Boasting one of the most enchanting and diverse landscapes in North America, South Texas has some parks offering endless opportunities for exploring and adventure. No matter your age or interests, South Texas has a park just for you.
One of the top birding destinations in the nation, the 760-acre Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park promises a year-round nature adventure. With an impressive list of 340 species recorded within the boundaries of the park, birding enthusiasts have long flocked here. Birds are especially abundant during the migration in the spring and the fall when thousands of hawks fly over the valley.
The park is also known for its “Valley specialties” – tropical birds found nowhere else in the United States, such as the Buff-bellied Hummingbird, the Great Kiskadee, and the Altamira Oriole. But you don’t need to be a birder to appreciate all the park has to the offer, including over eight miles of trails and a two-story Hawk Observation Tower giving guests a view of the canopy of trees as well as a glimpse into Mexico.
Information: 2800 S. Bentsen Palm Drive (FM 2062), Mission, TX 78572. Phone: (956) 584-9156
The 21-acre park is a peaceful refuge from the hustle and bustle of San Antonio and can be traversed in about an hour. The most unique and striking part of the park is a Korean pavilion modeled after the Gwangju Democracy Bell, a gift from the city of Gwangju, a sister city of San Antonio. The pavilion was built by a skilled craftsman who traveled from South Korea to construct the pavilion from red pine timber. Remaining true to their traditional methods, the craftsmen didn’t use any nails, using only bolts to secure the foundation. Although visitors cannot touch the pavilion itself, there are plenty of other features to view, including a pond that swans and ducks call home and a hedge-lined labyrinth.
Information: 7735 Mockingbird Ln., San Antonio, TX, 78229. Phone: (210) 207-3705
This park’s main attraction lies beneath the ground in one of the twenty known caves. Four million years worth of geology have gone into making the awe-inspiring Kickapoo Cavern, the largest and only cave open to the public at this park. The cavern has approximately ¼ mile of passages and boasts the largest “speleothem” in Texas – a natural column formation about the height of an eight story building. The cavern offers primitive (no side rails and participants are asked to bring two sources of light) tours of the cave, dropping sixteen stories underground for adventurous visitors. The two-hour guided flashlight tours are offered every Saturday at 1:00 pm and require a reservation.
Although relatively few species live in the Kickapoo Cavern, the Stuart Bat Cave is home to Cave Swallows and a migratory stop for Mexican free-tailed bats. Up to a million bats call Stuart Bat Cave home from mid-March to the end of the October, when visitors gather at dusk in front of the cave to witness the mammals surface to forage for insects.
Information: 20939 Ranch Rd 674, Brackettville, TX 78832. Phone: (830) 563-2342
Swimmers, sand castle enthusiasts, sun worshippers, anglers, and beachcombers will all be entertained along the fine stretch of beach at Mustang Island State Park. The park is split by a highway into two sides – a beach side and a bay side. On the beach side, sand dunes up to 35 feet high separate the Gulf of Mexico from the rest of the island. On the bay side, there is year-round potential for anglers to catch redfish, black drum, flounder, and speckled trout. There are also campgrounds, picnic tables, and grills where you can prepare your fresh catch.
Information: 17047 Hwy 361, Port Aransas, TX 78373. Phone (361) 749-5246
Whether you want to spot a rare bird, feed the ducks, learn the difference between stalactites and stalagmites, or relax on the beach, we’ve got you covered. Have I left out any really good parks in South Texas? If you think so, let me know in the comments, and I will try to visit.