Padre lsland National Seashore is consistently named one of the top five beaches in Texas for very good reason. You are guaranteed to find something for everyone in your family on this 70-mile stretch of protected seashore, which is home to a rare sea turtle, is one of the best places for birding and windsurfing and has a rich cultural history dating back to the 1550’s.
Although the beach gets over 500,000 visitors each year, you would never know it by being there. The beaches are very clean and have plenty of room for you to spread out and spend some time. The showers and restrooms are also clean and are conveniently located. You can take advantage of the nearly 500 educational programs the park provides throughout the year. Talks about birds, sea turtles and other marine creatures, as well as many hands-on activities for children are just a small example of what is available. On my visit, a park ranger provided equipment for children to catch small shrimp, crabs and fish, taught them how to use it, and then explained what they caught.
Padre Island National Seashore lies along the Central Flyway, making it a hotspot for birdwatching. Visit during the spring and fall migration and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the over 380 species of birds that fly through the park each year. Borrow some binoculars from the visitor center, take a guided tour and relax.
Have you ever wanted to try windsurfing or kayaking? Bird Island Basin (located in the park on Laguna Madre) is known as one of the best windsurfing locations in the world! Windsurfers travel from as far away as Europe to windsurf on Laguna Madre. But you don’t have to be an expert to take advantage of this great location – there are kayak and windsurfing rentals and lessons available for every skill level.
While Padre Island National Seashore is known for many things, its most famous inhabitant is the Kemp Ridley Sea Turtle, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world. From April through mid-July the turtle comes onshore in Texas and Mexico to lay their eggs. Turtle patrols work to find nests, incubate the eggs and then release them after about 55 days.
In order to increase awareness and support for Kemp Ridley’s conservation, many hatchling releases are open to the public. This is when the science stops and the magic takes over. Each year several thousand people wake up at dawn and head down to the shore to watch these little turtles make their way towards the sun and into the surf for their first ocean journey. It is a breathtaking experience to see these small creatures flap their way across the sand leaving only their tiny flipper tracks behind. You can’t help but think about the journey that lies ahead of them and hope that they will return one day to lay their own eggs and begin the cycle all over again.
What sets the Padre Island National Seashore experience apart is the park rangers and volunteers. They make sure everyone gets a close up look at the hatchlings and will even take your camera to take up close pictures of them while not disturbing their release. There are still a few weeks left in this year’s hatchling release schedule. Take advantage because you won’t want to wait a whole year to witness this awe-inspiring event. For details and more information visit the Sea Turtle Release page.
There are many beaches in Texas, but a trip to Padre Island National Seashore stands heads and “flippers” above the rest.
By Gabi De La Rosa