Padre Island National Seashore | BEACH CAMPING

RV on Padre Island National Seashore's South Beach

RV on Padre Island National Seashore’s South Beach


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Both tent campers and RVers are welcome to camp anywhere along the sixty miles of South Beach or the one mile of North Beach at Padre Island National Seashore. This is primitive camping, so there are no amenities. If you need the restroom, you’ll either have to go behind the bushes (there actually aren’t any) or return back to the Malaquite Visitor Center where you can use the modern restrooms and the cold-water, outdoor rinse-off showers.

Tent camping at the Mansfield Channel at the end of South Beach

Tent camping at the Mansfield Channel at the end of South Beach

While you can hike to your beach camping destination, most people drive. The entire North Beach is comprised of hard-packed sand (the same as a dirt road), and typically at least the first five miles of South Beach is hard packed, so any street-legal vehicle is allowed on the beach. The sand tends to get looser the farther you drive down South Beach, so eventually you’ll need a 4-Wheel Drive to proceed farther. See the Driving on the Beach web page here on National Park Planner for more information about beach driving at Padre Island National Seashore.

Driving on Padre Island National Seashore's South Beach

Driving on Padre Island National Seashore’s South Beach

Camping on the beach is free, but you do need to get a permit before departing. Where the paved park roads end and the beaches begin (at both North and South beach), there is a self-service registration station. Permits are available, and all you need to do is provide your name, vehicle make and license plate number, and when you plan to return. Keep one part of the permit with you and drop the other part into the collection box. At South Beach, in addition to the registration station is a fancy outhouse, which is what I call a portable toilet in a permanent building. There is no toilet at North Beach.

Camper registration station and restroom at South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

Camper registration station and restroom at South Beach, Padre Island National Seashore

While beach camping is free, there is still a fee to enter Padre Island National Seashore. Fees are collected at the manned park entrance station. Oddly enough, the road to North Beach comes before the entrance, but don’t think that you can sneak on the beach without paying. Get your park entrance permit, then turn around and head back to the North Beach Access Road. Why the National Park Service didn’t put the entrance station before the North Beach road is beyond me, unless the road was added afterwards. If so, just move the pay station back a half mile. Anyways…

There are a few things to keep in mind when camping on the beach. During the warmer months, if the wind isn’t blowing, mosquitoes are a big problem. The words mosquitoes and beach should never be used in the same sentence, but there is fresh water on Padre Island and the sand dunes are covered with vegetation, which makes the island an ideal habitat for the pests. Of course they’ll venture onto the beach for a meal. It was windy the night I camped at the Mansfield Channel at the end of South Beach, but in the morning the wind had died and the mosquitoes were perched on the outside of my tent just daring me to come out.

Along with the bugs, there are rattle snakes, coyotes, and other animals in the dunes. An ol’ timer who was fishing at Mansfield Channel told me that if you have to take a dump, DO NOT venture into the dunes. Just dig a hole right out in the middle of the beach, do your business, and don’t worry about who sees you.

Vegetation on Padre Island sand dunes creates a habitat for bugs, snakes, and other animals

Vegetation on Padre Island sand dunes creates a habitat for bugs, snakes, and other animals

While a stiff breeze keeps the bugs away, if you are camping on soft sand (like at the Mansfield Channel), you are in for another surprise. The sand is so fine on Padre Island that it’s almost like dust. The wind will whip it up, and it will get into everything. It will even filter through the mosquito netting on your tent. In the summer when it is too warm to close off the ventilation, you’ll wake up covered in sand. I was afraid to sleep on my side because I thought my ear would fill up with the stuff and I’d wake up deaf (it did not).

Campfires are allowed on both North and South beach as long as you dig a pit. You cannot start an above-ground bonfire. No firewood is sold in the park, so you must bring your own.

Camping on South Beach near Mansfield Channel, Padre Island National Seashore

Camping on South Beach near Mansfield Channel, Padre Island National Seashore

The following are some of the rules for camping on the beach (taken directly from the National Park Service website for Padre Island National Seashore).

•  Campfires are permitted in fully contained barbecue grills or in a pit dug in the ground, unless there is a fire ban in effect. Bonfires are not permitted anywhere in the park. Remove any burned materials and pack them out with you.

•  Do not run generators between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM.

•  Please park or set up camp as close to the dunes as possible in order to avoid blocking traffic.

•  Driving off the beach and into the dunes, grasslands, and mudflats is not permitted.

•  A camping permit is required and is available at the entrance to South and North beach.

•  A 14-day camping limit is in effect at all camping areas. At the end of 14 days of camping anywhere within the park, campers must vacate their site and leave the park for a minimum of 14 days before returning to camp. The total number of days spent camping in the park should not exceed 28 calendar days per year, in any combination of visits or consecutive nights.

•  Please remove all trash. Pack out more than you brought in. Free trash bags are available at the entrance station and the Malaquite Visitor Center. There are dumpsters located near the entrance to South Beach.

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Last updated on February 26, 2022
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