You know that saying, “The Great Outdoors”? Well, the truth is, it’s not always great. In fact, the outdoors are only great when you’re fully prepared for the outdoors. When you’ve got the right things by your side: A nice, warm, wind-breaking, waterproof coat. An easy-to-pitch tent. Ingredients for s’mores. And finally, an automobile to make the whole thing, well, go.
We’re talking car camping. (No, not camping in your car. It’s camping with help from your car.) And the list of vehicles to choose from for your camping adventure is pretty much endless. Do you opt for a convertible for scenic drives down the coast? Or a hulking van for more space to house your gear? Something rugged for an off-road adventure? Or something easy for a site just outside the city?
All valid questions, and with this guide, we intend to answer them. So, wherever you’re going this fall, and whatever you have in mind, consider us the sommeliers of the car camping world—with the perfect pairings of driver, vehicle and campground.
Minivan + Assateague Islands National Seashore Campgrounds
This one's a no-brainer for families. A barrier island on the Maryland-Virginia border, it's got everything you and your brood need for an outdoors adventure -- as well as the necessary creature comforts, if you like. Spend your days watching wild horses roam on the beach, hiking the myriad trails, or just relaxing on a tube in the bay. Then, after all that excitement, you can make good use of the hot showers (or even electricity) in the nearby cabins.
Something luxurious + Portal Campground near Aspen
Why would you get a luxury car for a camping adventure? The only logical reason is...because you can. Portal Campground just outside (sometimes ritzy) Aspen is absolutely free, so you may as well splurge on your vehicle choice. Obviously the views will be that much better from a car that boasts bigger, wider windows. And (a word of caution) you might want to get something high up, with plush leather interior. The roads to the site are bumpy (it is the Rockies).
Cargo van + John Pennekamp Park in the Florida Keys
How the car rides isn’t quite as important as what the car holds when it comes to camping in the Florida Keys. With a tent on the beach and some of the country’s best diving just a few feet away from your campground, you’re going to need a vehicle that can haul it all, including the scuba, snorkeling, beach, and camping gear you'll want to bring along. Luckily, Miami has a few rides that could double as moving vans. And yes, you’ll want to move here.
Convertible + Clear Lake State Park
Driving to Clear Lake State Park (just a few hours north of San Francisco) with the top down under the stars is a bucket list-worthy trip. Once you’re there, you’ll have plenty of areas with accommodations to choose from, including a few group camping grounds, a swimming beach (with showers), and a creek for canoeing and kayaking (an activity more safely practiced under the sun, we think).
Hybrid + Joshua Tree
A favorite of Los Angelenos, it’s obvious why we recommend a hybrid for this one: You’ll fit in with the crowd, you’ll help the planet a bit, and you can go a lot farther without gas—a nice feature when journeying to the middle of the desert. Pro tip: Avoid any music festivals happening in the area that would otherwise spoil a nice moment with nature.
Coupe + Silver Falls State Park
Head to the campground that’s been consistently ranked as “most romantic” in a car just for the two of you. What could be better than hiking all day and cuddling up by a fire under the stars at night? One look at the Falls and you’ll see why this location is spilling-over with "honeymoon on a budget that doesn’t feel like it” vibes.
Jeep + Inyo National Forest
This site is a off-roader's dream. Your potential campsites expand when you have a vehicle that can get you where you want to go. We recommend the Coyote Flat Trail, a nine-mile path that sits more than 10,000 feet above sea level, totally isolated from the outside world. Just you, your crew, and the car that got you there.