Padre Island National Seashore Beaches
Padre Island National Seashore is southeast of Corpus Christi by about 20 minutes. The park is not the same thing as South Padre Island, which is located farther down the coast. Padre Island National Seashore is located on North Padre Island, and it is not possible to drive from North Padre Island to South Padre Island - the two barrier islands are separated by the Mansfield Channel.
To reach Padre Island National Seashore, drive through Corpus Christi heading east on Highway 358 (South Padre Island Drive, or SPID to locals). Once you've passed over the JFK Causeway and the high JFK Bridge, you'll be on North Padre Island. Just continue driving until you see the park entrance signs (about another 10 miles).
At 130,454 acres in size, Padre Island National Seashore is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the United States.
Pets are permitted in the park and camping is on a first-come basis. Malaquite Campground on Malaquite Beach (see below) is a popular camping spot, and primitive beach camping on the Gulf side of the island is always available.
The gulf beach is open to conventional vehicles for the first five miles.
Malaquite Beach and Bird Island Basin are two of the popular spots on the island. Malaquite is described below; Bird Island Basin is on the inward side of the island on the Laguna Madre, a popular fishing and windsurfing spot.
There are various fees associated with Seashore access. An annual pass can be bought, or day-use passes can be purchased for walkers and cyclists; a 7-day pass for vehicular traffic is available; and there are fees associated with using Malaquite Campground and Bird Island Basin. Those fees are described on the National Seashore Web site.
Swimming, windsurfing, fishing, bird watching and kayaking are some of the most popular activities. A number of guided tours and children's programs are available throughout the year.
Visitors should always keep an eye out for jellyfish and man-o-war, which sometimes wash up on the beaches and are common in the waters.
Many beachgoers to Padre Island National Seashore consider this the best beach in the park. Driving is not allowed on this beach and large crowds are uncommon except at the busiest times of the year (i.e., summertime holidays). Park Road 22 (which Highway 358 turns into shortly after crossing onto North Padre Island) leads you right to Malaquite Beach, about a half-mile past the Visitors Center.
The National Seashore's visitors center has an information desk, small museum, bookstore, concession stand, observation decks, restrooms and showers, and picnic tables.
If you want real isolation, you can drive down-island to the most remote parts of the park. Four-wheel-drive vehicles only can make the trip in the soft sands. The Down Island trip begins near the 5-mile marker past Malaquite Beach and South Beach.
The National Park Service says: "From about the 7-mile marker the sand becomes continually softer and deeper reaching its deepest at Big Shell beach in the area from about the 18-mile marker to the 38-mile marker. From approximately the 40-mile marker south, the beach begins to harden and is similar to South Beach by the time one reaches the 45- or 50-mile marker."
Huge amounts of sea debris wash up on this stretch of the island, making conditions more hazardous.
This isn't an easy trip, in other words. You definitely need to talk with park rangers before trying it in order to prepare properly. Anyone driving down island should pack emergency equipment, extra gas, extra water, a cell phone, a shovel and some boards to help get out of soft sand should your vehicle become stuck.
The visitors center phone number is (361) 949-8068. A recording of weather and beach conditions is available 24 hours at (361) 949-8175.
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