This post originally appeared on Maine the Way.
Have you ever dreamt of something for so long that you begin to wonder if its reality will be able to meet your expectations? With the ability to wander off the beaten path, stop wherever, have all your gear with you… to me, van travel always seemed like the perfect medium for adventure. This winter, we had the chance to partner with Outdoorsy and see if van camping was all that it was cracked up to be in my imagination… spoiler alert: it was!
Our big road trip was made possible by Outdoorsy, a national RV marketplace. We rented Bébé the van from a couple in Scarborough who have a fully outfitted Dodge Ram Promaster that they have listed on Outdoorsy for folks to take on the road (when they aren’t using it, of course). We’ve always been drawn to vans — the spontaneity they allow, while never having to worry about where to stay each night.
We drove our car to Scarborough to pick up the van and swapped parking spots for the trip. The owner had sent over a video walkthrough of the van beforehand, so we had a sense of its operations, which was incredibly helpful. When we got there, she highlighted a few more details, like how to turn on and off the heater, where to fill the heater’s diesel tank, and answered our questions. We stopped by our apartment in Portland to load Bébé up with groceries and gear. The van was so spacious, we comfortably fit our camera equipment, ski gear, and even our solo stove. Before we knew it, we were off!
I remember the feeling of leaving Portland and the familiar route heading north on 295, but it felt different this time — to be in the van, with all we needed, knowing the adventure was coming with us, no matter where we were going. The highway miles ticked by like they always do, but we couldn’t wait to veer off that thoroughfare and cruise along more rural routes. Eventually, we picked up Rt. 17, where we wound our way up along the Swift River and over lots of frost heaves. With the night’s meal and sleeping arrangement onboard and no rush to get anywhere, we were excited for the opportunity to take detours and pull off for vistas.
Our first stop was off Rt. 17 and down a frozen dirt road, where we parked Bébé and hiked into Angel Falls. The trail, which was well packed by those who came before us, skirted up and over the outflow from the falls. About a mile later, our gaze that was trained downwards on our icy footing lifted to see Angel Falls, cascading about 90 feet and surrounded by cliffs even higher. It was majestic, but there was something else that made this scene so striking — its silence. Usually, at the base of a large waterfall, the roar of the falls can sometimes drone out other sounds, but the water was muted by the frozen shield, lending a new beauty to this sight this season.
We trekked back to the car and continued along the road. The Height of Land was socked in the clouds when we passed through, so no views this time. Onward, we stopped in Rangeley to pick up a few things we had forgotten, then arrived at our destination for the evening. We got permission from Saddleback to park in their upper lot for a night or two. Finding places to camp overnight was easier for us than we had anticipated. Since the van doesn’t require any hookup, we didn’t need any amenities that bigger RVs require. Outdoorsy has resources on their website for Boondocking, campgrounds, and even Walmart parking lots. Regardless of which option you use, be sure to have permission before staying overnight!
Settling in for the evening was easy and comfortable. We swiveled the passenger seat around to open up the space while cooking. For dinner, we whipped up some elevated Annie’s Mac and cheese with broccoli and hot sauce. The van came with a two-burner propane stove, pots, pans, and all other kitchen essentials. When it was time to eat, we pivoted the table into dining position! Navigating this small space was surprisingly effortless. After a few rounds of cards, we were ready for bed. We set the heater to mid-sixties, which kept us warm, but not too hot and dozed off to sleep.
Bluebird skies greeted us the next morning as we heated up a pot of water for coffee. Waking up at the base of the mountain was like a kid on Christmas, we couldn’t wait to meet the day and get skiing. The forecast was quite warm for winter in the mountains, so after fueling up with a mushroom-egg scramble, we suited up in our ski gear. The “garage” under the bed, which is accessed through the rear of the van is surprisingly spacious! We fit our luggage, skis, boots, and even a solo stove beneath us, making it super accessible to both adventure and chill out from the van.
From the van, we waddled down to the ski lodge in our boots with our skis over our shoulders. We’ve been loving exploring alpine touring this year, especially Saddleback’s dedicated uphill route. The trail takes you through the trees, far from the downhill runs, and is such a peaceful backcountry experience. Due to the warm temperatures, the uphill trail was closed beyond the Rangeley Quad, so we transitioned there and enjoyed the turns on the way down. Temps were dropping steadily into the evening, so we made our way back to the van to get cozy.
We pulled out the solo stove and stoked it with some kindling while we toasted up grilled cheeses. While we love hanging inside the van, it was nice to create a little outdoor patio to enjoy the rest of the daylight. We milked the good vibes while the sun was still up. When the wind picked up and the fire died down, we tucked back into our cozy van. While it was a bit chillier this time of year, I can only imagine the indoor- outdoor living possibilities of van camping in warmer seasons. Again, knowing that we had everything we needed with us to cook and camp alleviated any stresses of looking for a last-minute hotel or setting up the tent later in the day. Throughout the night there were gusts up to 60 MPH and, while we could hear it against the van, we felt so safe, secure, and warm. While tenting will always have a place in our hearts, the all-weather excellence that van life offers sure was nice.
The next morning, we toasted some muffins and hit the road. From Rangeley, we traveled East, stringing familiar and unfamiliar roads together. Our first stop was a short, but icy walk into Smalls Falls. We trekked along the glazed-over hard-packed snow in our microspikes, which kept us from slipping into the river! The first vista was from the bridge to lower falls and the frozen gorge. On the other side of the bridge, we hiked upstream to admire the middle falls, which were completely frozen on either side of the water that had pushed through, and upper falls.
On the road again, we made our way up and down old farm roads, along lakes, and through some charming small towns. We stopped at the Dexter Reny’s to grab a few things — like a replacement for the hat and gloves I forgot at home. We also found lunch at Peace, Love, and Waffles — a charming cafe with all flavors of sweet and savory waffles. I got a shredded potato waffle with fixings of cheese, sour cream, and scallions while Cam enjoyed his red flannel waffle with corned beef hash.
Our destination for that evening was Millinocket, where we planned to transition the van from an adventure mobile to an editorial outpost. Our upcoming edition of Maine the Way is Issue 11: North, which is actually what inspired us to think seriously about van trips. Traveling for work, especially when locations are quite spread out, can be logistically intense, but the thought of having our gear, our accommodations, and our mode of transportation all in one, made working in the remote corners of Aroostook County much easier.
Whether you live in Maine and want to explore your state more, you’ll be visiting Maine and want to road-trip around, or are looking to hit the road elsewhere in America, check out Outdoorsy.com. Their marketplace of RV rentals has everything from pop-up campers to full-size RVs and everything in between. Their website is incredibly user- friendly, narrowing options to match your preferences, with information on anything you may be curious about. So spend some time dreaming up a fun adventure and hit the road with Outdoorsy. We loved our first van adventure and cannot wait to get back out there!