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Top 10 Van Destinations You’ll Want to Visit This Fall

 

 

Who doesn’t love sweater weather? As the season of autumn foliage approaches, you’ll want to start planning ahead for your camper van excursions. Whether you intend on taking a weekend getaway or a road trip across the best travel spots for the fall season, your options for adventure are grand and vast. From stunning lakeside scenes and canyon trails to heart-stopping forest vistas veiled in amber and gold, there’s a special somewhere for everyone. To help you mark your map with the best destinations to explore, we’re bringing you the most scenic spots to go camping in your adventure van this fall season.

 

 

Yosemite National Park, California

If you’re looking to experience all of the best colors of autumn in mild temperatures, make way to Yosemite National Park. The southern side of Yosemite Valley is a sanctuary for foliage fanatics with Tuolumne Grove Trailhead and the Yosemite Creek Picnic Area highlighted as perfect spots for taking some seriously amazing fall-time photos. Sprinter van travelers thrive in this park, navigating the wide range of elevation at trailheads and viewpoints with no problem. You may even have the chance to spot some snow towards the end of the season. While Yosemite may be a popular choice for campers (and for a reason), you’re more likely to experience some solitude during the fall. As crowds tend to come through the warmer months, you’ll be free to savor the sequoias, evergreens, and bigleaf maples in peace and quiet. Keep in mind —  if you want to hike the Half Dome, we recommend getting your permit in advance!

  • For Hiking: El Capitan and North Dome
  • For Sunsets: Inspiration Point
  • For Foliage: Cooks Meadow and Bishop County

Where to Camp: Hardin Flat Road

Take your pick of a perfect parking spot along branching forest roads for a free space to dry camp for up to 14 days. It’s just a quick 5-minute drive from the park gates and conveniently located off Highway 120.

 

 

Flagstaff, Arizona

For those seeking the best of both canyon trails and fall foliage, Flagstaff provides it all in a single trip! The ponderosa pines of the Aspen Nature Loop Trail are sprinkled with shades of yellow during the months of October and November. This is also the perfect chance to wander through the ancient ruins of Walnut Canyon and Wupatki National Monument and explore the black lava rock of Sunset Crater. Take a bird’s eye view of the forested mountain ranges of Flagstaff at the Arizona Snowbowl scenic chairlift. If you’re traveling in a sprinter van, the steep and narrow paths to Lockett Meadow is an absolute off-roading adventure must. Just remember to stay hydrated as you hike through higher elevations, even in colder climates!

  • For Hiking: Kachina Trail, Kendrick Peak, and San Francisco Peaks
  • For Stargazing: Lowell Observatory
  • For Foliage: Aspen Loop Trail and Arboretum at Flagstaff

Where to Camp: Walnut Canyon National Monument
Enjoy free dispersed camping for up to 14 days along the west side of S. Cosnino Road. This unique camping spot is just a stroll away from the home of the ancient Anasazi Indian ruins and only about 11 miles away from Flagstaff.

 

 

Sedona, Arizona

As you travel south from Flagstaff, you’ll find yourself in a breathtaking change of landscape. This destination is a hiker’s dream come true. The renowned desert red rocks just pop in autumn’s warm amber light. For an epic view of the landscape, spirit away to Secret Canyon Trail, where you’ll find towering cacti, scarlet maples, and rust-orange oaks. Devil’s Bridge Trail is not for the faint of heart but offers a picture-perfect view high above the Mars-like terrain. For a touch of foliage, make your way from Cathedral Rock to Templeton Trail along a moderate waterway hike enshrouded in alder, cottonwood, sycamore, sumac, and willow. Watch out for poison ivy!

  • For Hiking: Devil’s Bridge Trail and Cathedral Rock
  • For Wine Tasters: Verde Valley Wine Trail
  • For Foliage: West Fork of Oak Creek and Boynton Canyon

Where to Camp: Schnebly Hills Road
Wake up to spectacular red rock canyon views beneath the shady pines of Coconino National Forest for free! The only catch is that the roads are pretty rough, making 4WD a necessity if you want to find a spot further down the road. With easy access off the I-17, there are loads of campsites to enjoy for up to 14 days straight. Keep in mind — camping is not allowed at the vista overlook or beyond.

 

 

Glacier National Park, Montana

This national park is a true playground for van campers. From biking and backpacking to rafting and fly-fishing, make your way to Montana. Spanning around 734 miles of trails, there’s no shortage for getting up close and personal with nature. Follow a level path along the St. Mary River to the gorgeous Virginia Falls, or wander through Grinnell Glacier to enjoy a mixed bag of lakes, cliffsides, and amber-colored alpine meadows. You might even spot some wildlife along the way! Aptly named for its golden features, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-drive, offering plenty of scenic spots to stop and take in the views of Logan Pass. Know before you go that there are no water, sewer, or electricity hookups available throughout the park, (making this a boondockers paradise). Glacier is quieter from late September towards the end of the season, so you won’t have to worry about crowding. 

  • For Hiking: Hidden Lake Overlook
  • For Off-Roading: Desert Mountain Loop Trail
  • For Foliage: Going-to-the-Sun Road

Where to Camp: St. McGinnis Creek Camping Area
Make your way just 8 miles down North Fork Road, for the perfect dry camping destination with a mountain view. The road can get steep, making the further end an exclusive site for van dwellers. Enjoy a free boondocking escape for up to 14 days.

 

 

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

For vibrant fall colors in the Midwest, adventure on to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The turquoise blue ripples of Indian Lake make a striking contrast to the yellows, greens, and oranges of the surrounding tree lines. Known as the “Big Spring” in Palms Brook State Park, Kitch-iti-kipi offers a platform view of the seasonal trout. You’ll feel as though you’ve walked right into a postcard as you make a winding hike for a stunning view of the Lake of the Clouds. Are you a sucker for historic sites? Try the Fayette Historic State Park for an easy hike towards a vista point overlooking the autumn-colored ghost town, along with Snailshell Harbor nestled in limestone banks. 

  • For Hiking: Tahquamenon Falls State Park
  • For Boondocking: Gratiot River County Park
  • For Foliage: Fayette Historic State Park

Where to Camp: Tahquamenon Falls
Fall asleep to the natural hush and rush of the 50 ft. Tahquamenon river and waterfall. For an affordable rate of $25-35 per night, you’ll have the amenities of a picnic area, shower, restroom, and a 20, 30, or 50-amp hookup. Unlike several sites in the UP, this campground is open year-round. Here, you have the pleasure of waking up beneath striking fall colors and ready to start your day off in one of the surrounding trails within walking distance from your van.

 

 

Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

The first week of October is considered the peak time for foliage in Hocking Hills. To set the tone, State Route 374 offers a scenic drive along the park, taking you through several trails to explore. Discover the ancient Indian Mound built by the Hopewell Indians, a must-see if you have a love for history. Witness the park by zipline or take a leisurely trek through the massive hemlocks and majestic cliffs of Ceder Falls If you’re up for the challenge, you can start off at Old Man’s Cave for a six-mile backpacking path featuring even more dramatic rock formations. There are plenty of camping options found throughout the park.

  • For Hiking: Ceder Falls
  • For Elevated Views: Conkles Hollow and Cantwell Cliffs
  • For Foliage: Grandma Gatewood

Where to Camp: Hocking Hills State Park Campground
Make a reservation for a retreat beside Old Man’s Cave with the choice of a full hook-up or primitive hike-in location. You can book a spot in this popular campground up to six months in advance, so we recommend that you make your move as soon as you can. Enjoy a paved pad, heated shower, restroom, laundry, dump station, and convenient access to the campground store. If you do opt to go dry camping, keep in mind there is no road access to your site. You’ll have to carry your gear up to half a mile to and from your camper. 

 

 

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Wyoming offers a two-destination-for-one road trip option for those looking for a longer autumn journey. Jackson Hole serves as the perfect starting point, providing easy access to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. By mid-October, the hillsides of Grand Teton will be shrouded in bright colors of yellow and orange, highlighted by scarlet ferns along Snake River. From late October to mid-November, the snowcapped peaks will provide a picturesque “clash of the seasons”. If you’re looking for some serious R&R, take on the Swift Creek trail to enjoy an unwinding soak in the Granite Hot Springs. From there, venture onward to Yellowstone to spot fauna from elk to both grizzly and black bears. We recommend taking the Fairy Falls trail for an overlooking view of the Prismatic Springs and the steaming blue pools of Imperial Geyser. While visitor traffic tends to drop in the fall, weather can become a bit unpredictable through the later weeks of the season. 

  • For Hiking: Old Faithful
  • For Horseback Riding: Lamar Valley
  • For Foliage: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Where to Camp: Mammoth Hot Springs Campground
Located five miles from the park’s North entrance, this is the one and only campground in Yellowstone National Park open year-round. There are no dump stations at this rustic site, so you’ll have to opt for dry camping. Generators are allowed from 8 am to 8 pm. From here, you’ll have convenient accessibility got fishing, hiking, or taking a dip at the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. Keep a sharp eye! You might catch a sighting of passing elk or bison. Follow the link above to book your reservation for only $25 a night.

 

 

Moab, Utah

From red rock canyons to vivid autumn leaves, Moab offers plenty of adventure and scenery for active van dwellers. Pick from an array of National Parks, or (better yet) take an extended road trip through Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. While there are several breathtaking desert terrains to explore, from the iconic Delicate Arch to the choose-your-own trail porous rock landscape of Bartlett Wash, there’s a wealth of other ways to get lost in the heart of nature. Saddle up and take a horseback tour with professional wranglers to Castle Rock. Mountain bike through the scenic Bar-M Loop and freely branch off to more advanced trails as you go. Experience the landscape in a new light with a moon hike through Dark Sky Park. Don’t forget your flashlight! If you wish to take a raft or kayak through the Colorado River, we recommend taking your trip before the water levels get too low around late October.  

  • For Hiking: Dead Horse Point State Park
  • For Stargazing: Dark Sky Park
  • For Foliage: Manti-La Sal National Forest

Where to Camp: Sand Flats Recreation Area
This camping spot is a red rock dream come true for off-road van travelers. Enjoy the world-renowned Slickrock Bike trail as you enjoy a boondocking escape in the East of Moab. You’ll also have access to picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets. Be sure to stock up on plenty of drinking water! The campsite fee is only $15 per vehicle offered at a first come, first-served basis.

 

 

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

If you’re looking for fair weather, fewer crowds, and crystal blue waters, adventure on to Crater Lake National Park. Autumn is the best time to explore the park before winter drops over 40-feet of snow in the later months of the year. Snowfall begins in mid-October. The Rim Road will take you through over 30 scenic pullouts featuring an array of brilliant views, from the volcanic rock formations along Pinnacles Overlook to the historic steps of Crater Lake’s first pioneer, John Hillman at Discovery Point. Notable hikes with unique sights include the 427-ft volcanic dike of Devil’s Backbone and the mysterious Phantom Ship Island (resembling a 16 story-tall ghost pirate ship) spotted from Garfield Peak Trail. Mark your map — Crater Lake can only be accessed through Cleetwood Cove Trail. If you wish to go fishing, plan to visit before October 31st (no permit required!). 

  • For Hiking: Mt. Scott and Watchman Overlook
  • For Fishing: Cleetwood Trail
  • For Foliage: Pumice Castle Overlook

Where to Camp: Forest Road 960
Also known as “Summit Rock” or “Rock Quarry” this dispersed camping area is located 17.7 miles from the Rim Village Visitor Center, just off State Highway 138. Van campers with four-wheel-drive capability can venture up towards the peak of Summit Rock for some extra solitude and a stunning view. Keep windy weather in mind as you go up in elevation.

 

 

Aspen, Colorado

Known for its namesake golden valleys, Aspen is home to several autumn hidden gems. From mid-September to early October, the Maroon Bells wilderness portal transforms into a bright yellow backdrop for a stunning nature stroll. The Castle Creek Road surrounds you with every shade of the season, leading you towards Cathedral Lake Trail and American Lake Trail. If you continue down the road, the foliage surrounding the silver mining ghost town of Ashcroft will transport you to the simpler times of the old west. If you’re up for a more challenging hike, the Aspen Mountain Summer road will weave you through mountainous groves with views accessible by the Silver Queen Gondola (open only on weekends through early October). With several campgrounds surrounding the area, you’re guaranteed to camp beneath the brightest fall colors Colorado could offer.

  • For Hiking: Twin Lakes
  • For a Gondola View: Aspen Mountain
  • For Foliage: Smuggler Mountain and Crater Lake Trail

Where to Camp: Lincoln Creek Dispersed Camping
As several campsites in the Aspen area close for the colder season, you’ll want to opt for dry camping for the freedom to roam on Colorado foliage. Free on a first-come, first-served basis, Lincoln Creek requires 4×4 capability for access. It’s a bumpy road, but it’s well worth the rare seclusion in nature. This makes for the perfect five-day boondocking fall destination. A quiet Creekside rendezvous is yours in one of the 22 available campsites with plenty of space to enjoy for yourself. Bring along some firewood to complete the trip with a cozy campfire!

Are you new to the adventure van lifestyle? Check out our Advice for New Van Lifers for our list of top tips from master travelers! Whether you’re still in the research phase for the camper van of your dreams, or only have a few road trips under your best, we’re here to help you get caught up on the in’s and out’s of van travel.

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