Padre Island National Seashore | YARBOROUGH PASS PRIMITIVE CAMPGROUND

Laguna Madre at Yarborough Pass, Padre Island National Seashore

Laguna Madre at Yarborough Pass, Padre Island National Seashore


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If you drive 15 miles down South Beach from the end of the paved park road at Padre Island National Seashore, you will come to Yarborough Pass, a low-lying area between the beach and Laguna Madre, the bay-side of Padre Island. A 1.5-mile road runs through the pass and connects the Gulf to the lagoon. At the end of the road is an area where you can camp, though there are no amenities, not even a portable toilet. This is primitive camping, no different than camping on South Beach. The only reason to camp here is because you plan on doing activities in the lagoon such as fishing, kayaking, or windsurfing.

Yarborough Pass primitive camping area at Padre Island National Seashore

Yarborough Pass primitive camping area at Padre Island National Seashore

If you are unfamiliar with the beaches at Padre Island National Seashore, most of the sand is as hard as a dirt road, and driving any type of street-legal vehicle is allowed. Just be aware that beyond the 5-mile point on South Beach that the sand tends to get softer, and the National Park Service recommends that only 4-Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicles go beyond this point. In truth, where the soft sand develops changes all the time due to storms, tides, and other natural occurrences, and it is often possible to drive a 2-wheel drive vehicle much farther. I drove 20 miles down South Beach before encountering soft sand.

Regardless, if you plan on driving through Yarborough Pass to Laguna Madre, you will need a 4WD because the first part of the road is comprised of very soft and deep sand (the rest is actually a gravel road). There may also be deep, standing water on the road, and if it gets too deep, the National Park Service will close it (there is a gate). Yarborough Pass conditions are posted at the park entrance as well as on the National Park Service’s official Padre Island National Seashore website. Unfortunately, the Rangers do not regularly check on the conditions after they close the road. Yarborough Pass was closed when I visited, so my buddy and I walked to Laguna Madre just to get some photos. It was bone dry, and not a single Ranger in the park knew it. The next day, after I had told every Ranger I saw, it was still closed.

Sandy part of the road at Yarborough Pass, Padre Island National Seashore

Sandy part of the road at Yarborough Pass, Padre Island National Seashore

Gravel section of the road at Yarborough Pass, Padre Island National Seashore

Gravel section of the road at Yarborough Pass, Padre Island National Seashore

It is free to camp at Yarborough Pass, but you do need to fill out a permit before departing. Where the paved park road ends and South Beach begins, there is a self-service registration station (and a restroom as well). 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 and place it on your vehicle dashboard and drop the other part into the collection box.

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

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

The camping area at Yarborough Pass is rather small. There are four wooden structures with slatted roofs that provide partial shade, and these give the impression that there are only four campsites. However, there is no official limit, so if you can find somewhere to pitch a tent other than in the grass, you can camp. If the place is full, drive back to South Beach and camp there. The camping permit is good for both South Beach and Laguna Madre.

During the warmer months, if the wind isn’t blowing, mosquitoes are a big problem everywhere on Padre Island. The island is a combination of grassland and wetland, and the mosquitoes love water and vegetation. I didn’t camp at Yarborough Pass, but I did get a few bites on the walk through the pass, and that was in late October. I’d hate to see what it is like during the summer.

Another thing to keep in mind when deciding to camp at Padre Island National Seashore is that there isn’t a shade tree in the entire park. With no shade, even mildly hot summer days can be brutal. I camped on South Beach in late October, and it was extremely hot during the day with the sun beating down, but the night wasn’t too bad. However, there’s no way I’d camp here from June through September.

The only shade in sight at the Yarborough Pass camping area, Padre Island National Seashore

The only shade in sight at the Yarborough Pass camping area, Padre Island National Seashore

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

•  Driving in the mudflats surrounding the campground is not permitted. The upper layers of the mud dry first, giving the appearance of solid ground, but the mud underneath is soft, enabling vehicles to become stuck. Mudflats are also important habitat for invertebrates that are an important food source for many of the park’s bird species. Fines for damaging the mudflats are heavy due to their sensitive nature.

• Campfires are permitted in fully contained barbecue grills. 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.

•  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.

If you can get to the road at Yarborough Pass in a 2WD vehicle, even though you can’t drive to Laguna Madre, you can walk. It is an easy 3-mile round-trip hike through beautiful scenery. If you are looking for a place to take nice photos, this is one of the best at Padre Island National Seashore.

Grass- and wetlands of the Laguna Madre, Padre Island National Seashore

Grass- and wetlands of the Laguna Madre, Padre Island National Seashore

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Last updated on March 1, 2022
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