A nature park on the edge of a sleepy fishing village. If you think that sounds relaxing, you'd be right! This week, we're taking you along for our first visit to Matagorda Bay Nature Park in the coastal town of Matagorda TX.
This park really surprised us and has earned its place as our designated stop every time we visit Matagorda from this point forward. We'll share more on our experience in this one-stop sign town next week, but for now let's focus on our basecamp during our Matagorda visit...
Before we get started... a quick note: we took all of the wildlife photos in this post from our waterfront campsites!
Our Experience at Matagorda Bay Nature Park
Even after reading online reviews, we really weren't sure what to expect when we arrived at Matagorda Bay Nature Park. Growing up in Houston, we had heard about Matagorda from friends who were big into fishing and on the weather reports when hurricanes and tropical storms threatened the Texas Gulf Coast. But surprisingly, we had never actually been to Matagorda.
As we drove down from Galveston, we wondered if it would be similar. Two Texas coastal cities about 100 miles apart, both booming in the 1800s... Matagorda and Galveston seem to have a lot in common for folks who've never visited. But in reality, these are very different experiences.
While Galveston today has a population of about 50,000, Matagorda sits closer to around 500 permanent residents these days. It's quiet, laid back and proudly functions on Matagorda time. During the summer, both cities come alive with tourists, but during the "offseason", a trip to Matagorda had us living like a local and getting involved with the community that welcomed us with open arms and smiling conversation.
There are several RV parks in the Matagorda area, but our choice for this visit was Matagorda Bay Nature Park, owned and operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). We were really impressed by another one of the LCRA parks that we visited a couple of years ago South Shore Park on Lake Bastrop, and even though it needed some work during our visit, we enjoyed our stay at their Oak Thicket Park near Fayetteville as well. So we thought we'd give Matagorda Bay Nature Park a try. But what's with the "nature park" title? Would we really see much nature? We had no idea what was in store for us!
Snowy Egret Fishing
Our Favorite Thing About Matagorda Bay Nature Park
That's really easy... the Nature! We enjoyed our stay at this park so much, that after just a couple of nights, we extended our stay from 5 nights to 13 nights! To do so, we had to change campsites three times, but we didn't mind at all. Luckily, our first two campsites were waterfront sites (which we highly recommend).
From our waterfront campsites we watched lots of pelicans, seagulls, herons and other fishing birds fish, dive, fly, play and float by. We watched them chase the shrimp boats and a few of them even caught a ride on one.
Each afternoon the dolphins swam by and every evening a herd of white-tailed deer wandered by on the river's edge across the channel from the park. This park absolutely earns its name as a nature park and we loved every minute of it.
We were really impressed by the campsites themselves. While the park might seem a bit pricey, with campsites currently listed at between $40 and $58 per night, the sites are very nice. Every campsite includes full-hookups with 30/50amp electricity. The parking pads and picnic pads are concrete, and the waterfront sites have shade structures over the picnic tables. This park is big rig friendly and was very well maintained and clean during our stay. We watched park hosts clean every campsite each time someone left, including completely washing down the concrete. The bathrooms are showing wear and could use some updating, but they were clean during our visit. And it's always nice to have a laundry room onsite.
And finally, we really enjoyed living like a local here for 2 weeks. The folks who live year round in Matagorda are super friendly. We felt welcome everywhere we went in town and we look forward to seeing them all again. After this stay, we are seriously considering putting Matagorda in our rotation to visit often.
Cormorant With Fish
The History of Matagorda Bay Nature Park:
Located at the intersection of the Colorado River and the Gulf of Mexico, Matagorda Bay Nature Park sits in an area important to Texas history. What is, today, a sleeping fishing village of 500 people for most of the year and a tourist destination in the summer, the town of Matagorda was once the third largest port in Texas!
It is said that Native Americans, especially the Karankawa, inhabited this area for many years. The abundance of wildlife and fish possibly drew them to the area. The Tonkawa moved into the area from Central Texas in the 18th century.
Between the 1500s and 1700s, several Spanish expeditions are thought to have traveled through the area to survey and map.
Fifty-two families from Stephen F Austin's colony arrived here at the mouth of the Colorado River in 1822 via the schooner "Only Son". They were primarily from New York. They were later joined by more settlers and the town of Matagorda was formed at this site in 1829.
One of many towns abandoned during the Runaway Scrape of the Texas War for Independence, in 1836, Matagorda County became one of the first 23 counties in the Republic of Texas. And fittingly, at the time, Matagorda served as the county seat. Between 1840 and 1865, Matagorda served as Texas' second major seaport and immigration port. The largest sugar mill in Texas was built here in the 1850s, and the area became a major producer of corn, sugar, cotton and rice.
Following devastation by several hurricanes, the county seat of Matagorda County was moved from Matagorda to Bay City in 1894.
During this time, prior to 1900, the Colorado River flowed into Matagorda Bay. There was no East and West Bay... just Matagorda Bay. Years of flooding, silt relocation and log jams (and the clearing of those jams) changed the bay. One major log jam lasted from the 1800s until 1929 and reached 50 miles up river with trees actually growing on it!
When that log jam was finally dynamited in 1929, sediment and silt came down river and formed a tidal marsh estimated at 500 acres per year, spreading across the bay.
In response to continued flooding, the Colorado River was diverted to flow directly into the Gulf of Mexico instead of into Matagorda Bay. The Colorado River Channel (where Matagorda Bay Nature Park now sits) was dredged in 1934.
The Corps of Engineers rerouted the river again in 1990 from this channel back to West Matagorda Bay via the Intercoastal Waterway. The Colorado River Channel now flows inland and out again based on the tides from the Gulf of Mexico. With the exception of a few shrimp boats and private fishing boats, it seems to have reverted back mostly to a natural state.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) broke ground on its third "nature park", Matagorda Bay Nature Park in 2005. The park opened to the public in 2006.
Bird and Dolphin Watching
Passing Boat at Sunset
Things to Do at the Matagorda Bay Nature Park:
Birding: After spending two weeks at Matagorda Bay Nature Park, we definitely understand the name! The focus is here is on nature. Within minutes of arriving at our waterfront campsite, we were greeted by large numbers of pelicans, seagulls, herons and other aquatic birds. Bring your binoculars and your camera for some awesome birdwatching!
Wildlife Viewing: Not to be outdone by the local birds, we watched deer and dolphins pass by on the Colorado River Channel and on the land just across from the campground every day.
Fishing: Matagorda has long been known as a fishing destination, and Matagorda Bay Nature Park is the perfect place to dip a line. The park has 2 lighted fishing piers within the campground, each with its own fish cleaning station. The piers are open 24 hours / day. Bank fishing is also available when the tides are up from the campground and on the river's beach area just past the mini-golf course. Surf fishermen will find the Gulf of Mexico just a short walk away from the campground.
Fishing is also available by kayak in the marsh across the street from the campground and along FM 2031.
Boating: If you have a boat, there is a free boat ramp located right next to the campground. A parking lot for boats and trailers is located across the street. Boats are launched into the Colorado River Channel with access to the Gulf of Mexico, Colorado River and Intercoastal Waterway.
Boats are also available for rent from the park headquarters.
Kayaking: Bring your own kayak or rent one from the park headquarters. Kayaking is available in the river channel and the Gulf of Mexico. But be ware of the boat traffic! While we didn't kayak on this trip, our choice would be the kayaking trails that are easily located in the marshes across from the campground and along the road.
Dinner For Three?
Boardwalk Over The Beach
Relaxing: This is the Matagorda vibe... It was so nice to sit out at our campsite watching the wildlife and the boats drift by. Even during spring break, this is a quiet, relaxing park. We hear that this area comes to life during the summer. But we really enjoyed our time here in March. Bonus: as our local friends say, "you don't miss a Matagorda sunset"! And we were able to watch amazing sunsets every evening right from our campsite.
Beachcombing: Another of the main attractions for this area! The sand on the beach facing the Gulf of Mexico is sugary soft and very deep here. It can make for a wonderful beach stroll and you might find some really nice seashells.
The park headquarters offers beach chair and beach wagon rentals. They also sell the Matagorda beach permits. For $10 you receive a vehicle sticker allowing you to drive on the beach. Be extremely careful, however. This sand is very easy to get stuck in.
Ranger Programs: During our stay (partially during spring break), there were ranger programs available every day. Check with the park headquarters for a schedule of events. Some of the programs have a fee to participate. Some of the topics include beachcombing, native history, fishing, archery, crafts, and birding. The park also has a rock climbing wall that is sometimes available.
Geocaching: There are 2 geocaches hidden within or near the campground.
Matagorda Bay Mini Golf
Other Amenities at Matagorda Bay Nature Park:
Mini Golf: Miniature golf is a common amenity in river authority parks, and Matagorda Bay Nature Park is no exception. During our visit in March 2022, the golf course looked like it had just been refurbished. The entire 9-hole course was in fantastic shape. Pay special attention to the course layout sign and you'll notice that some of the holes pay homage to what makes this area special including a sea turtle and an anchor. Golf balls and clubs are available at the park headquarters next door for $8 per 9-holes or $14 for 2 rounds.
Nature Center: We understand this park used to have a larger nature center. During our visit, the headquarter building was undergoing renovations. A small, but very interesting nature center was set up within the park store behind the check-in desk.
Park Store: A small souvenir store is located inside the park headquarters. They also carry a few RV and camping items.
Library: Inside the park store / nature center, you'll also find a small library of books to enjoy during your visit.
Boardwalk: An extremely long boardwalk takes you from the day use pavilion, over the dunes and beach and even out over the Gulf of Mexico. It is easily accessed from the pavilion area. But if you decide to descend from the boardwalk out onto the jetty, be extremely careful, some of the steps were missing during our visit.
Ice Sales: Ice is available in bulk from a machine in the boat parking lot across the street from the campground.
Laundry: The campsite laundry room is located at the bathhouse in the North Camping Loop. It is accessed by a door code.
Recycling: Recycling collection for aluminum, plastic, and even used cooking oil can be found next to the trash dumpsters in the North Camping Loop.
Ash Cans: Charcoal cooking cleanup is super easy at this park. The park provides several covered red metal cans around both camping loops for the sole purpose of discarding ash.
Redfish Hall: Located next to the park headquarters, Redfish Hall is available for rent for events. It holds 100 people. It is air conditioned and heated and includes a refrigerator, ice maker, tables and chairs.
Jetty Park: Matagorda County's Jetty Park is located next to the LCRA park and offers additional access to the Colorado River Channel and Gulf of Mexico. It is free to use.
Connect with Matagorda Bay Nature Park on Facebook
Back In Campsite
Pull Thru Campsites
RV and Tent Camping at Matagorda Bay Nature Park:
South Camping Loop
Total Sites: 35
Site Numbers: 1-12, 15-18, 30-48
30/50 Amp Electricity
Site Lengths: 45-60'
Campsites include a picnic table. Site parking pads and picnic patio are concrete.
Sites 4-12 are waterfront on the Colorado River Channel.
Most of the campsites in this loop are listed at 60' long.
The South Loop is nearest the park headquarters.
Note for tent campers: the waterfront campsites in the South Camping Loop appear to have more space to set up tents between the water and the campsite parking pad.
North Camping Loop
Total Sites: 22
Site Numbers: 49-70
30/50 Amp Electricity
Back-In and Pull-Thru Sites
Site Lengths: 45-190'
Campsites include a picnic table. Site parking pads and picnic patio are concrete for the back-ins and with paved parking pad and concrete patios for the pull-thrus.
Sites 59-64 are waterfront on the Colorado River Channel.
All but one of the back-in campsites in this loop are listed at 45' long.
The North Loop contains the park bathhouses, laundry room, trash dumpsters and recycling.
Note on the pull-thru sites: While all of the pull-thru campsites are listed as between 130' and 190', it's important to note that the electric, water and sewer connections for most of them are toward the far end of the campsite, meaning you will likely be pulling your RV almost completely through the campsite before you connect. This is particularly true for campsites 66-67. Site 70 appears to have the best layout in our opinion.
Bungalows Under Contruction
Rental Options at Matagorda Bay Nature Park:
Total Sites: 2
Site Numbers: Ranger and Ruby
Air Conditioned and Heated
Water and Electricity
Parking at Airstream
These rental Airstream campers are 25' Flying Clouds. They each include a restroom, one queen and two twin beds, linens, TV, DVD player, refrigerator, microwave, stovetop, cookware, plates and utensils and a Keurig machine with K-cup pods.
Outside on the patio is an outdoor kitchen with propane grill, picnic table, Adirondack chairs and fire pit.
The Airstreams at Matagorda Bay Nature Park require a two-night minimum rental. No pets, tents or other RVs allowed.
These sites are waterfront on the Colorado River Channel in the South Camping Loop.
Beach Bungalows (Cabins)
Total Sites: 10
Site Numbers: 1-10
Air Conditioned and Heated
Water and Electricity
Parking Under Bungalow
These bungalows are currently under construction. Target completion date is August - September 2022.
Each bungalow includes beds for 6-8 people, bathroom, linens, toiletries, TV, DVD player, refrigerator, microwave, stovetop, cookware, plates and utensils and coffee maker.
On the patio you'll find a shade structure, outdoor seating and a stainless steel propane grill.
Bungalows at Matagorda Bay Nature Park require a two-night minimum rental. No pets, tents or RVs allowed.
The bungalows are roadside in the South Camping Loop, but, as is common on the coast, they are elevated with an unobstructed view of the Colorado River Channel and sunsets.
Visiting Matagorda Bay Nature Park For a Day:
Day Use Areas
Picnic areas are available next to the miniature golf course (which is located next to the park headquarters. Additional day use picnic tables can be found next to the large parking lot at the beach dunes.
There are restrooms located at the headquarters and in the beachside picnic area.
Day visitors can stroll the beach, fish, boat, kayak and play mini golf.
Day Use Pavilion
Deer Across the River
Matagorda Bay Nature Park Information:
Year Opened: 2006
Friends Group: No
CCC Park? No
Park Store? Yes
Pet Policy: Pets are allowed throughout the park and on the beach, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Pets are not allowed in buildings.
Lodging Options at Matagorda Bay Nature Park: RV Camping, Tent Camping, Airstream Rentals, Cabins (Coming in 2022)
Please Note: These details are accurate to to the best of our knowledge. We try our best to provide accurate information, but we are human and sometimes details change. Please check with the park directly to confirm current information.