There are many camping opportunities across Padre Island, but none match the delight and near unlimited options of beach camping than the Padre Island National Seashore. Padre Island National Seashore accounts for 70 miles of Padre Island’s 113-mile length along the Texas Gulf Coast. Of that, 60 miles constitute “South Beach”. From the conclusion of Park Road 22 to Mansfield Channel, vehicles can find their own slice of beachside paradise, presuming you can navigate far enough down the beach to escape the clog of oversized and underpowered vehicles who grab the first passable space on the sand.
Camping in Padre Island National Seashore
For those familiar with beach driving, South Beach is quite standard. The entry road drops drivers right above the high tide line where successive vehicles have packed a trail of sand along the shoreline into a main street. Visitors who find a desirable campsite are instructed to pull off as far up the shore as reasonable without disturbing the dunes. You’ll see a wide assortment of 2-wheel and 4-wheel vehicles scattered along the beach. Though the number of 2-wheel vehicles quickly dwindles the further down the beach one drives. Many will clear out by sundown, leaving a relative degree of privacy to overnight campers. Though the lights of neighbors will likely be visible, depending on how far down the beach you choose to drive.
Fees and Permits
There is no fee for beach camping beyond the park access fee. But those who leave the pavement at required to fill out a beach access permit found on a kiosk at the end of Park Road 22. The original is left at the kiosk and a copy is placed on the vehicle dash.
As is to be expected with a no-fee dispersed campsite, there are no amenities. Campsites are wherever drivers can find parking between the main drag and the dunes. Water is what you pack in. Trash is what you pack out. And a toilet is something you bring or dig.
As far as cell service goes, that too is something not provided. There is cell service near the Malaquite Visitor Center, so consider that your last chance to check email and download any important resources.
Reaching the start of the beach is rather straightforward. “South Beach” is too vague a term to type into Google Maps. Instead, Navigate to the Malaquite Visitor Center, one of the furthest south structures on Park Road 22. A little further south and the road gives way to the beach.
Our Experience in Padre Island National Seashore
We set camp on a misty winter afternoon as we work our way north after spending the previous night camping on South Padre Island. Between driving a few miles down the beach and the thick mist, we can’t even see our neighbors. I’ve read complaints by other campers about mosquitos and read a warning about preventing Zika at the Visitors Center. But our experience of the dunes is profoundly relaxing, likely because we are visiting in winter rather than seasons with higher insect populations. Instead, flocks of pelicans regularly fly overhead and the only sound we hear is the crashing of waves.
Now, if only we could get cell service, this would be the perfect campsite.