Padre Island, Texas – February 2015
Ultimately my reason for heading to Texas was to check out Padre Island. I love the beach and wanted to try boondocking (living without water or electric hookups) for an extended period, so after my visit to San Marcos and San Antonio that is where I headed.
The Padre Island National Seashore has several options for camping that are cheap or free. I planned to stay at the very cheap Malaquite Campground ($8 per night, no hookups) my first night and check out the FREE beach camping, then move if I was so inspired. However, the campground was full when I arrived. Instead I parked at the Malaquite visitor center and walked a couple miles down the beach to scope out the situation.
It was Saturday so the beach was crowded. There were lots of cars and trucks driving up and down the beach and plenty of campers set up next to the dunes. These campers ranged from people just spending the night in their cars to monstrous motorhomes. Here’s a view of the beach with the campers parked next to the dunes that I took on a less busy day and with the tide out. When the tide comes in it gets within 20 feet of these campers.
The sand was very hard from everyone driving up and down it and I found a spot about a mile from where the road ends that wouldn’t crowd the neighbors. I walked back and got the camper, drove to the new location, and was set up within the hour. This was the view out my living room window.
That Saturday was the busiest day of my stay with headlights driving by well into the night. The next day, a Sunday, was less crazy with fewer day visitors. I drove my scooter down the beach about 5 miles that morning and there were big trailers and motor homes as far as I drove. At the 5 mile mark is a warning to not proceed without 4 wheel drive. I don’t doubt there were more campers past that mark but I was satisfied with what I had seen. I debated moving my fifth wheel farther down the beach to where the campers were further apart but decided to stay put.
If I visited again I would go another couple miles before stopping. I met a young man that was staying on the beach in his SUV while he looked for work in the area. He had driven as far as 24 miles down the beach and said that you could go up to 60 miles. I might take my scooter a ways past the 5 mile marker next time I visit.
On the way back from my Sunday morning scooter ride I saw a motor home that had pulled a little too far off of the hard packed sand and gotten stuck. I went and got my 4 wheel drive pickup and helped pull them out but it wasn’t easy to get traction and took almost an hour. Getting stuck can certainly suck all the fun out of free camping. I’ve heard that a professional tow can run a thousand dollars or more!
I spent most of the week boondocking on the beach. I was pleased with how well my solar panels performed even though it was cloudy most days. I was also happy with my use of water. I only had one half of a 100 gallon water tank when I arrived. When I left 6 days later my tank read empty but I never actually ran out of water. About Tuesday it got cool and rainy and there were as few as three campers on the beach that night. I was a little worried about the weather making it hard to get out but I asked around and was told “if it gets really bad the rangers will come tell you to move”. The winds were crazy loud but the rain just packed the sand in harder.
I loved my stay and will definitely be back. The sunrises were spectacular!
And the birds were very entertaining!
The beach can look a little trashy at times. Because of the prevailing currents most of the trash is a result of anything dropped in to the Gulf of Mexico. I took a grocery bag with me on my two mile hike one morning and brought it back full. When I hiked the same section a couple days later there was hardly any trash to pick up.
Although the beach camping is free, there is a fee to enter the park. I understand it is $10 per vehicle for a 7 day pass or $20 per vehicle for an annual pass. Since I plan to visit a lot of national parks this year I bought the America the Beautiful annual pass to all the national parks for $80. Despite the excesses of my first week on the road I was able balance my budget of $20 per night for campsites by the end of my second week by boondocking for free for 6 nights even including the $80 I paid for my park pass.