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Padre Island National Seashore Guide — Camping, Sea Turtles, and More

Amar Hussain's image
Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

802 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury


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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Padre Island National Seashore protects 66 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. This park is part of the National Park System, and visitors will find a wealth of things to see, do, and learn about.

From a rich cultural history to incredible wildlife viewing opportunities, camping on the beach, or reeling in a big catch, there’s so much to experience in this park. Each year, over 600,000 visitors explore Padre Island National Seashore and experience its natural beauty and wonder. 

How To Get to Padre Island National Seashore

Where Is Padre Island National Seashore?

This park is a national seashore located off the coast of South Texas on Padre Island. The park protects 66 miles of natural habitat and undeveloped beaches. It is located south of Corpus Christi. 

Padre Island National Seashore Opening Hours and Seasons

This park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is typically open each day of the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This facility is closed each year on December 25. 

Nearest Airports to Padre Island National Seashore

Several airports can be used to visit this park. These options range from 45 minutes away to 4 hours away. Let’s look at the 2 closest airports to see which will work for your vacation.

Corpus Christi International Airport (CRP)

Corpus Christi International Airport is located approximately 33 minutes from this national seashore. This is the closest airport option to the park.

This airport offers flight options to major cities such as Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, and San Francisco. Some airlines serviced here include American, Southwest, and United.

Once you arrive at this airport, you are just a hop, skip, and jump away from Padre Island National Seashore. This is the best option for visitors who want to fly into the park area and maximize their travel time. 

San Antonio International Airport (SAT)

San Antonio International Airport is the second closest airport to Padre Island National Seashore, taking approximately 2.5 hours to get to the park from here. 

This airport offers nonstop flights to dozens of popular U.S. cities like Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, and San Francisco. Airlines serviced here include American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit.

With several car rental kiosks, visitors can be on their way in no time. The drive may be a bit longer than other airport options, but it is an excellent way to become familiar with the area and take in gorgeous sights along the way. 

Driving To Padre Island National Seashore

There are several ways to get to the park, depending on where you are coming from. Below, you will see 3 of the most popular routes to help you plan your arrival. 

From Corpus Christi, Texas

Visitors from Corpus Christi will begin their drive on South Padre Island Drive, also called TX-358. Continue to JFK Memorial Causeway, which will later change to Park Road 22. Follow Park Road to the park entrance. 

From San Antonio, Texas

Those driving from San Antonio will take I-37 South toward Corpus Christi. Take exit 4A for TX-385. Drive southeast on TX-358 East and take the JFK Memorial Causeway until you arrive at the park’s entrance.  

From South Padre Island, Texas

Another popular route to the park is from South Padre Island. TX-100 W to 1-69E. Continue driving onto US-77 N to exit TX-44E. Take exit TX-358 E toward Padre Island and head southeast onto South Padre Island Drive or TX-358 E. Take the JFK Memorial Causeway to the park. 

Taking the Train or Bus to Padre Island National Seashore

There is no train or bus service to this national seashore.

Getting Around Padre Island National Seashore

The best way for visitors to get around this park is by private vehicle. There is no option for public transportation. Having your own vehicle provides you with the perk of being able to explore the park at your own pace. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help prepare for your visit. 

What To See and Do in Padre Island National Seashore

There’s no shortage of sights and activities at Padre Island National Seashore. From sea turtle hatchling releases to beachcombing, ranger-led tours, kayaking, and canoeing, there’s something for every visitor to enjoy here.


Beachcombing Padre Island
Image Credit: NPS

If you enjoy searching beaches for unique treasures, you are in luck at Padre Island. There are many types of exciting items that wash up on the shore at this park. Some of the items found here include unique seashells, sea beans, and even historic artifacts.

The best time to enjoy this activity is right after a storm when the water has been stirred and strong tides bring in incredible finds. 

Visitors are allowed to keep up to 1 gallon of seashells and sea beans from the beaches, but if a live animal is found inside one of the shells, it is imperative to return it to where you found it.

Hot Tip:

Should you find animal parts from an endangered animal or a historic artifact, you should report that to a park ranger immediately.


This park is located in a town that is home to more species of birds than any other city in the U.S. It has claimed the title of “The Birdiest City in America” for 10 consecutive years, making birdwatching a popular park activity.

Over 380 types of birds have been documented at this park, which is nearly half of all the species that have been documented in North America. Bird enthusiasts are in for a treat, as this park is located on the Central Flyway, a major migration route for birds migrating to and from North America, South America, and Central America.

Some of the birds often seen here include snow geese, sandhill cranes, and redhead ducks. The best times to birdwatch here include in the early spring months or fall and winter. 

Canoeing and Kayaking

Padre Island National Seashore offers terrific opportunities for canoeing and kayaking in the Laguna Madre and out in the open ocean. Beginner paddlers enjoy paddling the Laguna Madre with its shallow waters.

Those who want a bit more of a challenge will enjoy sea kayaking in the open ocean. There are also unique fishing opportunities when paddling. Be sure to enjoy this activity while wearing a personal floatation device, and always check weather forecasts before heading into the water. 

Ranger-Led Programs

Several ranger-led programs take place at this national seashore, allowing for a terrific way to learn about the park and its history. These programs are free of charge and appropriate for visitors of all ages.

Some of the popular programs include deck walks, beach walks, sea turtle hatchling releases, star parties, and Cowboy Connections. Be sure to check in with the visitor center to verify the scheduled times.

Sea Turtle Hatchling Release

Sea Turtle Hatchling Release Padre Island
Image Credit: NPS

Participating in the sea turtle hatchling releases at Padre Island National Seashore is a magical experience. Each year, from mid-June through August, hatchling releases take place. Visitors will come here to wait for the sea turtle nesting season to return and watch a hatchling release. 

These releases occur at 6:45 a.m. on Malaquite Beach, right in front of the visitor center. It typically takes 20 to 45 minutes for the baby turtles to reach the water from their nest. Park rangers and volunteers will often bring a hatchling near the visitors so they can see it up close and photograph it. 

Witnessing a hatchling release is an opportunity of a lifetime.


Stargazing is a popular activity at this national seashore. Magnificent celestial sights, such as constellations, planets, nebulas, the space station, and more can be seen here. Some of the best places to stargaze in the park include near the Malaquite Campground, along the beach, and at the Night Sky Observatory.

Throughout the year, the park hosts a variety of night sky programs where visitors can learn from park rangers or guest speakers and view the night sky with telescopes for an even better view. 

Visitor Center

The Malaquite Visitor Center is a fantastic place to begin your adventures at Padre Island National Seashore, with exhibits that highlight the park’s history, animals, and plants. Picnic areas, restrooms, and special wheelchairs for visitors who want to explore the beach are available.

Park rangers are stationed to answer any questions visitors may have, and guests can purchase souvenirs at the on-site park store. 

Best Times To Visit Padre Island National Seashore

This national seashore is a phenomenal place to visit, no matter what time of year. However, some times are better than others if you hope to participate in a particular activity or event.

Best Time To Visit Padre Island National Seashore in Winter

Those who travel during the winter months may find that Padre Island is an excellent place to visit during the winter. March is an exceptional time for a winter visit. The temperature ranges from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, a comfortable range for exploring the park.

Hot Tip:

Layering clothing items is a great idea so you can bundle up or remove layers if the temperature gets too chilly or warm.

Best Time To Visit Padre Island National Seashore To Avoid the Crowds

Padre Island Beach
Image Credit: NPS

A vacation without a crowd is a dream come true for many visitors. If you want to visit this park without crowds, the best time is November. Tourists are less likely to visit this area of Texas in November, making it the perfect time to explore the park at your own pace and enjoy a crowd-free experience. 

Best Time To Visit Padre Island National Seashore for Ideal Weather

The weather can make or break any trip, so researching weather patterns before planning your trip is an excellent idea. The best month to visit this park for ideal weather is in April. The temperatures range from the low 60s to the low 80s, and the monthly precipitation is typically lower than other months. There’s still a chance to rain in April, so come prepared with rain gear to be safe.

Cheapest Time To Visit Padre Island National Seashore

Saving money and traveling don’t seem to go hand in hand, but this can be a possibility with a bit of research and planning. The best time to travel to this park and save money is mid- to late September. This is when flights and accommodations are at their cheapest during the year, allowing you to save hundreds of dollars in travel expenses.  

Annual Events in Padre Island National Seashore

This park hosts a variety of events throughout the year, such as sea turtle training sessions, learn-to-surf fish clinics, deck talks, and beach walks. There are also star parties during some months, especially if there is a solar or lunar eclipse. The only repeating annual event at this park is the release of sea turtle hatchlings.

Where To Stay in Padre Island National Seashore

Planning where to stay when vacationing is one of the top priorities, no matter where you plan to visit. There are lovely opportunities both in and near this national seashore. Take a look at the different options for a home away from home when visiting this park. 

Inside the Park

The only lodging option within this park’s boundaries is setting up camp under the stars. There are 2 campgrounds and countless opportunities for primitive camping throughout the park.

Bird Island Basin Campground

Bird Island Basin Campground
Image Credit: NPS

For visitors who love nature and outdoor adventure, the perfect spot awaits you. Located along Laguna Madre with easy access for birdwatching, fishing, kayaking, and windsurfing, Bird Island Basin Campground is an incredible place to set up during your visit.

This campground offers a combination of tent and RV campsites with amenities such as vault toilets and trash collection. This campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis year-round.

Bottom Line:

The view of the water will make you want to return to this campground year after year.

Malaquite Campground

Malaquite Campground is located on the gulf side of the island, north of the visitor center. You can easily walk along the beach at this campground, and the views are simply breathtaking.

This campground is open to tent and RV campers and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Amenities include restrooms with cold water showers, picnic tables, and a dump station. Some sites have shade structures and grills.

Tent campers can choose to camp at their designated site or in front of the campground on the beach. This campground is a lovely place to immerse yourself in nature and take a break from the daily grind. 

Primitive Camping

There are opportunities galore throughout this park for those who prefer primitive camping. The best places to camp this way include North Beach, South Beach, and Yarborough Pass.

Those planning to primitive camp must have a valid entrance pass and fill out a self-issued camping permit at the self-registration kiosk at the campground’s entrance. Primitive camping is a wonderful option for those who want a quiet, solitary retreat in nature.

Towns Near Padre Island National Seashore

For visitors who want to stay outside of the park boundaries, there are many options for places to make a home base nearby. Whether you are looking for a quiet place to retreat or a lively city, there are many options for whatever you seek.

Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, the “Gulf Coast Capital,” is where Padre Island National Seashore is located. This city has many attractions, a variety of accommodations, great shopping, and fabulous restaurants. When visiting this park, many visitors choose to make this town their base camp.

Accommodations here include luxury hotels, condos, private rentals, and campgrounds. Whatever you seek for lodging, there’s a solution here.

The dining options are spectacular and diverse, with offerings of Tex-Mex, outstanding seafood restaurants, and everything in between. No matter what you crave, your taste buds are in for a treat. 

This town has so much to see and do. The Texas State Aquarium and the USS Lexington are some of the main attractions. With 9 different beaches, there are also opportunities for windsurfing, kayaking, parasailing, paddleboard yoga, and horseback riding along the beach.

Bottom Line:

Corpus Christi makes a fantastic home base when visiting Padre Island National Seashore. You won’t run out of great food and fun when staying here.

Where To Eat in Padre Island National Seashore

There aren’t any dining opportunities within the boundaries of this park, but there are many restaurants nearby. With burger joints, pizza parlors, and fresh seafood restaurants, you can find whatever your heart desires just a short drive from the park.

La Palma Mexican Restaurant

La Palma Mexican Restaurant is in Corpus Christi and is a 9-minute drive from the park. This authentic Mexican restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. 

Quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, and burritos are just some of the items featured at this restaurant. Some popular menu items include the California burrito, chalupa plate, chorizo, and egg tacos. Their house-made margaritas and piña coladas are a treat you won’t miss. 

When visiting Padre Island National Seashore, stop by La Palma for a meal you won’t forget. 

Padre Island Burger Company

Padre Island Burger Company is a top-rated restaurant in Corpus Christi, just 10 miles from the park. This restaurant serves fresh, made-to-order burgers, cold craft beer, and seasonal cocktails. 

The menu includes fresh chopped salads, hot wings with various sauces, custom burgers, chicken dishes, and classic side items like french fries, onion rings, and grilled vegetables. Customers rave about the Hang Over burger, “The Famous” Dr. Padre burger, and the blackened chicken breast. 

On top of excellent food and great drinks, this restaurant also has live music for customers to enjoy regularly. Look no further than Padre Island Burger Company when visiting this national seashore for a fun night out.

Padre Island National Seashore Facts

Sunset Over Bird Island Basin
Image Credit: NPS

1. A New National Seashore Established

This national seashore was established in 1962.

2. Different Owners

Padre Island has been owned by 4 different nations at different times in history. Spain first owned it, then Mexico, followed by the Republic of Texas (before Texas was part of the U.S.), and finally, it was a part of the U.S. 

3. A Place of Many Names

This park hasn’t always been called Padre Island National Seashore. It has been known as “La Isla Blanca,” translating to White Island, and “Isla de los Malaguitas,” meaning Island of the Malaquites, a group of Karankawa people. 

4. Original People of the Park

The Coahuiltecan and the Karankawa Indians initially inhabited this area. It is estimated that these groups arrived in the area as early as 10,000 B.C.E. 

5. An Abundance of Animals

This national seashore is home to many varieties of animals, including amphibians, birds, crustaceans, fish, mammals, and reptiles. Coyotes, deer, songbirds, jellyfish, ghost crabs, sea turtles, and sandhill cranes are some of the animals you can spot here throughout the year. 

Final Thoughts

Padre Island National Seashore is a fantastic place to visit for a reset from the busyness of life. Explore the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, spend the night under the stars next to the crashing waves, and view wildlife that can’t be seen in most places. Book your trip to this national seashore and discover what brings over half a million visitors to this Texas park each year.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Padre Island National Seashore?

A standard entrance pass costs between $15 and $25, depending on whether you enter the park in a private vehicle, on foot, or by motorcycle. You can also purchase an annual pass for $45 if this is a park you’d like to visit repeatedly.

How much time do I need to explore Padre Island National Seashore?

It is easy to spend quite a bit of time here, especially if you want to camp or spend time on the beaches. Anywhere from a full day to 5 days is recommended to get the full Padre Island experience.

Can I fish at Padre Island National Seashore?

Fishing is permitted in all park areas except directly in front of the visitor center at Malaquite Beach.

Do I need to worry about sharks when I visit Padre Island National Seashore?

Shark attacks at this national seashore are very rare. The most recent attack was in the mid-1980s. There are approximately 33 species of shark that live in the Gulf of Mexico, so while it is rare to have a dangerous encounter, it is wise to stay alert should you need to exit the water.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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