Tips & Guides | May 2023

12 Dream Spring Road Trips For Car Campers, Truck Campers, and Vanlifers

Feeling antsy to hit the road? You’re not alone. Spring is an all-time favorite season for the adventure-seeking nomad, as the crowds of summer haven’t quite reached critical mass, and the withering sun hasn’t yet zapped all traces of moisture from the atmosphere. Seeing as we’re all buzzing to log some miles, we pulled together six of our favorite road trip ideas for car campers, truck campers, and vanlifers to take this spring. For each trip, we’ve provided two options: a rough two-day itinerary for weekend warriors, and dream itineraries for those with open calendars.

Best Spring Road Trips for Car Campers

1. National Park Tour: California Edition

California has a whopping nine national parks, more than any other state. (In case you’re studying up for Jeopardy, Alaska takes silver with eight parks, and Utah snatches bronze with five parks.) The diversity of California’s parks is equally staggering. The Golden State is home to the stunningly tall trees of Sequoia and Redwood National Parks, the jaw-dropping interplay of water and rock of Yosemite, the cacti-speckled desert of Death Valley and Joshua Tree, even the rugged coastline of the majestic Channel Islands.

Pro Tip: Spring is the perfect time to visit popular parks like Yosemite and Sequoia which are overrun come Memorial Day, as well as parks like Death Valley that are too hot in peak summer.

Easy Weekend/2-Day Itinerary
From SF, check out parks that are relatively nearby like Yosemite, Pinnacle, Lassen, Sequoia & Kings Canyon. From SoCal, head to the Channel Islands, Joshua Tree, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, or Death Valley. Pick one or two parks max and explore!

The Dream Itinerary
California’s northernmost park, Redwood National Park, is near the Oregon border, and its southernmost park, Joshua Tree National Park, is just north of Mexico. If you were to drive straight from one to the other, you’re looking at least a 12-hour stretch. But if you visit parks along the way, the road trip possibilities are near endless. Our dream road trip itinerary? Take your time and tag all nine parks, either zig-zagging north to south or vice versa. Or, better yet, make an epic loop around the Golden State.

2. Colorado 14er Tour

Colorado’s 53 world-famous 14ers–peaks over 14,000 feet–are a zoo in the summer. This holds especially true for the least intimidating and most accessible ones. However, if you time the spring thaw well and are comfortable with snow travel, spring is an optimal time to camp and explore the 14ers.

Safely Exploring the Colorado Backcountry In Spring
If you’re a backcountry skier, splitboarder, or mountaineer, spring is often the best window to get after it in Colorado. The freeze-thaw cycle–snow melting during the day, then re-freezing at night–can stabilize the Centennial State’s often sketchy snowpack. That said, warming temperatures can also lead to potentially catastrophic wet avalanches. Granted, this is a simplified view of avalanches, and conditions vary season by season and day by day. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: it’s important that you have avalanche safety equipment, know how to use it, and read the avalanche forecast. When in doubt, hire a local, certified guide to help you explore safely.

Take It Easy
While this is prime time for skiing and climbing the 14ers, a mellower approach is rewarding, too. The Rockies are a beautiful place to camp, and you can check out Colorado’s many microbreweries, fish alpine lakes, hit hot springs, and more.

14ers Access: When planning a 14ers trip, even if you’re just camping near the base, it’s worth checking road and trail conditions. The 14ers forums and Facebook group are invaluable in that regard.

Mount Evans Scenic Byway
For the SUV- or hatchback-piloting car camper, a drive on North America’s highest paved road, the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, is a memorable experience. This 28-mile windy road starts in Idaho Springs, climbs over 7,000 feet, and tops out at 14,130 feet. The road brings daring drivers just shy of the Mount Evans summit, making Mount Evans many folks’ first 14er. The byway is typically open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but the opening date is also dependent on snowpack. Always visit the Colorado Department of Transportation website before planning a trip.

Pro Tip: More remote 14ers can be a smart move in crowded summer months—the further away from Denver, the better. Another increasingly popular move is checking out Colorado’s 637 13ers to avoid the crowds.

Easy Weekend/2-Day Itinerary
Pick a peak or cluster of peaks to check out, then hunt for free car camping nearby. Grouped peaks like Grays and Torreys are possible to tackle in a single push.

The Dream Itinerary
Tick off a larger stretch of 14ers or just send it and knock out all 53 in one go. The current self-supported record is just over two weeks. You got this, piece of cake!*

*Not a piece of cake. That was a joke. Endurance is essential, and technical skills are requisite on certain peaks and routes.

Best Spring Road Trips for Truck Campers

1. Desert Four-Wheeling, Mountain Biking, Climbing, and More in Moab

Think your rig is all that? There’s no better place to put your truck to the test than the 4x4 mecca of Moab. As a matter of fact, even if you’re just looking to get your feet wet on rocky roads, the Utah desert hub has you covered. The zone has everything from scenic gravel roads perfect for 2WD stock rigs to harrowing trails that’ll have you white-knuckling the steering wheel no matter how suped-up your suspension. Check out this helpful guide from Discover Moab to find 4-wheeling routes that match your vehicle and experience level, or stop by the Moab Information Center to get updated maps, trail conditions, and more.

Pro Tip: This area is notoriously hot in the summer, making March through May and September through November our favorite windows to visit. It can be overwhelmingly busy, too, especially during Jeep Week and hectic holiday weekends, and the seemingly innumerable campsites can fill up. Definitely best to arrive on a weekday.

Easy Weekend/2-Day Itinerary
There’s so much 4-wheeling to be had that it’s easy to spend two days tackling the trails. Or, if you’re less interested in motorized methods of transportation, forget the 4x4 and embrace human-powered travel. The hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, rafting, and climbing are all world-class.

The Dream Itinerary
Make the greater Moab zone your home base for at least a week, and customize an itinerary to your liking. Nowhere in the country–or possibly the planet–is there such a radical confluence of motorized and human-powered outdoor action. There’s something for everyone, guaranteed. A few ideas to get the cogs turning below: 

2. Surfing Baja

Like the desert vibes but wish there was more water? Try Baja. Exploring Baja gets infinitely better when you have a rig you can trust to take on rutted-out, overgrown 4x4 tracks, gnarly arroyos, and sandy beaches. Need proof? Look no further than this video of the Baja 1000, a 24-hour off-road race from Ensenada to La Paz often referred to as the most dangerous race in North America.

Now, even if you aren’t racing, Baja is a radical road trip destination and a primo place to put your 4x4 skills and setup to the test. While it’s possible to navigate largely on paved roads, expect muddy, rocky, poorly maintained 4x4 roads if you want to navigate the coastline or explore off the beaten track.

Easy Weekend/2-Day Itinerary
Surfing Northern Baja is a dream trip for many, but it’s just a hop, skip, and border-crossing for SoCal surfers, who regularly make the trek through Tijuana in search of less crowded waves (and less expensive tacos).
Make the border crossing early in the morning, then surf your way toward Ensenada. Spend the night, surf your way back, and make the crossing once more. A two-day trip is a quick, easy, and solid way to get your first taste of road-tripping Baja.

The Dream Itinerary
Take a couple of weeks–or a couple of months–and drive the entire Baja peninsula. Stay put when the waves are firing, and drive and explore the coastal towns when the waves are flat. April is more of a shoulder season, better for intermediate surfers, while May often has solid swell on tap thanks to South Pacific storm systems and the occasional hurricane in the Eastern Pacific.

Safety First: Exploring Baja is not without its risks, and every surfer has heard horror stories from south of the border. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk while road-tripping in Baja:

  • Don’t drive at night.
  • Travel in groups. A caravan is ideal in Baja, both for power in numbers and roadside assistance should anything go awry. Speaking of which, it’s a good idea to bring a tow rope, traction, etc.
  • Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself (e.g. flashing money or getting drunk in Tijuana).
  • This one is up for debate, as many Baja regulars swear by beach camping, but some Baja road trippers prefer to camp at designated campgrounds. Baja campground amenities vary from basic to gnarly, but for a few pesos, you can get a better sense of security than you would otherwise.

Best Spring Road Trips for Vanlifers

1. National Park Tour: Wyoming, Montana, BC

Spring weather is a roll of the dice up north. Vanlifers who are down to gamble can take advantage of their warm, comfy living quarters and visit national parks in Wyoming, Montana, and even British Columbia before the summer sun draws hordes of tourists.

Easy Weekend/2-Day Itinerary
Start off your adventure in Jackson, Wyoming, and plan to check out Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. While each park has tons to offer, it’s possible to get a taste of each in a two-day trip. Some folks even hit both parks in a single day.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway
Hitting both parks in a single weekend–or single day–gets easier when the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway is open . This is the road that runs through the gorgeous Teton Valley and connects Grand Teton National Park with the South Entrance of Yellowstone. If it’s closed, you’ll have to go up and over Teton Pass and through Idaho. Usually, your mapping app will automatically route you over the pass if the road is closed, but you can always check with WYDOT to be sure.

The Dream Itinerary
If you have an open calendar, slow things down and enjoy all that the Tetons and Yellowstone have to offer. Raft the Snake River, climb in Grand Teton National Park, backpack in Yellowstone, so on and so forth. And when you’re done, don’t turn south–keep heading north into Montana. Tack on visits to Glacier National Park, and, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, venture into Canada. Waterton Lakes National Park is virtually an extension of Glacier north of the border, and from there, Kootenay National Park, Banff National Park, and several others are within manageable driving distance.

2. Road Tripping Through New England

If you’re checking out a map of the country’s National Parks, New England seems to be coming up short in the outdoor recreation department. After all, Maine’s the only state in New England with a national park–rugged and beloved Acadia–but Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are lacking. However, such notions are entirely off-base, as each and every corner of New England has allure for the road-tripping adventurer.

Pro Tip: Keep these road trip ideas on your radar for fall. This northeast nook of the United States is one of the best destinations in the country for leaf-peeping and camping in fall foliage.

Easy Weekend/Two-Day Itinerary
If you’ve only got time for a short trip, book it to Acadia National Park. The crown jewel of Maine, Acadia is a 4-hour-and-change drive from Boston, but it feels like a world away. The park is home to picturesque rocky ponds and lakes, rolling hills and surprisingly steep mountains, and craggy bluffs and awe-inspiring coastlines. Activities abound, from kayaking the scenic inlets and gravel biking on the network of carriage roads to hiking and trail running. Camping is available in the park but books up fast–reserve here.

The Dream Itinerary
While Acadia is a natural keystone of any New England road trip, there’s so much more to see, both in and out of Maine. Our dream road trip itinerary? Link up Acadia with outdoor adventures across the rest of New England. Compose a minimum six-stop itinerary over 10+ days, hitting state parks, national forests, and more along the way. We’ve included an idea or two for each state below:

  • Massachusets: Few writers have waxed as poetically on wilderness as naturalist Henry David Thoreau did in Walden. When you’re cruising through Massachusets, be sure to visit Thoreau’s muse for that magnum opus: Walden Pond and Walden Woods, both located in Walden Pond State Reservation. Grab a copy of Walden while you’re at it–it’s the perfect read for a road trip in New England.
  • Vermont: Verdant Vermont is famous for having some of the best mountain biking on the eastern seaboard. Whether you’re bringing your bike or renting on the road, check out Mountain Bike Project to find trails that tickle your fancy and plan a route accordingly. If you’re all about the downhill, you’ll be pumped to learn that several of the state’s renowned ski resorts crank chairs in the summer, too, bringing DH disciples to artfully sculpted singletrack, berms, jumps, and more.
  • New Hampshire: New Hampshire might not have any national parks, but it has 42 state parks–not bad for the country’s fifth-smallest state. Park highlights include hiking 4,000-foot peaks in Franconia Notch State Park and mountain biking in Bear Brook State Park.
  • Rhode Island: Check out the surf that wraps into Rhode Island’s south-facing coast. Spring is a fun time to explore the zone, as you no longer need the thick 5/4mm wetsuit you do in winter, there’s still a decent chance of swell, and the crowds aren’t as bad as they are in peak summer.
  • Connecticut: You might be surprised to learn that the Appalachian Trail dips into the northwest corner of Connecticut. The state’s 52-mile section of the AT can be broken up into chunks on a manageable multi-day backpacking trip, or vanlifers can get a taste via day hiking or trail running.

Here’s To Making the Most of Spring

Regardless of whether you have a month or a weekend to explore, we hope these road trip ideas help you “spring” into action and get moving before the summer crowds and heat arrive in earnest.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the road this spring,
The Luno Crew

PS. 5 Quick Tips for Coping With Increasing Crowds and Temperatures

While many of the above destinations are extra crowded or hot come summer, that doesn’t mean a peak-season road trip is out of the cards. However, it is imperative that you plan accordingly. Here are five quick tricks to help you keep your cool this summer:

  • Weekends are the worst: Avoid crowds by traveling midweek. If forced to travel on the weekend, reserve a campsite ahead of time. Another idea: arrive at a first-come, first-serve campground on Thursday night and work remotely, or better yet, take Friday off if possible.
  • Make sure your AC is working: This one goes without saying, but there’s no quicker way to ruin a warm-weather road trip than busted air conditioning.
  • Mesh window screens and a fan are essential.Airflow is a must when car camping in muggy weather. Step up your game with Luno Screens for Car Windows and our Car Camping Fan. The screens let in all of the breeze with none of the bugs, and the compact yet powerful fan can run off a USB battery or your car jack.
  • Check the weather. Always monitor the weather leading up to your trip. Two weeks to ten days out, you’ll start to get a feeling for trends. Once you hit that week mark, you’ll know if temperatures will be too hot to make your planned trip happen.
  • Always have a plan B. One of many beautiful things about car camping is that it’s easy to call an audible. For instance, if you have a desert bike trip planned to Moab and it’s hitting 100 degrees, pivot and head to cooler, higher-elevation Park City. Easy.

PPS. A Note on Vehicle Type

We broke down these adventures by vehicle (car, truck, and van) to better help you plan a road trip this spring. We did so keeping the below advantages of each vehicle type in mind:

  • Cars: This covers a wide range of vehicles, from hatchbacks and crossovers to SUVs. Generally speaking, cars have better gas mileage and are more nimble than their van and truck compadres.
  • Trucks: Trucks often have the best clearance and most off-roading capabilities, making them a go-to for rugged terrain, 4x4 roads, creek crossings, etc.
  • Vans: By far the most liveable option, vans are also usually well insulated, making them better suited to cooler climes.

While we kept these advantages in mind as we pulled these dream spring road trips together, don’t let that categorization limit you. Your van might be Baja-ready, your truck camper might be well-insulated enough to take on BC, or your SUV might be the perfect rig to camp and ski in the Sierra. We know firsthand that sometimes the least-expected rigs make for the best camping mobiles.

Journal

Also, receive exclusive offers, new product releases and more.