October 23, 2014

Wild Texas Parks: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge - Austwell, TX

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Austwell, Texas (Aransas County)

About the National Wildlife Refuge

Boardwalk & 40-foot Observation Tower
18k JPEG
Copyright © Shannon D. Moore
See more photos at OutdoorPhoto.com
Situated on the Texas Gulf coast along San Antonio Bay, the 70,504 acres of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are host to an exotic array of wildlife, including alligators, javelina (collared peccary), snakes, bobcats and whooping cranes. A 16-mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through the refuge's grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond, and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Additional activities include hiking, birding, picnicking, and fishing. Six leisurely hiking trails totaling 4.3 miles are available, but visitors must bring insect repellent as mosquitos are usually abundant. (See Shannon's Notebook for further details.) Camping is not permitted in the refuge.

Aransas has a well-deserved reputation as one of the prime birding locales in Texas, as was in fact originally named Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. Over 392 bird species have been cataloged in the area, including ducks, herons, egrets and other waterfowl. The refuge's most notable visitor, however, is the endangered whooping crane, one of the rarest animal species in North America. Each year from late-October to mid-April, the only wild flock of whooping cranes in the world makes its long journey south from Canada to winter in the protected habitat of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. As recently as the 1940's, only sixteen birds remained. The 2003-2004 winter census at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas resulted in a population record of 194 cranes! Taking a commercial boat tour of the bays and Intercoastal Waterway, offered by operators such as Whooping Crane Boat Tours and Rockport Birding & Kayak Adventures, provides an excellent opportunity to view whooping cranes and other bird species.

Throughout April and May, large numbers of migratory songbirds grace the Texas coast. Ducks and geese are present from August through March, and year-round birding opportunities exist for roseate spoonbills, ibises, herons, and egrets. The 40-foot observation tower, located 5 miles down the one-way driving tour road, is equipped with two high-power spotting scopes to assist birders.

Park Ratings

Explanation of Symbols
Campsites/Overnight Facilities 0 star
Leashed Pets Permitted?Animated Running Dog YES
Picnic Areas/Playgrounds* 1 star
Solitude*** 3 star
Trail System* 1 star
Water Recreation 0 star
Wildlife**** 4 star
Ratings are based on a scale of 0 (low) to 4 (high).

Wild Texas Notebook

Unassisted view from the Observation Tower
Copyright © Shannon D. Moore
See more photos at OutdoorPhoto.com
Justin and I first visited the refuge at the height of a Texas drought. The mosquitoes were vicious, literally attacking our vehicle before we had even stepped outside. Hikers are advised to wear protective covering and cover exposed skin with a strong insect repellent; the alternative is becoming a bipedal buffet during your hike! The mosquitoes are usually most prevalent in the spring and summer months, although we have found late fall can be equally challenging. Windy days offer the best natural protection from the mosquitoes. In fact, some of our subsequent visits to the refuge have been entirely mosquito-free thanks to sustained 30+ mph winds.

Our occasional insect-inflicted misery at Aransas is always made worthwhile by the numerous wildlife viewing opportunities available. A friendly word of advice: Do not assume that the only alligators in the refuge are those residing in the marked alligator pond across from the Visitor Center. While hiking the Heron Flats Trail during one visit, we accidentally startled an American alligator. Although we never discovered exactly where the creature was lurking, its bellow was insistent and unmistakable. On the same hike, we met up with several javelinas a short distance down the trail. In addition to alligators, the refuge's numerous freshwater ponds attract bird species such as roseate spoonbills, as well as various herons and egrets. White-tailed deer are also abundant and may be observed from the tour road.

Sign:
Copyright © Justin W. Moore
See more photos at OutdoorPhoto.com

Boardwalk provides access to view birds feeding along the mudflats
33k JPEG
Copyright © Shannon D. Moore
See more photos at OutdoorPhoto.com

For more information, read our trip reports:

Location

The refuge is located 35 miles northeast of Rockport. From Rockport, take State Highway 35 North to F.M. 744 East, then follow F.M. 2040 South to the refuge entrance.

The nearest major Texas cities are: Austin, Corpus Christi, Houston, Laredo

Maps for Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

How to Get Here from Your Location?

Provide your complete starting address or (for more general directions) ZIP code:
* NOTE: The driving directions (Google Maps) open in a new window.

Coordinates for GPS Users:

28.2336191° Latitude    -96.9002659° Longitude (WGS84/NAD83; decimal degrees)
Convert to another coordinate sytem or map datum

Hours

Open 7 days a week year round from sunrise to sunset. The park's Wildlife Interpretive Center (WIC) is open from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily, while the day use areas are open from sunrise to sunset.

Fees

A park entrance fee is charged per day -- $3 per person or $5 per vehicle. An annual Aransas NWR pass is available for $15, exempting the passholder from the refuge's entrance fee for a period of one year.

Note: Various passes are available that permit free access to all National Wildlife Refuges. For more information, refer to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refuge passes.

Austwell, Texas Weather

Find more about Weather in Austwell, TX
Click for weather forecast

Volunteer Opportunities

Check the refuge's volunteer positions listing for detailed information. Volunteers are needed for activities such as visitor services, trail maintenance, construction, office/computer work and some biological work.

Six trailer pads with full RV hook-ups are available to residential volunteers. Call or email the refuge for availability.

Official Contact Information

The National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950

Telephone: (361)286-3559
E-Mail

Related Links