Off-Road Car Camping in Utah

Off-Road Car Camping is booming in Utah.

From the end of World War II through the 1960s, Americans had a passionate love affair with the highway. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 spawned thousands of miles of interstate highways connecting every major city. Never mind that the initiative was spurred by fears of nuclear war—it provided unfettered coast-to-coast mobility for everyday Americans and generations grew up romanticizing the open road.

But these days we’re trading in the pavement to explore something wilder with our automobiles. Perhaps it’s because a Prius doesn’t elicit the same visceral reaction as a ’57 Bel Air. Or maybe it’s because cheap air travel is available with a few smartphone clicks. All I know is drivers want to explore the untamed side of the Beehive State without being limited to the paths a 1950s bureaucrat thought you ought to drive. Whether you tag it #VanLife or #Wanderlust, more people than ever before are venturing off the beaten path. Utah has an unrivaled wealth of unpaved roads and trails through every quadrant of the state, so it’s time to find the right rig for you and keep exploring where the sidewalk ends.

#VanLife for the Everyman

The hashtagging of vacation adventures may leave many of us nauseated, but there’s no denying that the #VanLife revolution is here to stay despite any Luddite concerns. But one pothole lies before many would-be off-road nomads—the $55,000 or more necessary to buy custom Mercedes Sprinter Vans. Salt Lake City’s Basecamper Vans solves this by offering a fleet of campervans ready for safari.

Basecamper Vans 

Matt Wolski started Basecamper Vans in 2012 after spending plenty of time traveling around in his own 1990 VW Vanagon. Though “iconic and enjoyable,” as Wolski says, the Vanagon showed its limitations by throwing a rod while ascending Colorado’s Red Mountain Pass. Basecamper’s fleet consists of Chevy Express vans with modern safety features and plenty of power to tackle steep mountain grades, and they recently took delivery of two Dodge Ram ProMasters that feature elevated ceilings. Search through the range of vehicles and features on Basecamper’s website to find the right van for you. Wolski, who builds all the van interiors, is adamant that Basecamper does far more than just provide you with a sweet ride. “Our goal is to build and rent the vehicles we like to use on our own trips and also provide local know-how for customers who want to explore zones that aren’t the obvious tourist destinations. Our vehicles will get you there. You just have to do the rest.”

And pets are welcome. Vans make it possible to bring your four-legged friend on a ski, bike or climbing adventure, thanks to the extra space and ceiling vent fans that keep your vehicle cool. Basecamper Vans rentals start between $99 and $169 per-day depending on the season.

423 W. 800 South, Salt Lake City, 801-949-3675,

Tepui Tents 

Some of us have perfectly functional vehicles already, and it seems a bit ostentatious to think we need a well-adorned van to luxuriate in the out-of-doors. That said, finding an ideally situated campsite while on the move can be a bit onerous. Tepui’s rooftop tents are the perfect middle ground for those of us straddling the fence. I was a bit skeptical upon first seeing the unfurled contraption atop a late ‘90s Subaru on a random side road near Moab, but as I continued driving around in darkness looking for a suitable pull-off to throw up my tent, I was overcome with envy. The thought of simply pulling over and unfolding an elevated, comfortable home away from home is enticing, and that you can put one on any beater rig with roof racks is the cherry on top.

Photo Credit: Nate Lepp

Tepui has been in business for seven years, and they’ve recently hit the big time after winning five awards at the OR show in 2015 and being praised in a slew of publications from Outside to Popular Mechanics. Founder Evan Currid first encountered the tents while on a trip to Venezuela, where locals had rooftop tents made of plywood and canvas that were comfortable and functional. Currid set out to improve and modernize the design, and Tepui has ushered in a new wave of rooftop camping for the masses with tents available at your local REI.

Now any vehicle can become an adventure mobile with a set of roof bars and a Tepui tent. Tepui’s 2-person tents start at $925, and their new hard-shell White Lightning tents start at $3,800 and are made in the USA.


Two wheels Too Many

If you spend any time in the Utah desert, you’re bound to see folks ripping around on dirt bikes loaded up with camping gear. Straddling a dirt bike may not be for everyone, but we spoke with Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah and all-around dirt-bike badass, to find out what it’s like to use an off-road motorcycle as your adventure rig.

 “On a motorcycle you’re much more immersed in the experience. You feel the temperature and humidity, and you can smell your surroundings,” he says. “I got started after watching this Netflix documentary series Long Way Round about guys from all over who rode adventure bikes. By the fourth episode I bought a used motorcycle on eBay.” Rafferty believes it’s the most rewarding way to take advantage of what Utah offers. “The coolest part about this state is there’s such a wide variety of terrain.”

written by: Tony Gill

Featured image by: Ben Horton

Tony Gill
Tony Gill
Tony Gill is the outdoor and Park City editor for Salt Lake Magazine and previously toiled as editor-in-chief of Telemark Skier Magazine. Most of his time ignoring emails is spent aboard an under-geared single-speed on the trails above his home.

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