Attractions along Texas’ Gulf Coast can be conveniently explored by RVers who stay at this preserve near Rockport.
By Mary K. Taylor
Motorhomers who have been looking for a chance to explore the Texas coast may want to set their sights on Goose Island State Park. This 321-acre facility provides convenient access to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and the towns of Rockport, Port Aransas, and Corpus Christi.
The park’s location makes it popular among anglers, wildlife watchers, and those who enjoy discovering interesting sights and attractions. For birders, Goose Island is a delight, because it lies on a major migration path and central U.S. flyway. The park boasts more than 300 species of birds year-round. White pelicans float like swans in the winter, and brown pelicans dive headfirst into the bay all year.
The entrance to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is 30 miles north of Goose Island State Park, but, at 59,000 acres, its boundaries reach to within sight of Goose Island. The refuge is most famous as the winter home of nearly 200 whooping cranes who feed on small crabs in the tidal marshes. The whooping crane stands 5 feet tall and has a wingspan of 7 feet. The refuge has an observation platform with viewing scopes, and even at a distance you can’t mistake these gigantic birds. Whooping cranes reside at the refuge from late October to mid-April.
Another way to view the whooping cranes is to take a tour boat from Rockport. The four-hour guided cruise will take you on the Intracoastal Canal close enough to see the cranes. Several companies operate the cruises, and the cost averages $30 per person. Of course, other birds abound in the refuge as well, including hawks; Mexican eagles; wading birds of all sorts; flocks of wild turkeys; and songbirds during migration.
In addition to the avians, Aransas is rich in native flora and fauna. White-tailed deer are so abundant that the refuge is open to hunters on some weekends in the fall. Javelinas and feral hogs are abundant, too, as are armadillos and other small animals. Alligators easily can be spotted; as long as the weather is warm, they can be found basking in the sun or lying in shallow water, sometimes with only their snouts and eyes exposed and often festooned with green pond plants. Tour the refuge in early morning or evening, and you’ll have a better chance to see a variety of animals and birds.
A paved road at the refuge travels five miles from the interpretive center to a 40-foot observation platform. Along the road are entrances to several short trails, none more than a mile long. The easy trails meander into the brush and among live oaks, or out on boardwalks over marshes and around a lake, making it easy to have your own encounter with nature. In addition, you can drive a 16-mile loop that takes you into the refuge, a good way to spot even more birds and animals. The boardwalk trails are wheelchair-accessible.
The refuge’s interpretive center includes a bookstore, and soft drinks (but no food) can be purchased there. Take a picnic lunch, wear sturdy shoes, and bring mosquito repellent. Binoculars are a must. The entry fee is $3 per person or $5 per vehicle. Admission is free with a Golden Age Passport. For more information, contact the refuge at (361) 286-3559 or visit http://southwest.fws.gov/refuges/texas/aransas.html.
Goose Island’s closest town, Rockport, is approximately 10 miles from the campground. This city of approximately 8,000 residents offers plenty to see and do, as does the adjacent town of Fulton. Check out the Fulton Oysterfest and a classic auto show in March; the Fiesta en la Playa over Labor Day Weekend; and the famous Hummer/Bird Celebration in September, when hummingbirds migrate through the area on their way south.
The Fulton Mansion, a state historical site, is an elegant Victorian home that was completed in 1877. Facing the bay, the three-story mansion was constructed of fitted pine planks and vertical cypress siding, and has withstood many hurricanes. Even in its time it contained modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing, central heat, and gas-powered generating equipment used to illuminate it. The home is decorated with period furniture. Tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday; phone (800) 792-1112 for more information.
“Come Sea Us” is the invitation extended by the Texas Maritime Museum, located at Rockport harbor. The museum has a great collection of paintings depicting Texas’ lighthouses, located in a building shaped like a lighthouse. Exhibits about the Texas coast focus on blockade runners, old-fashioned fishing equipment, wartime shipbuilding, and oil and gas exploration themes.
The newest permanent exhibit at the museum tells the story of how Rene-Robert La Salle and his crew of French explorers lost their ship, La Belle, as it foundered and sunk in the shallow waters of the Texas coast. After the ship was explored and raised, its artifacts were distributed to several museums in South Texas, and some are in the Rockport museum. A 1/12th scale model of La Belle is on display.
The Texas Maritime Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $2 for children ages 6 to 12. For more information, phone (866) 729-2469 or visit www.texasmaritimemuseum.org.
Rockport is an artist’s haven, featuring several art galleries and the Rockport Center for the Arts. This free gallery, located near the Rockport harbor, features changing exhibits. The center sponsors the annual Fourth of July Rockport Art Festival, which is attended by thousands.
For anglers, Rockport is also the place to hire a guide or even rent a boat and motor for a day on the bay.
At the Rockport beach, the water is shallow for several hundred yards into the bay. Goose Island has only an oyster shell beach, so the soft sand at Rockport beach will delight you even more. A saltwater pool at the beach provides a deeper swimming hole. The Rockport beach is Texas’ only “Blue Wave” beach, which indicates its designation as a clean water and sand beach. Dogs are not allowed on the beach, but a special pet area is located nearby.
Goose Island and Rockport are protected from the ocean waves in the Gulf of Mexico by San Jose Island, which forms a barrier. If you want big waves and real surf, travel approximately 40 miles south of Goose Island to Port Aransas, on Mustang Island. Port Aransas is called “Port A” by locals, and it is also the place to join a party boat for deep-sea fishing. Two bird-watching areas are located on the bay side of Mustang Island.
Thirty miles south of Rockport is Corpus Christi, a city with a population of approximately 300,000. Its attractions include the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay, the Texas State Aquarium, and the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History.
The USS Lexington, also called The Blue Ghost, is one of the Navy’s most famous aircraft carriers. Visitors can tour a museum inside the ship and admire historic aircraft on its decks. The Texas State Aquarium offers the new Dolphin Bay exhibit, which features saltwater coastal fish and dolphins, among other exhibits. The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History boasts full-size replicas of Christopher Columbus’ ships Pinta and Santa Maria.
All three of these museums are located on the bay front; the city has many other sights as well. Contact the Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 766-BEACH (2322) or visit www.corpuschristi-tx-cvb.org to learn more.
From Corpus Christi you can take The Beach Loop, as it is called “” a scenic drive that takes only an hour or so. It leads south to Port Aransas via a free ferry; down Mustang Island to Padre Island’s JFK Causeway; and back through Corpus Christi. From there you can travel back to Rockport and Goose Island State Park.
Sights near Goose Island State Park
Aside from the campground, the park has many things to do and see. The park’s vintage recreational building was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and is used in the winter for book swaps, nature video showings, and other activities.
The Big Tree, the second-largest live oak in Texas, is part of Goose Island State Park, although it is approximately three miles away from the park. The tree is more than 35 feet in circumference and 44 feet high, with a crown spread of 89 feet. This behemoth is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old.
Nearby Lamar, an unincorporated town, is an old Texas settlement established in 1838. The town was named for Mirabeau B. Lamar, a president of the Republic of Texas. An 1858 chapel constructed of oyster shell cement stands next to the Lamar Cemetery, where the oldest grave dates to 1854. The Our Lady Star of the Sea, or Stella Maris, chapel was moved inland from its proud position on the bay. The chapel is open on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 3:00.
Facing the bay is the shrine and convent of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. The church is an exact replica of the original in Schoenstatt, Germany. The landscaped property on which it stands was the original site of Stella Maris. Today Schoenstatt is the site of retreats and other events, and a gift shop is located on the grounds.
Goose Island State Park’s 321 acres include a combination of live oak groves and an oyster shell island so close to the mainland that you can walk to it across a short bridge.
Fishing at Goose Island is great. It offers a wheelchair-accessible pier that is illuminated at night. From there, you can drop a line, as well as in jetties and in the surf. The 1,620-foot fishing pier reaches out in the shallow, fertile saltwater. Steps lead down in two locations, enabling you to walk out on the pier and into the water to wade and possibly catch those large-size trout and redfish.
If you are from out of state, fees for all-water fishing licenses “” for an entire year, which runs from September through August “” are $65. Other fees apply for shorter periods of time, and saltwater or freshwater-only packages are slightly less. Louisiana residents 65 or older with a valid Louisiana fishing license and Oklahoma residents 64 or older do not need to buy a license.
The water temperature at Goose Island can be in the 80s in the summer and drop to the mid-50s in the winter, so bring waders for the cool-weather months. Air temperatures average from highs of 63 degrees in January to 89 degrees in August. Average lows are 51 degrees in January and 79 degrees in August.
Bait is available at the park bait stand, open on weekends but closed from December through February. Bait is available year-round at the nearby Copano Causeway State Fishing Pier.
A stay at Goose Island State Park puts you and your motorhome in the middle of some of the best sights and activities along the Texas coast.
Goose Island State Park
202 S. Palmetto St.
Rockport, TX 78382-7965
Campground information: (800) 792-1112
Campground reservations: (512) 389-8900
A daily entrance fee of $2 per adult is charged.
The campground has 45 sites on the island with water and electrical hookups right along the bay; they cost $16 per night. Another 57 sites with water and electricity are located in a wooded area on the mainland; they are $14 per night. Approximately half of the 57 sites are accessible for larger motorhomes. All of the bay-front sites can accommodate motorhomes 40 feet and up.
The campground also offers a store, rest rooms, showers, a dump station, a recreation hall, a playground, and paved trails.
Stays are permitted up to two weeks. RVers can stay longer than two weeks if space is available. Visit in December, Goose Island’s slowest month, or join the crowd in March, the busiest month, when a combination of winter Texans and families on spring break use the park.
Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce
Rockport, TX 78382
This is the official source for information about attractions and businesses in the area closest to Goose Island State Park.