Wildlife Watching and Nature Trails


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

The Steve Thompson Wildlife Drive (formerly Bayside Wildlife Drive) is currently closed to vehicle traffic. Hikers and bicycles are allowed on the roads. Use caution as some roads are narrowed and rustic.

Due to Covid-19 the entrance fee is being waived, so just come on out and enjoy.

Trails are open from sunrise to sunset. Be sure to stop by the visitor center to pick up a paper map or using a QR code (or get one at  this link) and get the most recent information.  See below for trail closures.

HUNT SEASON is November to January. Dates & trail closures will be listed below prior to starting.

Help Us Protect the Refuge 

You can keep this refuge special for wildlife and people by following all refuge rules:

  • Be watchful for wildlife on roads – especially the endangered ocelot.
  • For your own safety and to protect the habitat, please stay in the designated public areas (ie. drives and trails).
  • Keep dogs on a leash, and do not allow them to drink or enter water bodies due to the presence of alligators.  
  • Pack out your trash.
  • Do not disturb or remove wildlife, plants or historic objects. Disturbance is caused by getting too close to wildlife, playing recorded bird/wildlife calls, feeding wildlife, or throwing objects at wildlife. Metal detectors are not allowed.  
  • No fireworks, fires, or alcohol.  
  • Camping is allowed only at Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park (entrance and camping fees apply for this area, call 956-748-2044 for information).  

 For your safety and comfort 

  • Avoid chiggers, ticks and rattlesnakes by staying on trails.     
  • Be prepared with insect repellent, water and sunscreen.  
  • Plan to hike or bike during the cooler hours of the day (March - November).  
  • Use a map to plan your trip when venturing out on trails.
  • Take a cell phone in case of an emergency.
  • Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes with closed toes.


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.   

Designated Public Areas

Laguna Atascosa Unit   

Visitor Center Area - There are several short, loop trails that visitors may walk (see map insert). These trails are accessible and offer several wildlife-viewing areas, native plants, and are great for seeing butterflies and forest birds. The Mesquite Trail is a 1.2-mile loop dirt trail that passes by historic El Granjeno Cemetery

Lakeside Drive – 1.5 miles, paved and gravel, pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles
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.  

Steve Thompson Wildlife Drive – 14.2 miles (1 mile-gravel, 13.2 miles-paved)
Currently pedestrians, bicycles and Refuge tour vehicles only. Use caution as some roads are narrowed and rustic. This loop winds through thornscrub forest, coastal prairies, freshwater wetlands, and along the Laguna Madre shoreline. Plover Point Boardwalk allows you to view the Laguna Madre and is a great place to see shorebirds. Redhead Ridge Overlook gives you a 360 degree view, including Bayside Lake and Laguna de los Patos. Wildlife sightings may include Aplomado Falcon, White-tail Deer, Texas tortoise, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, Crested Caracara, Harris' Hawk and non-native Nilgai Antelope. One mile south of Redhead Ridge Overlook, is the 1.7 mile Moranco Blanco Trail which offers hikers and bikers a great view overlooking the Laguna Madre. Guided tours on Bayside Drive are available seasonally. 

Hiking and Biking Trails Open All Year (except during refuge hunts)  

Gator Pond Trail – 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.   

County Trail – 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. 

Luttes Camp Trail - 3 miles, gravel
This trail connects the County and West Lake Trails. 

Last Gate Trail to Centerline Trail North - 2 miles, gravel 
These trails connect County and Upper West Lake Trails. 

Prairie Trail – 4.1 miles, gravel and dirt
Prairie Trail Parking Area is located on FM106 just west of San Roman Rd, 5.8 miles from the visitor center. 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 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.   

Lower West Lake Trail – 6 miles, gravel
The lower end of West Lake Trail is one of the most scenic trails on the refuge. It takes you through coastal prairie, the western shoreline of Laguna Atascosa lake, two brushy lomas and numerous freshwater wetlands during wet years. Great for water birds and raptors. 


Hiking and Biking Trails Open Fall/Winter Only (except during hunting seasons) – all are dirt  

Upper West Lake Trail – 6.3 miles - The upper end of West Lake Trail follows the northern Cayo Atascosa.   

Kidney Pond Trail – 2.5 miles, dirt - passes by a small pond that generally has an alligator.   

Giant Palm Trail - .3 miles 

Island Fields Trail – 2 miles 

Mud Trail - .5 miles 

Scum Pond Trail - 1.9 miles 

South Boundary Trail - .8 miles 

Eva Thompson Trail - 1.2 miles 

Horse Island Trail - 3.7 miles 

North Point Trail - 3.5 miles 

Bahia Grande Unit  

The Bahia Grande unit is currently closed to the public. 

Highway 48 Viewing Area - From Highway 100, follow Highway 48 south of Port Isabel. There is a parking area pullout 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, at the refuge entrance sign. 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 primitive 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.