The barrier island between Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico formed about 4,000 years ago, and the first Indians visited the area about 2,000 years after that. Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked here in 1520 before he made his way to what became New Spain. A few centuries later, Jean and Pierre Laffite, who may have been the original Pirates of the Caribbean, established a “government” on the island. Their vision of a new Manhattan seemed to be coming to life, until five tropical storms in the last quarter of the century basically devastated the island.
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 the delicate ecosystem, but also activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and paddling.
RV Rentals in Galveston Island State Park
Transportation in Galveston Island State Park
From Galveston, take Seawall Boulevard/Termini-San Luis Pass Road (Highway 3005) south to Jamaica Beach. A Kroger is near the intersection of Seawall and 61st street; Waterman’s, a nice semi-upscale seafood restaurant, is just down Marina Boulevard from The Kettle House. You’ll know this place when you see it. Trust us on that one. To reach the Park, turn south onto State Park Highway.
Galveston Island State Park’s GPS address is 14901 FM 3005, Galveston, TX 77554. For GPS coordinates, use 29.193560 W -94.954025 N.
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.
Campgrounds and parking in Galveston Island State Park
Campsites in Galveston Island State Park
Beach RV Camping
The Beachside camping area offers 36 back-in water and electric hookup sites. Each one has a sheltered picnic table and a fire ring. The first and third loops have restroom and shower facilities. There’s also a dump station available.
Bayside RV Camping
The Bayside camping area offers 20 water and 30 or 50-amp electric hookup sites, plus ten water only sites. Each site has a picnic table. Amenities include shared fire pits, a group pavilion, restroom and shower areas, a fish cleaning station, and a dump station.
Stewart House Cabin
This three bedroom fully-furnished cabin is a comfy alternative to camping. This rental has space to stretch out in, with a large screened porch, two fireplaces, three full bathrooms, and a half-bathroom.
Ranch House Cabin
If you're looking for a change of scenery, check out this large three bedroom cabin. Park the RV and enjoy ceiling fans, a full kitchen, washer/dryer, central heat and air, a furnished living area, and two full bathrooms.
Bayside Tent Camping
Ten sites are available for tent camping with water, food storage boxes, fire rings, picnic tables and grills. There’s also a bathroom with showers handy.
Seasonal activities in Galveston Island State Park
This 0.4-mile easy trail (essentially an unpaved sidewalk) is between the Observation Tower and the Jenkins River paddle trail access point. Caracara birds are some of the best-looking shore birds in the Park. For some reason, they seem to like this area more than other parts of GISP. Bring your camera.
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. Look for the X that marks the spot (well, not literally), uncover the box, replace the geocache swag with something new, give yourself a virtual smiley face, then move to the next spot. Arrr, mateys.
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: Once upon a time, grass covered this entire 2.8-mile loop trail, and then the ocean seeped in. Dana Cove is the one paddling trail that does not hug the shoreline the entire way.
- Jenkins Bayou: This 2.9-mile trail is probably the best one for viewing shore birds.
- Oak Bayou: The longest paddling trail (4.2 miles) is also the most challenging one. If the entire trail is a bit much, there’s a cutoff at about the 0.5 mile marker.
GISP does not rent canoes or kayaks, so you need to bring your own or look outside the park for rental options.
Beach fishing is allowed on the beach (you didn’t see that one coming, did you?), the best saltwater fishing spots are Como Lake, the Butterlowe Bayou boardwalk, Oak Bayou, and Jenkins Bayou, and freshwater fishing is available at a pond near Highway 3005. Beach-fishers, wade-fishers, and bayside salt water 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.
Beach & Swimming
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, so there are four beach-access gaps in GISP. There is a picnic area and rinse shower near the beach parking area. The Galveston Island beaches are generally tabletop flat and rather sandy, but there are a few rocks scattered about.
Duck Lake Viewing Area
The Duck Lake Viewing Area is good place to see freshwater birds as well as various animals that come to the pond to drink.
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. 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.
Heron’s Walk Trail
The most difficult trail in the Park, and “difficult” is a relative term, covers about 1.4 miles. It winds around the marshes and salt flats on the bayside and also passes by the Observation Platform, er, Tower.
The Beach Ecosystem
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. Rabbits, racoons, and even armadillos often roam the prairie lands, while the salt water lagoons and marshes give many ocean-dwelling creatures the peaceful breeding grounds they desperately need.
Clapper Rail Loop Trail
Get 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. Clapper Rail is also one of the few parts of GISP that is not notebook paper flat. Even slight elevation changes drastically alter the indigenous plant life.