Padre Island National Seashore | SOUTH BEACH

Gulf view from South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore

Gulf view from South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore

South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore runs for approximately 60 miles from the end of the park road to the Mansfield Channel, the barrier that separates Padre Island from South Padre Island. Vehicles are allowed to drive on South Beach, so it is possible to get to the very end. However, beyond a certain point the sand may become soft and deep, so there is only so far you can go in a 2-wheel drive vehicle. The National Park Service states that the 5-mile point is typically where you will need a 4-Wheel Drive (4WD) to proceed farther, but things change all the time due to storms, tides, and other natural factors. During my visit, I drove for 20 miles before encountering soft sand (I had a 4WD and made it all the way to the channel). See the Driving on the Beach web page here on National Park Planner for more information on beach driving.

Driving on South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore

Driving on South Beach at Padre Island National Seashore

Swimming is allowed anywhere on the Gulf Coast beaches at Padre Island National Seashore, but there are no lifeguards at any time of the year. Because a vehicle is needed to visit South Beach, it is mostly used by fisherman, those camping for the purpose of fishing (camping is also allowed on South Beach), or by those who just think driving on the beach is a neat thing to do. Swimming is more of a collateral activity for those camping. If you just want to swim, try Malaquite Beach (part of the larger Closed Beach). No vehicle is required, and it is much cleaner.

Speaking of clean…South Beach is a dump. If you aren’t convinced that humans are ruining this planet, you’ll change your mind after a day on South Beach. The amount of trash on the beach has nothing to do with low-class beachgoers, it’s just that two strong currents—the Yucatan and Loop currents—converge near the center of Padre Island, and tons of garbage floating in the Gulf of Mexico washes ashore. How bad is it? Plastic bottles. Fishing nets. Plastic crates. Enough 5-gallon buckets to fill a Home Depot. About the only thing missing was a dead body.

Plastic garbage washed up on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Discarded fishing net on Padre Island National Seashore's South Beach

Discarded fishing net on Padre Island National Seashore’s South Beach

There are even monuments to trash on South Beach. At Mile Post 45 (posts mark every five miles) there is a collection of hard hats. Yes, hard hats. I’m assuming these blow off the heads of oil rig workers. Creepy dolls are nailed to Mile Post 50.

Hard hat collection at Mile Post 45 on Padre Island National Seashore's South Beach

Hard hat collection at Mile Post 45 on Padre Island National Seashore’s South Beach

Collection of old dolls at Mile Post 50 on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Collection of old dolls at Mile Post 50 on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Entire trees, construction materials, buoys, and other pieces of nautical garbage also wash up on the beach. Some of these can be so large that they can block vehicle traffic. There was stuff washed up that even my buddy from Florida, who’s seen just about everything that can wash up on a beach, couldn’t identify. Once the graffiti artists work on it—after all, who doesn’t bring spray paint cans with them to the beach—some of these large objects are quite interesting to photograph.

Construction debris on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Construction debris on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Buoy on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Buoy on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Large nautical debris on Padre Island National Seashore's South Beach nearly blocks vehicular traffic

Large nautical debris on Padre Island National Seashore’s South Beach nearly blocks vehicular traffic

Large nautical debris on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Large nautical debris on South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

While most of the trash on South Beach comes from the Gulf of Mexico, some of it is left behind by low class visitors. I saw a half dozen metal frames from tent canopies that probably got twisted up by a strong wind. Instead of hauling them back to the trash bin at the start of the beach—a construction site-size dumpster—the lowlifes just left them behind.

Tent frames left behind on Padre Island National Seashore's South Beach by beachgoers

Tent frames left behind on Padre Island National Seashore’s South Beach by beachgoers

A popular spot for fishing on South Beach is at the Mansfield Channel. Jetties stick out into the Gulf of Mexico and into the channel itself, plus there is plenty of shore to fish from. The drive takes about three hours if you stop to check out the interesting things that wash up on the beach. My buddy and I left late in the afternoon, so this was a good place to stop for the night and camp. We were the only ones not fishing. Keep in mind that no matter how far you make it down the beach without hitting soft sand, you will need a 4WD to make it all the way to the end because the sand near the channel is soft and deep. When the channel is dredged to keep it open for boat traffic, the sand is deposited on the beach.

View of Mansfield Channel and the surround beach, Padre Island National Seashore

View of Mansfield Channel and the surround beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Mansfield Channel at the end of South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Mansfield Channel at the end of South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Jetty extends into the Gulf of Mexico at Mansfield Channel, Padre Island National Seashore

Jetty extends into the Gulf of Mexico at Mansfield Channel, Padre Island National Seashore

Fishermen at the Mansfield Channel, Padre Island National Seashore

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Last updated on March 1, 2022
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