Off the Grid
By Kirby Tello
In today’s high-tech world, we could all use some screen-free time to relax a little. Fall is upon us, and as the South Texas weather goes from unbearably hot to tolerable (and even quite enjoyable), getting some quality time with the outdoors is vital.
Our area offers a plethora of outdoor activities. Whether it's fishing, kayaking, surfing, or even going for a swim, the Sparkling City by the Bay has access to it all. One of the lesser mentioned, yet equally as enjoyable, activities is camping. Right here in our backyard are a handful of campgrounds that offer nature-filled experiences and endless activities for all ages.
Sure, a camping trip takes a fair amount of planning, especially when going with the entire family. However, the tradeoff is the opportunity to disconnect from the rest of the world, reconnect with your loved ones, and get some much-needed R&R.
Here’s a look at three campgrounds that top the list:
Mustang Island Campground
Across a 1.5 mile stretch of beach lies the Mustang Island Campground. There are 300 campsites available along the ocean’s edge. While staking out by the water has the benefit of front row seats to the gorgeous Texas sunrises and sunsets, it also has more of a feeling of roughing it (e.g., no electrical hookups or water). But if you don’t want to let go of the modern creature comforts, there are 48 campsites that not only come with electrical hookups and water but a grill and a picnic table, too.
Visitors love being able to drive on the beach and pitch their tents close to their vehicles. This makes storage of food, beverages, and gear very convenient. Parking along the shore is also a significant benefit for families with small children. As you walk along the beach, you may find some hermit crabs, lots of sea snails, and perhaps even a starfish or two. The spontaneity of the natural sea habitat is an interesting attraction, typically drawing a lot of attention from the little campers.
Even with all the tourism at Mustang Island, the campground is still fairly secluded. The Texas State Park Service keeps the beach garbage-free and well maintained. Every now and again, the beach patrol will ride by to survey the grounds, making sure everyone is safe and secure.
Mustang Island Campgrounds is very kid-friendly, and while it’s generally not overcrowded, the visitors who are there are most likely families.
Mustang Island is an adventure-seeker’s dream. Activities include biking, hiking, surfing, fishing, paddling, swimming, and watching wildlife. When night falls, visitors can enjoy a glowing campfire on the beach.
Things You Should Know
No reservations are necessary to camp at Mustang Island. Be sure to bring your own shelter. Tents, vans, trailers, RVs, and motorhomes are all permitted. Mustang Island is also pet-friendly!
Goose Island State Park
Goose Island State Park is one of the most popular campgrounds in the Coastal Bend. Located about 40 miles outside of downtown, the park covers an expansive 321.4 acres surrounded by both St. Charles and Aransas Bay. It’s known for “The Big Tree” which is a Southern live oak thought to be over 1,000 years old.
The campground offers 57 shelters that have electricity and water and 27 with water but no electricity. The Group Recreation Hall, featuring a charming native plant garden, provides a warm welcome for visitors. A butterfly garden sits nearby and a large grilling area for cooking up a great family feast is also available.
The facility has water, electricity, and holds up to 60 people at a time. In previous camping seasons, the Rec Hall was available for day usage or overnight booking. However, the park staff is still dealing with the aftermath of last year’s hurricane. “The Rec Hall is currently closed pending repairs due to damage from Hurricane Harvey,” explains Randy Rosales, Goose Island State Park Superintendent. “We hope repairs will be completed by spring.”
Although the campgrounds are surrounded by water, swimming in the park isn’t recommended since the shoreline consists of mostly concrete, oyster shell, mudflat, and marsh grass. However, there are plenty of activities to get excited about at Goose Island.
At the park, visitors can engage in hiking, boating, fishing, and observing the wildlife, especially birds. There are over 300 variations of birds to witness, including the endangered whooping crane, which can be found in the wetlands across the park. The variety of fish is vast on Goose Island, too. Find everything from redfish, flounder, and drum to speckled trout and sheepshead.
The unique endeavor Goose Island has to offer is geocaching. Geocaching (geo meaning “earth” and cache meaning “hidden item”) is the hunt for hidden treasures. Travelers and campers have left creative items camouflaged along hiking trails within the park for other campers to find. Geocaching is a fun teamwork activity for the whole family.
For activities such as boating, hiking, and observing wildlife, come prepared with gear. The park does not rent gear on-site. Although if you plan on fishing, the park headquarters does provide equipment. “The park does participate in the Tackle Loaner Program,” says Rosales, “so visitors can check out fishing gear while at the park.”
There is a fee of $50 daily plus a daily entrance fee of $5 for adults. Children under 12 are free. Reservations can be made online or over the phone.
The park is open year-round. Busy season is Memorial Day through Labor Day, October through Thanksgiving, and January through April.
Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island National Seashore is 70 miles of undeveloped beaches and natural habitat. Therefore, it is the most secluded and primitive camping experience you’ll find in the Coastal Bend. The nearest amenities to the park (e.g., gas station and food) are 12 miles away, and no firewood or fishing licenses are sold in the park. Visitors must come highly prepared when journeying to this park, but the experience is well worth it.
Each of the five campgrounds located within Padre Island National Seashore have roadways that go through dunes that are sometimes filled with exceptionally deep and soft sand. While driving on the beach is permitted in most areas, visitors are warned that even 4-wheel-drive vehicles may become stuck in these conditions. Prior to arriving at the campgrounds, contact the visitor center to get updates on weather and driving conditions.
The park allows campers to inhabit the grounds for up to 14 days at a time. If you plan on that long of a stay, be mindful that you really are off the grid. Cell service becomes spotty, and mailing letters home isn’t easy either since there are no post offices or stamps for sale. However, if two weeks among nature is calling to you, perhaps a full disconnect from technology and the outside world is just what the doctor ordered.
Windsurfing, kayaking, and canoeing top the list of activities to try in the Laguna Madre. Remember, you’ll also need to bring gear and equipment. Those who want to fish will find red drum and black tipped shark up for the catch. The National Seashore is fabulous for bird watching if you’re looking for the tranquility of observing wildlife.
The park has a host of programs that cater to every type of visitor. First, there is a Deck Talk, which is an informal information session that discusses various aspects of the island’s natural and cultural history. Second, the park offers leisurely hour-long beach walks that showcase the uniqueness of Padre Island National Seashore. Then, for adults and kids alike, the Hidden Treasures program centers around collecting creatures along the surf’s edge and learning about their habitat.
There are five beach campgrounds within Padre Island National Seashore, all of which are open year-round: Malaquite Campground, Bird Island Basin, North Beach, South Beach, and Yarborough Pass. Visitors must have a camping permit upon arrival and camping availability is first-come, first served. There are no RV hookups. The park is pet-friendly!
No matter which campground you plan to explore, remember to pack the essentials. Plenty of water, energy-rich and easily prepared foods, sun protection and bug repellent, and temperature appropriate clothing are just a few of the things you’ll need. For the kiddos, bringing toys and games is suggested, but you’ll be amazed at how effective a stick and some mud can be for entertainment.
After all, there is nothing like a camping trip
to spark the excitement of an adventure, unearth new conversations, and create
wonderful life-long memories. So, go on, grab your friends and family and get
outdoors. Adventure awaits.