Being the second-largest state in the United States, Texas is vast and consists of 78 state parks, 47 Wildlife Management Areas, and 10 national forests and grasslands.
Camping in the Lone Star State is a truly unique experience, with prairies, deserts, mountains, marshes, seashores, and everything in between.
There are many dispersed camping sites for tent camping, RV camping, backpackers, and hikers. If you are looking for a free or cheap place to camp in Texas, this post is for you.
Where to camp for free in Texas?
- Wildlife Management Areas. These rural regions are administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. There are 47 wildlife areas with many of them having dispersed campsites.
- City and County Parks. There is a handful of city and county parks where you can camp for free. One popular hotspot is Fort Anahuac Park. Although you can camp for free, you will require to obtain a permit from the county office.
- National Forests and Grasslands. There are 5 national forests and 5 national grasslands under the watch of the Forest Service. Generally, you can camp for free here except on developed campgrounds which charge a fee.
- Padre Island National Seashore. A popular weekend destination for those living in the south, especially Houston and San Antonio. The seashore stretches over 70 miles and is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world.
Best Free Camping in Padre Island National Seashore
Free campsites are available in 5 different locations along the Padre Island National Seashore. Camping is available year-round and you will be required to apply for a permit at the campgrounds’ kiosk upon arriving.
- North Beach. The campground here is suitable for tent camping, RV, trailers, and vans. Although the campground is free, you will need to pay for the park entrance fee. Campfires are permitted here. Take note that the nearest showers and flush toilets are located 12 miles away from Malaquite Visitor Center.
- South Beach camping areas are very primitive. It stretches from Closed Beach down south to the Mansfield Channel. There are no designated sites, so the choices are endless. The nearest amenities are located at Malaquite Campground if you need them.
- Yarborough Pass is located 15.5 miles south of the Malaquite Visitor Center. This area is as primitive as it can get. There are no amenities such as flush toilets, picnic tables, or hookups. The nearest ones are 12 miles away.
- Bird Island Basin Campground is located on the Laguna Madre’s waters. This area is among those who like canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and windsurfing. There is an $8/day fee here and the campground has toilets.
- Malaquite Campground is ideal for those who are not quite ready for a full-blown primitive camping experience. The 48 designated campsites here have flush toilets, cold water showers. It is based on a first-come, first-served basis and costs $14/night. It is suitable for tent camping, car camping, or boondocking.
Best Free Camping in Wildlife Management Areas
The 47 Wildlife Management Areas in Texas offer campers a unique opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the Lone Star State. The campgrounds are free but you must have a camping permit which costs just $12 for a 6-month period.
The WMAs are designated areas for wildlife research, preservation, and educational reasons. As a result of this, the public is also offered the opportunity to use this area for outdoor recreational activities such as camping, hiking, hunting, and bird watching.
- Pineywoods. Located in the east bordering Arkansas and Louisiana, Pineywood is covered with pines, oak, and bottomland hardwood forests. Temperatures and humidity remain high throughout the year here. For those who like to camp by the lake, Caddo Lake has some impressive sceneries and is home to more than 70 fish species. Other WMA hotspots include Alabama Creek WMA, Alazan Bayou WMA, Bannister WMA, Old Sabine Bottom WMA, Moore Plantation WMA, and North Toledo Bend WMA.
- Big Bend Country. Located on the southwestern side along the Mexican corner, the Big Bend Country has everything from desert valleys to plateaus and wooded mountain slopes. This area is more remote compared to the others and would suit someone who wants to get away from civilization. The popular WMA here is the Black Gap WMA for river camping and the Elephant Mountain WMA for its beautiful sceneries.
Best Free Camping in Texas' National Forests
With 10 national forests, dispersed camping sites are limited to only 5 of them. Although free, there are guidelines that you will need to adhere to when camping here.
The maximum stay limit is 14 nights and there are no amenities such as fire rings, vaulted toilets, showers, or tables here. You will have to pack all you need, including drinking water and toilet wipes, and pack them out when you leave. You are also expected to adhere to the 7 Leave No Trace principles.
The 5 national forests popular for camping are :
- Angelina National Forest. Dispersed camping is available at Bouton Lake inside the Sam Rayburn Reservoir Area.
- Caddo & Lyndon B. Johnson National Grassland. Located in the northeast and northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, dispersed camping is available at East Lake Crockett. There are paid campgrounds ($10/night) at Black Creek Lake, Coffee Mill Lake, and West Lake Crockett.
- Davy Crockett National Forest. Named after the legendary pioneer Davvy Crockett, this area covers more than 160,000 acres of public land in the Houston and Trinity counties. Dispersed camping is available at the Neches Bluff Overlook. The Ratcliff Lake is a paid campground for tent and RV camping.
- Sabine National Forest. There are 9 dispersed camping sites in this 160,656-acre forest but with a small fee between $4 to $10 per night.
- Sam Houston National Forest. Located just 50 miles north of Houston, this is a popular area for a short weekend getaway. The Kelly’s Pond Campground is free while the others have a small fee.
Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.