Some posts here on Chasing the Wild Goose contain affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you click or book from one of these links – at no extra expense to you.
When traveling on a road trip full-time you find that you encounter so many incredible locations to visit and sometimes even park overnight. That being said when starting out as a vanlifer it can be overwhelming to decide where to go. That is why I asked vanlifers what they thought was the best vanlife destination. They replied with so many incredible locations that we now have a long list of places to see this year! I hope you will find some inspiration from some of my favorite Van Lifers who were so generous and willing to give you the best vanlife destinations!
1. Jackson Wyoming
by Katie Larsen from So We Bought A Van
One of the best areas for primitive camping I’ve ever experienced is the surrounding area of Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Between Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the wonderful town of Jackson, this region has an abundance of beautiful scenery and trails to explore. Whether you visit in the heat of the summer or the snowy season of winter, you won’t find a better view while camping. The spot I specifically enjoy has a wonderful overlook of the entire Teton mountain range. Don’t be afraid to find a path of your own and go searching for your own primitive campsite! There are so many options deep down dirt roads and you may just find your own little paradise.
2. Bend, OR
One of the best vanlife destinations is in one of the best spots in the United States, in my humble opinion. Shawn and I spent July of 2019 enjoying Bend, Oregon and all it had to offer. Bend, Oregon is simply a vanlife heaven. The national forest is only 10-15 minutes away with plenty of dispersed camping so you don’t have to stay in town but you’re close enough to enjoy it. One of our favorite memories in Bend is floating the Deschutes River which runs right through the town. They have plenty of Breweries, restaurants, and to top it all off everything is super dog-friendly. I highly recommend swinging through during the summer!
3. Sedona, AZ
We have done a full loop of Canada and America now, from Vancouver, BC to Halifax, NS, and Bangor, MN to Clearwater FL, San Diago, CA, and Seattle, WA. We have seen and been to so many places we’d love to go again, but there are a few places that just keep calling us back. The pull to go back to these places is strong, filled with memories of great hikes, nights by the campfire, and stories and laughs shared with newfound friends. One of these locations is Sedona, AZ. The town itself is great, there are so many little cafes and great places to eat, but it is surrounded by beautiful red rock mountains and countless trails for hiking and biking. Even though it can be a busy place, we’ve always found space to ourselves with ample BLM land close by. If you are in the area make sure you stop by and give yourself a few days to fall in love as we did.
by Sloane from Searching for Sloane
Hey! I’m Sloane! I travel full time in my van with my 2 dogs, Zoe and Ren, we have been on the road since February 2019. We plan to keep traveling and seeing as many sites as possible. To see spots I enjoy or my guides to cities my website is up to date with the latest tips. I also have a podcast in which I talk about my journey navigating life as a recovering addict, it is called solo sobriety.
My favorite spot has been in Sedona, AZ. If you choose to go there is tons of places to stay off the FR525. The best way to get into the area is coming in from Sedona using Dry Creek Road. The reason I like going in from this direction is that 1. You pass a ton of really great trails! 2. It drops you right into town and Whole Foods, which if you spend any time in Sedona will be your second home. The spot has both Verizon and AT&T reception allowing you to work and enjoy views at the same time. Do know that if you are staying in Sedona at peak season you will likely be surrounded by other nomads in this area. If you are looking to cut off from others don’t expect it from this area.
4. Acadia National Park
Switching gears for a quick moment and heading over to the east coast for one of the best vanlife destinations is located in northern Maine. Acadia National Park was the first National Park we visited as vanlifers and to this day I can remember every moment. I recommend visiting during fall as we did and finding a hike that will take you to a viewpoint so you can enjoy the foliage. The bonus to Acadia is that it is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks. For us dog owners we all know how difficult it can be to find hikes where pups are allowed. In Acadia, there are 100 miles of trails and 45 miles of carriage roads.
We did pay for camping but it was worth it as the park is quite large and going in and out would probably cost more in gas than it did for a night.
5. San Luis Obispo
By Lexi and Cody of Dynamo Ultima
It’s so hard to really pick one…Death Valley, Lake Havasu, Umpqua Hot Springs…Let’s say San Luis Obispo near the Botanical Area. We found a spot on a map once and it was such a gem. We stayed here for weeks and it’s amazing. 10 minutes from town and SLO has one of the best farmers markets on Thursday nights! So fun! Lexi and Cody loved it so much they even wrote a blog post on it you can read about here!
By Shannon and Jon of Van Voyage
The best spot that we’ve stayed at so far is at the top of a small mountain in San Luis Obispo. It’s not the most awe-inspiring place we’ve been to, but it checks all of the boxes we consider when picking a spot. The area, in general, has many free, dog-friendly campsites (including the one pictured), some with amazing views of the surrounding hills and ocean, and we didn’t run into too many other campers when trying to find a spot. In town there are places to dump our tanks and fill up on water for FREE – this is huge for us since most fees range from $10-25. There are also plenty of grocery stores and pharmacies around when we need them but we were still able to feel secluded atop this small peak.
We stayed in this specific spot for four days enjoying the view while we worked. We then went into town to fill up on food and water and found another free site, this time at a very quiet little campground with actual fire rings (bonus!). I should also mention – while the roads up to these campsites are exposed, single-lane and occasionally tedious, we were able to drive up in our RWD van without an issue. SLO is also a great base camp or waypoint to some amazing attractions like Monterey, Big Sur and tons of beaches. There are few places this accommodating – we’ll definitely be back!
6. Kelso Dunes
By Kara of the.karavan
Boondocking at the Kelso Dunes was just magical. @schaefescapes and I arrived after dark after a couple of miles down a washboard road and a picture-perfect desert sky greeted us. We headed up to the van roof deck with wine and my camera and had a great time playing around with photographing the sky. On top of that, I saw my first shooting star. I definitely, want to go back and spend more time in the Mojave National Preserve.
7. Knapps Castle
By Adam, Jess, Stu, Hux, and Brooks of A Blonde and the Beards
GPS Coordinates: 34.51064, -119.80572
Tucked away in the Los Padres National Forest is a pullout off El Camino Road overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the city of Santa Barbara. Plenty of room to spread out and traffic is nearly non-existent (off-season). There is a trail that leads out to the city overlook with a deck and (dirty) couch for your enjoyment.
This is just a short drive up to Knapp’s Castle (ruins from a century-old mansion) that provides killer panoramic views
8. Big Bend National Park
By Fuzzy of Fuzzy and Sandy
My favourite place to take the van so far is the Southern Texas region from Marfa to Big Bend National Park. I like this area because of the journey it takes you on. Being from Southern California, just to get there will take you through some of the most beautiful parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Once you arrive in Marfa, it’s a blend of nature, art, and culture. I could stay there and never leave. Then once you get to Big Bend it’s like all the great parks of California put into one. But even bigger.
There’s something for everyone. The thunderstorms there are amazing. Summer is not the best time to go because it is extremely hot. I recommend going in March because you can skip over to SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin as well, my other favourite place to vanlife. Don’t forget to check out Terlingua! A happening ghost town just outside of Big Bend!
8. White Sands New Mexico
By Victoria Glavas of Nomadic Vantasy
White Sands National Monument will always hold a place in my heart. It’s not so much a van haven, as it’s is a backpacker’s heaven. Though spending the day sliding on saucers or picnicking on top of dunes was quite fun. The real magic happens when you walk into the depths. It’s about a 2-mile hike through majestical dunes until you arrive at several secluded campsites surrounded by even larger dunes than the ones behind you. It’s a perfect balance of isolation from the world, but connectivity through the light. The way the light plays off of the sand is a sight to see, especially during sunrise and sunset. Once the sun finds it’s hiding place for the night, the sky fills up with more stars than you ever considered existed and you find peace in this. Then it happens all over again the next day.
9. The Eastern Sierras
One of my favorite places to experience in a van is driving along CA 395 on the east side of the Sierras. You’re close to so much and there are amazing views in every direction. It’s where the mountains loom over the desert for as far as you can see. You can stay in the Alabama Hills, which at the bottom of Mt Whitney, has to be one of the coolest places on earth. You can walk next to the oldest trees in the world just outside of Bishop, or find hot springs in Inyo National Forest. It’s a drive that can start in Death Valley at the bottom of America, and end high in the Sierras, or even in Yosemite. If you plan on visiting Lake Tahoe this is the way to do it. Take the back roads through the Sierras and experience 3 seasons in a day. It really is a magical place and one that I am grateful to have spent some time in. If you live on the road, I can’t recommend this place enough.
10. San Diego
By Marty Benson of From the Van
One of the challenges living in a very small van is that it’s much more fun to hang out with the doors wide open, cooking notoriously and either sitting on the couch or a lawn chair looking at a beautiful piece of scenery while we work. And since Colette and I both work locally in the same moderately dense city, we needed a spot where we can do this without making the natives angry. Well, they’re probably more appropriately labeled the gentry.
The parking lot at the top of Moonlight Beach gives us all of this. It’s gorgeous atop a beach that has a very nice beach break for surfing, there are clean public bathrooms and outdoor showers down next to the café that’s on the beach, and the people watching as well as the sunsets are epic! Not to mention all of our local van life friends who live and work in town generally park there during the day time too. It’s a super rad community of people and we love it when traveling vanners come through as well. I host a podcast about art, culture, and vanlife.
And it’s hilarious, but hanging out in this parking lot is where I find a lot of the nomadic people that I interview on the show. Come kick it! We’ll see you tomorrow.
Maybe I’m biased because my brother lives there – but I absolutely loved San Diego. The entire area has so much to offer from the beaches to downtown. There are endless activities to take part in along the bay and the boardwalk (like surfing, kayaking, fishing, running, skateboarding, biking, yoga, boating, etc.) and Weekly markets/Gatherings bringing the community together. I especially enjoyed sippin’ drinks over sunsets and bonfires. It’s not as “wild” as some of my other favorite places, but I met some of the best people and made some of the greatest memories in San Diego, California and it will always hold a special place in my heart!
From Mountains to Ocean there are so many incredible places that you can visit on your vanlife journey. What do you think of the best vanlife destinations list? Do you agree or am I missing some important locations?