Sweeping prairies, unending grasslands, arid deserts, smoky forests and rolling coastal terrain all converge throughout this great and colossal state, nestled neatly between the salty waters of The Gulf and the sandy swathes of Mexican Chihuahua. With such a kaleidoscope of various habitats contained within its monstrous backcountry, it’s perhaps not surprising that Texas is unquestionably one of the country’s best wildlife spotting destinations, boasting a wealth of animal refuges, nature reserves and national parks.
To help, we’ve put together this list of the top destinations in Texas for wildlife lovers, ranging from the riparian forests of the north, to the banks of Rio Grande down south.
A terrain of spiky cacti groves, sprawling wetlands and wide sand stretches slopes its way towards the super-salty waters of the Laguna Madre at this, one of the most southerly wildlife reserves in the entire of the US. Located just a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, and with such a variety of habitats crammed into its 98,000 acres, the Laguna Atascosa is home to more than 400 species of migrating and indigenous birds, not to mention a real mix of sub-tropical and desert-based mammals alike.
Poking its way out into the waters of San Antonio Bay, behind the great Matagorda Island of central Texas, this 115,000-acre refuge is a palimpsest of riparian wetlands, coastal habitats, shadowy oak forests and sprawling marshlands. Perhaps most notably, the site is one of the all-important stopovers for migrating whooping cranes, who make their descent on the freshwater ponds here sometime in December. What’s more, visitors can also sometimes spot the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle clawing its way up the sands, or the formidable American alligator lurking in the swamps.
The Padre Island National Seashore is not only one of the treasured natural gems of the American coast; hailed as the longest stretch of uninterrupted, untouched barrier island beachfront on the planet. It’s also one of the best wildlife-spotting destinations in Texas, offering up a wealth of marine life, countless birds and a smattering of mammals to behold. Coyotes run between the sand dunes, Kemp’s Ridley turtles emerge from the swells and the sky is peppered with black skimmers and endangered reddish egrets to boot!
Situated right on the cusp of Mexico, the Santa Ana reserve straddles the banks of the Rio Grande as it meanders its way towards the Texan Gulf. It’s hailed as one of the most fascinating and unique wildlife refuges in the country, famed for its proliferation of tropical butterflies, which flutter endlessly between the bows of the sprawling thorn thickets. It’s also a great spot for bird-watchers, boasting more than 400 individual resident and migrating species, not to mention a wealth of viewable nesting sites.
An endless cacophony of squawks and calls rebounds between the low-lying dikes and sprawling wetlands of the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in northern Texas. It’s situated in the depths of the colossal Lake Texoma, where the accumulated waters of the Red River give way to great swathes of wetland habitats, making this a perfect home for more than 300 species of birdlife. Budding bird-watchers should be sure to take the four-mile Wildlife Drive that winds around the refuge, where open vistas allow for some great viewing along the way.