The story of Mustang Island State Park has to include a little bit about Ada Wilson, the eccentric Texas millionaire who owned the island before it became a state park. She was a musical prodigy who played Bach fugues around age 9. “Not etudes, honey, fugues,” she clarified in a 1970s interview. Some people go to court to prevent the state from buying their land. But Ada, on the other hand, went all the way to the Supreme Court so she could force the state to buy her land.
Alas, there are no mustangs on Mustang Island. These wild horses once roamed this barrier island at the entrance to Corpus Christi Bay. Ranchers gathered these horses in the late 1800s. Today, visitors will see wildlife in a wide array of small rodents along with many different types of aviary and aquatic life.
But let’s be honest. Nearly everyone goes to Mustang Island State Park for the beach, the camping, or both. The weather is nice and warm except during the dead of winter, so most people find what they are looking for.
RV Rentals in Mustang Island State Park
Transportation in Mustang Island State Park
To reach Mustang Island State Park, one may take the direct route or the scenic route. RV users probably need to take the direct route.
From Corpus Christi, take South Padre Island Drive (Highway 358) past the Naval Air Station and across the JFK Causeway. Then, turn north onto Highway 361. This road leads directly into the Park.
The scenic route also originates from Corpus Christi. Take the Nueces Bay Causeway (Highway 181) to Gregory. Then, turn south onto Highway 361. This road winds through Ingleside and Aransas Pass. Take the ferry to Port Aransas, then stay on Highway 361 until you reach the Park.
If you need GPS coordinates, use N: 27° 40' 24.13", W: 97° 10' 29.71".
There is a very large parking area roughly midway along the five-mile beach front. Nearby facilities include rinse showers, chemical toilets, the Park’s only designated swimming area, and covered picnic facilities. In general, visitors may only park in designated areas.
Campgrounds and parking in Mustang Island State Park
Campsites in Mustang Island State Park
Mustang Island State Park Campground
The main RV campsite is a mere 400 yards from the waterline. There are forty-eight full hookup sites. That includes a 50amp connection as well as a water hookup. Each site has a grill and a picnic table. Campfires are allowed on the beach. Park amenities include a dump station, hot showers, and flush toilets.
There are seventy-five of these tent campsites along a 1.5-mile stretch of beachfront. No reservations are required, but it’s best to call ahead anyway as weather sometimes closes these campsites. There are chemical toilets nearby, and campers may build small fires.
Seasonal activities in Mustang Island State Park
This activity is a lot like Pokemon Go on the beach. However, instead of looking for animated mythical creatures, searchers look for buried treasure. Before you get too excited, we aren’t talking about “arr, mateys” pirate buried treasure. Instead, a geocache is a small, buried item. It could be something like a lunch box or a film canister. Find it, take a small bit of treasure, leave another bit of treasure (like a rubber ball), sign your name in the logbook, award yourself a digital smiley face, and then hunt for the next geocache. To participate, you basically just need a pencil, some geocache swag, a GPS-enabled smartphone, and a sense of adventure.
Surf & Sand
Typically, the Mustang Island waves are moderate. They are strong and big enough to feel, but not big or strong enough for activities like surfing or windsurfing. So, it’s the ideal place to sit in the waves and relax. The Park gift shop has a lot of relaxing aids, like waterproof headphones, books, and more. The beach is usually not too crowded either, especially if you pick a spot rather far away from the central parking area. If nature suddenly calls, there are several chemical toilets scattered along the beach.
Mustang Island Paddling Trail
This group of three paddling trails follows Mustang Island’s western shoreline. Most people start at Fish Pass, which is not far from the Park’s main entrance. The road leading to the boat launch is a little sandy, so you may want to use a high-clearance vehicle, especially if it rained recently. The North Trail weaves among several islands and then goes into Corpus Christi Bay. It’s an eight-mile trail, so plan to take a cutoff or use a shuttle to get back to your origination point. The Shamrock Trail goes to Shamrock Cove, which is a good place for wildlife viewing. The Ashum Trail runs from Fish Pass to Wilson’s Cut, where it connects with the North Trail. Watercraft are available for rent in Portland and Aransas Pass. Guided paddling trail tours are available as well.
There are two large fishing jetties at the end of Water Exchange Pass. Anglers do not need licenses to fish at Mustang Island State Park. The fishing jetty extends well out into the Gulf of Mexico. This body of water gets very deep very quickly, so this location offers both deep and shallow water fishing opportunities. Redfish, flounder, black drum, and trout bite all year long. During the summer, there are also mackerel, jackfish, and (gulp) sharks. Park rules also allow for limited wildlife collecting, like anemones, shrimp, and barnacles.
Spring and fall migrations are prime birding time at Mustang Island State Park. The winter months are nice too, as there are lots of terns and gulls in the area. There are many different types of birds here, as the area encompasses pretty much every feature of a barrier island ecosystem. There are sand dunes, marshes, tidal pools, and grasslands. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provides an an excellent online guidebook on the types of birds that are the most common. There are hundreds of different species.
Surf & Sand
Yes, the beach is open even in winter. The average January low is 46, which means that the afternoons are usually ripe for some beach time. The sunlight is less intense, which means fewer bugs and calmer waters.
This mid-sized town is just a short drive from Mustang Island State Park. The seafood is excellent here. Attractions include the USS Lexington aircraft carrier, the Texas State Aquarium, the bustling North Beach, and the Selena statue and museum.
Spring breakers usually congregate here, as the weather is already warm and comfortable in early March. Some Port Aransas highlights include the tall observation tower at Roberts Point Park, parasailing, pirate cruises, and a boardwalk over some alligator-inhabited wetlands.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Over 500 rare whooping cranes roam the skies over Aransas National Wildlife Refuge; in 1941, only fifteen of these animals remained in North America. Other local wildlife include sea turtles, alligators, and even a few coyotes. Audio and guided tours are available to help you see everything the ANWR has to offer. Hunting is available as well, depending on the season.
There are no mountains on the Coastal Plain, but there are a few off-road biking opportunities. Holly Hike Trail is a quick, three-mile trail that’s ideal for beginners. Somewhat more advanced riders might try one of the off-trail loops. The Oso Creek Trail is a little longer and a little more difficult. In fact, parts of the seven-mile trail are almost completely overgrown. Even in the winter, watch out for rattlesnakes. We aren’t kidding.