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Wildlife Watching & Nature Trails

Alligator_512x219There are many trails, boardwalks and overlooks for you to explore and enjoy this truly wild refuge!

The following trails and observation areas provide exciting opportunities to get outside and enjoy your national wildlife refuge.

Rail Trail
Rail trail leads to a freshwater marsh and includes all six species of rails -- black, yellow, king, sora, clapper and Virginia. There are two entrances with an excellent alligator viewing area in between.
Length: 0.3 miles

Heron Flats (a favorite trail)
This trail follows an ancient oyster shell ridge that borders the salt marsh. It leads you through an oak motte and down to the shores of San Antonio Bay. This trail is one of the refuge’s most popular because of its changing landscape and the tremendous variety of wildlife it supports. On this trail you might see alligators, wood storks, wildflowers, roseate spoonbills, waterfowl, shorebirds and some amazing butterfly species.
Length: 1.4 miles

Birding Trail #1
This is known as the refuge’s songbird trail because it is situated in the middle of an oak motte. On the Texas coast, these wooded areas are very important for the neotropical migratory birds that are migrating between North and Central America. On this trail, you might see grosbeaks, flycatchers, warblers and other small, colorful birds.
Length: 0.1 miles

Fishing Pier
Open all year, the fishing pier offers excellent opportunities to catch red fish, sea trout. It is also a fun place to watch for dolphins in the bay and sting rays swimming below. Here is where you might also see brown pelicans, terns and water birds that change with the tide.
Length: 100’ long

Bay Overlook
Set within a shady and protected area, the overlook offers excellent views of San Antonio bay. Here, the live oak trees are draped with mustang grapes that have served to anchor the trees during hurricanes and tropical storms. At this overlook you might see ospreys, hummingbirds, armadillo, gray fox and neotropical migratory birds.
Length: 0.1 miles

Birding Trail #2
This trail includes a mix of grasslands and oak motte forest. Recognized as one of the refuge’s best birding trails, this is where you have an opportunity to see a variety of songbird species, as well as white-tailed deer, javelina, turkey and an occasional alligator.
Length: 0.6 miles

Big Tree Trail (a favorite trail)
This forested trail contains some of the largest live oak trees on the refuge. It is an excellent place to see birds of all kinds, including warblers (including the Swainsons), thrushes and vireos.
Length: 0.7 miles

Observation Tower
Built in 2012, the 40’ observation tower is accessible and gives you the best chance to see a whooping crane on the refuge. It is built in a wooded area but rises above the trees for a panoramic view of San Antonio Bay and Mustang Lake. From mid-October through March, a pair or family (3) of cranes can usually be seen feeding in the marsh during daylight hours. Otherwise, look for the V-formations of geese flying overhead and butterflies, warblers and other wildlife below!

Jones Lake Overlook
This is a popular overlook where you can enjoy wetland species. The lake is managed to mimic the fluctuating seasons. Some years the lake is dry and others wet. This change supports a diversity of wildlife that depend upon or take advantage of these changes.

Hog Lake Platform
Currently Closed due to repairs
Overlooking a wetland, this platform is set between a wetland and a wooded area so most wildlife species found on the refuge can ultimately be seen from this location. Wildlife you might see includes alligators, purple gallinules, herons and ibis, waterfowl and an occasional cottonmouth.

Auto Tour Loop
The paved tour loop provides a leisurely ride through ‘Texas savannah,’ what Texas must have looked like a hundred years ago. The scenic ride becomes a one-way at the Observation Tower. Along the way you might see deer, hawks, javelina, bobcat and an occasional rattle snake crossing the road.
Length: 16 miles

Visitor Center
Excellent viewing of hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies and other wildlife that depend on the diversity of wildflowers, grasses and other native plants planted just outside the front door of the visitor center! Enjoy the different wildflowers that bloom at different times of year.

Additional Opportunities to See Whooping Cranes: For additional opportunities to see the whooping cranes, join a boat trip out of Rockport. Contact the Rockport Chamber of Commerce for more information.
Page Photo Credits — American Alligator / Steve Hillebrand ©
Last Updated: Mar 20, 2013
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