One of our favorite things to do on the Gulf Coast of Texas? Camping on the beach! The Lone Star State has over 360 miles of coastline and many excellent beaches. When it comes to best beach camping in Texas, there are simply too many destinations to pick from.
Did you know that there are many places where you can find free beach camping in Texas? In addition to that there are NPS sites and state parks where you can camp on the beach. Also the Texas Beach RV Parks make it easy for everyone to go camping, irrespective of their camper setup.
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And that’s why, this year we encourage you all to go camping on the Texas Coast. Best part? Camping on the beach in Texas is popular year round. In the winter, snowbirds and winter Texans flock to the coast to experience the warm weather and sunshine. In the summer, swimming in the Gulf waters and camping under the stars is our favorite way to beat Texas heat.
Also Read: Best Beaches to Camp in the USA
But here’s what you should know about the beaches in Texas first: don’t think about Alabama or Florida Gulf Coast Beaches when thinking of Texas. You won’t find white sand or pristine waters. However, the beaches are still pretty if a bit rocky and the water is clean though muddy.
Best Camping on the Beach in Texas
Beach camping in Texas is an amazing and beautiful experience. You can hear nothing but the sound of the ocean at night. The time spent in nature washes away all worries and aches.
Beware, the sand gets everywhere – in the tent, in your clothes, in the car but hey, that’s the fun of a beach trip, isn’t it? After all, ‘You can shake the sand from your shoes but not from your soul’!
And with that, let’s introduce you to some of our favorite beach campsites in Texas:
Padre Island National Seashore Camping
Padre Island National Seashore Camping is one of our favorite summer activities. The national park has 4 campgrounds and the best part is you get to camp on the beach in Texas on 2 of them.
You can choose a campsite tucked besides the sand dunes and have fun sleeping under the stars at night. Camping at Padre Island is really an amazing experience: the water is pristine and if you time it right, you can attend a Turtle hatchlings release. You have to pay the national park entry fee but the campsite is free.
You can pick really secluded campsites, making Padre Island one of our favorite and the best camping on the beach in Texas. Beach camping on Padre Island is the perfect relaxing getaway as there is no cell service near many of the camping areas and you can enjoy a digital and social media detox.
Here’s your complete guide to beach camping at Padre Island National Seashore. There are a total of 4 campsites at Padre Island but only 2 have campsites directly on the beach. Here’s what you need to know about all of them.
North Beach is our recommended camping area if you don’t have a 4WD vehicle. North Beach is just 5 miles long but less popular so it is easy to find a spot here.
While having a 4WD vehicle to drive on the beach is highly recommended, if you are going to try with a 2WD then North Beach is your best bet. We have seen many sedans driving and camping in this part of Padre Island National Seashore.
The access road to the campsites is by the entrance / near the only cell tower in this area. Then you can just drive along the beach road and select a campsite. We recommend driving past the area that is popular with day trippers and stopping when you find a good beach camping spot.
South Beach is our personal favorite camping area. For the first 5 miles of South Beach, there is a well-defined road and 2WD vehicles can easily drive on the beach in this area. As a result, this area is often crowded.
However, past the 5 miles mark, you do need a 4WD vehicle as the sand can get really deep and loose and vehicles can easily get stuck. If you have a truck or an all wheel drive vehicle, then you are in for an amazing experience.
The total length of South Beach is 60 miles and you can camp and drive the entire length of it. Considering the length, you are sure to find a secluded spot the farther you drive.
South Padre Island Beach Camping
South Padre Island camping on the beach is as good as it gets! From here you can experience stunning sunrises and sunsets and have a relaxing time on the beach. Tent camping on South Padre Island is our favorite activity but there are also many RV parks which are perfect for all types of equipment.
Some of the top South padre Island RV parks on the beach include Isla Blanca Park and Andy Bowie Park. From Beach Access #5 to any place north of the island, camping on the beach is free. You will need to pay for a permit to drive on the beach. The first couple of miles is good for 2WD vehicles while only 4WD vehicles are safe the further north you go. You can have bonfires here too.
Mustang Island Camping
Mustang Island State Park is one of the best places to camp on the Gulf Coast. The primitive campsites within the park are all located at the water’s edge. The park has 50 primitive campsites right on the beach in a 1.5 mile area.
The best part of camping on Mustang island is that this is one of the few places where small beach campfires are allowed. Yes, you can roast marshmallows right by your tent and enjoy a romantic night camping on Mustang Island.
Port Aransas Camping on the Beach
Port Aransas beach camping is a great option for those looking for free beach camping right on the sand near the water’s edge. The beaches here are some of the widest we have seen on the Gulf Coast and hence, make for excellent tent camping in Port Aransas.
You can drive in front of the dunes and camp in their shade. One of our favorite places to camp is the I. B. Magee Beach Park. It is located on the northmost edge of Mustang Island. The stay limit is 3 nights. There are also several on the beach RV parks in Port Aransas.
Camping in Port Aransas Texas is definitely fun and offers a true ‘get in touch with nature’ experience. Just get a $12 annual permit to drive/park on the beach and you are good to go!
Corpus Christi Beach Camping
Another great option when it comes to camping on the beach in Texas! While there are several campsites in Corpus Christi, the best ones are found in the Coastal Bend region. Here you will find nice sandy stretches, dunes, tidal pools and intertidal creatures, and more fun.
Head to Padre Balli County Park in Corpus Christi and you can score fantastic paved campsites right near the beach. You can make sandcastles, swim in the water, or simply enjoy a relaxing day reading on the sand.
Other popular sites for tent camping near Corpus Christi include those within Padre Island national Seashore and Mustang Island State Park. Irrespective of where you chose, camping in Corpus Christi texas is great fun as you can enjoy the city life, see USS Lexington, and other attractions in the city along with a camping trip.
Galveston Beach Camping
When it comes to Galveston Island, you need to know that overnight camping on the beach is prohibited on all Galveston Island beaches. The only place where you can camp overnight on the beach is at Galveston Island State Park. There are 36 campsites that face the beach in the park.
RV camping in Galveston Tx is also very popular. There are designated Rv parks and areas within the state parks that are open to RVs. The state park is also good for tent camping but the sites nearest to the water can get full very early.
While the amazing Jamaica beach RV park in Galveston Tx can offer both gulf and bayside views, try Galveston bayou RV Park just for the bayside sites. When it comes to Galveston Beach RV Parks, Stella Mare RV Resort on the island’s west end is another great option.
Bolivar Peninsula Camping
Bolivar Peninsula, located on the upper Gulf Coast of Texas, is an excellent spot to go camping. The town of Crystal Beach and Bolivar Peninsula Camping is very near the Houston metro area and makes a perfect weekend getaway.
Camping is allowed anywhere on the 27 miles of the coastal beaches on the Bolivar peninsula. The central area of Bolivar peninsula is known as Crystal Beach. This area is close to the stores and restaurants and hence Crystal Beach camping is very popular with RVers and tent campers. Toilets and showers are also located at Crystal Beach.
East of Crystal Beach you will find High Island. The beach here is narrow but also popular with campers. The westernd end beaches are called the flats because they are very wide. This is also popular for camping and water activities.
We recommend driving on Highway 87 until you find a campsite you love. There are also RV Parks near Crystal Beach in Texas.
Surfside Beach Camping
Surfside, Texas is a great place to camp on the beach. While you cannot camp in the city of Surfside, you can camp on the Brazoria County beach which is outside the city limits. Camping here is free and the short distance from Houston makes it pretty popular with city dwellers.
To reach the camping beach, take Beach Access 1 – our favorite access area – on Bluewater Highway (County Road 257). The scenic drive on the highway is also amazing. There are a total of 5 access points to the beach. The sand here is hard packed and the beach is good to walk on.
Visitors can camp right on the waters edge for upto 14 days at a time. The views are very nice and you can go crabbing, fishing, kayaking, and even horse riding on the beach. While there are no facilities at the beach, there are toilets and showers at the nearby Stahlman Park.
Matagorda Beach Camping
Matagorda Beach, located just 2 hours away from Houston, is another favorite place to camp for free. Access to the beach is via the Jetty Park. Here you will find a parking lot or can take your car/Rv on the beach. To drive on the beach, you will need a Matagorda County permit for $10.
The sand here is soft and we recommend a 4wd vehicle only. Campers can camp anywhere on the beach for upto 72 hours for free. The beach is a great place to go swimming. There are also many kayaking and paddling trails near the Matagorda beach.
Matagorda is located where the Colorado River joins the Gulf Coast. Matagorda has almost 60 miles of coastline out of which only 23 miles can be accessed by vehicular traffic. The remaining beach west of the river can be accessed only by boat or kayaks and makes excellent water camping spots.
Nearby Matagorda Bay Nature Park also has camping, glamping, and RV sites. The park has excellent marsh trails and great bird watching opportunities.
Magnolia Beach Texas Camping
Magnolia Beach is one of the best places to go beach boondocking in Texas. It is located between Port Lavaca and Port O’Connor. To reach the beach just drive less than half an hour south of Port Lavaca. The beach area is a mile and a half long and has paved access roads.
Camping on the beach is absolutely free all year long. The best part is that the beach is that the sand is hard-packed and it is really easy to drive here. From your campsite, you can enjoy amazing views of the Matagorda Bay. You can set up a few feet from the ocean and just enjoy the ocean breeze.
Fishing and beachcombing for seashells is really popular here. There is a fishing pier near the south end of the beach and many bait shops nearby. Magnolia Beach can get cold and windy here in winter and spring, so layer up for the season.
You can also tent camp at Magnolia Beach. Magnolia Beach does have a 14 day camping limit. Restrooms and showers are available on site. Picnic tables are also located on the beach. This is one of the best places to winter in the country. And the sunrises/sunsets here are gorgeous.
When to go camping on the beach in Texas
South Padre Island, Padre Island National Seashore, Port Aransas and the entire Gulf Coast of Texas is too hot and humid in the summer. We personally love beach camping even in the summer since the water is perfect and we prefer to spend the entire day splashing around.
However, if you hate being out in the hot Texan summers – the weather on the Gulf Coast is perfect for the rest of the year. Winter camping on the beaches is quite popular. Winters can get slightly windy on the coast and the water can be too cold to swim for some, but you will still be warmer than the northern states.
Weekends and long holidays are busy times of the year and it will be hard to find a secluded campsite. If in the national park, you will have to drive further on South Beach to find a really good beach campsite.
On the other hand, if you can go on a weekday, there will be very few people camping on the beach and you will have the entire area to yourself.
Try to time your visit with a full moon night. The moonlight makes the beach look gorgeous at night and is incredibly romantic. You can take a hand in hand stroll along the beach with your loved one and sleep under the stars.
How to choose a gorgeous beach campsite on the Gulf Coast and Padre Island
Many parks and reserves have their own rules for choosing campsites or designated areas where you can camp. In that case, always follow the mentioned rules.
However, if there are no rules specified then this is a general guide to choosing the best beach campsite. This applies mostly if you are tent camping on an open beach like at South Beach on Padre Island National Seashore.
We recommend driving to a really clean and quiet area. If there are a lot of campers and it is a crowded time of the year, then try to find a spot at least 80 to 100 yards from other campsites for some privacy.
In Texas, beaches are historically designated as state highways. This tradition continues even today. That means they can get moving traffic, even at night. As such, make sure your campsite is well clear of the beach.
Driving limit on the beaches is 15 mph. Normal rules of the road apply on the beaches as well. Driving on the dunes is illegal.
In many areas, like in the parks and reserves, the sand dunes are protected geological features and no camping is allowed on the dunes.
That’s why, we recommend finding a relatively flat spot that is away from the beach or vegetation and sand dunes. In places like Padre Island, you will be somewhere at the base of the sand dunes, away from the open beach.
Always refer to tide timings and check for any signs of high tide before setting up your tent. If in doubt, look how further back other tents are located to ensure you are out of water’s way.
The closer you are to the dunes or vegetation, lesser is the chance of water coming near the campsite at night. You can also get a tide chart at the Visitor Center / Ranger Station if you are in a national or state park site.
Things to know before you go beach camping in Texas
Always check the weather before you plan your camping trip. The tranquil Gulf Coast is quite dangerous during hurricanes and thunderstorms. The winds are very strong, the sea turns choppy, and waves of over 5 to 8 feet can result in unprecedented flooding. The tides also sweep further inland, causing a lot of damage.
Stock up on any supplies that you will need including water, ice, and firewood before you set up your campsite. Most of the beach campsites and pretty far from amenities. The last thing you want to do is to drive back for something just after you have arrived.
Sunscreen is necessary on Texas beaches year round. You may be able to forget sunscreen and survive from November to January, but we do not recommend this. Make sure to pack a high quality waterproof sunscreen with high SPF and remember to reapply it every few hours. Pack a kid-friendly sunscreen for the little ones.
Mosquitoes are abundant on the gulf Coast during the summer. We have encountered some really bad swarms at Galveston Beach and on Padre Island National Seashore in August. A strong breeze or slight wind can clear them up but we highly recommend carrying an insect repellent if you want to sleep soundly at night.
Carry a tide chart with you or at least know the tide timings. Campers should always be aware of the high tide line when choosing a camping location. Otherwise you are going to end up having to move camp in the middle of the night or wake up to find yourself floating on the water.
When the coast is windy, setting up the tent is a challenging task. We recommend carrying multiple extra stakes and using them to ensure that your tent stays put.
We recommend going to your preferred camping destination really early if you are visiting on weekends and holidays. The popular sites fill up fast and you will have to drive further to snap a good location.
Ensure that you have a 4WD vehicle that can handle beach driving. We have seen vehicles stuck in sand and the cost to tow them out was not cheap! We have heard of towing horror stories costing anywhere from $250 to $1000. It can also take ages for your rescue vehicle to arrive.
For RVs, finding a spot to turn on the beach is not easy. You may have to detach your car and take extra care if it has rained the night before and the sand is wet.
Look up restrooms and shower locations in advance if you are camping in RV parks or state parks or NPS sites.
Trash, seaweed, jellyfish, and other harmful objects frequently wash up on the beach from the Gulf Coast. You need to pack water shoes and watch where you step. Discourage children or anyone else from going barefooted, especially at night.
There are occasional reports of coyotes entering tents at night in search of food and taking other essentials with them. We recommend putting up food, clothes, shoes, and other things at night.
While not allowed, you may occasionally run into nude swimmers and sunbathers. We just prefer to go into an opposite direction and camp in a more secluded location than engage with them.
There is often no cellular service in many areas of the Gulf Coast. That means if you are stuck in sand or otherwise in trouble, help is much farther away. We highly recommend getting a cell booster to have great service.
Windy days on the beach mean just one thing – lots of blowing sand. This can happen year round. On our last visit to South Padre Island, the wind was so bad that we could not keep our eyes open and retired early to our hotel.
We stress this to prepare yourself and the kids for the realities of beach camping. The sand can get everywhere and can make you itch. It is not a very pleasant experience and beach camping, especially tent camping on the beach, isn’t as glamorous as it looks.
However, in spite of it all, it is an amazing experience and one that you and your kids will remember for their entire lives.
Last but not the least – Be a responsible camper and do not throw any kind of trash on the beach. Recycle plastic and aluminium trash and help in keeping the beaches clean. Remember, don’t mess with Texas!
We hope you like our guide to Texas Gulf Coast camping. Let us know if we missed any popular or secluded camping spots.
This article originally appeared on Enchanting Texas and has been republished here with permission.