South Texas Tropics
There’s no holding back Mother Nature in the Texas Tropics. Encompassing the state’s southernmost border along the Rio Grande at the Mexico border, this region consists largely of subtropical forests, sandy beaches and coastal prairies. It’s one of the top birdwatching spots in the country and home to the world’s largest undeveloped barrier island. Step inside the lush terrain to hear birds sing, see baby turtles hatch and catch a bounty of bass. Between the sprawling expanses of wilderness, you’ll uncover 20 lively counties all eager to show you their version of the good life.
A Birder’s Dream Come True
The Rio Grande Valley is one of America’s best birdwatching destinations, home to an array of species not found anywhere else in the country. The World Birding Center has nine designated sites in the area, each showcasing a unique habitat. Go to Mission’s Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley to come face-to-face with the rare green jay and flocks of migrating hawks; McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlan is the place to spot sparrows and hummingbirds. The Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco welcomes you into the Indigo Blind, a tropical zone that houses the park’s most elusive birds, like white-tipped doves and Altamira Orioles. Other fantastic birding locations include the Roma Bluffs, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Brownsville’s Resaca de la Palma, and the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
All About that Bass
Falcon State Park lures anglers with its bass-filled waters. Take your boat out on the 84,000-acre Falcon International Reservoir to nab largemouth bass and channel catfish. Lake Casa Blanca is right next door and supports largemouth and hybrid striped bass along with catfish and crappie. The state park offers fishing gear rentals in case you forget to bring yours. On the coast, book a deep-sea charter from South Padre Island if you want to fish for monster grouper, tuna and blue marlin in the Gulf of Mexico.
Adventures by the Shore
Laying parallel to South Padre Island is the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, the Rio Grande Valley’s largest protected area of desert, subtropical and coastal habitats. This 45,000-acre expanse supports an abundance of birds and mammals including the endangered ocelot, a type of wild cat that once roamed much of the country. Meet the wild residents of the refuge by hiking and biking through a series of trails such as County, Prairie and Gator Pond. The Lower West Lake Trail is one of the most scenic with its spectacular views of the Laguna Atascosa Lake.
The world’s biggest undeveloped barrier island is just north of Laguna Atascosa. Covering 130,000 acres, the Padre Island National Seashore will captivate you with its serene coastline, rolling dunes and vast prairies. Discover local flora by traversing the Grasslands Nature Trail and watch baby sea turtles hatch out of their shells and scurry across the beach in the summer months. Across the water, the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse, built in 1852, is open for touring.
Blend of Old and New
Make South Padre Island your next beach getaway. From fancy condos and spas to pulsating nightclubs and fine dining restaurants, this resort town has every luxury you can imagine. Work on your tan at the beach or take a surfing and parasailing lesson if you want to try something new. Mini golf courses, go-kart tracks and water parks can also be found.
King of Ranching
Texas ranching heritage is on full display up north in Kingsville. King Ranch offers nature tours and gives you the chance to see wranglers in action. In town, stop by the King Ranch Saddle Shop to check out the finest leather craftsmanship and the King Ranch Museum to view photographs and videos of the area’s past.
Summertime Fun All Year-round
You can take part in outdoor festivals every month thanks to Rio Grande Valley’s fantastic year-round weather. Weslaco’s Texas Onion Fest in July celebrates the world-famous Texas 1015 sweet onion with onion-eating contests and cook-offs, while Harlingen’s Blues on the Hill at McKelvey Park in May puts on several of concerts featuring blues artists.
Celebrating the Wild
Countless nature and wildlife events also shine a light on the region’s unique species. Learn about wild cats at the Ocelot Conservation Festival in March in Laguna Atascosa, share your love of birds with other naturalists at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in November or immerse yourself in a sea of butterflies at the Texas Butterfly Festival, also in November, in Mission. While in Mission, check out colorful insects at the National Butterfly Center, where diverse species flutter in lush environments.
Spanish History and Civil War Sites
Visit Brownsville to uncover an impressive collection of restored Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Between the historic buildings, you’ll find the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art, which showcases artists like Mark Chagall and James Whistler, and the Brownsville Heritage Museum, home to an 1870 steam-powered locomotive that once chugged along the Rio Grande Railroad.
For More Information
South Padre Island
Texas Office of the Governor, Economic Development and Tourism