Camping on Padre Island National Seashore

Hey y'all! We had a blast this year! I'll have a link to the video below. We have been coming to the Island for years and we have learned a few things in the passing of time. I have compiled this packing list that we use for any type of camping, I've been using it over 10 years and it hasn't let me down yet! The boys were fishing, our son was learning to surf, the girls were learning how to drive down the beach in the sand, and we had a simple little camp that gave us just what we needed to enjoy the surf!

This year, the sand was so much softer than I ever remember before. We used 4WD way more than usual, so of course it was super fun! Here are some things from this years trip that you can expect to run into when camping at North Padre.

Finding a Camp and Setting Up

Usually the first 5 miles are pretty smooth, but this year it was very rough. We had to throw the truck and jeep in 4H a few times driving down, since this was such a quick trip we stayed down about the 7 mile mark. When we are looking for a campsite to setup, we look at the tide patterns and try to find a spot that has a deeper layout next to the dunes. Sadly, we saw people this year who tried setting up between the road and the surf, it didn't work out too well for them. One was a 1 ton truck hooked up to a fifth wheel. I'm glad I didn't get their towing bill!

We keep our camp simple at the beach, especially when we are tent camping. This year, our daughters slept in our Jeep, the boys shared a tent, and we took our REI Base Camp 6 tent. We had 2 privy tents set up. For one of them my husband brought his deer blind, it sets up super fast, is easy to anchor down for the wind, and we had a huge changing room. 

One upgrade we finally made this year is a camping hot water heater. Yes y'all, hot water at camp. We have always used black shower bags, let them warm up in the sun, then shower at night. This worked fine, but this is so stinking simple. I'll be writing anther post on what camping gear we use, so keep you eye out for that if you want to know more about our hot water system at camp!

We took our Mountain Bike trailer this year. All our gear was locked up, and when we drove down to Mansfield Cut or into Corpus for groceries, we put on the hitch lock, locked the doors, and we didn't have to worry about our generator or my son's surf board. All was good! It's also nice because it's easier loading gear and when camp is set up, I organize our groceries, cleaning supplies, and toiletries on shelves. It works like a dream! You close the doors at night, no worries about animals. 

We also bring our generator, it's actually a honda inverter. I bring a boot mat I bought at Target to set the generator on so it doesn't get sandy. Another thing we use is sand bags. We tied down all the 'stake' points of our tent using sand bags. They're great because you fill them up when you get there and dump them out when you leave, so it's not much to pack in your gear.Tent stakes don't work well. You can use tent stakes made for sand, this has just always been an easier and cheaper route to go for us.

Yarborough Pass

This year the entrance into Yarborough Pass was much softer, I started in 4H but had to back down and put the Jeep into 4L to get up and over the dunes. Once we got up the hill, I showed the girls how to unbind the gears when you take the Jeep out of 4L, and we were off to see Yarborough Pass. 

Yarborough Pass is about 15 miles down the beach. The road in comes from the surf side and goes over the dunes towards Laguna Madre. It's a popular fishing spot, the water is very calm since it is on the bay side, and you can walk out quite a ways and only be knee deep. Remember your water shoes, since this is a fishing spot, there are hooks and things in the water. 

Mansfield Cut

Boy has the cut changed this year! The hurricanes came through last fall and completely changed to surf. It is still just as beautiful as it always is, there is just so much more sand! The jetty is buried by sand further out than last year. We drove up against the dunes and it was so soft and deep we stayed in 4L and kept into the throttle until we got back down toward the road. 

There is really good fishing off the jetty! I love sitting in my chair down at the edge of the water because the water comes in and hits the jetty and swirls back so you get the waves twice. It's not rough, but relaxing. 

When we drive down to the Cut, we pack day gear. Mansfield Cut is down at the very end of North Padre at the 60 mile mark. It took us about 2 hours to get there, so we drive the beach looking for cool things and spend our while day at the Cut. 

This is what we pack:

  • Cooler with snacks, salad kits, and drinks
  • Cooler with Ryan's bait
  • Bubbler bucket with live bait
  • Privy Tent
  • Fishing Gear
  • Recovery Gear in the Jeep and Ram, it's not just for you. Be prepared to help out someone else who is stuck y'all. We ran across 2 people on the way back who needed help. 
  • Chairs, towels, and a change of clothes
  • 'Kitchen Bag' with disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, paper towels, ziplock bags, plastic utensils, and our Yukon insulated cups
  • First Aid Kit, we keep one in both vehicles, but I always double check it's still there before heading that far down
  • Some people need extra gas. We never do, but Ryan usually has some incase someone needs help

The Critters

This year there were plenty of Man-O-Wars! They were up and down the whole beach, all 60 miles. There were a bunch of them this year, but their tentacles weren't as long as normal. 

The seagulls were the same as always, hoping you drop food, but they didn't bother us. They are a realaxing sound, of course there is always that one bird that throws fits when he doesn't get fed. 

The sand crabs were out every night, make sure you keep your tent zipped up! Years ago when we were first married, my parents bought us a new tent for our 1st anniversary. Of course our first trip was Padre! We set up the new tent which had shoe pockets. Ryan forgot to zip up the shoe pocket, in the middle of the night, he woke up in a panic, unzipped the door of the tent and ran around outside. A sand crab had gotten in our tent through that open pocket and crawled up his leg. It was so funny, not for him at that time, but now we laugh about it. 

We didn't have a problem with coyotes this year, but we always prepare for them. We make sure all of our food is put up, this year we had our enclosed mountain bike trailer with us, so every night I just closed up the doors, no worries about food laying around. 

Another critter we didn't have an issue with this year is rattlesnakes. They are on the dunes, so don't go exploring around the dunes. The park rangers ask that you don't go hiking and things on the dunes anyways to preserve them. I've never seen one on the beach in all the years we have camped, they stay on the dunes.

Cooking On the Beach

We tried to cover this well in the last post Planning For a Beach Camping Trip, but here is what we did this year and it worked soooooo good y'all! We kept it super simple. We tent camped, so I had a kitchen box with all the basics:

  • dish soap and rags
  • paper towels
  • tongs and a metal spatula
  • knife and cutting board
  • can opener and bottle opener
  • French press and ground coffee (ground fresh the morning we leave)
  • paper coffee cups
  • paper plates and bowls
  • plastic utensils
  • ziplocks and foil
  • trash bags

We stopped at H-E-B on S Padre Island Drive on our way to the beach. They do curbside pickup too y'all, take advantage of that. The only thing we actually cooked was fresh gulf shrimp (Ryan bought that at Paul's Seafood) and I threw some potatoes wrapped in foil down on the coals. Everything else was premade at H-E-B. They have several coolers at the front with fresh premade food. I had each person pick out their own salads, sandwiches, and snacks for each day. 

Y'all, I did not do one dish the whole time we were on the beach!! It was AWESOME!! If you try to do too much on the beach you end up with sand in your food anyways, so slow down, keep it easy, and just enjoy your time there. Yes, there are times we are in the mountains and we plan our day around our meals, we love super good camp food. From dutch oven chili to steaks made right over the fire and more potatoes than you can imagine, we love to eat at camp. This just isn't the place for that kind of thing.

We took our Coleman camping fire pit and made fires in the evening by the water. If you cook by the surf, you don't get sand in your food. Then when it was time to go up, sit by the fire and rotate through showers, we just carried it up to camp for the evening. This fire pit has handles, so the guys carried it up for us at night. 

De-sanding At Night

No one wants sand in their tent. The sand here at Padre is a damp sand that just sticks to you. We have found that using baby powder is where it is at. I have one for every tent. At night, after we shower we try to just sit by the fire and relax so it's only our feet that is sandy. When we step into the tent, we dust off with baby powder and we are sand free to go to sleep. 

My daughter hates baby powder, but she hates a bed with sand even more. Baby powder is her best friend at camp. She will even de-sand her feet when we go to get in the Jeep to drive down the beach. 

Fishing On the Island

I'm gonna let my son tell you about what he does, the gear he uses, and what he has been successful at catching. He has been fishing with his daddy since he was walking. 

Hey y'all! My name is Kylin! Here are some tips for fishing at Padre Island! I use a 10ft surf fishing rod with a Penn reel, it's my favorite! When it comes to fishing line, leaders, and hooks, I gotcha! So, the line is 50lb braid, it works amazing! so the leaders, I use a 2ft wire leader. 8.0 circle hook! and you're ready to go! so the bait I use is squid! but you can use whatever you want.


Can You Surf North Padre?

I'm gonna let my oldest son give you his thoughts. There are some really good surf shops, if you want to try it you can rent a board for $35 for the day.

Hey ya'll, my name is Rylin. Recently I went to North Padre Island. I have always wanted to surf, but I was scared to learn on big waves. At south beach the waves vary but are normally between 3-6 feet tall, they were perfect for me to learn on. I started off with a longer board because it is easier to surf on. It is 8 feet long and 2 feet wide and I'm still learning but I did figure out that using warm water wax works great for your board. The water was a little cold, but it was early in the year, so I would recommend going a little later in the year if you're planning on surfing a lot. I was able to stand up a couple of times the first day and having plenty of wax helps a lot I used Mrs. PALMERS warm water surf wax. There are a few surf shops there, the one I prefer to go to is Dockside Surf Shop. The people there are so nice, and they have new and used boards so if there are any beginners, they can buy a used board to see if they like it. See ya later Ya'll!!

Give It a Try Y'all!

In the end, camping on the island is a fun experience for the whole family! The girls are driving now, they had fun driving the Jeep down the beach. The boys and Ryan had fun fishing and surfing, and I can't ever get enough of the ocean. Use our packing list, prepare before you go, and you will have an awesome trip to Padre! Happy camping y'all!

Check out Planning For a Beach Camping Trip and don't forget your Camping Packing List. Watch the video here. Y'all come back now!


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