Our Van Road Trip to Texas – Corpus Christi and South Padre Island National Seashore

Part 2 – A Recap of our February 2023 Warm Weather Getaway Trip

Be sure to watch our companion video on our JK and Kim in the Camper YouTube channel! Like, Subscribe, Comment and Share! Here’s the link:


Are we there yet?

In our last post, we said a sunset farewell to the waters of Galveston, Texas and drove into the night towards Corpus Christi and our KOA campground home for the next few days.

We had no idea Corpus Christi was that big of a city. We expected a laid-back beach town, but instead got our fill of traffic, freeways, bridges, and more road construction.

Because of the construction lane closures, plus being unfamiliar with this city, we missed our exit to the KOA and instead had to do an expressway loop that forced us onto a 30 minute loop around the city.

It was after 10 p.m. when we finally pulled into the campground. Thankfully, our reservation packet and campsite number were still hanging on the late check-in kiosk. We pulled straight into our camp parking pad and went right to bed. We were all exhausted from the long drive, all the backtracking, the wallet losing and the like. (Read our last blog, or watch the YouTube video for that “fun” story!)

Laguna Madre out the windshield

The next morning we woke to the view of water out of our van’s windshield. It wasn’t the Gulf, but Laguna Madre, a narrow, saltwater bay that separates the mainland and the barrier island where Padre Island National Seashore is located.

Another thing we discovered about Corpus Christi is the wind. The area is known for having constantly blowing strong winds, more than the “Windy City” of Chicago. That’s why the region has been named one of the top kitesurfing spots in the world.

Gulf breezes are wonderful for keeping the air inside the van circulating and feeling fresh, but also limited our outdoor grilling and chilling activities at the campsite.

The warmer weather we had hoped for was only in the low 60s. It was kind of chilly, but not Midwest winter “chilly.”

A campground surrounded by water

The Corpus Christi KOA Journey campground is a small (by KOA standards), pet-friendly property, having just 61 sites, which includes six pull-through sites accommodating rigs up to 65-feet. https://koa.com/campgrounds/corpus-christi/

This KOA campground is located on a small peninsula, surrounded by water. Many of the sites are spacious with water views, concrete parking pads and lawn areas. Upgraded sites have propane grills, fire rings and a colorful table and chairs to enjoy.

The campground has a long list of amenities, including modern private bathroom/showers, coin laundry, gift shop and store, year-round swimming pool, playground, private beach, kayak and canoe rentals, and large covered cabana.

They also have two enclosed “Kamp K-9” dog run areas. The KOA offers two wet slips, five boat lift slips and a boat ramp for camping guests with boats to use. There is Wi-Fi and most sites have full hook-ups with 50/30/20-amp service.

Because they are located in hurricane country, the office, store, showers, bathrooms, and laundry are all on the second floor of the elevated main building. There is an ADA lift to allow access to these amenities. As a matter of fact, all the neighboring homes were also up on stilts.

Downtime and Red wine

To be completely honest, we spent much of our first full day at the campgrounds napping and recovering from the mentally, physically, and emotionally-draining previous 24 hours. But isn’t that the reason we want to get away from it all?

Rain, rain go away

On our second full day it was raining and stormy, so we spent some time cooking delicious comfort food meals in the van, doing real estate work, uploading photos, and writing a new blog, enjoying the water view and watching the various birds fly past us from our camp spot.

The following day the sunrise was fantastic and signaled us to take the van on a short trip across the J.F. Kennedy Memorial Causeway onto North Padre Island and a visit to Padre Island National Seashore.

In case you don’t know, this northern section of the sandy barrier island is very different from the resort and tourist-driven South Padre Island. As a matter of fact, the two are physically separated by the man-made Mansfield Channel which divides the island in two.

South Padre Island is about 100 miles to the south and accessible by driving to the Mexico border near Brownsville, TX, then cutting back over onto the island. We decided to forego the extra driving and simply stay in the area we were.

By the seashore

There is a fee to enter the Padre Island National Seashore but JK’s Lifetime Senior National Parks Pass got us in for free. We drove to the Malaquite Visitor Center (open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to look around and have access to a section of the Gulf coastline.

The visitor center was in the process of having damage finally repaired from a hurricane that hit the region a few years ago.

The center features a park store, educational exhibits and displays, a place to stamp your National Parks Passport, and very “correctional institution-looking” restrooms with stainless steel toilets and sinks that are available 24/7.

The park staff in the visitor center was friendly and informative. We even got to watch as two young park visitors were “sworn-in” as Junior Park Rangers after passing their “exam.”

Padre Island National Seashore area has remained undeveloped wilderness for decades and offers nearly 66 miles of natural habitat and undeveloped beaches. It has been part of the national park system since 1962.

We enjoyed a leisurely stroll on the sandy beach area just down from the visitor center.  There are picnic tables out on the beach to use, which was very cool.

We’d never seen that at any beaches we’ve visited before. The winds were brisk, and the waves were pounding the day we were there, adding to the experience.

The island offers different camping experiences

The National Seashore offers a diverse camping experience, depending on your needs and vehicle capabilities. There are five different campground areas within the park.

Malaquite Campground – This campground is between the dunes with beach access and is open to tents and RVs on a first-come, first-served basis (no reservations).

There are designated paved and gravel camp sites, restrooms, cold water showers, and picnic tables. Some sites have grills and shade structures.

There are no hookups there but there is a dump station and potable water on the road to the campground. Cost is $14 per night with a 50% discount for Access and Senior Pass holders.

Bird Island Basin Campground – Located a short distance away from the boat ramp on the waters of the Laguna Madre, these camp sites offer fantastic opportunities for windsurfing, kayaking, boating, birding, and fishing. Both RV and tent camping sites are available but are dry camping only.

This campground does not take reservations, so use of this area is available on a first-come, first-served basis only. Cost is $8.00 per night or $4.00 per night with the Senior or Access passes.

North Beach – Camping in this area runs along the northernmost section of the National Seashore, at the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, and is primitive and open to RV and tent.  Camping here is free, but a park entrance fee is required as well as a free camping permit available at the park entrance station and the self-registration kiosk at the entrance to North Beach.

Yarborough Pass – This free camping area, with paid park entrance fee, is located in the Laguna Madre, 15.5 miles south of the visitor center. Access to this campground is possible only through the 4-wheel drive area of South Beach and by boating down the Laguna Madre. 

South Beach – This free camping area, with paid park entrance fee, runs along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from the south end of Closed Beach to the Mansfield Channel, about 60 miles in total length. It is primitive and open to RV and tent camping. There are no paved roads or amenities, and all driving is on the beach. Cell reception is often non-existent or very spotty.

A high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed to reach most of South Beach. All beach driving is at your own risk so be prepared! Mile markers are placed every five miles on the beach.

It was our first trip to the Lonestar State.

We were amazed how different this Texas section of the Gulf of Mexico (Galveston to Corpus Christi) is when compared to the Florida Gulf waters we experienced a few months back.

Which do we prefer? Let’s just say each region of the Gulf has its own unique and beautiful aspects. We love the beach, so we were in heaven at all of them!

NEXT TIME: We pack up the van and start our long journey back home. We make a few stops along the way, drive through a small Texas town made famous by a Classic Rock hit song and visit another Texas town made famous by a hit HGTV show.

Thank you for following along with our travels through this blog, social media, and our YouTube channel!

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