Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Austwell, Texas (Aransas County)

About the National Wildlife Refuge

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, fishing, hunting, and picnicking. Six leisurely hiking trails totaling 4.3 miles are available, but visitors must bring insect repellent as mosquitoes are usually abundant. See Shannon’s Notebook for more information. Camping is not permitted in the refuge.

Whooping crane (Grus americana) family in Texas wintering grounds | Photo credit: U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service

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 2017-2018 winter census at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas resulted in an estimated population of 505 whooping cranes! Taking a commercial boat tour of the bays and Intercoastal Waterway, offered by operators 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.

Black and turkey vultures roosting on the Observation Tower | Photo credit: Terry Ross

Wild Texas Notebook

I first visited the refuge at the height of a Texas drought. The mosquitoes were vicious, literally attacking my vehicle before I’d 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 late fall can be equally challenging. Windy days offer the best natural protection from the mosquitoes. In fact, some of my subsequent visits to the refuge have been entirely mosquito-free thanks to sustained 30+ mph winds.

The 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, I 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.

For more information, read our trip reports:


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.

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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.


A park entrance fee is charged per day — $3 per person or $5 per vehicle.

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.


Check the Wild Texas Events Calendar for activities scheduled at the park.

Austwell, Texas Weather

Austwell, Texas, weather forecast

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer opportunities are available at Aransas NWR. For information about volunteering at the refuge, call (409)267-3337. Opportunities may also be available through the Friends of Anahuac organization.

Photo Gallery

Official Contact Information

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

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
1 Wild Life Circle
Austwell, TX 77950 

Telephone: (361)286-3559

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