Along the South Coast of Texas lies
a unique and fascinating place. . .
Padre Island is famous for its long white beaches and large sand dunes. It was once known as La Isla Blanca, or the White Island. 113 miles long, and usually no more than one or two miles wide, it is the longest barrier Island in the world. With the central 80 miles of the Island having no houses, buildings or even paved roads, it is also one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline in the United States. In 1962, more than half of the Island was designated as a national park. The Padre Island National Seashore offers 66 miles of unspoiled beach and wind-carved dunes that are much the way they have been for hundreds of years.
Padre Island is named after Father Nicholas Balli, who was granted title to the Island in the early 1800's. The Padre established a ranch there and attempted to convert the local Karankawa indians to Christianity and people began to call it the "Padre's Island". Some people may refer to parts of the Island as south, north, upper, etc., but it is really just Padre Island. South Padre Island is a popular vacation destination located on the southern tip of Padre Island.
The back side of the Island is just as beautiful and fascinating as the Gulf beach side. The Island is separated from the mainland by the Laguna Madre (Mother Lagoon), which is one of only a few hypersaline coastal lagoons in the world. Hypersaline means that the water is saltier than seawater, sometimes more than three times saltier. The Laguna Madre is one of the best inshore saltwater fishing areas in the US. Across the Laguna Madre on the mainland lie the famous King Ranch, Kenedy Ranch and other large ranches that have limited development along the mainland coast.
The Island is only accessible by vehicle at its extreme northern end through Corpus Christi or at its extreme southern end by way of the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge from Port Isabel to South Padre Island. Paved roads end 15 miles from the northern tip of the Island and 15 miles from the southern tip of the Island. Driving on most of the beach is permitted, but may require a four-wheel drive vehicle. In 1964, a channel was cut through the Island across from Port Mansfield. The Mansfield channel is located about 35 miles from the southern tip of the Island. Because of this channel, most of the Island, including The Padre Island National Seashore, is only accessible from the Corpus Christi end.
FROM CORPUS CHRISTI
At Corpus Christi, Padre Island is separated from Mustang Island by the recently opened Packery Channel. Historically, the Islands were separated by Corpus Christi Pass, but the old pass silted up many years ago. A few miles south of Packery Channel, is Padre Balli Park. This is one of the few places on Padre Island that you can park on the beach for free. Padre Balli Park is also home to Bob Hall Pier, a favorite among fishermen and surfers.
South of Padre Balli Park, development ends and the wild Padre begins. 10 miles south of Packery channel is the entrance to Padre Island National Seashore (PINS). The beach at the north end of the park is called Malaquite Beach and is blocked off to vehicular traffic. You can park at the visitors center to access this beach. After you pass through the entrance station, there is a road that goes to Bird Island Basin on the back side of the Island. Bird Island Basin is popular with birdwatchers, windsurfers and fishermen.
Continue down the main road, past the visitors center and the road will come to an end at the beach. It is 60 miles from this point to the Port Mansfield channel. After about 4½ miles it is recommended that you have a four-wheel drive vehicle. There are signs that mark the distance from the end of the paved road every 5 miles and people refer to places on PINS by the distance in miles from the end of the paved road. Little Shell Beach runs from about the 12 to 18, Big Shell Beach runs from the 18 to the 30, the wreck of the Nicaragua is located at the 50 and so on.
FROM SOUTH PADRE ISLAND
Cross the causeway from Port Isabel over the Laguna Madre, and you're in the town of South Padre Island. South Padre Island can boast of some of the most beautiful beaches and the bluest water in Texas. South Padre Island is a popular vacation getaway for families, couples and of course
At the southern tip of the Island is Isla Blaca Park, a State Park that provides access to the beach and the jetties. Most of the beach in the town of South Padre Island is lined with hotels and condos and driving is not allowed on the beach. However, you can park on the streets near the beach and walk.
As you travel north, you will come to Andy Bowie Park, a county park that provides picnic areas and a playground. Continue north on the main road until you come to Beach Access Rd 5. From this point north, you can drive on the beach. It is 28 miles to the Port Mansfield jetties and 4-wheel drive is recommended. You can also continue on the main road to Access Rd 6 before cutting over to the beach. This is the last beach access road. The highway continues on for several more miles but it dead ends at a point without beach access. About 10 miles north of Access Rd 6, you may encounter clothing optional beachgoers.
In addition to the great fishng in the Laguna Madre and Baffin Bay, Padre Island offers some of the best surf fishing anywhere with Redfish, Tarpon, Sharks, Jack Crevalle, Pompano and many other species regularly caught from the beach.
An undeveloped coastline, mild winters and a location that is a stopping point on the Central Flyway for migrating birds make the Island one of the top birding sites in the world. More than 380 species of birds can be found here, that is almost half as many as can be found in the entire US. Padre Island and the Laguna Madre provide habitat to a number of threatened and endangered species, such as piping and snowy plovers, reddish egret, brown pelican, peregrine falcon, and white-tail hawk. The Laguna Madre is also home to numerous colonial water bird rookeries. Padre Island is included in the Mustang Island Loop and the South Padre Island Loop of the
Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.
The Island is also a safe haven for the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, who have begun to nest on the Island is great numbers. During the nesting season, turtles watchers patrol the beach on ATV's looking for signs of a nest. When one is found, the eggs are collected and taken to Port Aransas or South Padre Island where they are cared for until they hatch. The hatchlings are then returned to Padre Island and released into the surf. The public is invited to these turtle releases.
Padre Island has a long and colorful history with stories of shipwrecks, pirates and buried treasure. The most famous shipwreck story is of the three Spanish Galleons loaded with treasure that left Mexico bound for Spain in 1554. The ships ran into a powerful storm and were wrecked on Padre Island. Their location had been lost to time until one of them was discovered during the dredging of the Port Mansfield channel in the late 1950's. Only one of the wrecks has been excavated. Over the years, many old spanish coins have been found on the beaches of Padre Island.
Another famous shipwreck is the SS Nicaragua, a cargo steamer that wrecked under mysterious conditions in 1912. A portion of the ships boiler can still be seen. In Texas, artifacts from shipwrecks belong to the State, so professional treasure hunters stay away and most of the wrecks along the Texas coast have been left undisturbed.
One of the most interesting treasure stories is that of John Singer. Singer lived on the Island and during the Civil War he buried his life savings (about $80,000) to keep it out of the hands of the Confederates. When he returned after the war, he was not able to find the spot where he buried it.
It is also believed that the pirate Jean Lafitte established several bases around Padre Island and may have buried treasure there.
FABULOUS PADRE ISLAND
Today, Padre Island is a favorite destination for sun-lovers, beach-lovers, nature-lovers, beachcombers, birdwatchers and fishermen.
South Padre Island