The Texas State Park “Gotcha” Fee: Turning $20 a night into $30

One of the minor surprises we experienced at Everglades National Park was that, unlike at the Florida State Parks, the entry fee was not included in the campground fee.  Sure it was only $10 and good for six days, but it was unexpected and could change the cost equation when comparing options down the road.  I suspect part of the thought process is to provide an incentive for Rvers to buy an annual pass, which we probably will at our next National Park stay.

The National Park’s unexpected fee pales in comparison to the Texas State Park fee system, though.  As we discovered at Galveston Island State Park, in addition to the campground fee you also have to pay a $5 entry fee, per person, not per vehicle, and it must be paid for each day.  Our three night stay would cost, in addition to the $60 camping fee ($20 per night), an additional $30 in entry fees.  Thus our stay would average out to $30 a night; not horrible sure, and at least there are not taxes added, but not what we expected.  So of course they offer an annual pass: For $70 you get free entry for you and everyone in your vehicle, and four coupons for a 50% discount on the second night of this and future stays.  Thus they have created a two-part incentive: buy the park pass and go to another Texas State Park during the year.

We did the math and figured that as long as we have one more stay of at least two nights then it will have “paid for itself,” but our nightly average cost in Texas will turn out to be somewhat higher than we expected.  If we do a two-day stay at Seminole Canyon State Park for $20 a night, then without the annual pass we would have spent a total of $150 between Galveston Island and there ($100 camping fees, $50 entry fees).  With the purchase of the annual pass, and using the discount coupons for the second nights, we break even ($80 in camping fees, no entry fee, $70 for the pass), and we will have the ability to go in to any state park in Texas for a day visit for free.

Bottom line: if we had done our research better and recognized this fee structure, we might have opted to stay in private parks rather than state parks on Galveston Island and during our stopping point in route to Big Bend National Park.  Now that we have the pass, we will almost certainly use it at least one more time for a two night stay, and will seek to take advantage of it for day use at other state parks along the way.