrounding waters home.

Sea Turtles

Among the most popular and iconic animal species found at the Padre Island are sea turtles. Five different sea turtles species live, travel through, or nest at Padre Island. These species include Kemp's ridley sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, and leatherback sea turtles. All five species are endangered or threatened species. Nests of five sea turtle species can only be found in Texas on Padre Island. The Padre Island National Seashore's Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery is the only one of its kind in existence in the National Park Service. This division works to protect and monitor the sea turtles. The public is allowed to come watch baby sea turtles make their way to the Gulf of Mexico after hatching when possible.

Junior Ranger Program

The Padre Island National Seashore's Junior Ranger Program provides a unique opportunity for kids to become a Junior Ranger. Although the program is designed for children ages give to thirteen, all ages are welcome to participate. Kids participating in the Junior Ranger program can use the free booklet that is provided to them to find out what makes Padre Island so special, as well as the park's history, animals, and plants. As part of the program, a park ranger reviews the booklet, then swears in the participant as an official National Park Service Junior Ranger. The Junior Ranger is given a certificate and a badge upon completion of the booklet. They can also receive an additional badge by helping with a beach clean-up.

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Padre Island National Seashore in South Padre Island, Texas

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