The Ultimate Vanlife Winter Road Trip
By the VanCraft Team | January 17, 2020
Tour the Eastern Sierras with one of our fully equipped California camper van rentals built especially for snow. Don’t let a little cold get in the way of your year-round outdoor travel van adventures.
The secret is out: Van Life is better in the winter! With four-season insulated cabins and auxiliary heating that works 24/7, you’re sure to stay cozy in even the coldest of temps. Live out your best ski bum dream while enjoying the Eastern Sierras’ untouched beauty, all while blanketed in snow.
Since summer isn’t the only time to get your road-trip fix in, we’ve made sure all our VanCraft winter adventure van rentals include snow chains, ice scrapers, and extra blankets at no additional charge. You can even heat our cabins without having to plug the camper van in or run its engine. Our adventure vans are completely self contained and fully off-grid capable, even in the heaviest of snow storms. They have RWD with high clearance, as well as four-season all terrain tires which perform particularly well in snow.
For staying in ‘the know’ regarding any sketchy roadside conditions, follow all chain control advisories while checking in with the Caltrans website. Also be sure to snag yourself an Ikon or Mountain Collective Passes to ensure access to some of the best resorts in the western US.
Okay, that’s enough logistical van life talk for now, let’s get to day one of this California camper van guide.
Starting in Oceanside, scoop your Sprinter van rental up before driving through LA until you find Highway 395. For endless photo ops, the following spots are worth stopping at:
- Trona Pinnacles (will feel like you’re on another planet)
- Detour through Death Valley (add 1-2 days)
- Racetrack (do not drive on the playa!)
- Stovepipe Wells (famous vintage motel within Death Valley)
- Bristlecone Pines (trees on trees on trees)
- Alabama Hills (for its layers of colorful landscape and an unobstructed view of Mt. Whitney)
With Alabama Hills being our favorite campsite in all the Eastern Sierras, it’s the perfect place to call it for the day. And within any of its thousands of rock formations, you’re sure to find a secluded enclave all to yourself. You can then close out your first day overlooking those gorgeous Sierras from the comfort of your cozy (and heated!) California camper van. Nothing better.
Today, wake up at your leisure before making your way towards Bishop for lunch at Mountain Rambler Brewery. From there, Mammoth awaits, and your opportunities for snow-time are truly endless. Between snow skiing, snow shoeing, and cross country skiing from Tamarack Lodge, there’s something for just about everyone.
While Wild Willy’s and The Rock Tub provide several free camping spots and some seriously not-to-miss natural hot springs, there are also hot showers available at Mammoth Mountain RV Park.
Welcome to Mammoth! For your first full day, beat the crowds by setting off on the earlier side. Kudos to any of you weekday warriors who can sneak off before weekend crowds hit. Though Mammoth is always a good time, weekends will obviously draw bigger crowds and longer lines. Also note that lift prices increase between Christmas and New Year’s.
Ski it up, then grab a hot cocoa (or two) before settling in for lunch. We’ve heard the beer and grilled cheese sandwiches are almost as good as the views from the sundeck at Outpost (around the backside of Mammoth’s mountain) should you be looking for a scenic spot to rest your feet.
Spend another few hours in that perfect powdery snow before settling in for more grub (from gastropubs to gourmet pizza, there’s no shortage of options here) and perhaps a few more beers at any one of Mammoth’s several breweries. Go ahead, you’ve earned it.
And if you’re still not done after what’s sure to be the fullest of snow days, there’s always Rafter’s Restaurant & Lounge, featuring live music every weekend by both local and visiting bands.
Now it’s time to make your way north, towards Lake Tahoe. But first, coffee! Always coffee. We pride our camper vans as the best vans for van life because they’re fully equipped with everything you’d need from cooking kits to cozy bedding and more. Wake up to the smell of hot coffee and something tasty before making your way north towards Lake Tahoe.
Should you be in the mood for a little stop-off and dip, add Travertine Hot Springs to your list. Whether you’re a big hot springs person or not, these ones are definitely a sight to be seen.
As a reminder, the Travertine Hot Springs are the exact type of place to leave no trace behind (no camping gear, no glass, etc.) and to refrain from walking on to help preserve and maintain its natural beauty. Somehow, these scenes are even more breathtaking at sunset.
And if you’re looking to gamble or for some nightlife action, take your VanCraft sprinter through South Lake Tahoe. Though camping is somewhat limited in and around Lake Tahoe during the winter months (as most campgrounds close for the season), it is illegal to camp alongside the road or in any of the ski area parking lots.
Other helpful resources to include:
- iOverlander for free camping recommendations
- maps.me for help with turn-by-turn navigation
- This guide for scouting winter RV camping spots
Before making your way back to Oceanside, we’d suggest taking the super scenic 70-mile loop around Lake Tahoe. Take your time heading south, as the journey down is almost as good as the actual destination.
Psst, and if you’re as into breweries as us, check out Truckee on your way back. Truckee also has a hostel, in case you’re in dire need of a hot shower. Hey, no judgement.
That’s a Wrap…
Needless to say, our love for Mammoth only grows more real by the year. Most associate winter with making “Netflix and chill” their seasonal motto, whereas we’re all for putting our custom-made outdoor vans to use and getting as much time in that Eastern Sierras snow as we can.
We’re always tagging #vancraft along the way, and we encourage you to do the same. We love seeing our California vans in action…anytime, anywhere. Catch you on the slopes.