A sunny Gulf Coast beach is a welcome sight for Midwesterners during the winter. Most days it’s at least warm enough for a morning stroll along the beach. Listen to the waves lap against the shore, feel the sun warm your face, and your Midwest cabin fever quickly fades. Here are three Gulf Coast state park campgrounds with a beach just steps away and our experience with them.
Gulf State Park
Gulf Shores, Alabama
With 496 full-hookup campsites, the Gulf State Park campground is wildly popular with snowbirds. After staying here for a week, we understand why. The park offers so much to do! Bicycling seems to be a top activity, both on campground roads and on trails. In fact, there are 28 miles of biking or hiking trails and boardwalks within Gulf State Park. The campground also offers organized activities. They post a weekly calendar with everything from pickleball and exercise classes to bingo and craft classes.
Our Experience: Most Popular of the Gulf Coast State Park Campgrounds
We made our reservation just a couple of months before our January trip and were lucky to get a site for seven nights. There must have been a cancellation, because this park usually fills up for winter months a year in advance.
Our level, paved pull-through site along a canal included a picnic table and grill—and a sign warning to watch for alligators and snakes. Fortunately, we never came across either.
A couple hundred or so feet from our site, a boardwalk trail rose above swamp land and across the highway, to the white sand beach. We enjoyed leisurely strolls along the shore…while wearing winter jackets and hats.
Yes, I did say winter jackets and hats, as there were a couple of January days that were in the 30s and dipped down to 18o F at night. On those mornings we chose to shower in the bath houses instead of our chilly travel trailer. The bath house nearest to us (there are 11 in the park) was newly renovated, very clean, and toasty warm.
When it came to doing laundry, we never had to wait for a machine or hunt for quarters. The park’s laundry facility is as large as a regular laundromat, well maintained, and includes a change machine.
While waiting for our laundry, we checked out the adjacent store, stocked with supplies and snacks. You can rent bikes here, too.
Outside the park, there is plenty to do in this resort area, including fishing, nature and historic sites, and lots of seafood restaurants.
We highly recommend the Gulf State Park campground.
Tip: Make reservations as soon as possible, up to a year ahead. If nothing is available, call the park occasionally and ask about availability. There just may have been a cancellation.
For more information, visit the Gulf State Park website.
Buccaneer State Park
The Buccaneer State Park campground, located along scenic Beach Boulevard, offers over 200 full-hookup back-in sites, most with paved pads. Opening late May 2022 are 40+ beachfront sites, all pull-thru. Those sites, however, will not be available for advance reservations.
The small beach area is across the two-lane street from the park. If you prefer a larger beach, drive a few minutes down the street into town, where there is a much wider expanse of sand.
The state park includes a seasonal water park, an 18-hold disc golf course, and a 1.8-mile nature trail, all available to campers as well as non-campers.
Our Experience: This Gulf Coast State Park Campground is Popular with Locals
We spent about four weeks in the Buccaneer State Park campground. But since we didn’t make reservations early enough, we had to move to four different sites during our stay.
Our first three sites were on paved pads. The last, where we stayed for two weeks, was gravel and grass. I was dreading the gravel/grass site at first, thinking it would be a muddy mess when it rained. Nor was there a picnic table, grill, or fire ring. But, oddly, we both enjoyed that spot the most. It was the first site in the Royal Cay loop, separated a bit more from our neighbors and had a nice canopy of trees. With our patio mat down and our awning extended, the area stayed fairly dry and clean, even when it rained.
That last site was also right across from the laundry/camp store/activity center. The laundry has only four washers and four dryers, so there were times we had to wait for them to become available. Although the insides of the washers and dryers were clean, the outsides of the washers and the floor needed some cleanup.
Neither the camp store nor the activity center was open, so we assume they’re seasonal. We peeked into the activity room window and saw pool tables, a ping-pong table, and arcade games. We were disappointed it wasn’t open; a pool game would have been fun. I was especially surprised that the activity center wasn’t open during the week of Mardi Gras, when the park was packed.
Mardi Gras week is also when the park was the noisiest. Area kids are out of school for Mardi Gras, so there were a lot of families. The streets were a constant stream of golf carts and bicycles. Outside of that time and warmer weekends, the campground was fairly quiet—except for the nearby train that would roar by occasionally.
The campground also has a huge swimming pool. It was also closed for the season but looked like it would be refreshing on a hot summer day.
Near the pool, a large fenced-in area held tennis courts and a basketball court before Hurricane Katrina destroyed them. Today, guests use it as a dog park, although it isn’t designated as one.
We spent a lot of time during our stay at Buccaneer State Park exploring all there is to do along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, from Biloxi westward to the Louisiana state line. We visited museums, celebrated Mardi Gras, and savored many shrimp dinners. But, even being there four weeks, we didn’t have time to see and do everything on our list.
We recommend Buccaneer State Park campground.
Tip: The online reservation system limits stays to 14 nights. However, you can call the park directly to reserve a longer stay from November 1 through March 31.
For more information, visit the Buccaneer State Park website.
Sea Rim State Park
Sabine Pass, Texas
Located south of Port Arthur and west of Sabine Pass, Sea Rim State Park is on both the Gulf of Mexico and marsh waters. The campground, adjacent to the beach, offers 15 sites with water and electric hookups, as well as a picnic table, grill, and fire ring. There are no sewer hookups. The dump station is in another part of the park, across the highway, about a quarter mile away. Most sites are pull-through. Ours was one of the few back-in sites. You may also dry camp on the beach. (There are no hookups.)
Bathrooms in the park are pit toilets only, no showers.
Our Experience: The Shortest of Our Stays at Gulf Coast State Park Campgrounds
If you like to fish, bird watch, or spend time on the beach, you’ll enjoy Sea Rim State Park.
Skip was thrilled that you’re allowed to drive on the beach, so that’s one of the first things we did—just for fun. One of the rangers warned that it may be a little bumpy because of ruts, and yes, at certain points it was. I cringed as we drove across it in our new truck, and although it was fun, I much preferred our long beach walk the next morning.
There’s little to do in the area, but we did stumble across the 8.972-acre McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, located about 6 miles from the park. We spent several hours there, watching and photographing waterfowl.
Also in the area is the Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site. An interpretive pavilion on the site tells the story of the Civil War Battle at Sabine Pass. Just 46 Confederate dock workers, with six cannons mounted in an earthwork fort, took on 4,000 Union troops aboard 20 vessels—and won.
We recommend the Sea Rim State Park campground for just a few nights.
Tip: Mosquitos are horrendous on warmer evenings, so be prepared. We opened our trailer door one night just long enough to come in and were inundated with hundreds of the insect.
Tip: Make sure you gas up your rig before you get to the Port Arthur/Sabine Pass area. We were running low and decided to unhook the trailer before going back into town for gas. We drove about ten miles before finding a station that wasn’t out of gas—ironic, considering all the refineries in the area.
For more information, visit the Sea Rim State Park website.
Have you stayed in any Gulf Coast state park campgrounds?
If so, which one, and how long in advance did you have to make your reservation? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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