west coast road trip to big sur

Your Guide to Planning an Unforgettable West Coast Road Trip

The road trip. It’s a quintessential American adventure, a rite of passage that places you in control of your destiny as you roam free, witness stunning vistas, and cultivate lasting memories. Now, imagine planning and experiencing the open roads of a picturesque west coast road trip.

Your wheels hum the rhythm of the Pacific, as you create your path through landscapes that vary from the lush rainforests of the north, down to the sun-kissed beaches of the south. Planning a camper van road trip ensures that you savor every mile, and with a few expert tips, your West Coast journey can transform into an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.


A west coast road trip offers the perfect blend of comfort and independence. You dictate the pace, pause at every whim, and are welcomed by the familiar comfort of your camper van at the end of each day. The West Coast of the United States boasts some of the most diverse and stunning scenery that America has to offer, making it an ideal canvas for your personal odyssey.

But preparing for such an adventure is no small feat. From route planning to selecting the right equipment, there are numerous factors to consider. Fear not — this post is your companion, your guide to turning your West Coast road trip dream into a reality.

Planning the Route

Your West Coast road trip starts with a map and the promise of discovery. Yet, this is often where things go wrong. Not having a clear itinerary can mean wasted hours of driving and high frustration. But don’t worry — we’re here to help with a few tips! Here’s how to craft the perfect route:

Start and End Points

Your starting point serves as the inaugural backdrop to your adventure. Whether it’s the lush landscapes of Washington or the sun-drenched sands of Southern California, choose a location that embodies the essence of your road trip vision. Your endpoint, similarly, has to resonate with the glories of your road trip, making departure as bittersweet as possible.

For some people, the starting point will be somewhere close to home where you can easily pick up a camper van and be on your way. For others, the starting point will be the second step after flying or driving to a new location to begin their camper van adventures. Usually, it’s more logical, and less memorable. 

On the other hand, your endpoint should be your inspiration. Whether that’s a romantic escape under the stars, a thrilling rafting adventure, or a spiritual getaway to the mountains; your endpoint should be the height of your journey, capturing all your emotions and excitement. If you’re not dying to stay, then reimagine your path.

Must-See Destinations

The West Coast is filled with iconic attractions. The towering Redwoods of Northern California, the rugged coastline of Big Sur, and the vibrant cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are just the beginning. Research your destinations well – perhaps include some less-traveled gems such as the Carrizo Plains or the Oregon Caves National Monument.

Oregon Coast: Cannon Beach, Cape Kiwanda

The Oregon coast is a land of contrasts, where the raw power of the Pacific Ocean meets the serenity of forested shores. Cannon Beach, with its iconic Haystack Rock rising from the surf, is a must-see for any traveler. Meanwhile, Cape Kiwanda dazzles with its natural beauty and adrenaline-pumping activities such as sand-boarding along the dunes. This is a place where you can watch the sunset over the ocean, the air filled with the cry of gulls and the tang of salt.

Washington State: Olympic National Park, San Juan Islands

Olympic National Park boasts some of the most diverse ecosystems in the country. Here, you can wander through old-growth rainforests, bathe in hot springs, and even hike to the glacier-clad peak of Mount Olympus. The San Juan Islands, a cluster of forested isles adrift in the Salish Sea, offer a quieter, more contemplative escape. With an abundance of wildlife and a network of charming towns, island hopping in a camper van provides a unique view of this maritime paradise.

Big Sur: Bixby Creek Bridge, McWay Falls

Jam-packed with scenic brilliance, Big Sur never fails to awe with its unbroken coastline and towering cliffs. The Bixby Creek Bridge, a graceful arc against the rugged terrain, is an Instagram favorite. Meanwhile, the secretive McWay Falls, which descends directly into the ocean, is a hiker’s delight. Big Sur is a destination that resonates with the soul, a place where the land seems to meet the sea in an everlasting embrace.

Joshua Tree National Park: Desert Landscapes, Starry Nights

For a striking change of scenery, head inland to California’s Joshua Tree National Park, where the unfamiliar landscape of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts await. This is a land of peculiar rock formations and the eponymous Joshua Trees, standing like sentinels against the cerulean sky. After dark, the stargazing here is unrivaled, as the park is away from the light pollution that plagues more populous areas.

Capitol Reef National Park: Utah’s Mighty Five, Rock Formations

The least visited of Utah’s mighty five outdoor favorites is Capitol Reef National Park. It’s a haven for those seeking solitude among its stunning rock formations. The Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in the park and can accommodate camper vans RVs up to 40 feet. There are no hookups, but with the Capitol Dome at dawn from your door, who needs them?

Capitol Reef is known for its monoliths and its distinctive white Waterpocket Fold, a warp in the earth’s crust that has variously been a barrier for settlers and the reason for the park’s unique geological features. For RV travelers, the park’s scenic drive provides a taster of the natural grandeur while hikes like the Hickman Bridge offer more up-close exploration. More experienced hikers and climbers can find solace in the park’s remoter areas, which are best accessed with a sturdy 4×4 camper van.

Petrified Forest National Park: Ancient Dwellings, Vibrant Colors

Trekking across Arizona in a camper van, you might wonder if you’ve landed on an alien planet. The Petrified Forest National Park fuels such musings with its colorful badlands, distinct petrified wood, and the ancient pueblo remnants of the Puerco Ruins. You’ll find the remains of ancient trees that have turned into rock over millions of years. The brilliant reds, blues, and purples that streak through the logs are due to the presence of minerals — a testament to the diverse and dynamic natural forces that shaped this land. The Blue Mesa and Crystal Forest trails provide up-close encounters with these petrified giants and the Painted Desert, another exquisite feature of this park.

Sedona’s Red Rock Country: Whirlwinds, Spiritual Awakening

Not far from Arizona’s bustling cities lies a land straight out of a painter’s canvas — Sedona’s Red Rock Country. Its kaleidoscopic cliffs, famous for their vibrant red and orange hues, are a playground for hikers, mountain bikers, and — of course — RV travelers. As you weave through the canyons and hills, you’ll be enchanted by the otherworldly beauty and a serenity that seems to seep from the surrounding landmarks. Sedona is renowned for its vortex sites, believed by some to radiate Earth’s energy more strongly than usual. While the science behind these claims may be debatable, the feeling of tranquility and spiritual awakening you might experience is not. A must-visit is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a modern architectural marvel nestled among the rocks.


Must-Visit Attractions Along the Way

West Coast road trips are filled with attractions to discover. We’ve outlined a few to make your trip more memorable than ever.

Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands

The San Juans are one of the best places in the world to see orcas. Set aside time to join a whale watching tour and witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

Big Sur’s Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls

Two of Big Sur’s most iconic sights are easily accessible and should not be missed. The famous Bixby Creek Bridge offers breathtaking coastal views, while McWay Falls plunges from the cliffs directly into the Pacific Ocean.

Hiking at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Just north of San Diego, this coastal preserve offers a range of trails amidst rare Torrey pine trees and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

Time Management

Decide on the length of your trip. This decision will be influenced by the distance between your key stops and the time you wish to spend at each, ensuring you enjoy the ride without a time crunch. This will also help you plan stops for fuel, groceries, and sleeping. Think about who you’re traveling with on your west coast road trip. If there are young children or pets, you may want more stops or prefer to drive during nap times. Or you may be dying to reach your first destination, so moving fast is best for you. Whatever you decide, build it into your schedule, so you enjoy every moment.

Selecting the Right Camper van

Choosing the right camper van is akin to finding the right tool for the job. It should fit your needs and preferences. Here are some factors to mull over:

Types of Camper Vans

There’s a plethora of camper van builders, each model offering its own perks. Class B Rvs (camper vans) offer luxury and space, while still being easy to maneuver and manage off-road and on pavement. Then consider amenities like indoor/outdoor showers, heating/cooling, toilets, shore power hook-ups, etc. Lastly, think about the terrain of your destinations. You may need 4×4 capabilities. There’s a lot to consider, but also so many great options. Review your camper van options to discover which make and model is best for you. If you’re unsure, ask GoCamp!

Renting Your Camper Van

Nothing is easier than renting a camper van to start your west coast road trip! Here’s another common mistake — not booking well in advance, especially during peak travel seasons. Outdoor vacations are favorable during the summer months, so plan ahead. Camper vans are extremely popular. Start searching early and reserve your favorite!

Camper Van Readiness

Before you roll out, make sure you understand how the camper van works. With GoCamp, you’ll get a full walk-through with the van owner, who will also provide you with helpful tips for maintenance and some nearby hotspots for your visit. You’ll also receive a digital guidebook from GoCamp with the van’s manual, frequently asked questions, and much more. Check out GoCamp’s camper vans to get started.

Packing Essentials

An efficient packing list is the backbone of any successful camper van road trip. Overpacking can crowd your living space, while underpacking might leave you unprepared. Here’s how to avoid common mistakes and strike the perfect balance:

Clothing and Shoes

Layering is key, as coastal weather can be unpredictable. Include swimsuits and warm layers. Check the weather before you leave, so you know what to expect, rain or shine, cold or heat. Then consider your shoes based on your planned activities. Hiking boots are great, but if you’re planning to surf, you may want sandals as well. Customize to your adventure.

Kitchen Supplies

Create a checklist for your kitchen needs. Non-perishable food, a good cooler, and airtight containers are your best friends. And don’t forget, with GoCamp’s Hop In and Go promise, you can rest assured that any van you select will have all the living essentials such as bedding, towels, cockware, utensils, camp chairs, etc. 

Safety and Tools

Safety should never be an afterthought. First-aid kits, fire extinguishers, and a toolkit are non-negotiables. If you’re traveling with pets, ensure they have a comfortable space and their necessities are accounted for. Look for a pet-friendly van on GoCamp’s website.

Mapping Out Campsites

Campsites are your oasis along the way. Good planning ensures a hassle-free stay. 

Research Campgrounds

The West Coast is home to a variety of campgrounds, from beachfront to mountainous. Research their amenities, policies, and the reviews for real traveler insights.

Booking in Advance

Popular sites are in high demand, so early booking is wise, especially during weekends and holidays. Visit campsite websites to book easily and quickly.

Considering Amenities

You’ll have the comfort of your camper van for sleeping and cooking, but if you prefer to have some modern conveniences, choose a site with electrical/water hookups and on-site facilities. For a more rugged experience, look into sites without these amenities. 

Optimizing the Experience

With the right preparations in place, it’s time to ensure you enjoy every moment of your west coast road trip.

Meal Planning and Cooking

Strategize your meals for efficient packing and enjoyable dining. Consider easy-to-make options and recipes that can be prepared with a simple setup. Utilize regional produce and recipes for a complete West Coast experience. Check your GoCamp rental so you know exactly what cooking amenities are available in your van.

Activities for All Ages

The West Coast brims with activities for everyone. From hiking and kayaking to city tours and wildlife spotting, ensure your itinerary accommodates all age groups and interests in your party.

Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Your adventure should not be marred by mishaps, so think ahead. Keep important contacts, maps, and emergency supplies reachable. Inform a trusted individual about your route and keep your communication devices charged.


A west coast road trip in a camper van is more than a vacation – it’s an experience that combines the thrill of the open road with the comfort of home. With meticulous planning to avoid common mistakes and the right mindset, you’re on the brink of a memorable, personal exploration unlike any other.

The allure of the West Coast awaits. It’s vast, it’s varied, and it’s ready to greet you with open arms. Embark on your own voyage of discovery, and remember, the road is just the beginning of the adventure. 

Start planning with GoCamp!