I have been going to the Corpus Christi area for family vacations and getaways my entire life, and these vacations usually include a visit to Mustang Island State Park. We have camped, swam, fished, and enjoyed several other activities and fun things to do at Mustang Island State Park.
However, it’s not all fun and games, since our family has had some serious scares and near-death experiences here as well! Below I list all my favorite Mustang Island State Park activities plus a full MISP travel guide with important tips to have an enjoyable and safe visit!
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An Introduction to Mustang Island State Park on the Texas Coast
Note that MISP is only part of Mustang Island (the city of Port Aransas and miles of coastline and island are outside of the park). So do not confuse guides on things to do in the park with the island, since there are many more things to do on Mustang Island beside the park!
About the Park
Mustang Island is a barrier island separating the mainland of Texas from the Gulf of Mexico. Mustang Island State Park covers the southwestern third of the island and runs its entire width from the Gulf to Corpus Christi Bay. The park borders on the island run from the Corpus Christi Pass in the southwest to the Water Exchange Pass (Fish Pass) in the northeast.
With five miles of coastline, it’s one of my favorite hidden gems in Texas, along with other Corpus Christi area Texas State Parks and National Parks like Goose Island State Park, Lake Corpus Christi State Park, and the Padre Island National Seashore.
Where to Stay Near Mustang Island State Park
Deciding where to stay nearby can be confusing since MISP is in Corpus Christi, but Port Aransas is closer than most of Corpus. If you do stay in Corpus Christi, look for places on North Padre Island and Mustang Island so that you don’t end up with a long drive out to the coast.
Other areas nearby that will do in a pinch are towns on the other side of the ferry like Aransas Pass or Rockport.
We have stayed in Corpus Christi proper as well as out in the exurbs with family, but more commonly we rent a vacation rental or hotel in Port Aransas.
Here are some of my top recommendations for where to stay in Port A, which are all about a fifteen to twenty-minute drive to the park.
Budget (Under $100 per night)
On our most recent trip, my aunt and uncle stayed at the Plantation Suites. With rooms that are clean and bright and a swimming pool and hot tub that got rave reviews from my little cousins, I can highly recommend this four-star hotel as a great place to stay in Port Aransas that won’t break the bank.
See reviews, prices, and availability for Plantation Suites.
Mid-Range ($100-150 per night)
Another great option in Port Aransas, the Ocean’s Edge Hotel is one of the best-reviewed accommodations on the island. The rooms are clean, modern, and spacious. The pool is open quite late compared to other hotels on the island, a benefit for the night owls among us, while early birds will appreciate the included breakfast.
See reviews, prices, and availability for the Ocean’s Edge Hotel.
Luxury (More than $150 per night)
The Best Western Port Aransas receives rave reviews on its complimentary breakfast and is known for its clean and updated rooms and its great location. With kitchenettes available, this is a great way to enjoy the comforts of both a vacation rental and a nice hotel at once!
See reviews, prices, and availability for the Best Western Port Aransas.
Family Vacation Rental
We usually opt for a vacation rental since we travel down to Port A in groups of six or more. On this past trip, we needed to house six adults and a toddler, so we got a house instead!
We rented a townhouse in The Commons. Some are owned privately and units are available through different vacation rental companies. The #304 The Commons Townhouse is two doors down from where we stayed, but it’s been more recently renovated. We loved the amenities of the townhouse common area, and the house itself was just right for a group our size.
See reviews, prices, and availability for the #304 The Commons Townhouse.
Overnight Camping Reservations for Mustang Island State Park
Of course, you can also camp at the park (which I’ve done and is fantastic!). There’s both primitive camping and RV camping at the park.
Electric Campground Sites
If you want to bring a camper and have access to amenities like a personal picnic table, outdoor grill, Water hookup, and a 50 amp hookup, and a dump station, then you will want to pay the $20 nightly fee to camp in one of the 48 campsites with electricity. There is also WiFi, but it does not get great reviews so you will want to have your own connectivity in a pinch.
While these campsites are not on the water and do not have water views because of the tall sand dunes, it’s a quick walk to the beach.
Note that the park gate closes at 10 pm and opens at 5 am. There is a fourteen-day limit for camping here.
Click here to reserve an Electric Campsite.
If you are bringing a camper to Mustang Island and the campsites at the park are full, there are multiple RV Parks in the area.
The park has 50 primitive sites. The fee for overnight camping in this section of the park is $10 per night. Check with MISP on the day of arrival for availability.
How to Visit Mustang Island State Park
Here are some crucial tips for visiting Mustang Island SP.
How to Get to Mustang Island
The best way to get out here is to drive your own car since there’s no good public transportation on the island. Uber and Lyft are in Corpus Christi, but the price to get from the airport out here is over $60 one-way and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get one to go back.
I have tips towards the bottom of the post on how to rent a car in Texas if you’re looking for a car rental. You can easily pick one up at the airport in Corpus Christi or San Antonio.
From Port Aransas
The drive takes about fifteen to twenty minutes depending on traffic. Head out of town on HWY TX-361 S. Note that you cannot drive an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) or a golf cart on the highway.
From Corpus Christi
Depending on where you are in Corpus Christi, the drive can take up to an hour. The average trip is thirty minutes on TX-358 E. This will take you over the bridge to North Padre, then you’ll use TX-361 N which goes from North Padre to Mustang Island.
From San Antonio
If you’re looking to visit MISP from San Antonio, the drive takes about two and a half hours. You’ll take HWY I-37 S out of San Antonio to Corpus Christi, then use the directions from Corpus Christi to get to the park.
Unlike the public beaches on Mustang Island, which have a loosely-enforced beach permit in place, you have to play entrance fees to get into Mustang Island State Park.
Day passes are on sale at the entrance. The charge is $5 per person. Children ages twelve and under are free.
You pay for the day use pass at the gate, and they give you a receipt to display in your windshield.
You can purchase annual passes for all state parks in Texas. The Texas State Parks Pass is $70 for an adult and only $25 dollars for additional adults in the same household. These will get you free entry for the year to all Texas state parks, including nearby Goose Island State Park and Lake Corpus Christi State Park.
Where to Park
Parking for day use passes is easy. There is a designated parking lot, plus those who choose the left-hand beach at the fork can park on the beach. Note that signs state 4×4 is preferred and the park does not assume responsibility to help vehicles get out of the sand.
For what it’s worth, I have not had issues driving my front-wheel drive car on the beach, but conditions on the beach are changing all the time.
Important Safety Tips
First, signs note that you need watch for snakes. This is especially true in the dunes.
Second, note that unlike the public Port Aransas beaches, there are no lifeguards here on duty.
Third, watch for rip tides. My mother and brother got pulled out by a rip tide. They saved themselves by swimming into the jetties. This happened about twenty-five years ago, and we still talk about it on every trip down. Read this to help prepare yourself for rip tides, which can happen anywhere on the coast, not just Mustang Island.
Finally, pack sunscreen, drinks, and snacks. Bring water to stay hydrated since the sun and the saltwater can really exhaust you early. Don’t over-exert yourself swimming or allow yourself to get sunburned.
The park has restrooms with hot showers available near the RV park section, but you will also see portable toilets. There are picnic tables and palapas with canopies available along the beach.
The park does not provide chairs or umbrellas (or really any shaded areas), so bring all your own chairs, towels, and shade.
When is the Best Time to Visit Mustang Island SP
The best time to visit changes on your goals. Fishing is better in August and September, while you might find temperatures more tolerable in May and early June. It’s also less crowded in April, May, September, and October because school is back in session.
Spring, fall, and winter are popular with birders coming to enjoy the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail‘s Mustang Island Loop.
There are other things to do in Mustang Island in winter since some fishing and other activities like running are still popular, even though it might be too cold to swim!
The Best Things to Do in Mustang Island State Park
In no particular order…
This beach is great for swimming because it has fewer crowds than surrounding public beaches. Be careful around the jetties.
My son really enjoyed sitting in the shallow water at the edge of the tide, but adults often swim out to the second sandbar.
This is one of the best spots on Mustang Island for fishing in the surf as opposed to getting out on a boat. You can also fish off the jetties. There is a variety of sharks available (which tastes a lot like chicken when fried).
People who intend to fish need pick up fishing permits. We got ours at the IGA. You can find other locations for getting a fishing permit here.
This is not the best place in the area to look for shells, but it is fun to see if you find any. The earlier in the day, the more likely you are to see something. Sand dollars are common here, found typically in smaller pieces.
Watching Marine Life
Beyond fish, you can see sea turtles (often near the jetties), starfish, sand dollars, crabs, and other life aquatic. Just make sure you don’t touch the sea turtles and follow any laws that protect the wildlife here. And of course, if you spot a jellyfish, don’t touch them.
If you love to kayak, you’ll be happy to know that Mustang Island State Park is part of the official Texas Paddling Trail. Check it out here.
If you enjoy bird watching, come out and enjoy the Mustang Island Loop of the Central Texas Coastal Birding Trail:
“As you travel south along Mustang Island, cut back to the beach whenever possible to look for gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Glaucous Gulls are seen here with some consistency in early spring.
At high tide check along the beach for small flocks of Piping and Snowy plovers, as well as Red Knots. The state park subsumes an entire barrier island ecosystem, encompassing dunes, coastal grasslands, marshes, and bayside tidal flats, and sloughs.
The beach may be particularly rewarding in winter for gulls, terns, and shorebirds (scan the Gulf for seabirds), and a walk in the coastal grasslands should uncover Sedge Wren and perhaps LeConte’s Sparrow.
Look for nesting Wilson’s Plover along the beach and on the tidal flats in summer and Horned Lark among the dunes themselves.”
Camping on the Beach
One of my favorite beach memories is waking up on Mustang Island State Park and seeing the sunrise over the water. If you like camping (and you’re young enough to still have a good back), I highly recommend primitive camping here.
Playing Sports on the Beach
You can play Frisbee, corn hole, soccer, use skim boards, hackie sack, etc. There’s just something better about playing with the sand and the surf in the background.
Throwing a Bonfire
If you are utilizing the primitive sites, you are allowed to have a small beach campfire. Just make sure to put it out with water and not just cover it up with sand, as sand does not put out fires overnight alone and it will be a safety hazard.
You can bring your own beach snacks, or you can throw a full-blown picnic. The picnic areas have picnic tables or you can have it on the sand.
Building a Sand Castle
Try your hand at making a beautiful sand castle or you can get lessons. Contact the Sand Castle Guy in Port A to schedule lesson in building amazing sand castles of your own!
Since the park covers five miles of coast, mountain bikers will go out and back to get in ten miles with coastal views.
If you want to enjoy laying out in the sun, you’ll love it here. Make sure to wear sunscreen and bring some shade so that you don’t get burned!
If you like running on the beach, you’ll love this long stretch. You can run out and back along the coast or have someone pick you up somewhere en route. Go at sunrise for spectacular views.
Kites are quite popular on the Texas Gulf Coast. Bring one for yourself and test your kite flying skills.
While the waves in MISP aren’t typically huge, there are surfers who come out, especially if the weather is making the waves larger than usual.
Visiting the Texas State Parks Store
I love visiting park stores, and this one has drinks and snacks as well as cool Mustang Island gifts and souvenirs.