So far in our camping guide of Texas, we’ve highlighted a lot of great campsites. We’ve listed some of our community’s favourite campsites in each of the regions of 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. 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. 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 campsites are generally 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. 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, 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 end pull up somewhere 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 camp in Texas. Before you do that however, 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 will have to 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. You also must leave the place exactly as you found it. 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 United States wanted Texas to join the union. Texas would only comply if they were allowed keep most of the unsettled land owned by 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 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. A full list of those 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.
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.
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 Tent Camping in Texas.