Driving Down Island


One of the most popular activities to do when visiting the national seashore is to drive on the beach and travel down island. Venturing beyond the pavement can get you to some of the most remote areas of the park, awarding you the experience of solitude in this natural landscape. Popular areas of the park such as Little Shell Beach, Big Shell Beach, Yarborough Pass, and Mansfield Channel can only be reached by driving along the wild coastline of Padre Island.


Be Prepared

Before making a trip out to the park to drive on the beach down island, it is important to plan ahead and prepare. Doing the necessary preparation before your trip will ensure you have an enjoyable one.

  • Check to see if there are any active alerts in the park.
  • Look at the weather forecast and predicted tides.
  • Examine your vehicle and supplies to make sure you have everything you need to be self-sufficient in case a problem arises.
  • Be aware of general park safety information.
  • Tell a family member or friend your plan before you enter the park. Cell phone service is unreliable in the park, and you may not be able to check-in with family or friends when you are down island.

If you have an emergency, dial 911 or notify any park ranger. You may need to climb a dune to get cell phone service.

A large RV stuck in the sand.
Large 2WD RVs are not recommended for driving on the beach. Malaquite Campground or Bird Island Basin Campground are recommended for RVs and camp trailers.

NPS Photo/ Charles Sassine

Choosing the Right Vehicle for Driving on the Beach

The beach and driving conditions can change quickly depending on the weather, tides, and location. If you are planning on driving on the beach and traveling down island, come prepared with an appropriate vehicle and vehicle drive type.

Texas beaches are public highways and all traffic laws apply, including seat belt regulations. All vehicles operating in the park must have a valid state or government-issued vehicle registration and license plate issued for public highway travel. The Texas OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) license plate does not meet this standard. Unregistered OHVs, including but not limited to ATVs, UTVs, golf carts, dune buggies, sand rails, amphibious vehicles, and any other non-highway vehicles, are prohibited from being operated in the park.


Vehicle Drive Types

Four-wheel drive (4WD) systems are designed for handling harsh terrain and feature high and low gear ranges for climbing power and provide the torque needed to push the vehicle through deep, heavy sand better than AWD vehicles. Many four-wheel drive vehicles also have differentials that are locked for optimal traction. Most four-wheel drive systems allow you to switch to 2WD when you don't need 4WD power.  

4WD vehicles tend to have more ground clearance than AWD, as they are designed to be used off-road. 

All-wheel drive (AWD) allows all four of the vehicle's wheels to provide traction when needed. AWD systems generally run as 2WD but will automatically engage all four wheels when needed as determined by the vehicle's computer system.  

All-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles tend to have less ground clearance than 4WD, as they are primarily used on paved roads. This can be an issue on the beach when encountering deep sand or wheel ruts.  

Two-wheel drive (2WD) can be either front-wheel drive (FWD) or rear-wheel drive (RWD), where only the front or rear wheels have power. Generally, cars, vans, and some SUVs are FWD, while trucks are RWD. While 2WD vehicles get better gas mileage, they also have less capability for low traction environments. 

2WD vehicles tend to have less ground clearance as they are intended to be used on paved roads.  

2WD vehicles are only allowed on North Beach and on South Beach from mile marker 0-5.


Rules and Regulations for Traveling Down Island

When conditions allow, driving is permitted on North and South Beach. Traveling on the beaches beyond the paved road is done so at your own risk. Your safety is your responsibility. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

  • Protect the Dunes. Do not drive behind the dunes, over areas of beach covered in vegetation, on tidal flats or wetlands.

  • Right of Way. Northbound traffic has the right of way. Watch for pedestrians.

  • Do Not Block Traffic. Keep the main driving lane clear when parking or camping on the beach.

Speed Limits

Mile marker-0 to MM-2.5:

  • 15 MPH year-round.

MM-2.5 to MM-60:

  • 25 MPH, day after Labor Day through the end of February.

  • 15 MPH, March 1 to Labor Day.

Additional information about rules and regulations is available on the Laws & Policies page.

A white pickup truck stuck in the sand and flooded with water
Check the tide predictions and weather forecast online before your trip down island. Extreme weather, high tides, and coastal flooding can quickly ruin your trip.

NPS Photo/ Charles Sassine


Ocean tides are constantly changing. Before heading out to the beach, check the current NOAA Tide Predictions.

A Note About Tides Along Padre Island

  • A predicted high tide of 1.5 feet or greater has the potential to reach the dunes and completely cover the beach in water in some areas. This effect can be increased during strong winds or storms. It is not recommended to camp or drive on the beach at times of higher tides.

  • The tidal range around Padre Island averages between 1 to 3 feet. This is a relatively small tidal range, but it can mean the difference between a wide-open beach with plenty of room to drive on, and a beach that is covered with water all the way to the base of the dunes.

  • The Gulf of Mexico in this area generally experiences one high tide and one low tide each day. Other areas of the world may see two high and two low tides each day.


Obstacles and Hazards

Obstacles and hazards can be present on the beach and roadway. Follow the posted speed limits and be aware of your surroundings.

  • Trees and other large debris can be washed onto the beach by high tides.

  • Large barrels washed onto the beach may contain hazardous waste.

  • Tides and currents in the gulf can create sharp drop-offs on the beach.

  • Sharp objects (e.g. nails, fish spines, medical waste) may be on the beach.

  • Sea turtles and other wildlife may be found on the beach and in the roadway.

  • Children and other visitors may run into the roadway from parked vehicles or campsites on the beach.

Recommended Supplies

This is not a complete list and only provides a few recommendations for helpful items and information to be aware of when traveling down island. Please confirm that you have any additional items necessary for your own health and safety before driving down island.

  • Complete first aid kit, including supplies for stings by venomous marine life (e.g. vinegar for jellyfish stings, heat packs for stingray stings)

  • Equipment for vehicles stuck in sand or other debris (e.g. shovels, traction boards, tow straps)

  • Spare tire and jack

  • Jumper cables or battery jump kit

  • Extra food and water

  • Full tank of gas


Explore Places Down Island

If you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle you can still enjoy the seashore at Malaquite Beach. Parking is available at Malaquite Visitor Center.

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    Last updated: February 4, 2024

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    Mailing Address:

    P.O. Box 181300
    Corpus Christi, TX 78480


    (361) 949-8068
    Malaquite Visitor Center information line.

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