8000 Mile Van Camping Road Trip

grand teton national park

This May, I drove my family on an 8,000 mile van camping road trip. Our camping van cut across south western United States and wiggled it's way to Kentucky.

We drove scenic back roads that enabled us to change course anytime something exciting jumped out in front of us like Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

Van Camping Road Trip Set Up

stealth camping van
Ford E350 6.0 Powerstroke diesel camping van with 160 watt solar panel mounted on the roof.

I registered the van as a Motorized Home.  It sleeps 4, has a portable toilet, portable shower, and 12 volt fridge/freezer.  Keeps the cost down on registration and allows people to sleep in the rear while I drive.

devlis tower national monument
Devils Tower National Monument campground.

My kids and I built a new 2 person sleeper folding platform bed for the front out of 12 ply birch hardwood that I stained and varnished with high gloss.  I pulled the rear folding platform bed from our other Ford E150 van and dropped it in for a perfect fit.


van camping bed
This is the finished product after I coated it with varnish.

camping bed for van


I added a 160 watt solar panel to Yakima roof rack rails as a secondary power source for the Life Line AGM battery that powers our ARB fridge/freezer and computers.  My good friend Dan found the 12 volt factory auxiliary charging circuit and wired it to a 22 foot SO cord to charge the battery while driving.

Vehicle Repairs On The Road

Two weeks before we left, I discovered  I had a coolant filter leak and a leak in my AC.  Between working 60-70 hours a week on my job and getting the van ready for the trip, I was maxed out.  I repaired the leaking coolant manifold while staying at my parents in Minnesota.

The air conditioning was still not working when we left our home at 9 PM.  I stopped by my good friend engineer Dan at 10 PM to have the coolant charged fully as I only added half the required weight of refrigerant.

Free Legal Van Camp Sites

From day one, we looked for free camp sites or cheap places to sleep.  The first night we found a quiet rest stop off I5 near Bakersfield.  We parked near some  big rigs in a dark and quiet area at 1 AM and slept until 630 AM.  I use Benchmark Road Atlases that detail national forest, BLM, and other public lands.  I bought the Public Lands App for my iPhone that makes finding free campsites easy.


Van Camping Road Trip Amazing Scenery

Nearly every mile on this road trip was eye candy.  Sure, we drove through some boring areas to get to the to the good stuff.  We enjoy sweeping views of praises, mountains, and desert land scape.

Driving through tiny hamlets let us experience small town culture.  Some peeps like to avoid people and others thrive on going to major metropolitan areas.

I avoid driving through large urban sprawl areas that surround large cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.  I used the US freeway system to fly though and over major metropolitan areas when I needed to get somewhere fast.  Nothing beats driving 80-85 miles per hour through boring areas.

Pilot Peak
My wife Idy and myself with Pilot Peak in the back ground.

salmon idaho

utah dispersed camping site
Dispersed camping site on BLM land outside of Zion National Park.

If you need to purchase discount camping equipment for you next adventure, be sure to check out online super savers like: CampSaver,  Gear Trade, REI, and BackCountry.


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