Tag Archives: National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore


To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 


Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season





$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 


Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?

Top 10 Sand Dunes in National Parks

Sand dunes are like giant sandboxes for big kids to play in and hike on, so we came up with a list of our favorites from across the National Park Service (NPS) System. Unlike most NPS backcountry trails, dogs are allowed on many of these dunes if they are leashed and picked up after.

10. Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

9. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

8. Salt Basin Dunes at Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

7. Mesquite Flat Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

6. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan)

5. Eureka Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

4. Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve (California)

Sand sledding on the gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument

3. White Sands National Park (New Mexico)

2. Panamint Dunes at Death Valley National Park (California)

…and finally our #1 sand dune in a National Park:

1. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)


Honorable Mention

Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

Cape Lookout National Seashore


There are no roads in North Carolina’s Cape Lookout National Seashore, but vehicles can drive the beach nearly the entire 56-mile length of these Outer Banks barrier islands.  A passenger ferry leaves from Beaufort, North Carolina to access the Shackleford Banks where feral horses reside.  Cape Lookout is on the South Core Banks, a great spot for camping, surf fishing, kite flying, and beachcombing.  This island is accessible aboard a passenger ferry from Harkers Island and a vehicle ferry from Davis.



Historic lighthouse, undeveloped beaches, seashells, beach camping

Must-Do Activity

If you enjoy beach camping, then you must spend at least one night on the islands.  Go beachcombing in the morning after watching the sunrise light up Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

Best Trail

There are boardwalks around the ferry landing and lighthouse, otherwise just walk the beaches.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The majestic 163-foot tall Cape Lookout Lighthouse (wearing argyle) is the icon of this national seashore and looks best at sunset and sunrise.

The lighthouse sticking out of the low fog
Find this photo and many others for sale on Imagekind.

Peak Season

Summer (if there is not a hurricane forecast)




Free to visit and camp, $16 roundtrip per adult for passenger ferry, sometimes a charge to climb to the top of the lighthouse

Road Conditions

Paved to the ferry docks in Beaufort and Harkers Island, sandy on outer islands (4×4 required)


Camping is free on the beaches, but unless you have your own boat you will need to pay for a ferry ride out there.  The oceanfront section of beach near Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed to vehicles, making it perfect for backpackers.

Our campsite


Pelican at sunrise

Tiff with her collection of shells she found
Seashell hunting out here is great; and yes, the National Park Service allows you to take a reasonable amount home.

Short billed dowitchers

Lighthouse reflection

Explore More – When was the Cape Lookout Lighthouse built?