South Padre Island (county beach parks)

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Well-known member
Mar 18, 2021
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So, weird experience yesterday at South Padre Island.

First drove out to where the road (State Park Road 100) ends. Lovely out there, and you can park free on the side of the road.

Just before I got there, a large horseback tour group crossed the road, returning to the adventure park. (Yes, private -- lotta private land with "for sale" signs out there -- I bet the whole area looks different in a few years.)

I parked and started walking north (away from town) along the beach. It was horse apples every few yards the whole way. Right along the water line, just where you’d want to walk barefoot. Some of the horse apples had already been squashed by zooming pickup trucks, others were still quite fresh.

Then I drove back toward town, intending to check out the three county parks (AFAIK these are the only public camping options/there’s no state or federal park out there). But the entry fee has gone up from $12 to $14. According to the new signs, they’ll hand you a trash bag when you enter, and if you spend your beach time picking up other people’s trash and hand them a full trash bag on your way out, they’ll give you $2 back. (Which might make sense to me if they took the discount off the original exorbitant price; but no, they had to jack up the rate first.)

So, ordinary working stiff trying to enjoy some hard-won time in nature? Good luck. For-profit company? Apparently, make yourself right at home. Grrr. I wonder if the county parks department ever heard of the goose and the golden egg. (I wrote a complaint letter on their Contact Us form, but I’m not holding my breath.)

I used to think South Padre was as good as “real” Padre if you could just get out of the built-up area. Now I’d say take your chances with the free parking at the end of the road (but look out for horse apples!) — use the free, and much nicer, rest room at the Convention Center, where there is also a very nice, free, wetlands boardwalk — and ignore the rest.* But if you have the option to head north to Padre Island/Mustang Island instead, do. There's less c@rp to drive through, and it's nicer when you get there. Also, I’m pretty sure there’s a substantial stretch of motor-vehicle-free beach.

Thank for listening! I feel better.🙃

* When I wrote this I was thinking about day visits if you happen to be in the area. I don't know what the options would be for boondocking (I'm too chicken) or commercial RV parks (I can't afford).
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Hmmm, that’s disappointing.

I have only ever camped farther north at the National seashore, where it is free to camp on the beach off any of the beach access roads.

The sand up there is also much more hospitable than South Padre, as I recall.

There was a campground also on the island that allowed you to empty your tanks and refill with fresh water for $4.

I would guess that tide coming in and out would wash away the horse leavings, so you unfortunately got there at a bad time.

The last time I was at PINS it was by myself, and I had no problems whatsoever.

There have always been plenty of other campers, tho so many miles of beach that one doesn’t feel crowded.

Boondocking is a leap of faith, in several respects, but it really expands one’s options and opportunities.

Try it sometime. :)
Yes, the two Padres are two different worlds, 200+ miles apart by car.

Sand seemed pretty similar to me in both places, though. The main difference I could see is in the levels of congestion and protection.

The tide will wash the visible contamination away, for sure. (Same as it would for a human tvrd.)
Years ago I lived on St. Croix USVI for awhile. One day there was a don't-swim alert because of a breakdown at the sewage plant ... the water was the most beautiful sparkling blue I had ever seen it.
As you probably know, a lot of the trash (including copious quantities of medical waste--ick!) along the Texas Gulf Coast comes from off-shore. The shape of the land mass and currents has a lot to do with it. Oh, and so does people dumping all kinds of crap everywhere. I'm not sure how I feel about the tiny-tiny monetary carrot, but the trash is a huge problem.

I hope you will keep exploring and find a sweet spot where you can recharge from time to time! Keep us posted.
ewww.... but makes sense now that you mention it.

Thought I should mention, just to have it in this thread, that for true boondockers there's another option at Boca Chica Beach (8 miles south by water, 42 miles by land). I think it's on state park land. It is completely free, but there's 0 amenities (not even a porta potty, and the nearest public restroom or water supply is probably at least 15 miles away). It's right next to Elon Musk's rocket base and <3 miles from the mouth of the Rio Grande. If you're self-contained enough, and have the kind of vehicle that can drive safely on sand, and don't mind driving through a Border Patrol checkpoint on your way back to town, it might make a gorgeous campsite.
Boca Chica Beach sounds like the Land of the Brave, to me, more remote than I, personally, would dare. ☺️

I like the Land of Backup, not the Land of You’re On Your Own. 😅
People do seem to like it, though. There's usually at least a couple rigs there when I go by (on foot, having parked on the pavement).

I wonder if anyone here has tried it?

I would so love to make it down to the mouth of the river. I've seen it in Taos, Albuquerque, Elephant Butte/TorC, El Paso (?I think), Laredo, Progreso, and Brownsville ... would be so fun to see where it meets the sea. Still trying to talk my geezer bones into giving it a try; would "only" be 6 miles or so round trip.
I was born in Bay City, Texas, in 1953. Growing up and going to the bays and beaches all along the Texas Gulf Coast was a way of life for those who lived there. I learned to handle an outboard about the same time I learned to ride a bike. My father was raised in Taft, a small town just west of Corpus Christy. We'd often go there during the summer to visit family and fish; we'd camp on the beach and the island (Padre Island). There weren't many people back then, and you could go far enough to see no one in any direction. Back then, the beaches were clean; there was no trash or biomedical waste, oil from ship and boat bilges or styrofoam, and plastic remains from the fast-food industry. But today, that's all a very different story; too many people in too small of an area, it's the cruse ship mentality. I was "boondocking" before it was cool. We just called it camping. The golden rule was, "if you carried it in, carry it out!"

Boca Chica is cool if you like the raw beach experience, and a lot of those rigs are cameras for video bloggers following the progress of Starbase. I was down there a couple of months ago with one of them, a distant cousin.