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
-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:
-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
Risks & Supplies/Preparations for Driving Down Island
Vehicle stuck in soft sand, mud, shelly sand, or sea weed:
Keys locked in car:
Found contraband (hazardous waste, illegal drugs, unexploded ordnance, etc.)
Last updated: January 28, 2023