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Wildlife Watching and Nature Trails

Birders_520x219Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge offers amazing opportunities to watch and enjoy wildlife!  

All trails are open from sunrise to sunset. Be sure to stop by the visitor center to pick up a map (or get one at this link) and get the most recent information.

During the following hunting dates, some trails at the Laguna Atascosa Unit will be closed:  


2015 - Nov 20-24, Nov 28 - Dec 2, Dec 10 - 14, Dec 18 - 20, Dec 26-28

2016 - Jan 2-4, Jan 8 - 10, Jan 15-17. 


Riding a bike on the refuge is a great way to connect with nature.  You can cover more distance than on foot, and explore the far reaches of the refuge away from the hustle and bustle.  It is important to be prepared before starting your trip.  The following are recommended guidelines for bicycling on the refuge.

Wide tires work best on the dirt and gravel trails.

Carry extra tire tubes and a repair kit – our vegetation is thorny! 

Slime and tube shields are recommended for your tires to avoid flats.

If your bike breaks down, you must be prepared to walk it back to your vehicle.

Yield to hikers, always give pedestrians the right of way.

When on roads, ride with the flow of traffic.

Check the forecast.  High winds will make pedaling more challenging and weather can change quickly.


Watching Wildlife

For better observation of wildlife, keep noise to a minimum, move slowly, use your vehicle as a blind, try staying in one place and be patient.  Most wildlife are active early or late in the day.  For your safety and to avoid disturbing wildlife, stay at a safe distance.  Feeding wildlife is illegal on the refuge as it causes animals to lose their natural fear of humans and they can become dangerous.  

Laguna Atascosa Unit  


Visitor Center Area


Kiskadee Trail – pedestrians only

1/8-mile loop, cement

One of our most popular trails near the Visitor Center. In wet years there is a pond that may harbor an alligator. Watch the treetops for great kiskadees, warblers and green jays. In dry years the alligator often moves to the old livestock trough beside the trail.


Fiddlewood Trail – pedestrians only

<1/8 mile loop, crushed gravel

Great for viewing native thornscrub plants, butterflies and birds.  Stop and rest in the shaded gazebo.  Water feature and bird feeding area.  Located across the parking lot from the Visitor Center.


Metalmark Butterfly Trail – pedestrians only

< 1/8 mile, cement

Circling the Visitor Center, this trail has many native plants and a photo blind with a water feature and bird feeding area.


Mesquite Trail – pedestrians only

1.5 mile loop, dirt

Beginning at the Visitor Center parking lot, this figure-eight loop trail winds through grassy savannas, across two small ponds and past an historic family cemetery.


Lakeside Drive Area


Lakeside Drive pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles

1.5 miles, paved and gravel

To get to Lakeside Drive from the visitor center, go through the far parking lot and take a left.  Follow this road to reach our 3,500-acre freshwater lake, Laguna Atascosa. In the fall, this shallow lake can have more than 20 species of wintering waterfowl, egrets, herons, pelicans and shorebirds that feed and rest on the lake.  Osprey Overlook features a covered kiosk to browse the lake for wildlife.  From Lakeside Drive visitors can enter several of the hiking and biking trails.  Entrances are at Kidney Pond Trail, Scum Pond Trail, Gator Pond Trail and County Trail.   There are parking lots conveniently located at the Osprey Overlook and Scum Pond Trail.


                Trails South of Lakeside Drive


Gator Pond Trail – pedestrians and bicycles

3.3 miles (.3 miles-paved, 3 miles- dirt)

White tailed hawks and aplomado falcons can be seen here.  When accessed from the Osprey Overlook parking area, the first .3 miles of this trail is accessible (paved).  It follows the shoreline of Laguna Atascosa (lake), leading to a viewing platform on Alligator Pond that hosts alligators during wet years.  The dirt trail continues for another 3 miles mostly through prairie, ending at FM106.  Visitors can head west and cross FM106 to continue on the Prairie Trail, or access the West Lake Trail north of FM106 from Prairie Trail parking area. 


Kidney Pond Trailpedestrians and bicycles

2.5 miles, dirt

Accessed from Lakeside Drive, this trail passes by a small pond that generally has an alligator. 


The following trails are dirt and are open for pedestrians and bicycles:

Fiddler’s Green Trail - 1 mile

Giant Palm Trail - .3 miles

Ibis Loop Trail - 1.4 miles

Island Fields Trail – 2 miles

Mud Trail - .5 miles

Nilgai Trail - .14 miles

Scum Pond Trail - 1.9 miles

South Boundary Trail - .8 miles


                Trails North of Lakeside Drive


County Trailpedestrians and bicycles

5.75 miles, gravel

Accessed from Lakeside Drive, this trail is the primary route to access most of the northern hiking and biking trails.  It is adjacent to the neighboring Buena Vista Ranch and passes through thornscrub, savanna, prairie and former agricultural lands that are being restored to thornscrub.  Visitors can get to Crossing #2 on the Cayo Atascosa on gravel trails if you follow County Trail to Last Gate Trail and go north on Center Line Trail.


The following trails are dirt and are open for pedestrians and bicycles:

Bobcat Trail - .8 miles

Centerline Trail - 6.1 miles

Eva Thompson Trail - 1.2 miles

Horse Island Trail - 3.7 miles

Last Gate Trail - .75 miles

Luttes Camp Trail - 3 miles

Newt Pond Trail - .75 miles

North Point Trail - 3.5 miles

Three Tanks Trail - .75 miles



FM106 Area


Prairie Trail Parking Area is located on FM106 just west of San Roman Rd, 5.8 miles from the visitor center  – look for the parking area south of the road. An information kiosk, bike rack and entrance fee station are located here.  From the Prairie Trail parking area visitors can enter Prairie Trail and the southern ends of West Lake Trail and Gator Pond Trail, leading to the network of hiking and biking trails.


Prairie Trailpedestrians and bicycles

4.1 miles, gravel and dirt

This loop trail traverses coastal prairie and thornscrub, and in wet years has several ponds.  There are also views of the Cayo Atascosa – the water that feeds into Laguna Atascosa.  American alligators can be present in the freshwater. 


West Lake Trail – pedestrians and bicycles

12.3 miles, ~6 miles gravel and ~6.3 miles dirt

One of the most scenic trails on the refuge, this trail takes you through coastal prairie on the south end, the western shoreline of Laguna Atascosa lake, the northern Cayo Atascosa, numerous freshwater wetlands, and brushy lomas.  The .8 mile Coyote Loop Trail is accessed by this trail.


Bayside Drive Area


Bayside Drive – Currently pedestrians, bicycles and Refuge tour vehicles only  {plan to reopen to private vehicles in late 2016 after construction completed}

14.2 miles (1 mile-gravel, 13.2 miles-paved)

This loop winds through thornscrub forest, coastal prairies, freshwater wetlands and along Laguna Madre shoreline. Plover Point Boardwalk allows you to view the Laguna Madre and is a great place to see shorebirds.  An elevated overlook, Redhead Ridge, gives you a 360 degree view of all four habitats.  A restroom is located at the Redhead Ridge parking area.  Wildlife sightings may include aplomado falcons, white-tail deer, Texas tortoise, osprey, great blue heron, roseate spoonbills, reddish egret, crested caracara, Harris’ hawk and non-native nilgai antelope.  Guided tours of the Bayside Drive are available. 


Moranco Blanco Trailpedestrians, bicycles

1.7 miles, dirt

This trail begins 1 mile south of Redhead Ridge Overlook.  It traverses coastal prairie and thornscrub, ending with a great view overlooking the Laguna Madre.   



Bahia Grande Unit 

Highway 48 Viewing Area - From Highway 100, follow Highway 48 south of Port Isabel.  There is a parking area pull-out on the right side of the road before you get to the main water channel to Bahia Grande.  This is great place to see wading and shore birds.  The refuge also offers birding tours of the Bahia Grande Unit seasonally.


Highway 100 Viewing Area – From Highway 100 heading east from Los Fresnos toward Laguna Vista, look for the gravel parking area on the south side of the highway, across from the cell phone tower.  Visitors are welcome to view the prairie for birds, including the aplomado falcon, from the parking area ONLY. 

 Learn more about Bahia Grande here.   

South Padre Island Unit 

Visitors may enjoy the refuge tracts along the beach north of Public Access 6 off Padre Blvd.  Activities include beachcombing, fishing, bird watching, horseback riding, swimming and camping.  The dunes and tidal flats, however, are closed to public activities as they are sensitive wildlife habitats.  These tracts are many miles from the public access and are generally accessed by 4 wheel drive vehicle. 

 Learn more about South Padre Island here.  

Last Updated: Nov 15, 2015
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