Located along the central Gulf Coast, Padre Island National Seashore boasts the largest undeveloped stretch of coastline in the world. This unique National Park has the best of both worlds to visitors who are looking for a traditional campground or a remote secluded experience. 70 miles of sandy sea shores await anyone willing to engage their 4WD and spend their time exploring sandy tracks.
Padre Island National Seashore, which is often referred to as 'PINS', is a great National Park which hosts a choose your own adventure experience. There are a few established camp grounds which provide shower and restroom facilities a short walk away from your campsite. These types of campsites can be found in the Malaquite and Bird Island Basin Campgrounds. You still have access to the beach and if you're camping in the heat of summer you can take shelter in the Park's visitor shop. However if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, keep on reading.
If you continue on the main Park Road 22 past the Park's main office, the road will end into the beach. There are a few large trash barrels located at the end of the road. This is a great opportunity to empty any trashing you're carrying and air down your tires for running on sand. The beach track for vehicles is packed down for the first five miles which allows any visitor to drive anything from a front wheel drive sedan to a full size RV. Often times day visitors will find a spot along these first five miles so prepare to drive your way past a crowded shoreline. If you keep driving eventually you will run into a large warning sign pictured below. Now the fun begins.
All long the shoreline there are mile marker signs which help you keep track of how far you have traveled. After a few markers you can see why these are in place. Other than the sand dunes to your right along the shoreline there isn't much structure to orient yourself with. It is also helpful to keep your vehicle in the established tracks when possible while driving down the shoreline. If you happen to fall out of the groove of these tracks you will be greeted by loose sand and loss of traction. In some portions of the shoreline there is only one track which drivers coming into and out of the park will need to share. The right of way is reserved for vehicles traveling North bound so if you're driving South you will need to drive outside of the track to make space for the other vehicle. Stopping along the track isn't recommended since you will lose momentum in what is most likely soft sand.
Eventually if you drive far enough along the 60 continuous miles you can find a little break in the sand dunes which serves suitable for a camp site. During this visit the beach was littered with dead sea weed which made fishing challenging. If you're looking to avoid this giant migration of dead sea weed a quick call to the Park Headquarters will be able to let you know if a large amount of sea weed is present in the park.
Being able to set up camp as far away from the shoreline track is a great benefit. Depending on how busy the park is, there typically isn't a ton of vehicle traffic past mile 15. Still if the occasional vehicles passes and your camp is only a few feet away you will most likely be sprayed by sand and at the very least engine noise.
During our weekend trip we only saw a handful of vehicles drive by. We had miles and miles of shore line for ourselves with no one around. The Park officials do report there is some wildlife that lives past the sand dunes. Everything from squirrels to deer can be spotted along the island. Since this entire island is undeveloped it truly is amazing to see such undisturbed country just a few hours from Texas largest cities. At night there is zero light pollution from the island but off in the distance, past the high sand dunes, you can still see the glow of the nearby coastal cities. Outside of the wind noise on our tent, we didn't hear anything but the waves crashing on shore.
Padre Island National Seashore is a great place to spend the weekend. If you're looking for remote beach camping in Texas there's no better place. This environment does offer a unique challenge if you're looking for a primitive camping experience. If you are camping out along the shoreline you will need to bring your own food, water, shelter, and restroom. To help you prepare for this adventure, check out the Remote Beach Camping Packing List located in the Gear Review section.