Driving Down Island Tips and Regulations

Car stuck in soft sand on South Beach
Beach driving is at your own risk! A high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed to explore most of the island. The NPS does not tow non-government vehicles. The cost for a private wrecker down island can be several hundred to several thousand dollars.

NPS Photo

Many people come to the National Seashore to escape the pressures of urban life and to experience the beauty of nature in isolation. One way to do this is to travel down-island into the park's most remote areas, which are only accessible with a high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle. Before you explore the island in search of its wonderful mysteries and the awesome solitude it provides, please read the helpful tips that are written below.

Only one portion of the park's beach is closed to driving, and that is Closed Beach. Malaquite Beach, which is in front of the Malaquite Visitor Center, is part of Closed Beach. To get to the portion of the park where you can drive on the beach and down to the remote parts of the island, continue on the main park paved road (Park Road 22) past Malaquite Visitor Center until the pavement ends. South Beach begins where the main park paved road ends. From that point, the park has 60 miles of beach open to driving. South Beach (and driving) ends at the Port Mansfield Channel, a man-made waterway cut through the island. It is not possible to drive all the way down to South Padre Island due to this waterway. You must turn around at that point and drive 60 miles back north to reach the park paved road.

Texas beaches are public highways and all traffic laws apply, including seat belt regulations. All vehicles traveling on Padre Island National Seashore must be street legal and licensed. As stateded in Part 1, Section 1.5 (a)(1)(iii) of the Superintendent's Compendium, which is authorized by Chapter 1 of the 36 CFR:

"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, inlcluding 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. Determination: The State of Texas requires all vehicles operating on public highways to meet state registration, inspection and insurance requirments. ATVs, dune buggies, sand rails and golf carts are non-highway vehicles and are not manufactured for public roadways. In addition, OHVs have easy access and better capabilities to access areas of the park prohibited to driving. Prohibiting OHVs is consistent with the NPS mission to preserve and protect natural resources."

The driving conditions at the beach are constantly changing due to the currents, winds, and tides. Please be aware that changing conditions and marine debris washed ashore by the currents can sometimes make for hazardous driving.

Rules and Regulations for Traveling Down Island


The driving conditions at the beach are constantly changing due to currents, winds and tides. Please be aware that changing conditions and marine debris washed ashore by the currents can create hazardous driving conditions. You are driving at on the beach at your own risk. Padre Island National Seashore is not responsible for injury to visitors or damage to vehicles while driving on the beach.

-The National Park Service does not tow non-government vehicles.The cost for a private wrecker to come down island can be several hundred to several thousand dollars.

-Northbound vehicles have the right of way.

-Do not drive behind the dunes or over areas of beach covered in vegetation.Damage of any kind to natural resources is strictly prohibited.

-Watch for pedestrians, especially near tents and parked vehicles and particularly at night. Always SLOW DOWN and proceed with caution when driving around parked cars and camps.

-DO NOT BLOCK TRAFFIC when you park.If you park on the driving road, people will be forced to drive in the soft sand, which increases the likelihood that their vehicles will get stuck.

-Contraband, including illegal drugs, and other dangerous items (e.g., unexploded ordnance, hazardous waste, chemicals) found in the park are illegal to possess and must be reported to a park ranger as soon as possible.

-Gas up your vehicle before you come! There is no place to get gas once you enter the park. The nearest gas station is about 13 miles north of the park entrance, which is many miles from the more remote areas of the park.

-The following speed limits are established on South Beach:

  • From mile marker 0 to mile marker 2.5: 15 MPH year-round
  • From mile marker 2.5 to Mansfield Channel:
  • From the day after Labor Day through the last day of February: 25 MPH
  • From March 1sto Labor Day: 15 MPH

-During the sea turtle nesting season of April to August, be alert for nesting sea turtles crawling across the beach during the day and night.If you see a nester, do not disturb the turtle. Mark the nest with debris from the beach. Report the sighting to the nearest park ranger as soon as possible or call the park's sea turtle biologist at (361)949-8173 ext. 226.

-For emergencies, call 911.Climb a dune to get better cell phone service.

Obstacles and Hazards When Beach Driving

Obstacles & Hazards
-Trees & other large debris can be washed into the roadway by the high tide
-Large barrels washed onto the beach may contain hazardous waste
-Tides can create sharp drop-offs in the roadway
-Sharp objects (e.g. nails, fish spines, medical waste) may be on the beach
-Sea turtles & other wildlife may be found on the beach & in the roadway
-Children & other visitors may run into the roadway from parked vehicles or camping sites on the beach

Travel Safely
-Watch for children & other visitors in the roadway &on the beach
-Follow the speed limit & scan the roadway carefully for obstacles &hazards
-Report hazardous materials & contraband to a park ranger as soon as possible
-Look for sea turtles, birds & other wildlife that may be nesting or resting in the roadway &on the beach
-Do not disturb nesting sea turtles –mark the nest & report it to a park ranger as soon as possible (361-949-8173 x226)

Risks & Supplies/Preparations for Driving Down Island

Bodily injury:
-Complete first aid kit
-Meat tenderizer & vinegar for jellyfish stings
-Doctor prescribed medications (including inhalers & Epi-pens)

Vehicle stuck in soft sand, mud, shelly sand, or sea weed:
-Tow ties
-Wood planks
-Shovel
-Five-gallon bucket

Flat tire:
-Spare tire (make sure it is full of air)
-Jack &other tire-changing equipment

Keys locked in car:
-Spare key kept on your person

Water logged vehicle:
-Do not drive or park below water line

Dead vehicle battery:
-Jumper cables

Found contraband (hazardous waste, illegal drugs, unexploded ordnance, etc.)
-Do not pick it up (it is illegal to possess & may be dangerous)
-Report it to a park ranger as soon as possible

Last updated: May 16, 2022

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 181300
Corpus Christi , TX 78480

Phone:

361 949-8068
This is the primary phone number for the Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore.

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