Padre Island National Seashore is the longest, uninhabited barrier reef island in the United States, and is one of the national sites Texas is lucky to have.
Texas has national parks, sites, monuments, and beaches, so because it’s a national site you’re going to have additional features and resources available to visitors. Learn about another national site, Waco Mammoth.
PINS as it’s also called is spacious and perfect for day-use, anglers, and anyone wanting to test out their 4 X 4 capabilities.
The day-use area is actually fairly reasonable, while the remaining 60 miles of shoreline are where the uninhabited access really makes this place special.
Visiting Padre Island National Seashore
Head south and instead of turning to visit Mustang Island SP, just keep going straight. Eventually, the road will take you to the familiar national park checkpoint.
Once you’re paid up you can either head straight to the visitor’s center, or actually backtrack a bit and visit some additional beach access with a pier.
Otherwise, head over to the visitor’s center, and from here you can park, grab some souvenirs and then make your way to the beach day use area.
The visitor’s center has showers (that were under construction at the time of this posting), shaded picnic areas, a gift shop, a scenic overlook, and a separate open shower area to rinse off sand before jumping back into your vehicle.
There’s a little bit of history about the park here, and some information about the nesting turtles that you’ll find at the park. In fact, be on the lookout for the ceremonial turtle hatch trot.
Day Use Picnicking- Coastal Side
From the visitors center, you can access multiple entry points to the lovely, sandy beaches.
There are sporadic picnic tables along the beach, but as opposed to Port Aransas, you cannot drive on the beach here.
This is the gulf side of the island, and the water offers great waves for body boarding and light surfing.
There are no amenities here like covered beach chairs, or covered shelters, so bring what you’ll need to stay safe from the sun.
The entire area is expansive, and it can feel a little overwhelming, so just pick your spot and enjoy the views.
The Bay Side of PINS
The bay side of the island is where you’ll find the windsurfing rentals, boat ramp, ‘camping’ facilities, and some additional primitive options.
If you’re here for fishing, the bay side is a great option for anglers. The water here is about knee-deep nearest the shore, and there is plenty of room to catch some great fish. This is also the location of the boat ramp.
You’ll also find the windsurfing rentals here from Bird Island Basin windsurfing where you can take a class and get out on the water and fly across the water.
Now to why camping was in quotes. On paper, the Bird Island Basin campground is here, but the camp host was gone, and it didn’t look like it was maintained. The only part of this park that looked a little neglected actually. It’s important to note here that there are no options for RV camping at this park. And there are no reservations to camp here. All campsites are first come, first serve.
The camp host site did have a shaded picnic area though, so that was nice.
Campground Fee: $8.00/day or $4.00/day with the Senior or Access passes
The Malaquite Campground felt like a small beach community. It was the busiest of the campsites on this particular day, and you feel secluded because it’s tucked away behind the sand dunes.
There are 48 campsites that are slightly primitive. One side of the road features campsites on the beach and the other side, well, in a parking space with a picnic table.
Primitive Beach Area
For approximately 60 miles beyond the paved area, you can take your vehicle on soft sand and explore what makes this national seashore truly remarkable. All you’ll need is the entrance fee and a camping permit. Both are available from the entrance or the self-registration kiosk.
There are a few points of interest on the map that you can seek out, but travel along the coastline with limited visibility of other guests. 60 miles on the beach is a long way to travel, and know that there are mile markers posted every five miles.
Don’t risk being stranded on this beach without a plan in place. Cell service down here is extremely spotty, and the only toilet is at the very beginning of this stretch.
Take proper precautions for driving on soft sand, and make sure you have a way to get unstuck. Cell service here isn’t always super reliable either, so don’t count on calling someone to get out.
Primitive Points of Interest
As you’re driving down the beach check out the Little Shell beach area, South Beach, and eventually Big Shell Beach. The beach will eventually end and water comes through before it turns into South Padre, so don’t think you can travel the entire length.
Hiking at Padre Island National Seashore
Right after you enter the park you’ll see the sign for the Grasslands Nature Trail. The 3/4 mile trail is a loop that gives some insight into the importance of the sand dunes, the coastline, and what it may have looked like over its history.
There are multiple covered seating areas and even a scenic overlook that’s on top of a sand dune.
Great place to just get some knowledge of the park, and surrounding areas.
This national park is a gem for Texas and the world. While it’s protected land, the public still has access to the beach, and unfortunately the public does what the public does, and there were remnants of trash including canopies that were left behind from the weekend.
It’s important everyone does their part to clean up after themselves, and pack out what they pack in. This ensures we can all enjoy these places for years to come.
The park area has places for everyone to enjoy if you like the beach. The coastal side had spectacular views, and a great beach experience.
The gift shop had plenty of information and gifts, and the bay side was a great place to do some fishing.
Can’t wait to revisit with a 4X4 vehicle and explore farther down the coastline.