Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area, in Calhoun County, is separated from the mainland by San Antonio and Espíritu Santo bays and is one of the barrier islands that border the Gulf to protect the mainland from the great tides and strong wave action of the open ocean. The park and wildlife management area occupy about 43,893 total acres; the parking area is approximately 7,325 acres. Under a cooperative agreement between the US Department of the Interior and the State of Texas approved in 1983, the entire area of public lands is managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. (The southwestern tip of the island, consisting of approximately 11,500 acres, is operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.)
Matagorda Island did not exist until about 5000 years ago, but it is rich in history. Prehistoric and the much later Karankawa Indians used the island until they were driven off by European settlers. Often six feet tall, carrying giant bows, and covered with dirt and alligator grease to repel mosquitoes, the Karankawas appeared fierce and imposing to the Europeans. Historical highlights include visits by Cabeza de Vaca, René Robert Suer de La Salle, and Jean Lafitte.
The island featured prominently in the growth of Texas in the 1800s. Traces of the past activity can be found at the civil war trenches, an abandoned Air Force base, an 1852 vintage lighthouse, and the now submerged Fort Esperanza. Major storms of the 1800s and 1900s destroyed many area towns and slowed economic growth, but now the area is becoming known as an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.
The park is open 7 days a week year-round.
The Matagorda Island State Park offers visitors a large variety of attractions. Whether you enjoy land-based and or waters based activities, or if you wish to study the natural history of the area; the park caters adequately for each desire.
For nature enthusiasts, nineteen species listed by federal or state government as threatened or endangered are found here, including the whooping crane, peregrine falcon, brown pelican, Ridley sea turtle, and horned lizard. The island marshes are important nursery areas for shrimp, oyster, blue crab, and many species of sportfishing, such as red drum, spotted sea trout, tarpon, shark, mackerel, and southern flounder.
Very few amphibians are found on Matagorda Island. The most common ones include leopard frog, bullfrog, and gulf coast toad. Over 30 species of reptiles occur on the island. The largest is the American alligator. Of the 19 species of snakes, the most frequently encountered include western diamondback rattlesnake, a speckled king snake, and western coachwhip. More than 300 species of birds use the island, many during spring and fall migrations. Barrier islands do not support large numbers of mammals; the most common are white-tailed deer, coyote, raccoon, badger, and jackrabbit. The most common marine mammal is the bottle-nosed porpoise.
Facilities include primitive camping on the Beach Campground, which is a two-mile stretch of Gulf beach, 3.5 miles from the boat dock, is serviced by the island shuttle and has covered picnic tables; the Army Hole Campground, on the bay a few yards from the boat dock, has shaded picnic tables, fire rings, pit toilets, and an outdoor, cold-water shower.
There is a group barracks (capacity 14) with 4 bedrooms, 14 bunks, 2 bathrooms (1 with shower), a partial kitchen with a refrigerator); a second group barracks (also referred to as a Group Visitor Center – capacity 8; rented only when larger group barracks is full) has 8 bunks in one large room with a kitchen (no refrigerator); (both barracks are reserved for Friday or Saturday nights only); linens are not provided. The park also has 3 boat ramps in Port O’Connor; a boat dock on the island; and 38 miles of beachfront and 32 miles of paved, shell roadway for hiking, mountain biking, and bicycling. There is no electricity, drinking water, telephone, or concession on the island.
Activities include camping, hiking, bicycling, surfing, swimming, beachcombing, bird watching, nature study, fishing, a passenger ferry, on-island shuttle, and scheduled tours. Additionally, staff-conducted historical and natural history programs are available. Please contact the park for a current schedule or to set up a group program. There is island tour(s) given by park staff and a discount is offered to holders of a Texas Conservation Passport. Tour fees apply.
Matagorda Island State Park is located at an elevation of 0-22 feet. Temperatures within the park range from an average January minimum of 46 degrees and an average July maximum of 91 degrees. The average rainfall is 43.2 inches. Current weather conditions can vary from day today. For more details, call the park or Park Information at 1-800-792-1112.
Matagorda Island State Park is situated within the Gulf Coast region of Texas. The headquarters is in Port O’Connor at the intersection of 16th Street and Maples. The only access is by boat; the Matagorda Ferry is a 50-foot, aluminum-hull boat certified to transport 49 passengers that operates on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. There is a fee, and surfboards and bicycles are allowed on the ferry which departs from Port O’Connor. There is a shuttle fee charged to visitors who bring their own boat; the shuttle fee is included in the visitors’ ferry fee. Contact the park for ferry schedule/use detail.
Matagorda Island State Park, 16th Street and Maples, Port O’Connor TX, 77982, Phone: 361-983-2215