Planning a camping van rental vacation could be your first step toward a dream to try the digital nomad lifestyle.
What are your goals?
Are you in the market to buy a Camper Van? The cost of buying a new or used camping van can rival the cost of buying a small house. With that sort of investment, you better be very sure you will use and enjoy a camper van. Or do you just want to find a safe way to travel during a pandemic? Either of these goals could lead you to rent a Camper Van. That is what we did!
How to Find a Van Rental?
We started with the idea that we may want to purchase a camper van someday. So, we researched cargo vans and companies that convert them. Since we were impressed with all the YouTube videos describing Titan Vans in Boulder, we decided to look for a Titan Van to rent. That brought us to A-Lodge Adventure Van Rentals. Also, another great source for camper van rentals is Outdoorsy.
What is your Trip Theme?
To come up with a trip theme, answer the following questions:
- Do you have a bucket list destination you are aiming for?
- Are there favorite activities you wish to participate in along the way?
- What are your activity, weather, budget constraints?
- Would you enjoy a remote boondocking experience or feel more safe staying in a campground with a camp host and other fellow campers?
Managing our constraints, we decided to take a six-night early Fall, dog-friendly, covid-safe, easy hiking, camper van trip through Colorado.
Keeping our greyhound pooch, Cashew, in mind helped us focus on the activities that were doable with her. Also, concentrating on easy hikes, helped us find activities that would work for us. We chose six nights because we really wanted to see if we would like van life well enough to buy a van. If all went well, we were even renting a van that could give us experience with designs built through an existing company. We decided to make reservations for all 6 nights but be open to the idea of boondocking if we found a nicer place to stay.
Our Itinerary and Impressions
Most van rentals charge additional if you drive above a maximum daily mile limit. So, to stay below that limit, you will need to plan accordingly. We decided to travel less distance and stay well under the 100 miles a day limit so we had flexibility for last minute changes. We also decided to choose a wide variety of reservation types over our 6 nights including a non electric National Forest campground, a electric only RV site, and a fancy RV site with full hookups.
Night 1 in Boulder, CO:
We loaded up our gear, picked up our rental van, transferred our gear to the van, and car camped overnight for free at a platform campsite at the van rental location, Adventure Lodge. Our theory was we could iron out any problems with the van before leaving and get help if we needed it. The reality was phoning the office mid-morning was more effective than trying to get help at the office. Next time if possible, we would like to drive the rental vehicle to our home and take our time organizing and packing it. It was difficult to get all our gear into our Subaru and then to immediately unpack it all in the camper van rental. Also, it now seems unnecessary to leave our Subaru in a parking lot while we are gone.
Night 2 in Frisco, CO
We boondocked with a reservation at a non-electric campsite at Peak One Campground Site 49. The Ptarmigan Fire was still burning in Silverthorne. But, we were able to use the AirVisual iPhone App to determine the air quality was good in Frisco before getting too close. The campground was beautiful and had a very fun hike along the shores of Lake Dillon and back through the campground. Although recreation.gov mentions “Due to the pine beetle infestation and removal of hazard trees, there is little or no shade in the campground”, it was nice to see a lot of new pine growth in the campground. After leaving Peak One, we took advantage of the $5 shower at the Silverthorne Recreation Center. The recreation center was great, with a very convenient shower-only pass. We also braved our first patio dining experience with a dog at Sauce on the Blue. The patio was heated and they allowed us to bring Cashew’s big feeding dishes on the patio which was awesome.
Night 3 - 4 in Kremmling, CO
We stayed at Wolford Campground & Marina Site 10. The site was near the shores of Wolford Mountain Reservoir. We enjoyed walking Cashew down by the boat dock in the morning and through the Pet Trail before bed. Even with maybe a dozen RVs around, the skies were very dark after sunset. Apparently, the region is known for its dark skies and we definitely experienced that! During the day we checked out, Wolford Reservoir Overlook. We stopped at Big Shooter Coffee for some yummy coffee and to support our local coffee shop who roasts for them. We parked near the Kremmling library to use their internet. Also, we ate lunch at a beautiful campsite at Williams Fork Reservoir. We considered staying there for the night since it was free and first-come, first-serve. But, when it started to rain, people started leaving, and we had poor internet, we decided to head back to our reserved spot at Wolford Campground & Marina.
Night 5 - 6 in Granby, CO
In Granby, we stayed at River Run RV Park RV Site 24. The park was large with many different accommodation options. We reserved the least expensive, Standard RV Site Full Hookup 30/50 Back-In, even though we only really needed the electric hookup. The WiFi was the best of the trip. The comfort station with 6+ private shower bathrooms was great. Cashew’s favorite was the dog park in front of the comfort station. The last night of our trip we built a fire and roasted marshmallows. After getting a good dose of smoke from the fire, Cashew laid on her bed turning her back on the campfire which was funny! Someday it would be nice to visit again and check out all the amenities including the pool, exercise facilities, store, and eating places. We just didn’t feel comfortable being around too many people during a pandemic. Takeout brunch from BrickHouse 40 in a local park was a splurge. One evening we headed up to Grand Lake Town Beach and Dock which was beautiful. Takeout from Grand Pizza in Grand Lake is highly recommended.
After choosing the Frisco, Kremmling, Granby loop, I wrote down all the ‘major’ cities we would be passing through. Then, I search AllTrails for Easy Hikes around those cities. Here are the hikes we did with their AllTrails links:
- Echo Lake Trail near Idaho Springs
- Lake Dillon dirt path access from Peak One Campground
- North Tenmile Creek Trail near Frisco is moderate level, walked an easier portion and not very far
- Pioneer Park Loop near Hot Sulphur Springs
- Fraiser to Granby Trail started in Granby mostly enjoyed Kaibab Park … walked a bit through neighborhoods towards Fraiser
- Monarch Lake Trail near Granby
- Discovery Challenger Trail near Winter Park
Van positives 👍
- Heat at night meant we usually slept well.
- The bed was large enough for the two of us and comfortable.
- The refrigerator and freezer worked well and kept our food safe.
- The cabinets above the kitchen were very accessible and great for storing food and utensils.
- The hanging hooks next to each captain chair were helpful for hanging wet towels, coats, and dog accessories.
- We didn’t need to fold up the bed during the day.
- We could drive into parking lots and park relatively easily.
- With great tires, we were able to easily drive on a dirt road to access hiking trails.
Van negatives 👎
- The passenger seat barely swiveled.
- The side door was difficult to close.
- The sink drained so slowly that it was mostly unusable. (even a drain plunger didn’t fix it!)
- No grey water tank so we were further hesitant to use the sink.
- We mostly used only half of the kitchen (refrigerator and induction cooktop), so the rest of the kitchen spaces was wasted for us.
- The majority of the storage which was under the bed which was difficult to access.
- The best place for Cashew’s bed on the floor was in the middle of everything and made moving around difficult.
- The van’s year was 2017 with a mileage close to 100,000 so it was well used.
- At times the vehicle felt top-heavy and unstable on curves.
- A high-top camper van will not fit into our garage.
- Spend as little time with food preparation as possible unless it is raining outside.
- Avoid washing dishes unless you have a good way to get hot water.
- Dog food can be put in paper bowls and plastic bags for leftovers until we get a good dishwashing process.
- 16 oz Mason Jar Salads may be better portioned as 8 oz. and consider using plastic bags.
- A small plastic garbage bucket with garbage bags is very useful.
- Chill canned coffee for those mornings that you need life to be easy.
- Use AirVisual iPhone App to watch air quality if forest fires are near.
- A Portable toilet simplifies life and can be used as a step stool if needed.
- A Portable battery helps keep our phones charged. We found our phones tended to run out of power more easily possibly because the cell towers were far away.
- Use Bring Fido to find restaurants and activites that are pet-friendly.
Our early Fall Colorado Camping Van Trip was very fun and a great learning experience. We hadn’t traveled much since before the pandemic. So we felt it was long overdue. Life is so much more intense during travel. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. We experienced the entire roller coaster. Looking forward to our next chance to travel with the dream of trying a digital nomad lifestyle someday.
Goals For Next Trip
- Try a scamp trailer with a shower and toilet that should fit into our garage.
- Work on a plan for internet access for the entire trip.
- Before the trip, plan a digital project to work on to further investigate the digital nomad lifestyle.
Let’s get in touch
Thanks for reading!
On twitter, use @ardith_falkner to reach me.