Van life takes off in Summit County
The county has 14 sites where individuals can car camp overnight in the summer
For Alden Scholl, life on the road is what he would describe as “liberating.” The Fairplay native got a job in Summit County right after college and decided to purchase a 1989 Dodge explorer camper van to save on housing costs.
About three years later, Scholl continues to live out of his van. He spends the winters as a ski patroller, and he’s a raft guide and an emergency medical technician in Chaffee County during the summer.
Scholl has traveled a bit in the years since he moved into his house on wheels, mostly sticking to Colorado and Utah. Some of his typical stops are southwest Utah, Gunnison and Buena Vista. For Scholl, the constant movement is a big appeal to living a lifestyle now commonly referred to as “van life.”
“I enjoy the freedom of living in a vehicle because I can sleep pretty much anywhere I want on any given day and night, and I can use the van to travel and not really be tied to any one place,” Scholl said.
Though the lifestyle has been around for years, it took off during the pandemic when many workers were no longer required to frequent the office. Suddenly, the possibly of remote work made it possible to travel more often. For some, the appeal of reducing one’s life down to what could fit in a single vehicle — plus the opportunity to visit a new place at a moment’s notice — was too good to pass up.
Adventure Van Expo creator Neil Morse said some of the most popular areas that attract individuals partaking in van life are in southern California, Colorado, Utah and Oregon. Morse started the Adventure Van Expo about five years ago and now the organization hosts eight shows around the country.
Its focus is to show outdoor enthusiasts — individuals wanting to partake in van life, or those with hobbies like surfing, mountain biking and skiing, to name a few — how they can customize a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van or something similar to fit their lifestyle.
The expo has made a stop in Dillon for three of the event’s five-year history. This year, the event is moving to Eagle from July 16-17.
Though camping and van life are popular in California and Oregon, Morse said finding a place to host the expo in Colorado is more of a challenge in his experience. This has similar parallels to Scholl’s experience camping in Summit County. There are limited areas where an individual can park overnight in the county, and a couple of those are managed by the Unsheltered in Summit Committee. The remaining are campgrounds managed by the Dillon Ranger District.
Morse said that he believes rural mountain areas like Summit County should reexamine how they can better accommodate those who wish to do van life, especially because a lot of these individuals work for local businesses, such as Scholl.
“That model could work really well, especially for ski area employees, and then also the different employees in the summer,” Morse said. “The towns just need to understand that, people in vans, they are like anyone else. They want to live in a nice area. They just can’t afford a ski castle.”
During the winter, Scholl said he uses the Summit Safe Parking Program, which offers overnight parking in the lot of The Church at Agape Outpost off of Colorado Highway 9. For $45 a month, individuals are allowed to park their vehicles in one of the 10 spaces. They are required to abide by quiet hours, and they are allowed to stay there from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Scholl said he wouldn’t have been able to live his lifestyle in Summit County without this program. Finding a place to park isn’t the only downside to van life, either. Scholl said that life on the road can occasionally feel isolating.
“The main drawback is that it can get lonely sometimes living in the van by yourself, but all in all, it’s a very positive thing to do,” Scholl said. “I’ve lived in apartments that are much less comfortable than my van, so I don’t really see it like I’m roughing it.”
Scholl said the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to living out of his vehicle. He said he enjoys the little waste he creates and that he can live an enjoyable life while owning few possessions.
For those looking to explore van life, Scholl said individuals should be prepared for the dramatic change in lifestyle. There might be hiccups at first, but sticking with it can result in the experience of a lifetime.
“I think I really realized how much I really needed to survive and to thrive and be happy, and it was a whole lot less than I’d become accustomed to,” Scholl said.
- Prospector Campground
- Peak One Campground
- Pine Cove Campground
- Lowry Campground
- Heaton Bay Campground
- Windy Point Group Campground
- Blue River Campground
- Prairie Point Campground
- Cataract Campground
- McDonald Flats Campground
- Cow Creek North Campground
- Cow Creek South Campground
- Elliot Creek Campground
- Willows Campground
This story previously published in the summer 2022 edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.
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