Every year, for the past 5 winters, we have traveled south for the season. We have explored cross-country, from California to Florida, and while we have found lots of favorite places, some of which we have gone back to more than once, there is just one place that we absolutely must return to each year…
There are many reasons that this spot is our favorite place in the US. While some of our draw is for sentimental reasons, we mostly just come back because there is so much for families to do here!
We choose to camp on the National Seashore, at the NPS’ Malaquite Beach Campground, which is just north of the park’s visitor’s center. While the campground is dry camping (no hookups for rvs), there are public restrooms available, a dump station and potable water accessed right outside the campground, and the fees are just $8/night. The fact that you are just mere steps from the beach doesn’t hurt the draw factor either.
Even if you aren’t camping out on the island, it’s still a great place to spend a day! The park has a great visitor’s complex, complete with 2 gift shops, beach wash off area, overview platform, and a ranger station with exhibits and displays. The rangers offer programs throughout the week, and there is a great touch table in the ranger station.
While we were there, one of the programs was a sand castle building class! Given by the ‘Port A Sandcastle Guy’, this basic sandcastle building class was hosted by PAIS, and was so fun!
And our adopted road grands helped the girls build their first castles using our new found knowledge!
Padre Island has great beaches that are perfect for sand castle building, running, walking, swimming and fishing, driving down (south of the visitor’s center), and beach combing on.
And there are miles and miles of them, so it is easy to get away from the crowds.
One of the kids’ favorite things to do on Padre is to catch Ghost Crabs! There are small ones that skitter over the sand during the daytime,
and larger ones that can be found at night time, with the help of flashlights, while they scuttle along the surf looking for tidbits of food that the waves brought in.
Birds are prevalent all along the island, both flying overhead, and putting on a show while they fish for dinner.
The last few years, the guys have been found, most days, wading out in the surf for their favorite activity on the island…
Texas is a super destination for families that like outdoor activities! So many states make recreating untouchable for most non-resident families with high licensing fees. But fishing in Texas is very affordable for out of staters, and minors under 17 fish for free!
For us, catching big Red Drum, Black Drum, and Sheepshead is a kick. And it’s part of the reason that we spend 10 days to 2 weeks on Padre. Every.Single.Year.
While we are here, we love to learn about the different plants and animals that they have down here that we don’t have back home in Montana. Like this Sheepshead…check out his grinding plate, which he uses to grind up mollusks for food…
Even tho Padre Island feels remote, it is less than half an hour to the nearest large grocery store to buy more bait (pink shrimp Fishbites 😉 ). Or milk, but I’ve found that no-one cares if I forget the milk. If I forget the Fishbites tho, it’s back to town I go…
Some of our best memories have been made on Padre Island. Like driving down the beach and collecting seashells. Or kayaking Laguna Madre. And the kids catching fish bigger than anything they have caught back home.
Padre Island is the longest undeveloped barrier reef in the world! During the summer it is home to nesting Kemp Ridley turtles, and you might even be able to attend a (baby) turtle release!
There are tons of activities to do while on Padre! We like to walk down to the visitor’s center, along the beach, from the campground. It is a nice 15 minute walk with littles.
The guys fish.
Padre Island is a National Seashore, so there is an admission fee ($20/7 days), but your National Parks America the Beautiful Pass gets you in free.
During the winter months, the majority of visitors in the campground are snowbirds, and we have made some great friends there!
Including ones who taught us all we know about surf fishing.
Swimming is great off the beach, and while there is the occasional warning of rip tides, it is not very common here (be sure to learn the signs before swimming in the ocean).
After 5 years of camping on Padre, we have a few tips:
*Stock up on groceries before heading down the island. And fuel for your generator.
You won’t want to leave.
*Bring sunscreen! And lots of it.
*Let family and friends know where you are going and that they may not be able to contact you; cell and internet access is spotty at the campground and in some areas of the park.
*Head down to the visitor’s center early on in your stay – check out the program schedule and plan to attend some of the ranger-led lessons. If you are doing a day visit, consider calling ahead and asking what programs they offer when, and visit on a day with a program that interests you.
*The park has a great Jr. Ranger program, and they also offer a ‘Clean the Beach’ badge that you can earn by picking up garbage on the beach.
*You can drive down the beach south of the visitor’s center. Be aware that Texas highway laws do apply (so don’t let your kids ride in the bed of the pickup like we did. oops!).
*Plan for all weather. We have been to Padre when it was in the 90s, and through an ice storm that closed the park for 2 days. Being on the ocean can mean cooler temps than inland, so bring more than the swimsuits!
*You are in ‘the wild’, so be aware of your surroundings. The island is home to rattlesnakes so instruct your kids accordingly (we have seen them in the campground).
Padre Island is such a unique and enchanting place! While we love to check out new areas, it is our one set-in-stone travel destination every single year.
You can learn more about this incredible park on the National Park Service’s website at nps.gov/pais.