Free Camping in Texas

So far in our camping guide of Texas, we’ve highlighted a lot of great campsites. We’ve listed some of our community’s favorite campsites in each of the best state parks for camping in Texas. We’ve given an insight into some of the top primitive campsites and beach campsites.

The camping grounds listed all come with their own charm and unique set of attractions. However, there is one thing that they all have in common - they come with a fee.

For short stays, this fee is very manageable and actually quite reasonable. However, if you are planning on a long-term camping adventure, the daily rates can really add up, more so for bigger family tents. This becomes even more relevant if you are travelling with family.

For experienced campers on a budget, you might be assessing your options. Free camping is never as straightforward as it sounds, as most hikers know while trying to get a free pitch for their hiking tents. So, we decided to put together a short guide for free camping in Texas.

The Trade Offs Involved in Free Camping in Texas

There are obviously trade-offs involved in seeking out free camping in Texas. When you stay in private campgrounds or state-run parks you have access to certain amenities.

The campgrounds in Texas are generally located in more developed regions. With free camping, you are roughing in more ways than one.

You have to be a lot more self-sufficient and do extra planning. There will generally be no running water, sewage system, trash cans, picnic tables etc. Some free public campsites offer parking, restrooms, and hookups, but don’t bet on it.

In free camping, you are taken off the beaten track. This usually amounts to a lot more effort but more adventure also.

The decision to go free camping also requires that you have a certain amount of knowledge of the lands you stay in. Anywhere in the US, including Texas, the land is managed by a wide variety of national, state, and local governments.

There is also privately owned land, federally owned land, and Indian Reservations. There is a proverbial minefield of different rules and regulations to negotiate with.

If you pull up somewhere far away from everything else and think that no one will care, you will often be mistaken. You need to be well versed on where you should and should not stay. You don’t want your free camping trip to become your illegal camping trip.

 

A Few Things to Consider Before Setting up Camp

There are a number of ways to find places you can legally pitch a tent in Texas for free. But, before you travel to any campsite in Texas, there are a couple of things you should know.

The first is that no matter where you stay, you are most likely going to be subject to time restrictions. Usually, this means you can only stay up to 14 days in one place. Try to find out the precise restrictions for whenever you end up pitching your tent to avoid any issues.

The second point is to make sure you abide by the Leave No Trace Principles. You must take all trash away with you. This is definitely one to consider.

Longer stays usually equate to a lot more trash than you’d expect. Luckily, many free campgrounds in Texas have a dump station nearby.

You also must leave the place exactly as it was before your visit. This means no taking away anything that you found and being extra cautious if building campfires, etc.

How Do I Find Places To Camp Legally?

Texas is one state that is particularly difficult to find free places to camp. This goes back to when the United States wanted Texas to join the union.

Texas would only comply if they were allowed to keep most of the unsettled land owned by the Republic of Texas. This means that on most stretches of land, you are on the property of others.

However, below are three ways to find legal spots for free, or next to free, camping in Texas:

Look For Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) -  Wildlife Management Areas are operated by the Wildlife Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

There are over 47 Wildlife Management Areas, encompassing some 714,094 acres of land. 21 of these WMAs offer overnight camping. It’s important to note that some WMAs in Texas don’t offer parking for RVs. A full list of WMA camping sites can be found here.

Talk to a Ranger - The very best way of ensuring peace of mind is to speak with a ranger in the local area. Oftentimes there can be free parking in BLM (Bureau Land Management) managed lands or Forest Lands.

However, your best bet is to call or drop into a National Forest or BLM office. The rangers there will be happy to give advice and point out areas where you can camp legally.

By speaking to the rangers you are getting the lay of the land from the people that know it best. Everyone in Texas, especially in the West part, is very friendly, so there will be more than happy to help you.

Search Online - Free camping or searching for free camping has become quite the hobby in recent years. There are many resources online dedicated to helping campers find free camping areas. Check out FreeCampsites.net or Campendium to compile your own list.

Best Free Camping Locations in Texas

Wildlife Management Areas

The best locations for free camping in Texas are undoubtedly WMAs. Technically speaking, there are no free campgrounds in most WMAs. You must pay a nominal fee for a camping permit.

A 6-month permit for all Texas WMAs costs just $12. Unless you don’t want to pay for camping out of principle, this is virtually free.

Big Bend Country

Elephant Mountain WMA and Black Gap WMA are two free and beautiful public camping areas in the Big Bend Country. Both are notable for great hunting opportunities, (check out our hunting tents) and both are located near the Big Bend National Park - one of the most beautiful national parks in the US.

The campgrounds in Elephant Mountain don’t feature drinking water, so make sure to bring your own. However, the wildlife viewing area is wheelchair accessible and there is a composting toilet at the campgrounds.

If you are into river camping, do know that 25 miles of Rio Grande run through the Black Gap WMA. At the campground, there are about 30 primitive sites. Many of the campsites feature picnic tables and shelters.

The campground is little visited, there’s only one paved road that leads to it. It is one of the best free campgrounds for those who want to avoid crowds.

Gulf Coast

In South Texas, along the Gulf Coast, free camping is easier to find. If you enjoy fishing and paddling, you will love the campgrounds in Tony Houseman WMA and Matagorda Island. Both WMAs are open year-round.

When it comes to amenities, you will find fire rings and picnic tables in Tony Houseman, but you can still bring your own fire pit. There is also an impressive scenic deck that allows for wildlife viewing.

Matagorda Island is a perfect place to connect to coastal nature. There are no flush toilets, drinking water, motorized vehicles, nor electricity on the site. As long as you bring along everything you need on the boat, you will love it.

In the north part of the area, you will find Sunday Beach. It’s an enjoyable spot to relax, fish, and watch the birds.

Pineywoods

Unlike most of Texas, the Pineywood region offers numerous opportunities for free camping. The places where you can pitch a tent for free include Old Sabine Bottom WMA, North Toledo Bend, Moore Plantation WMA, Alabama Creek WMA, Bannister WMA, Alazan Creek WMA, and Caddo Lake WMA.

Of all of these WMAs, Caddo Lake likely offers the most impressive scenery. It is an excellent spot for those who love lakeside camping. The lake is home to around 70 species of fish, and you don’t need a fishing license.

Located on the west side of the lake, the designated camping area is surrounded by an awe-inspiring bottomland hardwood forest. It’s important to note that RV camping is prohibited here.

Best Free Campsites With Hookups for RV Camping

Levelland City Park

Levelland City Park may not be the most scenic camping location, but it offers excellent facilities. It offers electric hookups and water hookups. There are dumpsters and a dump station near the campground. In Levelland City Park, camping is free for 3 nights.

Dunas City Park

If you want to go RV camping in West Texas, free campsites are not so easy to find, but it is possible. The Dunas City campground is one of those rare finds.

Parking here is very easy, thanks to nice level sites. Dumas City Park offers access to a dump station, potable water, as well as free electrical hookups. The first night here is free. It’s a low-priced campsite, so each night after that will cost you only $10.

Stinnett Park

When it comes to RV camping in Texas, Stinnett Park is one of few free campgrounds in Texas that have everything you need nearby. Each site offers electricity hookups and water hookups.

There is a restroom at the City Hall nearby. The gas station is just down the road, and the grocery store is a couple of miles from the location. You can stay here for free for three days. After that, you’ll need to pay for a permit.

Magnolia Beach

Magnolia Beach is an excellent public location for both tent camping and RV camping. However, it can get very windy and noisy here, so make sure to bring a tent that will protect you from intrusive noises, such as the Crua Tri 3 person tent.

There are shower and bathroom facilities at the camping location. The beach is very spacious, so parking won’t be an issue. However, the campground doesn’t offer hookups.

North Beach

When it comes to RV camping in Texas, the Padre Island National Seashore can be a great campsite throughout all four seasons. The weather here is great, the beach is open year-round.

You will find most of the facilities you need at or near North Beach. There is a large dumpster on the access road. At the entrance of the Malachite Campground, there is free water and a dump station. It’s just a couple of miles from the beach.

There are free showers next to the headquarters of the park. The South Padre Island resort town is located on the same island, so you will be able to find everything else you might need there. 

If you love to bring your dogs along with you when you travel, do know that this is a pet-friendly campground.

Schreiner City Park

Located on the shore of the South Llano River, Schreiner City Park is a great fishing, (bring your fishing tent), as well as a camping location. When it comes to amenities and facilities, there are flush toilets, drinking water, grills, a basketball court, a disk golf course, and a seasonal pool.

You can pitch a tent right next to the water. Some campsites have trees as well, so it’s a great place to bring a camping hammock. If you want to enjoy a bit of local history, downtown is nearby.

FAQ

Where can I Boondock in Texas?

Some of the best Boondock locations in Texas include:

  • Magnolia Beach
  • Schreiner City Park
  • Big Bend National Park
  • North Beach, Padre Island National Seashore
  • Sam Rose Collins Recreation Park

How much does it cost to camp in a Texas state park?

Campsite fees in Texas vary between $15 and $25 dollars per night. However, it is possible to find campgrounds that charge under $10 per night.

If you camp in Texas often, it pays to buy the Texas State Park Pass. For only $70 it will give you access to 89 state parks. The Texas State Park Pass is valid for a year.

Can you camp overnight at Texas state Park?

Most state parks in Texas allow overnight camping. However, many of them require you to reserve a camping spot before your visit.

Takeaway

Finding free camping in Texas can be tricky but it is possible. Make sure you plan ahead, know the rules, plan some more, and most importantly, stay safe.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more from our Camping in Texas Guide, check out our feature on preparing for Camping in Texas.

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