6 lesser-known campervan travel destinations to add to your 2020 bucket list

No one can deny the majestic grandeur of frequented campervan travel destinations like the Grand Canyon, but they also can’t deny the high volume of crowds. Lucky for adventurously savvy van travelers, there are plenty of lesser-known places across the country with all the same stunning wilderness as the nation’s most popular parks.

If getting off the beaten path is a sport, then consider us olympians. Here are 6 up and coming destinations to add to your 2020 bucket list:

Willamette National Forest (from Portland)

Willamette National Forest

Photo credit: @justin.bernal.pdx

Distance from Portland: 2.5 hours

Best time to visit: Summer or fall

Recommended hike: Tamolitch Falls, AKA the blue pools

Dreamy waterfalls and lofty mountain peaks are two key players that make Willamette National Forest oh-so beautiful, stretching 110 miles across western Oregon’s Cascade Range. It’s everything you could hope for in a pacific northwest adventure—and even more “out there” than its counterparts. Make your way to the Three Sisters, a series of snow-capped volcanic peaks that can be trekked around (or just admired from below). The mountains attract climbers of all skill levels, whether for a quick afternoon walk or a multi-day excursion.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (from Minneapolis)

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Photo credit: @birkography

Distance from Minneapolis: 5 hours

Best time to visit: Summer or fall

Recommended hike: Top of the Giant via Kabeyun Trail

One of the perks of Minnesota living is that Canada is only a stone’s throw away, yielding access to countless parks just across the border. Sweeping views of Lake Superior from above should put Sleeping Giant Provincial Park high on your wishlist along with the three B’s: biking, birding, and boating. We recommend trying them all in the same day for the best results. Maybe you can even grab some Canadian maple syrup while you’re at it.

Rock Island State Park (from Nashville)

Rock Island State Park

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Distance from Nashville: 1.5 hours

Best time to visit: Year round

Recommended hike: Twins Falls and Downstream Trail

Between a 30-foot horseshoe shaped waterfall and the Caney Fork Gorge, it’s safe to say Rock Island State Park is the only ten we see. Truly though: Tennessee wilderness is replete with many hidden waterfalls, swimming holes, boating, fishing, and climbing opportunities—an enticing list that will undoubtedly draw in any nature fanatic. Wherever you find yourself among the 883 acres, the park is chock-full of scenic overlooks so you’re almost always guaranteed bird’s eye views of the Eastern Highland Rim. 

Ouachita National Forest (from Austin)

Ouachita National Forest

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Distance from Austin: 8 hours

Best time to visit: Year round

Recommended hike: Eagle Rock Loop

Ouachita National Forest is a gem—literally—you can hike up Crystal Vista and dig for quartz, which happens to be abundant in the area. Fancy rocks aside, there are bountiful trails for hiking and biking, many of which have streams and lakes that are inviting enough take a dip. Lake Ouachita happens to be the largest lake in Arkansas, with ten designated beaches to choose from. It’s that big. As far as roadside vistas, we love the Tailmena National Scenic Byway especially when fall foliage is on the table. Be sure to stop at some of the small towns along the way for a dose of history. If an 8 hour drive is longer than you’d prefer, check out a few of our favorite campsites within two hours of Austin.

Mogollon Rim (from Phoenix)

Milky Way over the Mogollon Rim

Photo Credit: Deborah Lee Soltesz

Distance from Phoenix: 2 hours

Best time to visit: Year round

Recommended hike: Rim Lakes Vista Trail

200 miles of cliffs adorned with ponderosa pines and juniper woodlands make up the Mogollon Rim, a steadfast getaway destination only 2 hours from Phoenix. It makes for a great day trip, although the myriad of lakes and small towns along the way will probably make you want to stay the full weekend (or even longer). It’s far away enough from the city so that you can expect some killer stargazing opportunities, but close enough to avoid the time commitment of a massive drive. And that, we think, is the best of both worlds.

Kings Canyon National Park (from Los Angeles)

Kings Canyon National Park

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Distance from Los Angeles: 4 hours

Best time to visit: Year round

Recommended hike: Moro Rock Trail

Popular neighbors like Joshua Tree make it easy to overlook Kings Canyon National Park, but that’s a sore mistake if you ask us. Similarly to Yosemite, the park has plenty of deep valleys, sky-high trees, and unique rock formations everywhere in between. It’s home to Redwood Canyon, the world’s largest remaining grove of sequoia trees—a mind bogglingly massive spread that can’t be comprehended through photos alone. The glaciated valley offers rock climbing and spelunking as well, getting you off the ground and under it in the same day. At only 4 hours from Los Angeles, it’s a steal!

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