Living in a van during the summer is one thing, but where do van lifers go in the winter? No one gets into this to freeze…right? If this has ever boggled your mind, read on for 6 van life locations you can go to in the winter!
As a thru-hiker turned van lifer, my partner and I thru-hike the summer and spend our winters living in our van. And…our van doesn’t have a heater. So, we’ve spent quite a bit of time finding those perfect winter van life destinations.
Hop in your van and come along to find nighttime temps above 30 degrees so your pipes won’t freeze!
Winter Van Life Locations for Warmth and Community
While living in a van is mostly awesome, sometimes the constant decision making can take a toll.
If you’re looking for warmth and community in the winter, this list is for YOU.
Each of the van life locations on this list also have nearby areas to recreate. No one wants to end up stuck in their van all day and have a step count of 56. 😂
Keep in mind that when I give a van life location here, I truly mean the public land surrounding the location. Use these 6 winter van life destinations as a launching point. Pull up iOverlander and find what appeals to you in and around these locations. 📲
➡️ WARMTH: All 6 of these van life areas tend to have temperatures that mostly stay above 30 degrees F (zero C). Thus, your pipes shouldn’t freeze. 🥶
➡️ COMMUNITY: Since a decent heater for your van is fairly expensive, lots of people drive here in the winter. You’ll likely find new friends in the Cracker Barrel or Planet Fitness parking lots. Hanging on in these areas also sets you up to go to Skooliepalooza in January or find a caravan to Baja.
Let’s check out some of the best places to survive winter van life. 🚐
1. Phoenix, Arizona
By Phoenix, I actually mean all the Arizona State Trust Land and Bureau of Land Management Land (BLM) surrounding the metropolitan area.
The warmth of the valley here gives the perfect temperatures that we look for in winter van life locations.
➡️ ➡️ Arizona State Trust land surrounds most of Phoenix area. To recreate in any way including camping, you need a permit. Don’t worry…for 1 person, the permit costs $15 per year. For 2 adults, the family permit only costs $20 per year.
📝 The simple cost may be annoying, HOWEVER, it’s better than the potential fine of not having it.
Most of the Arizona State Trust land has a beautiful array of cacti and wintering birds. It usually has no shade. The lack of shade will keep your solar panels grabbing as much power as possible!
However, that lack of shade often means you might face some wind.
Keep your eyes out for wild burros, Harris hawks, and Gila woodpeckers!
2. Joshua Tree, California
This area of southern California has plenty of BLM land surrounding Joshua Tree National Park!
If you have a National Park pass, this area is ideal! While you don’t need it to camp around the park, it’s helpful to go hiking in the park.
Basically, there are free areas to camp all around Joshua Tree National Park. ⛺️ 🚐
However, make note of wind as a strong factor here. 💨 If you’ve ever seen a Joshua tree, they provide neither good shade nor wind block. While odd and beautiful, they often don’t provide much shade or wind protection.
If you find areas on the southern side of JTNP, you have the option to go into Palm Springs for basically anything you need. It will have way more traffic than you bargain for, but you can find all of the things.
On the other hand, the northern and western sides of the park have access to the town of Joshua Tree. Surprisingly, the town has quite a few large box stores nearby and grocery stores with less hassle than Palm Springs.
🚌 Finally, the southern end of the park lands you in a great position to make the drive out to Skooliepalooza if you want to meet people. It’s one of those all around convenient van life locations in the winter!
3. Lake Mead, Nevada
Near Las Vegas, you have the option of heading out to boondock near Lake Mead. While you can find plenty of fancy RV resorts, you can also find plenty of public land to camp for free. That makes it one of those great options for winter van life locations.
The lake level itself varies with the amount of rainfall it gets throughout the winter months.
BIG TIP: Assume most of the exposed land closest to the lake is not solid. Get out of your vehicle and double check if you can make it through the deep sandy areas or the deep mud.
Unfortunately, this area sees a decent amount of trash. Please, try and leave no trace. If you can, grab some trash left behind by others on your way out. 🚮
Quite a bit of wildlife uses this area from a wide array of waterfowl to coyotes to hawks. Be mindful of their home with your own pets.
4. Lake Havasu, Arizona
Lake Havasu, Arizona has a lot of surrounding BLM land to camp on for free. However, if you’d like lakeside views and access, you might have to pay for a site.
The weather mostly stays above 30 degrees at night, and you have a lot of winter sunshine.
It’s the perfect place to find an off-grid campsite at night and come into town to recreate on the lake during the day. Basically, all the makings that go into fantastic van life locations in the winter.
The town itself as well as nearby Parker, Arizona has lots of services. You’ll find plenty of groceries and even hardware stores to fix anything that’s broken in your van.
Lastly, if you spend some time here in January, you’ll be in a great spot to head to Skooliepalooza if you’re seeking community. 🚌 🚐
5. Death Valley, California
When everywhere in the US Southwest gets frigid, you can always go to Death Valley! It’s one of the best van life locations if the west dips into a cold snap everywhere else.
Just like Joshua Tree National Park, you don’t need a National Park Pass to camp on the public land surrounding the park. However, to explore the crazy terrain inside the park, it’s helpful.
Check out the wide valleys of public land surrounding the park to camp.
BIG TIP: Camping within Death Valley National Park is not as expensive as most national parks. It’s often LESS than the price of gas to drive in and out of the park. You can get a backcountry camping permit for free if you have a vehicle that can drive some pretty gnarly roads (+park entry fee). You do want reinforced sidewall tires to drive these backcountry roads.
All in all, it’s my go-to spot if temperatures plummet everywhere around me.
6. San Diego, California
Let’s preface this with…I am not a city-dweller. To do van life in San Diego, you need to move a lot. You need to have great blackout curtains and pay close attention to street signs.
The city itself has started to crack down on people living in vehicles, so be extra cautious and do your research. This is one of the van life locations that has been abused in the past, so treat it right.
🏖️ If you play your cards right, you can enjoy beach vibes with the van during the day and drive somewhere else to sleep.
Personally, I find this shuffle exhausting. However, it’s a great area if you need the services of a city in the winter. 🌇
Where else can you watch dolphins from the back of your van? 🐬
Winter Van life Locations: Extra Ideas & Conclusion
While winter van life locations are not as glamourous as summer van life spots, they have their own beauty.
First, this is not an exhaustive list. Because weather changes constantly in the winter, you’ll have to use a few phone apps to keep on top of it.
Inevitably, you can find plenty of locations great for van life in the winter in many of the southern US States. Check out Florida, parts of Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana.
You can always head south into Baja, Mexico as well! I have not done this personally, but I would love to get there someday.
As always, when you get to a new place, listen to your gut and leave if you get any bad vibes.