Explore Texas' Pristine Coast At This Mesmerizing Island State Park With Miles Of Beach

The Texas Gulf Coast's barrier islands shelter the mainland from storm surge while providing a uniquely welcoming habitat for wildlife — and vacationing humans. While we love the Victorian architecture, shopping, and dining in historic Galveston, home to one of the US' most family-friendly beaches, our favorite barrier island access point for nature-lovers is the wildly wonderful Mustang Island State Park. It features five miles of unspoiled beach and 20 miles of perfect, protected paddle trails. 


Be as free-form or as organized as you like here: Explore miles of windswept dunes to discover nesting sea turtles or spend the day beachcombing. You can also hop on a boat for some sunset dolphin viewing or book a moonlit tour in a glowing, transparent kayak to see how the undersea creatures do nightlife.

The park can close when full in peak summer season, but you can reserve campsites and day passes online. If the park is full, no worries, as you can also drive right onto the pubic beach at Port Aransas and set up camp, then try the park again the next day. For this, you'll need a beach parking pass that you can buy from a local store which is $12 and good for a calendar year.

From paddle trails to sandcastles at Mustang Island State Park

A Mustang must-do is the paddling trail, consisting of three kayak routes (choose between a loop or arranging a one-way shuttle), winding along the reedy, western shoreline facing Corpus Christi Bay. Scan the shore and you might spot a racoon or armadillo. Look up, and you might see a falcon or whooping crane. And skimming over shallow waters, you may see crab, jellyfish, sea turtles, and stingrays. One animal you won't see is a mustang; the island's wild namesake horses have been absent since the 1800s. 


If you feel like trying your hand at kayak fishing, this area is famous for it. But, before you paddle out, be sure to layer on the bug protection. Because of its mild climate, mosquitoes breed almost year-round on the Texas Gulf Coast. Both Picaridin and DEET are effective, and lemon-eucalyptus oil is only slightly less so, if you prefer to go chemical-free.

Paddlers looking to rent gear can do so in Port Aransas, Mustang Island's only town and another great spot for an affordable beach vacation. Visit in winter and catch the annual Whooping Crane Festival, or in springtime when the town hosts the Texas Sandfest, the biggest sand sculpting contest in the world. Here, artists construct towering, three-dimensional masterpieces that defy imagination. Past sculptures include a reproduction of the Lincoln Memorial, a giant gorilla, and a dragon big enough for Daenerys Targaryen to ride.


The ultimate in beachfront camping

The state park's camping facilities range from water and electric hook-ups near hot showers to primitive tent sites. While the RV sites at Mustang are tucked behind the dunes and close together, the primitive, beachfront camping is where it's at. Texas Gulf Coast beaches are unique in the country, in that public access is taken very seriously. 


In most locales, including much of Mustang Island, you can drive your car right onto the beach, where you'll find the park's primitive campsites. The sand is compacted enough for most two-wheel drive vehicles, including your van or RV, and you'll find porta potties and trash bins. "You will wake up to the sounds of the ocean, and gorgeous sunrises," a visitor to the park's primitive, beachfront campsites writes on The Dyrt. "If you are looking for a peaceful, quiet place to build a campfire and watch the waves roll in, this is your spot."

Note that if you do drive on the beach, you'll want to hit a car wash as soon as you leave. Pay extra attention to getting all the sea salt residue off the undercarriage, lest that brand-new Subaru turn into a rust bucket overnight. And, if you use the baby powder hack for getting sand off your body fast, your sleeping bag will be a lot more comfortable.