You are ready to head out on your first van camping trip, but you’re not quite sure exactly what you need to look for when looking for a van camping site. Some factors will vary depending on where and what you want to do on each specific van camping trip, but the following list will give you some ideas of what you need to think about when picking your site.
How do you pick the perfect van camping site? Picking the perfect van camping site will usually involve the following factors:
- Stable ground
- Level location
- Parking Fees
- Pet rules
- Campfire Regulations
- Proximity to other campers
As you can see there are a lot of considerations to think about when picking your perfect van camping site. Based on our experience when traveling if you research and plan what you are looking for you will stand a much better chance of finding that perfect site.
Now let’s delve into the above requirements a little further.
When selecting your site consider what the ground stability is like where you are considering parking. A big factor in this will be the time of year that you are going to be camping.
In the spring the ground is often soft and mushy from the snow melting and the frost leaving the ground, so you need to be sure to park on a hard location so you don’t end up getting your van stuck at your camping site.
The same can be true other times of the year when the area that you are going to be camping in has received a lot of rain, this can cause soft ground conditions that can let your van get stuck easily. To make matters worse if you are in a remote area with no cell phone coverage you are going to have a long walk!
If camping where the ground is too sandy, you can sometimes get stuck too.
Pick a site that is on high ground, not a low lying area that is prone to flooding. You don’t want to wake up in the morning with water surrounding your van or your van floating away.
So be sure to have a good stable surface to park your van on.
Van Camping Life Tip: If camping during the winter in a less traveled area, make sure the road has winter maintenance or you might get snowed in.
In addition to a site with stable ground you will want your site to have a level parking location for your van. Pick a location that is level with good drainage, so if it rains during your stay you don’t have to wade through the mud puddles.
A level location will allow easier walking while at your campsite and a better area to set up your extras like a folding table, chairs or tents.
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Parking fees and other extra fees are something you will want to consider if you are van camping on a budget.
Commercial campgrounds, state and national parks and other camping areas will usually have a parking fee for using the site.
Commercial campground rates usually start around $20 per night for two people and go higher from there. There will be extra fees for extra people, to hook to electric, water or other amenities.
National and state park campgrounds will also charge fees however they usually are a little less than their commercial counterparts.
Camping can be real fun for your dog too. Campgrounds and public lands will have regulations concerning pets. Some places will not allow pets at all, in others they must be on a leash at all times or in a crate and some might even have off leash areas.
Don’t forget it is your responsibility to pick up and dispose of the pet waste after your pet does its “business.”
Check ahead of time if you are planning to include a pet on your van camping trip, so you know what the rules are for the places you will be staying.
Van Camping Life Tip: Arrive before dark at your camping location. This will enable you to familiarize yourself with your location and set up before it gets dark.
When you have a specific location that you want to van camp at and a specific date that you want to be there make sure to make a reservation.
On holiday weekends or during peak season campgrounds will fill up fast. Don’t be caught without a place to stay on your long awaited van camping trip, to make sure you have a site reserve it ahead of time. There is nothing going to ruin your van camping trip more than driving to the location that you planned your whole trip around to end up without a site to park.
When selecting a spot to camp at night you might not be thinking about shade for the next day, if your plans include being at the same site for 2 or 3 days this is another thing you should consider.
The hot sun beating down on your van camping site not only gets roasting but also will give you sunburn fast. Pick a site that has shade; just make sure there are no dead tree limbs above the site to fall on you, your family members or your van.
If you don’t have a porta-potty in your van and don’t like long walks to bathroom in the middle of the night, getting a spot close to the bathrooms and shower are good to keep in mind.
Being close to the bathrooms although has a down side if you are staying in the same place for 3 or 4 days, it is going to be busy with other campers going back and forth to use the facilities.
Another major factor when selecting a van camping site is your safety. Pick a site where there is no danger of flash flooding, avalanches, falling rocks or other hazards.
When stealth camping also be aware of what type of neighborhood you are parking in, don’t park behind gates that someone can lock during the night or park on dead end alleys or roads with only one way to exit.
When scouting out your van camping site remember to check out what activities are available in the area. Are they close enough to walk to? Are there activities appropriate for the ages of all family members?
Are you and your family real active? If so are there places to hike, trails for riding horseback and place for your horses, ATVing and UTVing trails, dirt bike trails, streams to fly fish, lakes to canoe on or whatever other requirements are needed for your favorite recreational sport.
If you are going to have kids with you, does the location have a playground, swimming pool, places for the kids to ride their bikes and things to keep them entertained?
Don’t forget activities close to the vicinity if you are going to be staying at the same location for 4 or 5 days. Are there golf courses to play a few rounds, water parks, amusement parks, casinos, putter golf, restaurants for a special meal out, museums, places to go antiquing, wine tasting or other sites of interest?
I find that one of the most enjoyable things about van camping is having a campfire. I enjoy the smell of a campfire, sitting around a campfire watching the flames dance around at night, cooking hot dogs on a stick and rounding that off with toasting marshmallows.
A campfire also offers the opportunity to relax and spend quality time with the family. You can pass a lot of hours just sitting around the campfire talking and enjoying each other’s company away from the rush of the world.
So if you enjoy a campfire as much as I do, check ahead of time to see if you are allowed to have campfires, what time of year you are allowed to have campfires, are there existing pits or fireplaces or will you have to bring along a portable campfire ring.
Now let’s move on to the topic of firewood. Invasive species of bugs, worms and flies are infesting our native forests, for this reason you must be careful about transporting firewood and where you get your firewood.
Some states will not allow firewood into the state that has not been kiln dried, fumigated, heat treated or certified by the USDA. In other locations you might only be allowed to buy, burn or bring in wood within 25 miles of your camping location.
You also are encouraged to burn all the wood you bring with you and do not to leave it at your campsite when you leave. Do not transport firewood with you to your next overnight parking location, as this will allow the invasive species to spread to a wider area.
Van Camping Life Tip: Keep your campfire small and contained, never leave the fire unattended.
Proximity to other campers
Are you gregarious or do you like to be by yourself? This will be another consideration for picking the perfect campsite.
If you like to meet new people, spend time with fellow campers and need the presence of other people to feel safe, you will probably want to opt for a campground setting.
Commercial campgrounds will often provide social activities so you can interact with other campers. Entertainment could include potluck dinners, horseshoe tournaments, bingo, scavenger hunts, cornhole tournaments, a DJ and lots of other activities.
National, state and local parks will often have interpretive programs for you to participate in. These programs will often cover a wide range of educational topics about the natural features, wildlife and flora in the location you are visiting.
If you like to be by yourself you will want to look for areas in a more remote part of the campground, a place to boondock or wild camp in an undeveloped setting.
Whatever your personality type is there is a perfect van camping site just right for you and your family. After you go on a few van camping trips you will get more experienced on what specific features you want in a location, so each time they will get more perfect!
What is boondocking? Boondocking is when you van camp where there are no facilities, in a remote, undeveloped area. If you are interested in learning more about boondocking check out our post here.
What is Bureau of Land Management Lands? The Bureau of Land Management is the department responsible for managing 247.3 million acres of public lands. Most of the land is located in these states Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. BLM lands are excellent places to find van camping sites, for more information visit the BLM website here.