What do you seek in your next RV getaway? If it involves sandy beaches, stunning scenery, and plenty of options for adventure, then point the campervan towards Mustang Island State Park in southern Texas.
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 instead 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. Guests stay comfortably at the park's campground with electric and water hookups available for RVs and trailers 65 feet and under. The climate is mild year-round, making it easy to enjoy every season here.
Located a few miles south of San Antonio, Texas, Mustang Island State Park is a fairly easy journey, even for large vehicles. To reach the park, one may take either the direct or the scenic route. RV users are advised 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.
Once inside the park, large vehicles should have no trouble navigating the wide paved roads. There is a very large parking area roughly midway along the five-mile beachfront. 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.
South Padre Island KOA is a true RV resort, perfect for family vacations, winter snowbirding, and summer fun. Popular all year round, be sure to make reservations in advance for holiday seasons and the summer months. Campground activities include s’mores by the fire, craft projects, ice cream sundae parties, and movie nights. For winter snowbird visitors, relax with live music, sunset socials, scheduled parties, and much more. RV rates include electric hookups, water, sewer, cable television, and Wi-Fi. Take a dip in the pool or hot tub, exercise in the fitness center, or let the pooches explore their own play area. Enjoy meeting new friends on the campground’s private deck and savor the area’s glorious sunsets.
The main RV campsite is a mere 400 yards from the waterline, offering scenic views of the Gulf of Mexico. There are 48 RV and trailer friendly sites able to accommodate vehicles up to 65 feet in length. Each site features a 50-amp connection, a water hookup, a grill, and a picnic table. Guests can enjoy campfires on the beach before turning in for the night, and pets are allowed so long as owners observe common courtesy protocol. Nearby park amenities include a dump station, hot showers, and flush toilets. Guests can (and should) reserve sites up to 12 months in advance at this year-round campground.
There are seventy-five 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.
If all the sites are spoken for at Mustang Island State Park Campground, you won't have to journey far to find a place to park the rig for the night. Both Lake Corpus Christi State Park and Goose Island State Park are within an hour's drive of the park and offer similar facilities to those at Mustang Island, like electric and water hookups, nearby restrooms with showers, fire rings, and picnic tables.
Over 500 rare whooping cranes roam the skies over Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is just a few hours drive from Mustang Island. In 1941, only fifteen of these animals remained in North America. Other local wildlife includes sea turtles, alligators, and even a few coyotes. Audio and guided tours are available to help you see everything the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has to offer. Hunting is available as well, depending on the season.
Spring breakers usually congregate at Port Aransas, 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.
If you feel like driving the motorhome off of park grounds for a day, Corpus Christi, a 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.
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, calmer waters, and smaller crowds, making it easy to relax and enjoy beach time during your RV vacation.
Although there are no mountains on the Coastal Plain, don't hesitate to bring the bikes along with the pop-up as 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.
Don't forget the binoculars in the Airstream as you wander through the park. Spring and fall migrations are prime birding time at Mustang Island State Park. 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 excellent online guidebook on the types of birds that are the most common—there are hundreds of different species to be seen!
Anglers do not need licenses to fish at Mustang Island State Park, but this is just one of the reasons you should consider casting out along these waters. There are two large fishing jetties at the end of Water Exchange Pass, one of which 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 even allow for limited wildlife collecting, like anemones, shrimp, and barnacles. Those looking to reel in a keeper should bring their own rods and reels along in the Sprinter, as the park does not offer rentals.
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, hidden item. It could be something like a lunch box or a film canister. Find it, take a little 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 need a pencil, some geocache swag, a GPS-enabled smartphone, and a sense of adventure.
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 swim in the waves or relax on the sand. 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.
This group of three paddling trails follows Mustang Island’s western shoreline. Most people drop the kayak in 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. If you didn't tow your own flotation devices along in the campervan, watercraft are available for rent in Portland and Aransas Pass. Guided paddling trail tours are available, as well.