The Best Van Life Destinations With @WhereToWillie
From The Bugaboos to Baja
William Woodward is an adventure photographer who brings a glimpse into the life of those with a nomadic spirit. Living in his VW van “Ruby” for the last six years has allowed him to pursue climbing, skiing, and sailing in some of the most exceptional places throughout the American West, telling stories of friends and athletes along the way.
When I first started to embrace the nomadic lifestyle—which has since been widely shared as “#vanlife” among other winsome nicknames—I had no idea that it would last this long. Over six years ago, I set off with a simple bed and wire clothes rack setup, a camp stove, and a cooler in my VW Vanagon named Ruby.
Since then, Ruby and I have traveled around the Western United States, Canada, and Mexico, chasing climbing, skiing, and various other outdoor pursuits along the way—below are my three all-time favorite wilderness adventures.
1. Climbing The Bugaboos
A few hours’ drive north of the Washington/Idaho border in Eastern British Columbia, is a premier mountaineering and climbing destination known for its granite towers above sweeping glacial fields.
The weather in the Bugaboos is finicky. One day it will be sunny and calm, and the next a full-blown thunderstorm will send all the climbers to their tents. This area is known worldwide for incredible climbing, so if you go during standard climbing season, you probably won’t be alone.
If you need a break from #VanLife or #CampLife, you can also stay in the beautiful Kain Hut, which is down the valley from the Applebee camp, with similar views as the backcountry area of Applebee, but with the advantage of a solid roof over your head to fend off the wind and rain. Several hikes to the feet of glaciers depart from this hut, and you’ll often find yourself around the fire listening to the tall tales of seasoned climbers taking a few days off to thaw out.
2. Skiing Remote Volcanoes
The most remote volcano in Washington—Glacier Peak—is also one of the most beautiful places to set up a tent—however, the trick is getting there.
At 10,500 feet elevation, Glacier Peak is visible from nearby Seattle, but that’s about the extent of its ease of access. From the North Fork Sauk River trailhead, it’s almost eight miles until you reach the first ridgeline, and depending on the season, there’s sometimes enough snow there to put on your skis.
From that first ridge, the base of Glacier Peak—an area known as Glacier Gap—is another eight miles. On a good snow day, and at a good pace, this can be a day trek, but it can also be broken into two days, making camp at the first ridge.
Once you arrive at Glacier Gap, you’ll either be sleeping on one of the exposed rocky ridges, or if you’re early in the season, directly on snow. In May, we had dirt to sleep on (but also had to fend off some Marmots).
If you’re the skiing type, Glacier Peak might not be high on your list, as its approach is well over half the battle. That said, there’s something very special about skiing off the top of this remote volcano with my two ski partners as the only human life within a dozen miles. Don’t forget to pack the essentials for this trip: glacier ski kit, ski crampons, extra Sour Patch Kids for the summit, and your walking pants.
Pro tip: Since you’ve come so far, spend a couple extra days and ski the nearby Kololo peaks.
3. Exploring The Van Life Mecca Of Baja California Sur
If you’ve ever thought about the perfect road trip getaway, you’ve probably thought about Baja. From surfing to spearfishing, fish tacos to tequila, it all feels better in the warm breeze of this skinny peninsula off of California known as Baja. Kite surfing has been gaining popularity in southern Baja, and scuba diving and snorkeling are stellar when the whale sharks are visiting to feed.
The amount of time you have will dictate how far south you drive, because let’s be honest: the reason you’re in Baja is to relax, not to spend all day behind the wheel of a vehicle.
I could spend an hour talking about all the spots with great tacos, great waves, and loads of fish, but part of the fun of Baja is finding the hole-in-the-wall locations and the off-the-beaten track campsites. Here are a few pro tips:
- Download maps.me and “offline” map the entire peninsula. Assume you won’t have cell service most of the time.
- iOverlander is a great resource from folks like you who have come this way before: good food stops, clean water fill-ups, and remote stretches of sandy beaches.
- There are military checkpoints every handful of hours along the main roads. Don’t bring anything or buy anything you don’t want a military official to find.
- Learn some Spanish before you go. Not only is it a sign of respect, you’ll get better information from the locals and learn more about the culture of Baja, which is half the fun!
For me, life is better outside. Spend it with friends and your family. Spend it having the types of adventures that you will remember into your elder years. Part of the adventure is finding your own way, but hopefully this list kickstarts your planning and gets you out there.