Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park

Birdwatching Galore

In the valley, you’ll find wonderful bird watching opportunities. Approximately 360 species of birds have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and more have also been seen at the park. You will definitely want to bring your binoculars for birding with you.

In the Park Activities

Like many other state parks, nature is the most intriguing part of the journey.

You can birdwatch, exercise, and see the Rio Grande Valley in its near-natural state. Visit the Exhibit Hall and enjoy the bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibits.

Cars are not allowed to park on-site to help preserve nature. You can leave your car at headquarters and explore on bike, foot, or even tram.

There are primitive camp sites you can rent with restrooms and showers in the park. You can also book the 60-person group hall for your next big gathering.

Looking for birds

The park’s forests provide habitat for a wide variety of birds and other animals. You can look for birds along the trails or at the viewing stations. You can also observe nature from the water features and the two-story, wheelchair-accessible Hawk Observation Tower.

Almost 370 bird species have been reported in the park. There is a wide array of species in the park including subtropical species common in eastern Mexico, some examples are the Plain Chachalaca, Great Kiskadee, and Altamira Oriole. Migrating birds can also be seen flying over or stopping at the park, including Swainson’s and Broad-winged hawks.

Thousands of migrating hawks can be seen overhead in spring and fall. For the best view, there is a hawk observation tower.

We advise that you bring your binoculars or rent a pair from the store located in the park. Binoculars will let you appreciate the wildlife you see at the park much more.

The park is also a part of the World Birding Center.

Bike riding and Hiking

There are 7 miles of trail to explore, including 3.5 miles of park road to explore on bike or foot. The Rio Grande Trail (1.8-miles) is wheelchair-accessible. Bikes aren’t allowed on the Rio Grande Trail.

You can bring your own bike or rent one from the park store for only 5 dollars.

The Park Store

The park store (Algunas Plumas translate Some Feathers) sells field guides, gifts, t-shirts, hats, and snacks.

Nearby Attractions

The Texas Historical Commission has more information on the Tropical Trail Region.

Explore nature in the valley on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.

Accessibility Information

The interpretive trail, the two-story-high hawk tower, and two wildlife photography blinds have been ADA-certified, wheelchair-accessible.

The group hall and restrooms are wheelchair accessible.

About 3.5 miles of the park is paved but still closed off to the general public’s vehicles, only being used by park staff. The road is very safe and tranquil for wheelchairs and bicycles.

The park has a shuttle service. One tram specifically has ramps and space for at least one person in a wheelchair. Through October and May, the tram runs daily but, from June through September it runs Thursday through Sunday.

The Natural Beauty

The land and the river

The Rio Grande river shaped the land it runs through. The river carved channels which would eventually dry up. Floods nourish the soil and provide the essential water for plants and wildlife.

Today, The lands around the river are drier due to the fact that the river is controlled by a dam.

The land was also changed by humans. A large amount of the original land in the lower Rio Grande Valley is now in agricultural or urban use. Humans have decimated most of the animal habitats along the U.S. side of the river.

Only some fragments of their habitat remain. Those fragments have a great amount of biodiversity in the modern U.S.

Animal Life

In 1978, to protect that biodiversity, Congress created a Wildlife Corridor. The corridor allows animals to move unblocked on the riverbank habitats.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains several lands along any area affected by floods as part of the Wildlife Corridor.

Wetlands with large clouds above serve as a habitat “island,” providing habitat for wildlife and native plants.

Wildlife

Bentsen is one of the best parks in the U.S. to see birds and other wildlife commonly found in the subtropics of northern Mexico this is because it has a mix of wetland, brush, riparian and woodland habitats. Some species you can spot in the park are Common Pauraque, Groove-billed Ani, javelina, and Coues’ rice rat.

Not only birds take advantage of the park’s ideal habitat. You’ll see butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects all around. Other mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish live here, as well. Bobcats can even be seen sometimes!

Coues’ rice rat

These rats are an endangered species in Texas. They only inhabit the Rio Grande Valley and south into Mexico.

The coues’ rice rats have short, reddish-yellow fur and buff-colored underparts which make them very noticeable in the park9. They like to live in cattail-bulrush marshes and aquatic, grassy zones near the resacas (oxbow lakes).

Bentsen has some of the last specimens of native plants along the Rio Grande. Some of the plants are native almost exclusively to the subtropics and aren’t found anywhere else in North America. Some examples are the Montezuma bald cypress, Sabal palm, and Texas wild olive.

Sadly, the Riparian forest is disappearing because of the necessary flood control. The land began to inhabit many drier shrubland species.

Trees in the forests of the park consist of mesquite, sugar hackberry, granjeno, cedar elm, retama, Texas ebony, and anacua. Watch out, many trees and bushes have thorns.

World Birding Center

The World Birding Center is a partnership including Rio Grande Valley communities, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The World Birding Center consists of a network of nine distinct birding campuses along a 120-mile historic river road. Each site is funded by one of the Valley’s nine partners.

The WBC works to increase awareness and appreciation of most importantly birds but also other wildlife and their habitats along the lower Rio Grande.

The backstory

Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park is located southwest of Mission, Texas. The land surrounding the Rio Grande is rich in history.

Spanish settlement

In the 1740s the Spaniards first settled. They granted porciones, large tracts of land, to certain individuals in 1767. The area of this park was originally part of Jose Antonio Zamora’s Porcion 50.

Eventually, small towns sprouted along the Rio Grande. A small amount of land, known as Las Nuevas, was abandoned in the late 1930s. The Bentsen family then continued to purchase over 3,000 acres of what used to be Porcion 50.

The Bentsen’s worked about 2,000 acres north of what we now call the park. The family was attracted to the area because of the beautiful ebony trees.

Park donation

In 1944, the Bentsen family gave 586.9 acres of the land to the Texas Parks Board for $1 in 1944. The contract clearly stated that the land was “solely for Public Park Purposes and shall be maintained, operated, known and designated as Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park.” The park started operation in 1962.

Directions

From Upper Valley: Take East Expressway 83 to Bentsen Palm Drive. Travel south on Bentsen Palm Drive to the World Birding Center Headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

From Lower Valley: Take West Expressway 83 to Bentsen Palm Dr. Travel south on Bentsen Palm Drive to the World Birding Center Headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

Park Address:
2800 S. Bentsen Palm Drive (FM 2062)
Mission, TX 78572

The Park HQ is located at:
Latitude: 26.186987
Longitude: -98.381888

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