If you’re unsure whether to start heading toward New York or Texas for your next trip, we can help. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to put together a list of the best van life destinations in the US. You’ll find everything from popular tourist cities to national parks and a few scenic deserts.
There is something on this list for everyone, and we’re pretty confident you will have a great time with the 11 best van life destinations on our list.
As we mentioned before, these are all locations in North America (with one exception), so don’t be surprised that some of the most famous landscapes from overseas didn’t make it on our list.
The truth is that there are fantastic van life destinations worldwide, so we’ll have to skip places like Canada, Europe, Australia, and the like on this list.
Luckily, one of the good things about focusing on the US and the many national parks in it is that you can easily find free camping spots all around the country by just going onto the BLM site and looking up the national park you want to camp at.
Additionally, we can also give you a more exact estimate on what sort of camping fees and gas prices you should expect in each location.
We’re starting with the heaviest hitters when it comes to natural attractions. We doubt that there’s a person alive in North America that doesn’t know what Yellowstone is, but surprisingly, there are a few people that don’t know much about the neighboring national park of Grand Teton, which is full of just as many breathtaking sights.
Both of these parks are close to each other, so you can go to Yellowstone to see the eruption of Old Faithful and then take a drive over to Grand Teton to see the bison and all of the wildlife roam their natural habitat.
Seeing as these are major attractions, some campsites are located in the vicinity of both parks. However, camping spots are hard to come by due to their popularity and finding your ideal one might be challenging. We suggest booking in the national parks ahead of time if you want to lock something in and spend the night inside the park boundaries. If you are just driving through, there are plenty of sites right outside of the park to enjoy dispersed camping.
Unlike our first suggestion, you won’t have any issue finding a camping spot in Sedona since there are plenty of overnight parking spots. While the terrain might look a bit barren, the huge mountainous regions and the plentiful pine forests are breathtaking and great spots for camping. Catching a sunrise in Sedona is jaw-dropping.
Sedona is also home to a fairly popular wine festival in September, which is a must-see if you enjoy the outdoors and a glass of vino. If you are looking for more outdoor activities, then you can pop over to the Coconino National Forest for a bit of fishing or birdwatching.
While this location seems pretty empty at first sight, there are actually quite a few little shops sprinkled around that you can visit if you want to explore the town.
Most national parks have camping spots that are a few miles away, but Yosemite National Park has camping areas that basically border the park. You can wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, exit your camper van, and enjoy a nice quiet moment and take in all of the beautiful foliage.
Aside from foliage, you’re also very likely to have a run-in with a deer or two, on top of a few smaller species of critters that are running around. Don’t forget your camera when you are in Yosemite; you will not be disappointed.
Red Rock Canyon is just outside of Las Vegas, which means that if you get tired of nature, then you can just hop into town and maybe catch a show or try to win a few bucks on blackjack.
The canyon itself is pretty famous, but it’s also surrounded by some pretty popular attractions as well. Here you’ll find the Spring Mountain State Park, the Oak Creek Trail, and a petroglyph wall.
The petroglyphs are a sight to behold and a true testament to the country’s history, but the Oak Creek Trail steals the show. Not only is this a good hiking trail in general, but you’ll also see some spectacular colors that come from the local plants and rock formations.
Blue State Park in Maine is just shy of 8,000 acres, making it one of the smaller parks on our list. Here you can find Mt. Blea Trail, which is a pretty famous hiking trail that’s more than a mile and a half, as well as Webb Lake if you’re looking to go for a swim in the summer.
There are plenty of free camping spots that can be found around the park, but there are also a lot of convenience stores and even cities that are relatively close by, which means you’ll have everything you need within a ten-minute drive from anywhere you’ve parked, yet still tucked away in nature.
If you’ve ever gone on Shutterstock and searched “desert”, then you’ve probably seen at least one or two pictures of Moab. Aside from being as red as a shy tomato on a first date, the most noticeable feature of this location is the striking rock formations. It is also home to many cacti and other desert plants.
Moab is a hiking, mountain biking, or rock climbing lover’s dream and full of camping spots. Keep in mind, most of the RV parks will charge you for the overnight stay, and while you can find free camping grounds, they’re usually located farther from the city and do book up quickly.
Similar to Moab, White River National Forest is pretty famous among outdoor enthusiasts. Truth be told, the paths are located on the edge of the forest, where they start north near Rocky Mountain National Park and head south towards the city of Pueblo.
There are free campsites all over the place. So if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of a city and embrace nature, this is a great option.
The forest itself is huge and beautiful, and while you can’t bike through the thick trees and are limited to the designated paths, you can still take a stroll and just enjoy everything that it has to offer.
Our list has gone through locations with everything from hiking trails and wildlife preserves to rock formations and lush forests, but this is the only location that we’ll cover that’s famed for its beautiful waterfalls.
Shoshone Falls in Idaho might not be as famous as Niagara falls, but looking at them can still easily take your breath away. The view might be great in the summer, but the winter is when the falls really shine since snowfall actually doubles the flow of water.
The entrance fee for a single vehicle is a modest $5, but there aren’t any free camping locations anywhere near the park, so you’ll need to either pay for an RV park or use up a bit of gas to find a free spot that’s a bit further away.
Just south of San Diego, you can find a stretch of land that a lot of people don’t know about, and it’s exactly that reason that attracts a lot of adventurous spirits. You can find tour guides for Baja California the same as pretty much anywhere else in the world, but there are not quite as many gas stations, resorts, restaurants, or convenience stores.
What you’ll find if you go to this beautiful land is wide stretches of open space, as well as a lot of forests and natural beauty. Additionally, you’ll also come across plenty of public space that can be used as a free camping spot for the night, and even entire side roads that see so little traffic that you can practically set up a campsite on the road, and nobody will mind.
Just to clarify, we’re not saying that Baja is a barren wasteland with nothing in it, but rather that it’s a very long drive between one city and another, and the drive is full of great sights but very little else. This is a stark contrast to many states where you can’t drive for 10 minutes without spotting a convenience store, and a lot of people might appreciate the difference.
Tampa probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind whenever you think of van life destinations, but this east coast location has a unique advantage over others due to its geographic proximity to so many hot springs.
While this might not be the most exciting travel destination, a week spent soaking in a hot spring can really get rid of all of those pains and aches that come from traveling and being on the road all of the time. Additionally, since Tampa is a reasonably sized city, you could also use your time here to maybe catch a movie or visit a fancy restaurant, which you might not be able to do so often while on the road.
The one downside to camping near Tampa is that the only free campgrounds are pretty far away, which means that you’ll have to settle in one of the multiple RV parks. The prices aren’t extraordinarily high or anything, but it’s still more expensive than spending the night in a national park.
Most people probably don’t know this, but the person credited for popularizing nomadic van living is Foster Huntington, who was actually born in Portland, Oregon. Aside from that little bit of van life trivia, Oregon is a pretty standard city found near the west coast; however, it’s still an excellent destination to stay in for several reasons.
The city has plenty of free and paid camping spots, allowing you to choose whichever location suits you better. While the free spots might be a bit out of the way, the 10-minute drive might be worth it to save a few bucks on the RV park fee.
Portland might not be the biggest city in the US, but it still has a lot of local attractions, amazing farmers’ markets, as well as a killer food scene.
Full-time van lifers are sure to appreciate at least some of the spots that we listed on our best van life destinations rundown, but at the end of the day, it’ll all depend on how you like to spend your free time and what your ideal travel destination is.
At the end of the day, we’re confident that not only will most of the destinations that we mentioned be able to provide you with a lot of enjoyment, but some of them are so beautiful that they must even be on the bucket list of a lot of travel enthusiasts.