Getting There -- From Corpus Christi take Tex. 358 (South Padre Island Dr.) southeast across the JFK Causeway to Padre Island, and follow Park Road 22 south to the national seashore. The drive takes 45 minutes to an hour.
Visitor Information -- For information, contact Padre Island National Seashore, P.O. Box 181300, Corpus Christi, TX 78480-1300 (tel. 361/949-8068; www.nps.gov/pais). The Park Service also maintains a recorded beach- and road-condition information line (tel. 361/949-8175). The park is open 24 hours a day.
The visitor center complex, along Park Road 22 at Malaquite Beach, has an observation deck, a bookstore, and a variety of exhibits, including one on the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle. In the same complex, Padre Island Park Company (tel. 361/949-9368) sells camping and fishing supplies and gift items, and rents chairs, umbrellas, body boards, and other beach toys. The visitor center is open from 8:30am to 6pm Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend, and from 8:30am to 4:30pm the rest of the year (closed Dec 25), and the store is usually open similar hours.
Fees & Regulations -- Entry for up to 7 days costs $10 per vehicle (good for 7 days) or $5 per individual on foot or bike. In addition, there is a $5 user fee at Bird Island Basin. Regulations here are much like those at other National Park Service properties, which essentially require that visitors not disturb wildlife or damage the site's natural features and facilities. Pets must be leashed and are not permitted on the swimming beach in front of the visitor center. Although driving off-road is permitted on some sections of beach, the dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats are closed to all vehicles.
When to Go -- Summer is the busiest time here, although it is generally hot (highs in the 90s/30s Celsius) and very humid. Sea breezes in late afternoon and evening help moderate the heat. Winters are mild, with highs from the 50s to the 70s (teens to the 20s Celsius), and lows in the 40s and 50s (single digits to the teens Celsius). Only occasionally does the temperature drop below 40°F (4°C), and a freeze is extremely rare. Hurricane season (June-Oct) is the rainiest time of the year and also has the highest surf. September to November is a good time to visit, when it is still usually warm enough for swimming but not nearly as hot or crowded as summer.
Safety -- Swimmers and those walking barefoot on the beach should watch out for the Portuguese man-of-war, a blue jellyfish that can cause an extremely painful sting. There are also poisonous rattlesnakes in the dunes, grasslands, and mud flats.
Ranger Programs -- Various interpretive programs are held year-round, ranging from guided beach or birding walks to talks outside the visitor center and evening campground campfire programs. These programs usually last from 30 to 45 minutes and cover subjects such as migrating or resident birds, seashells, the island's plant life or animals, or things that wash up on the beach. There's also a Junior Ranger Program for kids 5 to 13, who answer questions in a free booklet and talk with rangers about the national seashore to earn certificates, badges, and sea-turtle stickers.
For Travelers with Disabilities -- Specially designed fat-tire wheelchairs for use in the sand, and even in the water, are available at no charge at the visitor center. They do require someone to push.