Whether you’re tuning up the RV for summer vacation or roaming full-time as a vanlifer, the freedom of the open road is pretty darn hard to resist. To help route your way and scheme your itineraries, here’s a roundup of some of America’s best places to visit in an RV or while traveling in a camper van!
Some of the best RV destinations in America are the country’s world-famous national parklands, which encompass defining natural landscapes, eye-popping wildlife, iconic historic landmarks, and oodles of recreational opportunities.
The world’s oldest national park—Yellowstone was established way back in 1872, seven years after the Civil War ended and five years before the Battle of the Little Bighorn—remains one of the most dazzling. Yellowstone combines superlative geology and scenery—including Earth’s greatest concentration of geysers and the well-named Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River slicing the huge caldera of the Yellowstone Plateau—with some of North America’s richest opportunities for wildlife-watching, not least in the “charismatic megafauna” department (bison, elk, moose, grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and more).
The park itself maintains a dozen campgrounds, from Mammoth and Slough Creek up on the Northern Range to Canyon, Norris, Lewis Lake, Grant Village, and others. Fishing Bridge Campground, only open to hard-sided vehicles, offers water, sewer, and 50-amp electrical hookups. Surrounding communities in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho—including Cooke City (MT), West Yellowstone (MT), and Cody (WY)—offer RV parks and other commercial campgrounds.
Zion’s scenic glories are no longer any kind of secret, but they’re still absolutely bowl-your-over spellbinding to experience in person. Soaring multicolored walls, turreted buttes, great slickrock domes: The park’s rock formations, which mark the edge of the Colorado Plateau where it abuts the Great Basin, are staggering to behold, not least when a monsoonal thunderstorm’s putting on a fireworks show overhead. And the fascinating ecology—from lush canyon shade to juniper scrub, from desert tortoises to California condors—is just as absorbing.
Two of the three campgrounds in Zion National Park—South Campground and Watchman Campground, both along the Virgin River—accommodate RVs, with one such vehicle (including campervans) allowed per site. Small gateway towns around the park provide additional lodging for RVers and vandwellers, including at Zion River Resort RV Park & Campground (Virgin, UT), Zion Canyon Campground (Springdale, UT), and Mount Carmel Trailer Park (Mount Carmel, UT).
This roughly 470-mile-long scenic drive typically tops the list as the most-visited National Park System unit in the country each year, and it’s hard to dispute its touristic tagline: “America’s Favorite Drive.” The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the spine of the Southern Appalachians between Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most popular U.S. national park proper) on the Tennessee-North Carolina boundary. Some of the most dazzling scenery, and the all-out highest country, in the East compose the panoramic vistas along this winding route, and opportunities to explore Appalachian arts, crafts, music, and history abound. Besides those bookending national parks, highlights include Mount Mitchell (the 6,684-foot high point of the eastern U.S.), the Craggy Gardens viewpoint, Grandfather Mountain (the loftiest height along the Blue Ridge escarpment itself), and Asheville, North Carolina’s lavish Biltmore Estate, among a whole lot of other must-see places.
The National Park Service operates eight campgrounds along the Blue Ridge Parkway, while KOAs, RV parks, and other commercial/private campgrounds abound along its corridor. If you’re touring the whole Parkway by RV or other lofty rigs, be sure to double-check the heights of the nearly 30 tunnels along the way. (They’re lowest between Waynesville and Cherokee, North Carolina, FYI.)
A downright iconic vanlifer destination these days, Joshua Tree National Park displays some of America’s dreamiest countryside, set along the sun-blasted frontier of the Mojave and the Colorado (Sonoran) deserts. That countryside includes not only remarkable monzogranite outcrops and boulders such as Skull Rock and multiple mountain ranges but also, of course, the Joshua trees themselves: those oversized yuccas that basically look like botanical figments of Dr. Suess’s imagination.
Year-round camping is available around this Southern California dreamscape, although the blistering-hot summers are not for the faint of heart. There are a number of campgrounds in the park, running the gamut from well-developed to primitive, and meanwhile, expansive Bureau of Land Management lands nearby offer additional campsites; campervan and RV travelers will also find a few RV parks in the vicinity, including Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground.
Of course, national parks and parkways don’t have a monopoly when it comes to the best RV destinations in the USA. Here are some other fabulous, bucket-list places for vanlife and RV travel!
Situated close to where the Colorado Plateau drops down to Arizona’s hot subtropical deserts via the Mogollon Rim, Sedona is world-famous for its redrock scenery and alternative vibes (some stemming from the well-known local vortexes, hotspots for wellness retreats). The close-by chasm of Oak Creek Canyon is magnificent, and you’re also within easy day-tripping or weekending reach of the greatest chasm of all: the Grand Canyon, which lies not all that far north. It’s hard to beat the friendly semi-arid climate, which makes Sedona one of the best places for van camping anywhere.
The area comes chockablock with RV parks and campgrounds, and ample public lands in the area offer boondocking/dispersed-camping opportunities.
From kitschy tourist traps to some of the Midwest’s most arresting geology, the Wisconsin Dells area ranks among the Badger State’s most popular travel destinations. There are a bevy of waterparks, mini-golf courses, and other family-friendly entertainment attractions on hand, plus boat tours of the sandstone gorges of the Dells of the Wisconsin River themselves. Not far away lie the Baraboo Hills, which include the stirring scenery and waterfront recreation of Devil’s Lake State Park; one of the standout college towns in the U.S., Madison, is also an easy drive away.
Numerous state parks, the Black River State Forest, and various state wildlife areas offer camping in the area, and there’s most definitely no shortage of convenient commercial campgrounds and RV resorts.
Upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, with their plentiful lakes, primeval forests, and high peaks, anchor one of the largest and most unique preserves in the country: the 6.1-million-acre Adirondack Park, which threads together deep wilderness and small towns. There are many public and private campgrounds as well as RV parks and resorts, with endless opportunities to mix up car-camping with backcountry jaunts.
Steer your way to the very bottom of the Sunshine State, and you find yourself basking in the genuinely tropical climate and vistas of the Florida Keys. This Coraline archipelago runs from Elliott Key in Biscayne National Park southwestward to the remote, uninhabited Dry Tortugas (within their own national park). The Overseas Highway links Key Largo with Key West, offering RVers and vandwellers access to this tantalizing island realm.
With a base camp at one of the several Florida Keys state parks (such as John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park or Bahia Honda State Park) or numerous RV resorts and private campgrounds, you can snorkel the undersea gardens of the Florida Reef, spy on Key deer and American crocodiles, and soak up the famous end-of-the-world funkiness of Key West.
It probably goes without saying that we’ve had to leave off a slew of other primo vanlife and vacation destinations in the U.S., from Chugach State Park in Alaska and Acadia State Park in Maine to the redwoods realm of northwestern California and the White River Badlands of South Dakota.
Hitting up the best RV destinations in America, you’re going to want to be stocked up with Mountain House meals! Explore our full collection of quick, easy, and nutritious freeze-dried delicacies, and in the meantime learn more about some of the nuts and bolts of vanlife cuisine in this other post of ours.