Over Spring Break, our family decided to utilize our National Park Pass, and venture to the Padre Island National Seashore (a.k.a. PINS), which is a 70 mile portion of the longest barrier island (113 miles) in the world.
We had no idea what to expect. Sure, we had looked at a myriad of Facebook groups, overlanding apps, and what have you, but until you’re there, you really don’t know what you are actually getting yourself into. In hindsight, you realize that everyone has an opinion. Someone will say “you have to get AT LEAST 22 miles down to get away from people.” Then, you talk to the Park Rangers, and they say “we don’t recommend anyone with a camper go more than 5 miles down the beach.”
Let’s take a step back, then I’ll get to the rest of it.
We were not able to leave Fort Worth until approximately 4pm on departure day. Because of that, we didn’t want to get all the way to PINS, and try to find our way in the dark. Without knowing the lay of the land, I didn’t think it would be prudent to risk getting stuck in the sand just to try to find a spot. Additionally, we have a Texas State Parks Pass, so I started looking for places along our route that had availability for us to have a quick layover. Ultimately, we found Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas.
We showed up at Goose Island pretty late at night, and essentially went straight to sleep. We got up early the next morning so we could get back on the road for our last hour and a half (read: 3 hours) to get to PINS. We did do a quick lap around the park prior to exiting, and it did look like a great spot with some beach access, however, we were eager to get on the road. We had two things in mind: 1) seeking out the “original” Whataburger and 2) getting to PINS. So, that’s what we did.
After our trip to Whataburger, and a quick stop through Walmart, we were officially en route to the Padre Island National Seashore. Our plan was to spend 4 days/nights there, and just soak up the sun, and have some great time as a family.
If you’re not a Texan, and are just interested in what it’s like to camp on the beach, I will start to get into that now. Sorry for the delay, but every one of our camping trips requires a trip to Whataburger in order to be official, so I had to share those tidbits.
First, we didn’t know how far we would be able to get down the beach towing the Mantis. As stated above, the Rangers discouraged going more than 5 miles down. Although we didn’t go past the 5 mile mark while towing the Mantis, we did drive down to the 15 mile mark while unhitched. Honestly, I am 96% certain we could have made it at least that far without issue. If you do want to push it, you really need to be comfortable with your skills driving on the beach as well as the capability of your tow vehicle when driving in some relatively soft sand. Because we were only about 4.9 miles down the beach, my research suggested that we would be wall-to-wall with other campers. Obviously, this is a very subjective term. We ended up not having anyone within 1/4 mile of us the entire time. We were totally fine with this. I spoke to one person our entire time there and it was because he was walking down the beach and asked “what is this?” (a question almost every Habitat owner is accustomed to being asked).
The second thing worth noting was the (almost) pristine nature of the beach. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that Texas has the most beautiful beaches that you might come across in your life, however, the fact of just being on the beach for 4 days straight was amazing. Also, the beach was much cleaner than I expected, especially given that it was Spring Break. I always assumed this would be an extension of Port Aransas or South Padre Island (both of which I love), but it was an entirely different experience. There was some trash, which reminds me that some people just don’t care. It pisses me off. However, it’s an opportunity to teach my kids about “Leave No Trace” and to leave it better than we found it.
One of the things I was most nervous about was people hauling ass up and down the beach in their vehicles. Again, my research suggested that until you are 20+ miles down the beach, it might be a bit helter skelter. With 3 young children, I was really concerned that cars would be flying down the beach while my kids are trying to play. Ultimately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. For one, you can see cars coming from a mile away (literally), and have plenty of time to all get out of the way. Also, the folks driving were, by and large, very respectful to those around them.
We most certainly had an incredible trip. There were some things we learned about camping on the beach, and I’d like to share the pros and cons that you should expect when doing so.
The Solo Stove
As we talked about in the post about the top 10 things we have in our Mantis, the Solo Stove was key. The reason being that when we got to the beach, the temperature was surprisingly cool. In fact, I brought one pair of jeans, one long sleeve shirt, and I’ll be the first to admit that I wore the same clothes four days straight in an effort to stay warm.
Even in more ideal conditions, having a fire on the beach at night listening to the waves is incredibly nice.
Being On The Beach
You are on the beach 24×7. Going to sleep hearing the ocean is just as amazing as waking up and hearing the ocean. It’s something that you don’t typically experience if you rent a place on/near the beach.
Drinking coffee with the back hatch of the Mantis open was AMAZING. Seriously. I would be willing to bet that many people never get to do this in their life, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Parents, you know about “the stuff”. You have a great day, and then it’s time to go. Somehow you attempt to manage 13 handfuls of toys, paddles and balls, and whatever else in as few trips as possible back to the car. This is probably the least fun part of any beach adventure.
Well, the good news when beach camping is you can actually get your kids to pick up their stuff, because it is all right there. Just ask them to put their stuff on the back side of the Habitat so it is out of sight.
Access to Resources
One thing you need to consider is the distance that you are from bathrooms, dumpsters, dump stations, fuel and/or grocery stores. For reference, at PINS, we were 5 miles down the beach. To take trash to the dumpster was about an hour round trip. To “run to town” for some groceries was about 2 hours there and back. Not that it was the end of the world, but if you can plan accordingly, it’ll afford you the opportunity to spend more time on the beach.
Being On The Beach
Above, I mentioned how great it was to be on the beach. And while I truly feel that way, you need to know and accept that you will be covered in sand the entire time. I’m going to reiterate this to ensure clarity on what I’m saying. YOU WILL BE COVERED IN SAND THE ENTIRE TIME. The earlier you understand this, the better your experience will be. I know, I know… You’re thinking “he doesn’t know my trick” or “we will just sweep it out.” You won’t. It’s a losing battle. Do what you can, and leave the rest for the cleanup when you get back home.
One tip I learned: I slept in some light thermals. This made it so I didn’t feel the sand while I was sleeping in the bed. It made it much more enjoyable, and I thought I would share it here.
Lastly, I have heard since our trip that Baby Powder is the key. I’m still hesitant, but it might be worth a shot.
After getting home from the beach, it took us about 4x – 5x longer to clean the Mantis than it normally does. We had to pressure wash the exterior. Clean counters and cushions. We took every single thing out of the Habitat. We swept. We mopped. We vacuumed. At the end of it, my wife and I agreed that it might not be worth the level of effort on the backend to justify a quick weekend getaway, but for 4-5 nights, it was totally worth it.
A Few Lessons Learned
Limiting Your Stuff
I spoke to fellow Mantis owner Skip Duplissey after he returned from a few days down at PINS. After all, my wife and I convinced him to take his family, so I was eager to hear their report.
As Skip and I were talking about the cleanup process, he mentioned that when he goes back, he would severely limit the amount of things they bring with them in the Habitat. After all, we don’t use every single thing we have in the Habitat on every single trip. Skip’s idea was to figure out what you need, and leave the rest at home. I 100% agree with Skip on this idea. One of the biggest hassles with the cleanup was taking everything out of the Mantis and using a hose, pressure washer, air compressor, etc. to clean it. So, only take what you need, and it’ll save you some effort on the back-end during the cleanup process.
People Driving On The Beach
If you’ve found yourself camping on a beach, then that means cars and trucks are able to drive down to the beach to get there. Many Habitat owners, like us, have young kids with us on these adventures. So, just keep in mind that you will experience varying degrees of traffic on the beach depending on the time of year.
The good thing about being on a beach is it is flat and straight. Therefore, you can see cars coming from a mile away, literally. That provided ample time to notify your kids that a car was coming so they could move to a safe location. Our experience at PINS was great. I was really concerned about the traffic before we went and expected to encounter an issue or two. Much to my surprise, this was not the case at all. All in all, just be aware of your surroundings and the people who are cruising the beach so that everyone can be safe.
At first, I had this listed as a “con,” however, it is more so just something for which you need to be aware. Watch out for high tide. Our Solo Stove almost got washed away one night, and it was no more than 10 feet away from the Mantis. Again, just assume high tide is higher than you would expect. I was quite surprised at how far up the tide came.
Junior Ranger Program
If you do have young kids with you, and you find yourself on a National Seashore (or any National Park for that matter), ask the Rangers about the Junior Ranger Program. Each Park has their own series of fun activities for the kids, and if they do the required activities, they get to be sworn in as a Junior Park Ranger at the end of the trip. It’s a great way to give the kids something to do, and make a more positive experience for them. So far, my kids have badges from Padre Island National Seashore and Big Bend National Park, and they can’t wait to get more.