Texas is one of the country’s most varied states in terms of natural landscapes. There are expansive deserts, river valleys, lakes, beaches, forests, mountains, and canyons to explore.
If you’re a native Texan just getting into camping, you may be surprised at how many different places there are across the state to overnight outdoors. And if you’ve never been to Texas, you should probably consider making the trek.
We put together a list of some of the best spots in the Lone Star State to go primitive camping. Regardless of the kind of backdrop you like to pitch your tent in front of, Texas is guaranteed to have a primitive camping spot you’ll love.
What Is Primitive Camping, Anyway?
Put simply, primitive camping just means ditching most of the comforts of home and roughing it in a tent. No electricity or running water, no screens. Just whatever shelter you bring with you, and the great outdoors. You’ve probably noticed by now that a big keyword here is “tent”. The tent is almost always the go-to shelter for primitive camping, though it isn’t the only option.
Picking the right tent is a big time make-or-break decision. For newbies, something simple like a pop-up tent will help simplify the process. These allow you to get your campsite set up and broken back down in a flash. For those needing some more space, a larger tent with external poles is the way to go. This option will maximize the space you have. Think about how you want to set up your camp before you go. The key is maximizing your comfort without bringing your whole home with you.
Where Can I Camp in Texas?
The other essential factor to primitive camping is finding the right patch of ground to put your tent. Despite its size, Texas has very little land that is publicly accessible. But there are still plenty of spots where camping is available to the public. The state has two National Parks: Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend National Park, both of which are outstanding. There are also several Natural Areas managed by the National Park Service in the state.
In addition, Texas has quite a few smaller State Parks and Recreation Areas. Found all across the state, these parks include major lakes, forests, canyons, and mountains. The Texas State Parks website is a great resource for trip planning if you’re looking to do some camping in the near future.
Best Places To Go Camping In Texas
Big Bend covers a huge area and offers some fantastic options for primitive camping. The beauty of the park can’t be overstated. The Rio Grande is just that – a supremely large river watched over by colossal canyon walls. Even the surrounding hills are enchanting and rugged.
There are four developed campgrounds in the park, all of which require reservations. Choosing a developed campground is a good way to ease into primitive camping if you’re new to it. The convenience of being able to drive up to your campsite and have a ready-made fire ring and a good, flat place to pitch your tent always makes things quicker and easier.
But Big Bend also offers opportunities for backcountry camping, including non-developed roadside campsites and backpacking. If you want to get a little further away from crowds and into the thick of it, this is the way to go. Maybe best of all, you can take a river trip in the park, floating the Rio Grande and camping on the bank.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park covers a huge area in west Texas along the New Mexico Border. These are some of the most desolate, rough-hewn peaks in the country. But there is an overwhelming majesty to this raw landscape. The power of nature is immense here. Needless to say, camping here is a unique experience.
There are two developed campgrounds in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. They both sit above 5,800 feet elevation and have fantastic scenery. For the more adventurous, there are also a lot of opportunities for backpacking in the Guadalupe Mountains. You can trek through the peaks and valleys, carrying everything you need on your back. Either way, you won’t be let down.
Further north, in the Texas panhandle, lies Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest in the country. The canyon features impressive rock formations created by weathering over lots and lots of time. There are hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails throughout the park to fill the hours and plenty of places to lay your head at night.
The park has lots of options for developed campsites, which go for $26 per night and can be reserved online. You can also go backpacking through the colored hills on foot or on horseback. Equestrian sites offer the awesome opportunity to horseback camp over the arid landscape like a modern-day desperado.
Padre Island National Seashore is an easily-accessible slice of paradise. Just a half hour drive from Corpus Christi, Padre Island sits between the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre. It’s the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world, and a breeding ground for sea turtles. For oceanside fun, it doesn’t get much better than Padre Island. You can kayak, fish, hunt, and, of course, go camping here.
There are two developed campgrounds on Padre Island and three primitive camping areas. Two of the primitive camping areas are accessible only by 4WD vehicles. But if you have the right kind of car, it’s worth the extra distance to get a little slice of beach heaven to yourself.
In central Texas, you don’t get many camping spots better than Enchanted Rock. Located just an hour and 45 minutes outside of Austin, Enchanted Rock is a huge dome of pink granite that rises above the surrounding plain. The park is full of pristine hiking trails and rock climbing areas. The main attractions here are the rock formations, which are inspiring. Many of the hikes cover sections of bare granite, winding through fields of massive boulders.
Enchanted Rock features 35 walk-in developed campsites, which have water available, and 20 more remote hike-in only primitive campsites. Depending on how you plan to travel, you may prefer the convenience of a site with some more amenities, or some more distance from other campers. Either way, camping in the park is very affordable. Sites go for just $14 (primitive) or $18 (developed) per night.
#6 – Inks Lake State Park
Just around the corner from Enchanted Rock, you’ll find Inks Lake State Park. For lovers of water, this is another spectacular option. There are areas of the lake specifically for motorized and non-motorized watercraft, ensuring you’ll have somewhere to enjoy the lake your own way. You can even rent a paddle boat, canoe, or kayak at the park store. The lake is also surrounded by hiking trails for taking in the scenery.
Camping at Inks Lake is a breeze. There are almost 200 campsites available at the lake, and many of them are located right on the lakeshore. This includes a number of hike-in only primitive sites with no hookups, perfect for roughing it on the water. Primitive campsites go for just $11 per night.
For the consummate southeast Texas experience, you can drive just under two hours from Houston to Big Thicket National Preserve. This portion of the Piney Woods region of the state should be a bucket list item for local nature lovers. The diverse ecosystem of the preserve includes everything from pine forests to bayous lined with cypress trees. Whether you prefer to hike, paddle, or ride, there are tons of options for exploring this vast, living-and-breathing landscape.
One of the best ways to see the park, it should come as no surprise, is backcountry camping. You can drive, hike, or paddle deep into the park and camp in the woods. There are some rules about distancing yourself from roads and developed structures, but as long as you pick your spot wisely, you can choose your own adventure. Just be sure to pack in everything you need, and pack out everything you brought with you (including waste, of course!).
So What Are You Waiting For?
You have everything you need! Your trusty tent, an old sleeping bag, and a top-notch selection of places to explore. Whether you’re a lover of water, desert, mountains, forests, or beaches, Texas has got just the thing for you.
The only thing left to do is get out into nature and find out what primitive camping is all about. We guarantee that once the campfire is out and you’re cozied up listening to the wind in the trees, you’ll be addicted for life.