Renting a fully outfitted camper van for your elopement opens the door to SO many adventures.
Your home on wheels becomes the place where you get ready, a very photogenic and unique spot for photos, the vessel that gets you to remote locations for your elopement, AND a seamless transition into your adventure honeymoon!
But if you’ve never experienced van life before, it can be a little confusing to figure out where to start.
In this guide, I’ll give you alllll the deets when it comes to planning your van life elopement: from figuring out where to elope, to road trip honeymoon suggestions, to exactly how to find campsites, to exactly what to look for in your rental, and even what to cook!
I’ll bet you that by the time you finish reading this blog, a van life elopement will be at the very top of your list 😉
Why You Should Elope with a Van
Eloping with a van simply gives you the freedom to explore. Campervans are not nearly as bulky as RVs and handle more like regular cars, making even the most remote locations accessible.
You can park at any trailhead to hike to an elopement destination or find a parkable, campable, unpopulated area that’s just as epic. You can count on having a comfortable bed every night in a temperature-controlled, private environment. AND, you can easily continue your adventure into the mountains, the desert, the countryside, or anywhere you want to go!
Renting a van takes care of all the logistical aspects of finding places to stay. All the amenities you need are at your fingertips - a full kitchen, seating, a bed, and even a compostable toilet.
Now, imagine waking up on your wedding day and opening the doors to the mountains. Sounds great, right??
Let’s talk about how to rent a van and what you should look for to have the best experience.
The Process of Renting a Van
There are plenty of companies that offer domestic camper van rentals with amazing insurance. You can either use a Van/RV peer-to-peer platform (think Airbnb for campers), or you can rent from a company fleet based in the area you’ll be eloping.
Consider these RV share websites:
- Outdoorsy and RVezy have camper van listings all over the country. Search your location, dates, and then filter by “Campervan” and “Class B.”
- Go Camp Campervans is similar to Outdoorsy, but it’s specific to camper vans only. You can find an incredible selection of top-of-the-line rentals with Go Camp.
Consider these campervan companies based on your location:
- Cabana (Seattle, Washington)
- Boho Campervans (Phoenix, Arizona)
- Native Campervans (Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas)
- Moterra Campervans (Jackson, Wyoming)
Best Van Types to Rent
Mercedes-Benz Sprinters, Dodge Ram Promasters, and Ford Transits are the three most common models that you’ll find when searching for your van. All three are solid choices for an elopement trip!
When planning your trip, consider whether or not you’ll need four-wheel drive. For the most part, you’ll find vans with rear-wheel drive that can and will safely get you to pretty much any destination. Some Mercedes Benz Sprinters are available in 4x4 and newer Ford Transits are available in AWD. You’ll just have to dish out some extra cash for a 4x4 since they are not as common.
What to Look For
Each van has its own set of amenities, and it’s important to decide which ones are most important to you:
For an elopement, I highly recommend choosing a van that has a hot water shower system to ease the process of getting ready. These are super common! Most vans either have a shower inside or an outdoor system that hooks up to the van’s water source. Indoor showers are a nice touch, but occupy a lot of potential storage and living space within the van.
I don’t know about you, but an outdoor van shower in the wilderness SCREAMS steamy session to me 😉
Now this one is completely up to you. Don’t mind digging a hole or doing your business outside? Then a toilet isn’t completely necessary. It’s definitely a nice-to-have amenity, though, especially for those middle-of-the-night emergencies. Toilets are also very common in converted camper vans.
99% of campervans have some sort of kitchen installment that includes a stove, sink, and refrigerator. A gas or induction stove makes cooking SO easy, and having a fridge is an absolute game-changer! If a van in question doesn’t have a stove, make sure to check and see whether a camping stove comes with a rental, or bring either a small propane stove or electric induction cooktop.
Most vans have plenty of storage - cabinets, a large shelf over the cab, and space in the back. This is another situation where you will need to weigh your priorities. Many vans have a convertible bed that becomes a seating area with a table during the day. Others have a fixed bed in the back and no seating or a much smaller seating area in front of the bed.
The former typically has much less storage on the underside, while the latter has a large “garage” area under the bed. Consider how much gear you’re looking to bring when scoping out a van to rent.
Where to Elope
Now that we’ve covered the VAN part, let’s see where you can take it! The beauty of van life is that the possibilities are pretty much endless. Having a van makes responsibly using public land just that much easier! Plus, you’ll already have a place where you can comfortably get ready and store everything that you’ll need for the day.
Here are just some of the options that open up to you once you decide to elope with a van.
No need to book an Airbnb nearby or hassle with having a home base. You can either book a campsite within the National Park from Recreation.gov, or use apps such as iOverlander (more on this later) to find free campsites just outside the park you choose to elope in. The park is yours to explore before, during, and after your elopement! And staying within the park simplifies the process of achieving the coveted sunrise shots…
Some National Parks have restrictions on how big a vehicle you can drive into the park. But all viable camper vans fit well within the allowable size to both enter the park and camp within it.
Keep in mind that National Parks require Special Use Permits for weddings and elopements, so make sure to check nps.gov for the park of your choosing.
Now, which National Park should you choose??? Not to be biased, but here are my favorites.
North Cascades National Park (Washington)
Located in Northwest Washington, North Cascades is made up of miles and miles of mountains, wildflowers, and alpine lakes. It’s HIGHLY underrated, seldom visited, and perfect for van life. Check out my full North Cascades National Park Elopement guide! Permit information here.
Joshua Tree National Park (California)
If you’ve ever thought that eloping on Mars might be cool, Joshua Tree is your spot. Mountainous rocky desert, thousands of adorable Joshua Trees, and incredible rock formations make up this otherworldly spot. Permit information here.
Death Valley National Park (California/Nevada)
I may be partial to deserts, but Death Valley is on another level. Not convinced? Check out Alana’s bridal session in Death Valley.
More Iconic Parks to Consider
- Mt. Rainier National Park (Washington)
- Olympic National Park (Washington)
- Zion National Park (Utah)
- Yosemite National Park (California)
- Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)
National Forest Land is a perfect option if you want to escape the National Park crowds and find a spot in the wilderness all to yourself. Did you know that there are 155 national forests in the United States??
If you prefer general campsite amenities, National Forests are packed with established campgrounds that you can book through Recreation.gov. But since your van already has all the amenities you’ll need, why not consider dispersed camping?
Dispersed camping is free and is allowed in all national forests so long as you set up at least 200 feet from the nearest water source. This gives us the freedom to pick and choose the very best backdrop for your elopement and stay overnight. Keep in mind that practicing the Leave No Trace principles is especially important for dispersed camping. I’d say that’s a small price to pay!
Here are some notable National Forests to take a look at when deciding on your location with permit information linked in the name.
- Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Washington, home to Mt. St. Helen’s)
- Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (Washington, outskirts of North Cascades National Park)
- Shasta Trinity National Forest (California, home to 14er volcano Mt. Shasta)
- Stanislaus National Forest (California, outskirts of Yosemite National Park)
- Arapaho National Forest (Colorado)
- Dixie Canyon National Forest (Utah, outskirts of Bryce Canyon National Park)
You can find the landscape of your dreams in a National Forest with the freedom to park your van anywhere! Make sure you check the US Forest Service website for your chosen National Forest for special use permit information.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Public Lands
BLM land is government-managed public land that is wide open for recreational use. The Bureau of Land Management oversees 248 million acres of public land, or 10.5% of the land in the US according to REI.
Similar to National Forests, you can find hundreds of primitive campgrounds and free dispersed camping spots on BLM land. You can use this map to see just how much land you can cover throughout the western states and even Alaska!
Here are just some areas of interest:
- Joshua Tree National Park is almost entirely surrounded by BLM land on which you can responsibly camp for free.
- Beautiful, red Southern Utah is filled with BLM land, specifically the outskirts of Zion National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
- King Range National Conservation Area is a beautiful, remote elopement location option on the rugged northern coast of California.
BLM Land is Desert Heaven
The peace you experience in the desert is absolutely one-of-a-kind, which is why it makes the perfect destination for an adventure elopement. Some of America’s most gorgeous and expansive deserts are managed by BLM, meaning they are yours to explore. Nevada, southeastern California, western Arizona, and southern Utah are the best places to find free and remote elopement locations.
BLM wedding permit information here.
Eloping on the beach with your van is like taking a beach vacation sans people! There are plenty of incredible spots to park along the west coast to elope on the cliffs of Northern California and Oregon or directly on the sunny, surfy beaches of Southern California. Here are some established beach-front campgrounds to wake up with the breeze:
- Wright’s Beach Campground (Northern California, reserve on ReserveCalifornia.com)
- Gold Bluffs Campground (Northern California, reserve on ReserveCalifornia.com)
- Tillicum Beach Campground (Oregon coast, reserve on Recreation.gov)
Sand dunes are such a cool and unique place to elope. We would choose a spot where we can’t see anything apart from the dunes, which can be accomplished by venturing just a little bit past where we’ll park. Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, and Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in Southern California are all incredible options surrounded by BLM land that you can camp in.
Salt flats are bright white, expansive fields of salt-covered ground that make absolutely magical, otherworldly elopement locations! The Bonneville Salt Flats are located in Northwestern Utah and are perfectly legal to drive on. Meaning, we can bring the van directly to your elopement!
The salt flats are surrounded by BLM land. And while parking directly on top of the salt flats overnight is not allowed, there are acres upon acres of surrounding land where you can camp. Check out Lost Boys Peak Campsite.
Your options don’t just end stateside! Campervan rental fleets exist all over the world so that you can plan an international van life adventure elopement.
- Rent a van from Go Campers Iceland and drive the 825-mile Ring Road all around the island.
- Rent a van from IndieCampers in Switzerland and drive through the majestic Alps!
- Elope in the expansive National Parks of New Zealand and rent a van from Britz.
- Elope under the Northern Lights in Norway with a van from Cabincampers.no.
- Drive through Scotland to elope in the Highlands with a van from Spaceship Campervans.
One Last Note
Once we start working together, I’ll let you in on all my favorite locations so we can choose together. I log hundreds of miles every month to find the best areas. And since we’re using public land instead of a costly venue, it’s our job to do what to protect our surroundings and practice the 7 principles of Leave No Trace!
Preparing for Vanlife
How to Find Campsites
I know what you’re thinking. There are SO many incredible places you can elope - but how do you find a campsite??
Maybe you prefer established campsites with all the amenities - fire rings, bathrooms, etc. Established campsites are great for having an easy and cheap home base that you can return to after your elopement.
Suppose you want to hike to your destination, but overnight parking is not allowed. Chances are, a campsite is nearby! Here’s where to book your campsites:
- Recreation.gov for established campgrounds in National Parks, National Forests, and on BLM land.
- Each state has its own system for booking campgrounds within State Parks:
- Book a private campsite from Hipcamp, a peer-to-peer campsite booking service.
- Search Reserve America for campsites in the area you would like to elope or honeymoon in.
- Book a KOA campground. KOA has more than 485 locations across North America.
One of the main cons of established campsites is that you need to make sure you book them far in advance, particularly in National Parks and National Forests. You will have better luck booking a private campsite if you need something last minute.
Wilderness and Dispersed Campsites
If you want to camp in solitude for free, then dispersed camping is for you! As I mentioned before, you can practice dispersed camping for free on both National Forest land and BLM land.
This is an amazing option especially when you have a van that has all the amenities you’ll need to be off the grid. There are plenty of ways to find viable dispersed campsites on public land:
- Check maps for Forest Service Roads where dispersed camping is allowed.
- Use apps like iOverlander, The Dyrt, and Freecampsites.net to find spots that vanlifers frequent.
Make Sure You Have the Right Apps!!
Having the right apps is key to having an amazing vanlife elopement experience. You can use iOverlander not only to find free campsites and free places to park overnight with pictures, coordinates, and reviews, but also to find potable water filling stations, grey water dump stations, and sanitation dump stations.
That’s right - you’ll have to make sure to monitor all your water and waste levels! You wouldn’t want to be caught off-grid with an empty water tank and a full toilet…
iOverlander is a free, nonprofit project run by volunteers, so try to donate a few bucks.
What to Pack
Packing for a van trip is a bit different than you might be used to - you have to understand exactly what’s included in your rental. Look for a rental that has cookware, dinnerware, and bedding. It’ll make your much life easier!
As far as luggage goes, bring duffle bags as opposed to a hard suitcase. You will find that it’s way harder to find a place to store a large suitcase while duffles can be easily packed down and stored out of sight.
Since you’ll probably be enjoying the outdoors almost as much as you would on a regular ole’ camping trip, make sure you check the weather and pack layers. The desert may reach 90 degrees during the day, but don’t be surprised when it drops to the 50s at night!
Here is a list of extra items you will need to bring on a van trip that differ from your normal Airbnb or hotel stay:
- Insect repellent
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Wet wipes
- Dashboard mount for your phone
- Portable speaker
- Camp shoes (sandals or slippers)
- Bear spray
What to Cook
With the stovetop, cookware, and food storage options in your van rental, you have a lot of freedom to cook! One-pan and one-pot recipes are key here - you don’t want to make things that create a huge mess, require tons of counter space, or use too much water.
My biggest tip is to plan your meals. The fridge in your van will likely hold about 3 days of food, so decide in advance what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here are my suggestions for each!
- Eggs eggs eggs! Make breakfast burritos, bacon, potato hash with all the fixings.
- Instant oatmeal
- Peanut butter on toast
- Deli sandwiches and wraps
- Dinner leftovers
- Chilis, curries, and stews
- Tacos and fajitas
- Pesto pasta
- Mac n’ cheese
Pre-made Items and Staples
- Pre-cooked rice
- Rotisserie chicken
- Boxed mac n’ cheese
- Hotdogs and sausages
- Canned soup
Don’t you dare forget the snacks! You’ll need tons of protein and carbs to keep you fueled on your adventure.
Road Trip Honeymoon Suggestions
Here are just some of the amazing road trips at your disposal with your elopement van!
One important tip is when planning your road trip, make sure you check the allotted mileage and radius of your van rental. Some vans can go nationwide and through Canada/Mexico, while others may be confined to the rental state or neighboring states!
- Road trip through Utah’s five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches
- Concentrate your road trip to the Pacific Northwest. Drive all 250 miles of North Cascades Highway, make your way south to Mt. Rainier, then swing up north on the coast through the beaches of Olympic National Park.
- Highway 1 and Highway 101! Start as far north (Washington) or south (San Clemente) as you want, and drive along the incredibly scenic, campsite-filled coastline.
- Rent your van in Missoula or Kalispell, MT, then drive through Glacier National Park. Then, cross the border and explore Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada.
- After eloping in the deserts of Joshua Tree, cross the border and road trip down the Baja Peninsula where you’ll have plenty of opportunities to camp on the beach.
Don’t See What You’re Looking For?
Planning is part of the package!! Reach out to me and together, we can plan your perfect elopement along with some excellent suggestions for your honeymoon. After all, I spend most of my time on the road. So I know of a spot or two!
Start Planning Your Wedding with Nomadic Weddings!
Ready to start planning your unforgettable North Cascades National Park elopement!? Nomadic Weddings proudly offers complimentary planning assistance from start to end, customized packages and timelines to fit any needs, and an experience that will make this adventure your best one yet! This thing won't plan itself! Reach out today to get started.
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