Van on a grassy hill at sunset

5 Van Life Road Trips You Have to Try

How do you plan a road trip when your entire life is an adventure? While you might love the spontaneity of van life, sometimes it’s nice to have a set destination in mind. From convenient free camping spots to Instagram-worthy scenic beauty—and everything in between—these are the five best van road trips to take across the U.S.!

East Coast | Mountain | Pacific Northwest | Southwest | West Coast

East Coast Road Trip

The East Coast might not get as much hype from van lifers, but there’s no shortage of beautiful views and charming towns to explore here! Proximity to major cities, remarkable scenery (especially in the fall), and fewer tourists make New York, New Hampshire, and Maine some the best places to visit in a van!

Adirondack Park, NY

Tall green trees and mountains during sunset at Adirondack Park, NY. Photo by Instagram user @patbly
Photo via @patbly

If you’re living in a van full time, plan a trip to Upstate New York in autumn! The 12 unique regions of Adirondack Park all offer something different to do or see. Head to Lake Placid to kayak, try standup paddleboarding, or hike to Beaver Meadows Falls. Does your dream getaway include apple picking and visiting wineries? Head to the Adirondack Coast, where you can pick your own apples, strawberries, and blueberries or play in the corn maze at Rulfs Orchard. And don’t forget to sample wine and hard cider at the Adirondack Cider House!

White Mountain National Forest, NH

Rushing stream down rocks at the White Mountain National Forest, NH. Photo by Instagram user @pachanza
Photo via @pachanza

New Hampshire is perfect for van life if you’re dreaming of scenic drives, quaint towns, and lush forests. Take the Kancamagus Scenic Byway to White Mountain National Forest and enjoy a quiet morning by a stream or hike to the waterfalls at Diana’s Bath. Plus, you can choose between a variety of campgrounds and dispersed camping options here. Be sure to stop in the small town of North Conway for a Maple Latte and Lox Bagel at Frontside Coffee Roasters or for burgers and pizza at Delaney’s Hole in the Wall.

Acadia National Park, ME

Top of a mountain overlooking bright blue water at Acadia National Park,ME. Photo by Instagram user @acadianps
Photo via @acadianps

No East Coast road trip is complete without a visit to Acadia National Park! Take a ranger-led boat tour, visit the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, or go for a dip in Echo Lake. Travel into the town of Bar Harbor and have a picnic or utilize the free WiFi while enjoying panoramic views overlooking the pier at Agamont Park. Treat yourself to Beet Ginger sorbet, Chocolate Chili ice cream, or a Cortado non-dairy flavor at Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream. And, of course, you have to try the Classic Maine Lobster Roll, Fried Scallops, and Steak Frites at Stewman’s Lobster Pound.


Mountain Road Trip

There’s a reason why so many of the best U.S. road trips are found in the Rocky Mountains. Not only is this region full of dense forests, winding roads, and friendly cities, but you’ll find some of the best outdoor recreation here, too. Check out these three must-visit stops in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming!

Yellowstone National Park, WY

Geyser shooting out of the ground on a sunny day at Yellowstone National Park, WY. Photo by Instagram user @yellowstonenps
Photo via @yellowstonenps

It’s no surprise that Yellowstone National Park is one of the most well-known and visited national parks in America! See Old Faithful erupt, watch Bighorn sheep and bison roam, or check out the ranger-led programs. If you can, try to schedule your visit during less busy times of the year like April and May or September and October. On your way south, swing into another one of Wyoming’s great parks, Grand Teton National Park, to go mountaineering, float down Snake River, and do some birdwatching.

Crested Butte, CO

Grassy trail with purple flowers and mountains in the background at Crested Butte, CO. Photo by Instagram user @nicolerbender
Photo via @nicolerbender

Located within Gunnison National ForestCrested Butte stands out as a top van life destination with its sea of wildflowers, prime terrain for hiking and mountain biking, and unbeatable fly fishing. Make a pit stop in the city to get the day going with a cup of joe and a cinnamon roll from Camp 4 Coffee, or order Bevy’s Stuffed Peppers and a You’re Driving Me Caprese pizza for lunch at Secret Stash.

Arches National Park, UT

Red rock formation under a starry sky at Arches National Park, UT. Photo by Instagram user @colindyoungphotography
Photo via @colindyoungphotography

When it comes to scenery you won’t soon forget, Utah has an abundance of stops throughout the state. But Arches National Park is a can’t-miss spot for your van road trip. With more than 2,000 stunning rock formations and crystal-clear stargazing, it’s one of the most unique national parks in the Grand Circle. You can also drive into Moab to hear live music while eating Hush Puppies and a Pulled Pork Burger at Blu Pig BBQ, or you can learn about the history and local geologic features at Moab Museum.

Pacific Northwest Road Trip

With soaring trees, winding rivers, and lush greenery all around, it’s easy to see why living on the road is so popular in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. These three stops in the Pacific Northwest are perfect for year-round van trips—and there’s plenty of room for detours along the way!

Coeur d’Alene, ID

Tall green trees next to a green and blue river at Coeur d'Alene National Forest, ID. Photo by Instagram user @campbellk_wildlifebio
Photo via @campbellk_wildlifebio

Coeur d’Alene is an amazing road trip destination that offers everything from camping and boating to skiing and local festivals. Spend some time on the water at Lake Coeur d’Alene, where you can go waterskiing, salmon fishing, and swimming. Head to Coeur d’Alene National Forest to find a place to hike, mountain bike, or go ziplining. Want to check out some of Coeur d’Alene’s community events? Plan your trip around the city’s Summer Concert Series or Oktoberfest festivals!

Mt. Hood National Forest, OR

Sun shining over crystal clear lake with mountains in the back at Mt Hood National Forest, OR. Photo by Instagram user @browneyedsmile808
Photo via @browneyedsmile808

Be sure to put Mt. Hood National Forest on your list of best van life destinations in the U.S. Here, you’ll find crisp waters, wildflowers and striking waterfalls, and lots of fee-free camping. You can also venture into nearby Portland to quirky shopping spots like Powell’s City of Books and Music Millennium or creative eateries like Voodoo Doughnut and The Observatory. If you want to extend your Oregon visit, you can also head south to Willamette National Forest and Deschutes National Forest.

Olympic National Park, WA

Clear lake with rock formations in the middle at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, WA. Photo by Instagram user @michelegarett
Photo via @michelegarrett

Head to Olympic National Park for the ultimate camping road trip. There’s no shortage of things to do here during any season, as you can experience seven different climates in just one park! Hike around Lake Crescent and settle in for a picnic on the shore. Relax in the soothing waters of the Olympic Hot Springs. Go snowshoeing in the snow or explore the rainforests during the rainy season. If you want a break from outdoor activities, Seattle is about two hours away!


Southwest Road Trip

Warm weather is one of the biggest attractions for travels, so it’s no surprise that the Southwest is packed full of van life hot spots. Stunning hiking, vast mountains, and free camping in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico make this road trip one you won’t soon forget!

Big Bend National Park, TX

Mountains with a river running through the middle at Big Bend National Park, TX. Photo by Instagram user @bigbendnps
Photo via @bigbendnps

If your dream of traveling involves horseback riding, mountain biking in the backcountry, and fishing in the Rio Grande, visit Big Bend National Park! Take your pick of developed campgrounds with access to showers and electricity or opt for an affordable backcountry camping pass to park somewhere more secluded. Once you’re ready for something different, head to Terlingua. This ghost town is an excellent place to grab a homemade empanada at Chili Pepper Café.

Bisti Badlands, NM

Canyons under a starry sky at Bisti Badlands, NM. Photo by Instagram user @nikita_kitty_
Photo via @nikita_kitty_

For many van travelers, the perfect U.S. road trip features wide open spaces and secluded places. That’s why visiting the Bisti Badlands tops so many lists! The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area is a hidden gem that provides free spots to camp off the grid and reconnect with nature—just be sure to download any maps and bring solar power chargers, as phone signals and electricity are hard to find out here. When you’re ready to rejoin society, travel to Taos and attend the Taos Vanlife Gathering!

Sedona, AZ

Red rock formation during sunset at Cathedral Rock Trail in Sedona, AZ. Photo by Instagram user @visitsedona
Photo via @visitsedona

Love the desert? Sedona is one of the best places to road trip, thanks to its gorgeous mountains and looming pine forests. The surrounding Coconino National Forest is great for fishing, checking out red rock formations, and finding free spots to park your van overnight. Make your way into town for a Funky Cacti Margarita and Pork Carnitas Street Tacos at 89Agave Cantina, or schedule your visit to match up with the annual Sedona Winefest in September to indulge in local wine and listen to live music.

West Coast Road Trip

When it comes to van travel, many road trippers find that west is the best! Mild weather, ocean views, and a more easygoing way of life are some of the reasons you’ll love these three van life stops in California as much as the journey getting there.

Lake Tahoe, CA

Lake with trees and mountains in the background at Lake Tahoe, CA. Photo by Instagram user @jessieb033
Photo via @jessieb033

No van life road trip is complete without a visit to Lake Tahoe! Nearby Eldorado National Forest not only offers plenty of hiking and fishing, but it also has a relaxed dispersed camping policy, so you can park overnight for free for ten days each year. Be sure to make your way over to Yosemite National Park, too! About two hours away from Lake Tahoe, this popular national park is home to unbeatable rock climbing, bird watching, and sunrises you won’t soon forget.

Lone Pine, CA

Trail with the mountains in the background during sunrise at Alabama Hills. Photo by Instagram user @ek_photos
Photo via @ek_photos

Another popular van traveler spot is the historic town of Lone Pine. As the gateway to Mt. Whitney and Death Valley, it’s a prime place to pass through. But there’s plenty to do and see in the town as well! Treat yourself to a hearty breakfast burrito or Triple Berry Pie at Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery, or take a few hours to learn something new at the Museum of Western Film History. Don’t forget to explore Alabama Hills, where you can find free dispersed camping or the affordable Tuttle Creek Campground that offers access to water, fire rings, and more!

San Diego, CA

Beach and palm trees with a purple and orange sky at Mission Beach. Photo by Instagram user @alexbaltovphoto
Photo via @alexbaltovphoto

Looking for overnight parking with an oceanfront view? San Diego’s Mission Beach has several lots with “Overnight Parking Allowed” signs. Even though San Diego isn’t as secluded as other West Coast road trip destinations, you’ll be able to relax and spend your days surfing, whale watching, and attending van life meetups or festivals. Getting to San Diego is also a treat! Whether you weave your way along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway or hike through Joshua Tree National Park first, the journey is worth it.

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