Rio Grande Valley Nature Attractions
Andy Bowie County Park
North of the city limits, Andy Bowie County Park has two beachfront pavilions, picnic tables, showers and restrooms and a large parking area. Horseback riders can trot through surf at very affordable hourly rates. Rent a wide variety of unusual toys – rafts, giant floating tricycles and more – to frolic in the surf. Access your inner teenager with parasailing, wave runners, bungee jumping (for the strong of heart), race cars and a vast array of street-legal fun vehicles. Beachcombing and sunset watching are equally popular activities. Open daily. (956) 761-3704, (800) 343-2368
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
This 762-acre park in Mission is the WBC headquarters and has subtropical vegetation and resaca woodlands, an exhibit hall, coffee bar, gift shop, picnic areas, a two-story observation tower, bird blinds, nature trails and a Nature Center. Over 300 species of birds and over 200 species of butterflies documented. (956) 585-1107 www.stateparks.com/bentsen_rio_grande_valley.html
Edinburg Scenic Wetland Trails
Edinburg Scenic Wetland Trails features 40 acres of scenic wetland trails, as well as nature trails, observation decks, ponds, a butterfly garden and an educational center. (956) 381-9922, www.EdinburgWBC.org
Estero Llano Grande State Park
This park offers something special, as it is the largest wetlands environment in the WBC Network. This 230-acre refuge attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands and thorn forest. (956) 565-3919
Harlingen Arroyo Colorado
The Harlingen Thicket is a 40-acre tract with hiking trails, a remnant of Tamaulipas native brush with an impressive plant variety in urban Harlingen. Hugh Ramsey Nature Park has photo blinds, nature trails, walking trails, a picnic area, ponds and streams adjacent to an interpretive pavilion. The area is covered in Honey Mesquite, Texas Ebony, Huisache, Brasil, Retama and Granjeno. Good migrant traps in spring. (956) 427-8873
Old Hidalgo Pumphouse
The only remaining steam-powered irrigation pumps in the Rio Grande Valley, the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse is one of the original pumping stations for the Valley’s vast irrigation system, which converted desert land into one of the most productive agricultural areas in the nation. Hummingbird and butterfly gardens surround the museum. (956) 843-8686
Quinta Mazatlan, the McAllen wing of the WBC, features a historic adobe home, art gallery, store, exhibits and birding trails. (956) 681-3370 www.quintamazatlan.com
Resaca De La Palma
This 1700-acre park includes a four-mile resaca, old-growth forest, riparian woodlands, Ebony-Anacua thorn-scrub and grasslands, nature trails and four scenic observation decks. (956) 350-2020
Along the sandstone bluffs of the Rio Grande River, you will find steps leading down the steep bank (be careful, footing is uneven) to a picnic area. There is a new wooden overlook above with scenic views of the river and Mexico. The south end of the Historic Plaza and west of the International Bridge is the best wildlife viewing spot. (956) 849-4930
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is home to an exhibit hall, 4,800 linear feet of wheelchair accessible boardwalks on the Laguna Madre, seven bird blinds, an auditorium, a conference room and a five-story observation tower with elevator. (956) 243-8179, www.spibirding.com
Adolph Thomae County Park
On FM 2925, this park has boating, fishing, hiking, picnic facilities and RV and tent sites. (956) 748-2044 www.co.cameron.tx.us/parks/thomae_park.htm
Anzalduas County Park
Located in Mission, this park ranks among the most popular birding sites in the Valley. Bring a basket of goodies and enjoy the large picnic area. (956) 585-5311
This last-minute offshoot of the Rio Grande originates southwest of Harlingen. Wildlife of the Laguna Madre venture well up into the river’s mouth. Anglers and boaters find that fishing the “other river’s” brackish waters (half saltwater, half fresh) can be very rewarding. Nature lovers enjoy walking the trails and observing wildlife at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park along the river in Harlingen.
Boca Chica Wetlands and Beach
Sit atop tall white dunes at Boca Chica Wetlands and Beach and watch migratory birds such as falcons and pelicans that frequent the trees on the elevated islands. Brownsville’s Boca Chica Beach lies south across the ship channel from South Padre Island at the mouth of the Rio Grande.
Marked by an historic chimney that once powered irrigation pumps on the Rio Grande, this privately owned and operated park in Mission is primarily a boat ramp facility. It is close to restaurants and bars on the river where you can dock and dance.
This man-made lake was formed as a reservoir to supply northern mid-Valley farms with irrigation. A park offers a pavilion and large picnic area. Swimming is not allowed. Open daily.
Two sites in the Valley offer excellent scuba diving. One is an artificial reef built by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife seven miles off South Padre Island from Port Isabel. The other is the Port Mansfield Liberty Ship Reef, located 15 miles off Port Mansfield. These artificial reefs have become encrusted with invertebrates such as barnacles, corals and sponges that attract grouper, snapper, amberjack, triggerfish, tarpon and shark, making them ideal sites for scuba diving.
South Padre Island’s bottlenose dolphins are wild and free, enjoying the rich waters of the Laguna Madre Bay and the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is against the law to feed, swim with or touch wild dolphins, but there are many dolphin-watch boats on the Island.
Falcon Dam, Lake and State Park
Located on the Rio Grande, this 115,600-acre reservoir offers great freshwater fishing and waterskiing. Low rolling hills and the rustic beauty of western Starr County surround it. By reservation, camp out a short walk from the water in screened-in cabins. You’ll also find bathhouses, RV hook-ups, boat ramps and picnic areas. Open to daytime visitors. Bring your passport if you visit the Dam. (956) 848-5327 www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/falcon
The Valley is the only region in the U.S. where white-wing dove can be taken. Hunting leases are also available for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, javelin and wild pig.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
East of Rio Hondo, bordering the Laguna Madre, this 90,000-acre federal preserve is the Valley’s biggest wildlife refuge. It supports hundreds of bird species, as well as ocelots, deer, javelin, squirrels, long-tailed weasels and alligator. Mountain lions are rare but have been spotted. After checking in at the Visitor’s Center, explore the Laguna Madre’s harsh but beautiful ecosystem by driving or walking along the mapped roads. (956) 748-3607 www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/STRC/laguna/Index_Laguna.html
Take a daylong deep sea fishing excursion or wade-fish in the bay off the banks of the mainland or the island nationally renowned for red drum, speckled trout and flounder. Just north of the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway in Port Isabel is a long, lighted pier.
La Sal del Rey Tract and La Sal Vieja Tract
Indians, conquistadors and Confederate soldiers once traversed the banks of these historic salt lakes. Both of these tracts are excellent birding sites and are open from sunrise to sunset daily. Stay on trails and enter only through marked entry points.
National Butterfly Center
The North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Park at Mission is near the World Birding Center and Bentsen Rio Grande State Park. It has walking trails with interpretive signs, gardens and more butterflies than you can count. (956) 583-9009 www.nationalbutterflycenter.org
Bordered by the King Ranch, this sport fishing hot spot was once a small commercial fishing village and servicing port for oil companies. Wading and pier fishing both produce spectacular results. Lodging, restaurants, marinas, RV parks and hunting and fishing guides, as well as a 3,200-foot lighted runway for private aircraft are available. (956) 944-2354
Rio Grande Wildlife Corridor
A number of agencies are working together to create the Rio Grande Wildlife Corridor by buying adjacent tracts and designating them as wildlife sanctuaries. The resulting corridor running the length of the Valley will be much the same as before farmers cleared its natural habitat. (956) 784-7500 www.friendsofsouthtexasrefuges.org
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Boasting almost 400 species of birds, this 2,088-acre refuge attracts birders from all over the world. Walk on multiple trails of different lengths totaling 12 miles underneath hanging Spanish moss. A new, 100-foot-long canopy walk gives visitors an elevated view of nature. Stop at three manmade lakes and bird watching blinds. Tram tours are available on seasonal schedules. Open daily from dawn to dusk. The Visitors’ Center is open year-round, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., except major holidays. (956) 784-7500
South Padre Island
Isla Blanca Park has two beachfront pavilions, a 1,000-foot sea walk, a marina, restaurants, gift shops, volleyball nets and showers. Stroll or fish off huge granite jetties. RV camping is available. (956) 761-5493, www.sopadre.com
Valley Nature Center – Weslaco
A 3/4-mile, self-guided nature trail takes visitors through a six-acre native forest with cactus beds, small ponds and butterfly gardens. Birds of every feather call the park home, as do butterflies, dragonflies, lizards, tortoises and other small wildlife. The nonprofit nature center features a nature exhibit hall, meeting facilities, a reference library, nature books and a gift shop. Nature programs are offered for children as well as adults, and hands-on opportunities to learn about and enjoy the unique ecosystems and wildlife of the Valley are available for enthusiasts of all ages. (956) 969-2475 www.valleynaturecenter.org
World Birding Center Sites
A grand vision takes flight at the new World Birding Center. Texas Parks & Wildlife and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services join nine Valley communities dotted along 120 miles of river road from South Padre Island west to Roma. Novices as well as advanced birders and naturalists are invited to enjoy viewing stations, observation towers, interpretive centers and programs. (956) 585-1107 www.worldbirdingcenter.org