Galveston Island State Park
Guide

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Introduction

Enjoy beautiful beach views, hiking marshlands, and wonderful fishing spots when you visit Galveston State Island State Park, near Houston. This park has a long and rich history as a barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay from a place of shipwrecks in the 1500s to an escape for pirate brothers in the 1800s. Today, the area is still vulnerable to tropical storms, most notably Tropical Storm Frances in 1998 and Hurricane Ike in 2008. Nevertheless, the land always seems to recover, with the help of a few dedicated individuals. So, visitors to Galveston Island State Park can enjoy not only 2,000 acres of the delicate upper Gulf Coast ecosystem, but also a myriad of activities.

If you want to explore new waterways, you can escape on three paddling trails that range from 2.6 to close to five miles long. For those who would rather travel on foot, you can hike on nature trails or along the dunes on the boardwalk while taking in gorgeous views of the Gulf. Bring some binoculars in your Airstream, in case you spot local critters like raccoons and armadillos. This is also a popular spot for fishing, since you can cast your line by the bay or on the beach. Plus, you can clean your fish right at the on-site fish cleaning station.

When you camp at the park you can choose between RV camping, tent camping, or if you are looking for something a bit more luxurious, you can try out one of the cabins that the park has to rent. This park has everything you need to enjoy a relaxing RV getaway in Texas.

RV Rentals in Galveston Island State Park

Transportation in Galveston Island State Park

Driving

You'll find the park a short drive away from the coastal city of Galveston. It is only a 12.7-mile drive from the park, so if you need anything during your visit to the park, you can find it there. The drive to park once you pass Galveston is stunningly beautiful with lush green and suburban areas on your right and the big blue Gulf of Mexico on your left. The road is spacious enough for even RVers with big rigs to navigate.

RVers traveling to the park via Galveston won't need to worry about any height restrictions or obstacles along the way. Once you enter the park, the road remains paved but narrows down to a single lane road. The park is not overly large, so you can go ahead and park your rig and then continue along on foot or by bike.

Parking

Parking is available on the beach, near the freshwater fishing areas, the Observation Tower, and Oak Bayou. You'll have several options for parking your rig, but if you're staying in the campgrounds, the natural choice is to set up at your campsite and head out from there.

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Galveston Island State Park

Campsites in Galveston Island State Park

Reservations camping

Bay Side RV Campsites

The Bayside camping area offers 20 RV sites with water and 30- or 50-amp electric hookups. Each site has its own picnic table and amenities include shared fire pits, a group pavilion, restroom and shower areas, a fish cleaning station, and a dump station. Similar to all the other campgrounds, each site can sleep up to eight people. This is also a pet-friendly campground, so RVers can bring along their pets. While you can soak in beautiful views of the bay, you'll still be less than two miles from the beach.

Cabins

For campers who are looking for something a bit more comfortable and luxurious, try out Ranch House Cabin or Stewart House Cabin. These are both ADA-accessible, and each has three large bedrooms, which can sleep up to six people. Visitors can enjoy amenities like ceiling fans, a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, central heat and air, a furnished living area, and two full bathrooms when they stay in the either of the cabins. Pets are unfortunately not allowed in the cabins. The cabins are adjacent to each other and feature stunning views overlooking Cosmo Lake.

Beachside Campground

The Beachside camping area offers 27 back-in water and electric hookup sites, which are divided into three different loops along the beach. The first and third loops have restroom and shower facilities, so campers in the second loop will need to make use of those. These sites are suitable for both RVers and tent campers, and each site has a sheltered picnic table, fire ring, and a lantern pole.

A maximum of eight people are allowed to sleep on each site. If you camp at the beachside campground you can bring along your pets, as the sites are pet-friendly. A dump station is also available. Camping at the beachside camping area will offer stunning sunrise views across the ocean.

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Bay Side Tent Campsites

Ten sites are located adjacent to Lake Cosmo and are only available for tent camping. They are each equipped with water, food storage boxes, lantern poles, fire rings, picnic tables, and grills. You will also find a bathroom with hot showers approximately 200 feet away. A maximum of eight people are allowed to sleep on each site, and pets are welcome.

Seasonal activities in Galveston Island State Park

In-Season

Beach and Swimming

A lovely wide stretch of beach is waiting for you at Galveston Island State Park. The beach looks out on the Gulf of Mexico, and the water is really enjoyable, especially on a hot summer day. No lifeguards are on duty, so watch out for undercurrents farther out from shore and jellyfish in warm water. A protective seawall extends along the length of the island, although there are four entrances allowing for beach access The Galveston Island beaches are generally tabletop flat and rather sandy, but there are a few rocks scattered about. Once you've finished your beach adventure, you can use the rinse showers nearby to clean off.

Fishing

Fishermen visiting the park can enjoy beach fishing, and the best saltwater fishing spots are Como Lake, the Butterlowe Bayou boardwalk, Oak Bayou, and Jenkins Bayou. If you are looking to rather do some freshwater fishing, there is a pond available near Highway 3005. Beach-fishers, wade-fishers, and bayside saltwater fishers usually reel in something from the Texas Triumvirate of flounder, redfish, and speckled trout. You do not need a license to fish from shore, and you do not even need to bring your own equipment. Loaners are available at the park headquarters/gift shop, which is located on the beach.

Paddling

The breakwater keeps the inland waters almost glass-table calm, so they are excellent for canoeing or kayaking. Some people fish from their watercraft and others explore one of the three main paddling trails: Dana Cove, Jenkins Bayou, and Oak Bayou. These trails range in length from 2.8 miles to 4.2 miles and vary in difficulty. Oak Bayou is definitely the most challenging trail, and you will find a cutoff at about the 0.5-mile marker. The park does not rent canoes or kayaks, so you need to bring your own or look outside the park for rental options.

Picnicking

You can find a lovely picnic area near the beach parking area. Having a picnic is the perfect way to enjoy a day out at the beach, so both children and adults can enjoy swimming in the sea and exploring the beach for shells and other trinkets. Shade is a rare thing at the park, so make sure to bring a beach umbrella and sunscreen. There is also a picnic shelter located near the parking area of Oak Bayou, which will provide some shade that you can enjoy.

Geocaching

This is a fun activity for pretty much everyone. Use your GPS-enabled device to find little troves of “buried treasure.” The tiny metal boxes usually contain pencil erasers or other small toys. Search for the cache and uncover the box, replace the geocache swag with something new, give yourself a virtual smiley face, then move to the next spot. Remember to leave the cache in the same condition you found it, so that others can also enjoy it after you.

Off-Season

Hiking and Biking

You can enjoy hiking and biking on four miles of trails that are available at the Galveston Island State Park. These trails cover several different habitats including wetlands, salt flats, and beach areas. Their distances range from 0.4 to 1.4 miles. Along one of the trails, you'll get to have a firsthand look at the state’s long-running wetlands restoration project. Pretty much every time a tropical storm comes through, the project starts over.

There is very little shade throughout the park, so make sure to bring a hat and water along. After a bit of rain, the trails can get muddy and wearing hiking boots will make the walk more pleasant.

Nature and Wildlife Viewing

Only in places like Galveston Beach do so many different ecosystems come together. Beaches aren’t just for fun and frolic; they protect inland areas from storms and surf. Marsh rabbits, raccoons, and even armadillos often roam the prairie lands, while the saltwater lagoons and marshes give many ocean-dwelling creatures the peaceful breeding grounds they desperately need. You can learn more about this from the rangers, who also offer a beach program to explain how all the different ecosystems work together.

Ranger Programs

Check out the free ranger programs that you can participate in when you visit the park. The rangers at the park have lots of fun presenting different programs and outings to campers and visitors. You'll be able to enjoy animal and nature programs, star parties, moonlight hikes, paddling tours, beach tours, art programs, and much more. You can swing by the nature center to check if there are any programs or outings happening during your visit to the park.

Grab a free Junior Ranger Explorer Pack and set off on a hike. The pack provides you with a journal with fun challenges and interesting tips about nature, as well as tools like a magnifying glass, binoculars, an animal tracking key, and nature guides. Ranger programs are a fun way for children and adults to learn about nature and the outdoors.

Birding

A birding blind is situated along the Duck Lake trail and is a great opportunity to see ducks and freshwater birds, as well as various animals that come to the pond to drink. To see the most and best variety of birds, pay attention to the bayside salt marshes and the less-crowded beach areas. Try to come in the fall or spring migratory seasons. Over the years, lots of the surrounding habitat has dwindled away, so the park is an important resource for numerous birds species. You can print out a checklist for you to keep track of how many different birds you see.

Observation Tower

Two observation towers can be found within the park, both along the banks of Butterowe Bayou. Admittedly, it’s more like an observation platform. But since everything is so flat around here, it’s more than sufficient to see pretty much everything for miles and miles. The observation towers are the ideal place to enjoy sunsets and sunrises, and will provide you with the perfect view for a stunning photo - so bring along your camera in your camping trailer. You can also get a great vantage point for stargazing at the observation tower.

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