CAR CAMPING the PACIFIC NORTHWEST 

CAR CAMPING the PACIFIC NORTHWEST 

(cheap and on the fly)


“DO IT OR DON’T.

It’s amazing how many things in life are that easy.”

– HENRY ROLLINS

My boyfriend and I decided to try and travel the Pacific Northwest back in the summer of 2018, but didn’t really know how the plans were going to flourish.  

Both of us are all about doing things as cheaply and efficiently as possible, so how were we to not spend loads and see all the places we wanted?  

Simple answer:  Car camping 🙂

White Subaru behind campfire
Nothing like a campfire at the end of the day!


I for one prefer traveling by flight and foot for the most part, but I began to face the fact that travel in the US is not cheap for long distances and if you want to cover ground fast – cars are the way to do it!


Aaaaand if you are able to find a car big enough for your belongings and yourself – then BOOM, look at you now, you now have a mobile home!  As everything does, it takes some getting used to.  But being able to take your home with you is pretty killer.  Here’s some info on how we did things, in hopes it will help you venture out there!

STEP ONE: Find your new home on wheels

Now I’ll admit, I didn’t have to look hard to find ours, as my sister allowed us to borrow her 2019 Subaru Forester.  

She traveled internationally during the month of January and we were able to pay her car payment to use the car!  Forever grateful and thankful for her and our home on wheels.  

Any SUV-ish, Jeep-ish, or van will do, just make sure you get all wheel or 4 wheel drive if need be.

In Colorado, we were only there for a week, and we wanted to car camp.  I used www.carrentals.com (as I usually do for car rental needs) & found the cheapest, best option.  Be sure to note if the rental agency charges you extra for leaving certain ‘zones’.  I think my rental ended up around $18 a day.  

Our Colorado lucky Subi rental!

Some SUV’s allow you take out the seats, some just have the fold down method.  A UK couple we met traveled and lived out of an old Ford Explorer (naming the car Dora the Explorer) in the US for a month.  If you Google ‘car camping’ with your own car or Toyota Rav 4, for example, you are more than likely to see other ideas on how to set yours up!

But you can see our cheap set up below:

Our mobile home set up


  • Mattress pad (gift from Ponyboy’s trail friend, Giggles – MOST CLUTCH THIS EVER! THANK YOU!)
  • Double sleeping bag (also a borrow from my amazing sister – muchas gracias)
  • 3 pillows found at a thrift store in Mount Shasta area ($1 – I used a scarf wrapped around it as a pillowcase)
  • Mexican blanket (also gift from sister)
  • Big fuzzy flower blanket – ($10 bought on other car camp trip in Colorado)
  • Use our bags as extra pillow support & through everything else in front seats for sleeping!

Depending on your funds, luck, and needs for overall comfort – you can add or subtract things for your own car camping situation.  

STEP 2: Choose your first few destinations and/or general route + timeline you have

Timeline:  about 1 month (+/- a few days)

First few planned destinations:  Mount Shasta, Crater Lake National Park, Bend

We knew big picture wise, we wanted to hit as much as nature as possible, but obviously visit cities such as Bend, Portland, and Seattle.  I have family in Tacoma, so that was also on our agenda.  We also wanted to travel as much of the coastline as possible.  The plan:

‘East on the way up, coast on the way down’

Ponyboy also pointed out that if you go coastal on the way up, you will be farther away from the ocean – but on the way down, BOOM – making right turns all day.

Picture of my little map I tried to draw to understand it in my brain more:

Not at all scaled correctly, but does the job!

Step 3:  Hit the road & enjoy the journey!

Doing research and planning ahead of a trip is really great, but know, that there will ALWAYS be detours and hiccups in the plan.  

For example, due to the government shut down and ‘human waste’  the road to Crater Lake was actually closed, so we did not get to go to a big one on both of our lists.  We found this out maybe a day before our plan to head there.  

That’s just the way it goes sometimes! So as far as planning goes, I would research roads to where we were going (it was winter) and where to sleep in the area.  

This is where we ran into our first bit of luck while car camping.

I read online that around Mount Shasta, they allowed climbers to car camp in the parking lot at Bunny Flat Trailhead. You can see more details of that trip here!

We later came to see that this was very rare to have bathroom access and allowed car camping so close to our destination of interest.  So, thank you whoever started allowing this!

During our trip, we basically wing it until a few days before we knew we would be somewhere, which sometimes creates stressful moments, but also beautiful opportunities.

For example, in Bend we contacted our friend Claire we met in Nicaragua and got the opportunity to stay in her parent’s UNBELIEVABLE Airbnb house. It was built by her dad basically by himself and was a fucking piece of art, I tell ya.  Anyways, that’s where you have your ups!

But then there may be times that sunset comes faster than you think, you guys are both tired, and continue to sit in a parking lot for an hour trying to research where to sleep on your phones.  Sometimes there are frustrated tears and you realize the stress of figuring out how to not spend money isn’t worth it anymore.   

NOT MY ART – this was posted by a friend on Instagram & made me lol

For us, I never wanted to sleep somewhere that it was very obvious we shouldn’t be.  I want to follow the rules (for the most part) and make sure I am being respectful at all times.  So for our car camping experience what we would do:

  • A good ol’ Google search of car camping, boondocking, dispersed camping or overnight parking ‘insert location of where you are or close to’    

>  This lead to a spot we slept at in Colorado for a night near a park where other car campers were

  • Look on a map and find the green spots.  Hopefully, it is a state park or state forest.  Look up their dispersed camping laws.  Most state forests allow you to sleep on pull offs in designated areas.

> This is actually really tricky to figure out for us and still don’t exactly know if we have been doing it right

> We find a pull off that seems as far away and hidden from the road as possible, tuck in there, & hope for the best!  

  • The ever-so-glamorous Walmart parking lot sleeps (some don’t allow it, but you can usually tell when you get there if its chill)
  • Casinos! Apparently most allow you to sleep in your RV for free so probably car camping to.  We actually haven’t done this but almost did. Read about that – here.
  • Free campsites with fire ring and table (the rare jewel find, that can happen sometimes!)
  • Deciding that we wanted a fire and established campground (with hopefully a warm shower!) & paying for it
  • Look up BLM lands in the area or visit other Recreation Areas in the area

> This lead to our most recent spot in Samoa Dunes Recreation Area – beachfront camping for free!

  • Contact friends and family in the area you are going to & see if can park at their place or maybe they will allow you to crash!

Make your car camping dreams come true! 🤙🏼

And if you want to take charge of your life & plan your own long-term travel dream trip, then CLICK HERE



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