Van life isn’t a science. It’s an art. Luckily, we contacted three bona fide masters about their favorite places to visit, and they were happy to oblige.
Goosenecks State Park, Utah
Photographer Alison Turner spends most of her days on the road. When she wants to get as far from civilization as possible, she and her rescue dog, Max, head for southern Utah’s Goosenecks State Park, which looms high above the San Juan River. “We love it for the peace, beauty, and the feeling of being in nature and away from people,” says Turner. “Also, Max can be free to explore without restrictions.” Visitors take note: pets are welcome at Goosenecks, though dogs must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet.
An executive producer of Powder Productions and a former Powder magazine editor, John Sifter recently lived and worked in a 2009 Dodge Sprinter for 13 months with his now-wife, Janna Irons. His fondness for Stanley has not changed. “You can drive down the highway for a few miles and soak in natural hot springs with rock-strewn pools on the Salmon,” says Stifter. “The stunning Sawtooths, the soothing Salmon River, natural hot springs, and two bars of service just east of town make it one of our favorite van sites.”
Brooklyn, New York
“Head to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn,” says Stifter, “and park on one of the side streets near McCarren Park. You can stealthily park long-term there and take advantage of the a robust farmers’ market and running track.” McCarren is one of the borough’s favorite outdoor hangouts and offers clean public bathrooms, easy subway access to Manhattan, and loads of museums, bars, and restaurants to check out. And with all the stylish Brooklinites walking around, the people watching is not bad.
“My favorite spot of all time is Phil’s Trail,” says Erik Gordon, whose mobile coffee shop, Carabiner Coffee, began in a 1971 Volkswagen bus named Ol’ Blue. “It’s about 15 minutes outside of town and a great spot for mountain biking or trail running. I love waking up there, sharing a cup of coffee with some of the locals, and getting the beta on the trail conditions. There’s a public bathroom right next to the trailhead. Since it’s only 15 minutes from downtown, you can bike into town and have fun in the river, go climb at Smith Rock, or grab a beer from the ridiculous number of breweries in Bend.”
Crested Butte, Colorado
“Dispersed, or free, camping exists nearly everywhere throughout the Rockies,” says Stifter, noting Colorado’s abundant Forest Service and BLM land where you can find van-life nirvana. A favorite high-alpine spot is right outside the mountain biking mecca of Crested Butte, in Gunnison National Forest, which you can access via Forest Service Road 12 toward Lake Irwin or Kebler Pass. “You’ll be among wildflowers, big peaks, mountain meadows, and trails galore,” says Stifter. What’s more, the site is only 45 minutes to Elk Avenue, Crested Butte’s main thoroughfare, with access to great bars and restaurants, as well as reliable cell service.
Park in Ventura for the surfing and the fish tacos. “As far as beach towns go, this one is as laid-back as they come,” says Gordon. “It has one of the best longboard breaks within 200 miles, and with all the Patagonia employees lurking in the streets, you’re bound to bump into a free pair of boardshorts somewhere.”
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