We’re going back in time to share our 2017 car camping adventure through the Southwest! While our trip ended up being shorter than planned, we had some amazing adventures, including several new national parks and getting to be on one of our favorite TV shows! Thanks for reading along!
A much-awaited highlight of this trip was beach camping on the Texas coast — although our travels ended up not quite going as planned! Our trip from Louisiana took us through Houston in a crazy rainstorm …
… but as we turned south, the weather slowly turned to reveal some gorgeous clouds and Texas skyline that stretched on forever.
The weather had us undecided on where to stop, and we waffled between powering through to our destination (S. Padre Island) and stopping at one of the many Texas state parks along the way. Eventually, after a long day of driving, we arrived outside Corpus Christi at Mustang Island State Park.
We’d planned to do some primitive beach camping, but as we arrived after dark we were a little hesitant about getting set up on the beach. We couldn’t quite tell where we were allowed to be and how soft the sand was. Finally, we just pulled into the parking lot off the beach and set up there.
We woke up the next morning to find the clouds had cleared and it was a beautiful sunny morning. (We weren’t the only ones camping the parking lot, either!)
We drove out onto the beach, opened up the hitchenette, and made a delicious breakfast complete with beach views. It sure felt good to be camping again!
Feeling invigorated, we hit the road, once more headed south. We actually debated just staying at Mustang Island for a few more days, but I was determined to get in a little more primitive beach camping experience.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be — and I ended up making a rookie planning error that doomed our beach camping experience to ignominy …
… because, it would seem, Padre Island and South Padre Island are two very, very different places … and it’s a five hour drive to get from one to the other.
I won’t get into the details of the map-reading errors that landed us in this pickle. I’ll just say that when we arrived at S. Padre Island expecting a primitive national park landscape, and saw instead a crowded spring break destination, neither of us were thrilled. It was also hot as heck — the air conditioning in Franklin is out of commission — and we were informed at the county park campground I scrambled to find that car camping was not allowed under any circumstances. Ugh.
After much back-and-forth, and a medium-sized tantrum on my part, we ended up booking a hotel room, taking long showers, and grabbing dinner at the local brewery.
The next morning, we got up and tried again. I was determined to make beach camping happen, and we ended up scoring a spot at Isla Blanca County Park on the tip of the island.
We set up shop and watched a glorious sunset over the bay.
It looked like we weren’t going to be able to check Padre Island National Seashore off our national parks list. But since we were definitely not going to be returning to South Padre Island anytime soon (okay, ever), I was determined to stamp my passport at nearby Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.
We visited the visitor center, learned a little about the first battle in a two-year long war between the United States and Mexico that changed the map of North America, and walked the battlefield trail.
Less than impressed with South Padre Island, we opted to head north again … back to Mustang Island State Park, where we probably should have just stayed in the first place. Live and learn.
Back on the beach, we decided we liked this part of Texas much better than the southern tip. The beach was prettier, it was much less crowded, and it was less hot and humid, too.
It’s so sad to think that this area of Texas (outside Corpus Christi) suffered significant damage during Hurricane Harvey. But we can heartily recommend Mustang Island State Park as a lovely beachfront state park with nice facilities. (And in town, Coffee Waves Coffee Shop is a wonderful place get some caffeine … or gelato! … and do some work.)
While our beach camping experience was definitely not everything I’d hoped for, I’m glad we gave it a try. Next time I’d stay further north — Mustang Island is a good spot, as is Galveston Island State Park where we camped the previous year. I would still love to primitive beach camp on Padre Island National Seashore, although the warnings about the cost to rescue vehicles that get stuck in the sand are a little alarming.
Tell us in the comments: What are your recommendations for beach camping (in Texas and elsewhere)? How do you deal with humidity, bugs, and sand while camping? What are your favorite spots, and how do you find them?
Campground: Mustang Island State Park
- Address: 17047 TX-361, Port Aransas, TX 78373
- Our site: Primitive (Drive-up) Campsite
- Available sites: Campsites with Water and Electric
- Cost: $10 (plus $5/person entrance fee)
- Pros: Beach camping, decent hot shower & restroom facilities. Conveniently located outside Corpus Christi.
- Cons: Texas state parks, man. The facilities are just never nice enough to justify the relatively heavy price tag. That addition of the entrance fee gets us every time.
Campground: Isla Blanca Park
- Address: 33174 State Park Rd 100, South Padre Island, TX 78597
- Our site: Tent Site
- Available sites: A range up to full hookups with cable
- Cost: $15
- Pros: Convenient location to S. Padre Island. Lots of amenities, and prime beach-front location.
- Cons: Possibly the most crowded campground we’ve ever stayed in. Tent sites near the water were buggy and humid. The bathrooms were old and astonishingly dirty.