Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge


(956) 748-3607

Map Directions

Things To Do


The south Texas landscape is a unique blending of temperate, subtropical, coastal, and desert habitats. Mexican plants and wildlife are at the northernmost edge of their range, while migrating waterfowl and sandhill cranes fly down for the mild winters. This combination makes Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge world famous for its birds, and home to a mix of wildlife found nowhere else.

Laguna Atascosa NWR is the largest protected area of natural habitat left in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, an oasis for wildlife with few alternatives. The refuge's nearly 100,000 acres become more valuable with each acre lost to development--valuable to wildlife and valuable to those who enjoy wildlife in wildlands.

Map of Laguna Atascosa NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 26.190872, -97.351227



  • Bird Watching

    At 417 species, Laguna Atascosa is home to more species of bird than any other United States National Wildlife Refuge. Among them are South Texas' own green jay, groove-billed ani, ringed kingfisher and buff-bellied hummingbird. The American Bird Conservancy has dubbed the refuge a "globally important bird area."

  • Bicycling

    Bicycles are permitted on tour roads and some service roads. Service roads are primitive routes where riders should be prepared for emergencies. Check with Refuge staff for approved routes and trail maps. Bring plenty of water and sun protection, patch kits to repair a flat, and be prepared to walk several miles if your bike breaks down.

    Off-road riding is prohibited.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    Tour roads are open daily, sunrise to sunset.

    Bayside Drive: This paved, 15-mile, one-way loop passes through thorn forest and coastal prairies before reaching the Laguna Madre. The shelter at Redhead Ridge Overlook and numerous vehicle pullouts allow for nature photography and viewing. Note: Restrooms and drinking water are not available along the route.

    Lakeside Drive: It's only a short one and a half miles out to the lake that gives the Refuge its name. Atascosa means "muddy" in Spanish, which describes the shallow lake on windy days. The lake is an important resting and feeding area for the more than 20 species of waterfowl that winter here. Osprey Overlook features two permanently mounted telescopes for a closer look. Off-road driving is strictly prohibited.

  • Fishing

    Fishing is permitted at Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park only.

  • Hiking

    Hiking trails are open daily, sunrise to sunset.

    Kiskadee Trail (1/8 mile, fully accessible) starts at the Visitor Center parking lot. This short, paved loop surrounds a shallow pond that holds water in wet years. Featuring an observation deck and small bridge, Kiskadee Trail offers even the casual hiker an opportunity for a close-up view of several native shrubs and trees and a variety of common birds.

    Mesquite Trail (1.5 mile) starts at the Visitor Center parking lot. Trees shade portions of the trail as it winds through grassy savannas. Two small ponds located along the trail hold water in wet years. Signs of deer and coyote are evident along the trail.

    Paisano Trail (1 mile, mostly paved) starts 1 mile from the Visitor Center on Bayside Drive, and is a remnant of the gunnery range located here during World War II. Verdin, greater roadrunner, long-billed thrasher, and plain chachalaca await the watchful birder are often seen in this area.

    Moranco Blanco (1.5 miles) starts a short distance past Redhead Ridge on Bayside Drive. Moranco Blanco is a primitive route with good views of the bay and yucca in bloom in the spring spring.

    Lakeside Trail (1.5 miles) starts at Osprey Overlook on the Laguna Atascosa. Views of the lake and thorn forest provide the possibility of good birding possibilities. Wildflowers are plentiful, especially during March and April.

    Alligator Pond (.25 mile south of Osprey Overlook): Alligator watching has become very popular at the Refuge and during wet years Alligator Pond usually has a gator or two. This pond features an observation deck which can sometimes also offer a view of birds and mammals and the small wetland habitat. In some years visitors can see alligators in the rescaca next to Lakeside Drive and in Pelican Lake along Bayside Drive. Alligators can also sometimes be seen on the resaca on Lakeside Drive and in Pelican Lake on the Bayside Drive. Alligators can be dangerous. Do not feed or disturb them and always keep a close eye on small children and pets near Refuge wetlands.

    Whitetail Trail (4.2 miles) is located on FM 106, 5.7 miles from the Visitor Center. Whitetail deer, javelina, roadrunners, and a variety of other birds can usually be found throughout the year along this service road which loops through native thorn brush and coastal prairie.

  • Hunting

    The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) accepts applications during the month of August for both archery and firearm hunting of white-tailed deer, feral hog, and nilgai antelope.

    Archery Hunts: Two separate archery hunts are conducted on the Refuge. The first archery hunt is in December with permits sold on a first-come, first-seved basis. The second archery hunt is in January. It is a lottery with participants randomly selected by a computer drawing.

    Only one application may be submitted per hunt. Submitted applications must include the applicable hunt fee. Applications submitted through the postal service must be postmarked for the month of August to be considered and will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Once all of the archery hunt permits have been issued, applications will no longer be accepted.

    Firearm Hunts: Multiple firearm hunts are conducted during the season. A maximum of three applicants may be listed on each application, but individual hunters may only apply once.

    Applications are accepted only in the month of August for the firearm hunts and hunters will be selected by random computer drawing in early September. Successful applicants will be notified by mail and assigned a hunt period upon mailing in the hunt fee. To Participate:

    * Hunters must have a permit issued by the Refuge, a valid hunting license, proof of hunter's education certification, and a picture identification on them while in the field. * Applications must be filled out completely and accurately to be considered. * Permits for the Laguna Atascosa NWR are available at the Refuge office

  • Wildlife Watching

    Ocelot, Texas tortoise, green jays, plain chachalaca, and javelina prefer the dense thorny brushland areas of the Refuge, while animals such as the alligator, least grebe, and black-bellied whistling ducks choose the ponds and resacas. Desert dwellers like the greater roadrunner, verdin, and cactus wren inhabit the scrub areas, while species like roseate spoonbills, egrets, and herons join black-necked stilts, American avocets, and piping plovers at the shore of the Laguna Madre. Check the map to find tour routes and trails for wildlife watching.

    Viewing Tips Dawn and dusk are the best times to see wildlife. In warmer climates, little is moving on hot, humid summer afternoons or on windy days.

    Observe from the sidelines. Leave "abandoned" young animals alone. Parents probably are close by waiting for you to leave. Do not offer snacks; your lunch could disrupt wild digestive systems.

    Cars make good observation blinds. Drive slowly, stopping to scan places wildlife might hide. Use binoculars or a long lens for a closer look.

    Try sitting quietly in one good location. Let wildlife get used to your presence. Many animals that are hiding will reappear once they think you are gone. Walk quietly in designated areas, being aware of sounds and smells. Often you will hear more than you will see.

    Teach children quiet observation. Other wildlife watchers will appreciate your consideration.

    Look for animal signs. Tracks, scat, feathers, and nests left behind often tell interesting stories.



From Harlingen, go east on Highway 106 14 miles past Rio Hondo. Take a left at the T and drive 3 miles to the visitor center. From South Padre Island, take Highway 100 out of Port Isabel and exit right on Farm Road 510 at Laguna Vista. Continue 5.4 miles to the Cameron County Airport road. Take a right and continue approximately 7 miles to the visitor center. From Brownsville, go north on Paredes Line Road (1847) through Los Fresnos to Highway 106. Take a right and go approximately 10 miles to the T. Take a left and drive 3 miles to the visitor center

Phone Numbers


(956) 748-3607