Parking Lot Camping to Ski is Back

When I first moved to Colorado 32 years ago, I lived for winter camping and dirtbag ski missions. Not only were we usually trying to poach lift tickets in the parking lot and figure out ways to sneak up or skin-in from side roads, forest service, and private property — but everything just seemed so much easier back then.

Last year, as we were still dealing with a pandemic ski season, I got the chance to watch the newly released Warren Miller documentary Ski Bum on Discovery+, and it moved me. The timing was impeccable, as being outside was suddenly the best thing we had, and the outdoor industries were simultaneously trying to react, survive, and keep up. 

Miller explains in the film his one critical point of differentiation from his peers, for all of his years trying to make it as a cinematographer and producer in the ski industry: He slept out in his car in the parking lot while everyone else stayed in the lodge. For the ultimate ski bum, that put him on another level. 

There are many places around Vail, Beaver Creek and of course other resorts where we used to camp, that condos now stand, keeping dirtbags at bay and forcing them to – gasp – even pay for parking. Now, stealth camping overnight in the lot is another thing entirely. Not every resort allows it, and only a few encourage it. But like Warren Miller, if you want to be legit, you have to be tough.

So in addition to some personal experience, we did some research to find out where the tradition still continues and where you can get in on the fun. Bring an extra blanket or a dog to snuggle up with, and rack up some points against your ski bum cred.

The Green Lights

Mt. Bachelor, Bend, OR

Mt. Bachelor has clear systems in place for RV and camping options, and it’s a beacon of the parking lot camping scene. And RendezVan, “a celebration of mountain and van-life culture at Mt. Bachelor,” pictured above, is scheduled to take place April 20-24, 2022. The mountain offers both powered and non-powered RV parking on a reservation basis only.  Designated spots with hookups are available for powered RV’s at $60/night, or without power for $40. The lot welcomes “nearly every vehicle you are comfortable sleeping-in,” from traditional RV’s to campers, trucks, vans, and tiny homes. A two-night minimum applies on trips that include Saturdays or holidays. Pets make the cut so long as they’re on-leash and cleaned-up after. Read up on their full RV Camping Policies for all the details in their own words.

RV & Car Camping: YES

Tent Camping: NO 

Hookups: YES

Maximum Stay: NO

Minimum Stay: YES (on weekends or holidays) 

Dogs: YES 

Fires: NO

Restrooms: 6:00am-9:00pm Daily (on resort)

Blackout Dates: YES

Off-Resort Options: NO

Brundage, ID

Brundage Mountain Ski Resort allows free overnight RV and Car Camping in their Lower (Centennial) Parking Lot. All visitors need to register with Brundage Guest Services. Spots are limited to the outer perimeter of the lot and do not have any hook ups. Tent camping is not allowed. Brundage also strictly forbids the use of open campfire and charcoal grills. Pets are permitted in designated areas when kept on leash. Brundage enforces black-out dates for RV camping during peak times: Christmas through New Years, MLK, or Presidents day. Plan your overnight trip with more information here. If the Centennial Lot is full or you’re visiting during a holiday, 8 miles down the road you will find Creekside RV Park. Creekside is a full service RV Park with many different sized sites with or without hookups. 

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: NO 

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: YES

Minimum Stay: NO

Dogs: YES 

Fires: NO

Restrooms: 8:00am-4:30pm Daily (on resort)

Blackout Dates: YES

Off-Resort Options: YES

Crystal Mountain, WA

Crystal Mountain has one lot dedicated to RV Camping. The lot offers 65 spots with hookups. Each site requires a per night fee ranging from $55-$75 per night depending on site, day of the week, RV size, and power amperage. Stays are limited to two-weeks. Crystal Mountain has switched to requiring reservations for the 2021/22 season, which are released month by month. Check out their website for more details and online booking, and be sure to plan in advance — these sites get snatched up quick. Pets are permitted but must be attended to at all times. Wood burning fires are not permitted, while gas fire pits raised off the ground are allowed in certain areas but must be kept away from RVs and trees. This is also a pack-in, pack-out camping situation: manage your own trash and waste. 

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: NO 

Hookups: YES

Maximum Stay: YES

Minimum Stay: YES (on weekends only, including holiday exceptions)

Dogs: YES 

Fires: NO (exceptions apply)

Restrooms: 9:00-4:00pm Daily (on resort)

Blackout Dates: YES

Off-Resort Options: NO

Grand Targhee, WY

This is also one of the best ski areas to car camp in the country. Grand Targhee sells RV & Overnight Camping passes in the Guest Lodging Check-In building for exclusive use in Lot #3. Sites are available on a first come, first serve basis with bookings available in advance here. Prices start at $28 for dry sites and $40 for electrical sites (not yet available, but coming soon). Campers are limited to seven consecutive night stays. Campers are responsible for disposing of all their own waste (yes, all of it!). Dogs are permitted but must be on leash at all times. Grand Targhee does not permit open fires and has strict policies about the use and storage of gas grills. Restrooms are only available in the base lodge from 7am-7pm everyday. Grand Targhee offers these camping options so that you can enjoy first tracks and early mornings on this mountain, so take advantage of the proximity. 

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: NO 

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: YES

Minimum Stay:  NO

Dogs: YES 

Fires: NO (exceptions apply )

Restrooms: 7:00am-7:00pm Daily (only at base lodge)

Blackout Dates:  NO (rates change for holidays and peak times)

Off-Resort Options: NO

Whitefish Mountain, MT

Most every skier has Whitefish on their list of “must hit” resorts, and car and RV camping availability make a road trip to Whitefish inexpensive and worth it. Overnight camping is restricted to the Aspen Lot for a maximum of three nights in a row, and the mountain allows hard-sided camping only (no tents allowed). All spots are first come, first serve with limited availability. Campers must pay a $15 per day fee and complete Lodging Check-In in the Upper Village. There are no hookups for any sites. No restrooms are available. Pets must be leashed at all times. All campers must respect fire restrictions that apply. Verify the details in their RV Parking Policy here

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: NO 

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: YES

Minimum Stay:  NO

Dogs: YES 

Fires: NO (exceptions apply)

Restrooms: NO

Blackout Dates:  Not listed

Off-Resort Options: NO

Silverton

The expert skier mountain of your dreams has nearby overnight parking. Overnight parking and camping is not allowed in the resort, but it is allowed on the road leading into the ski area. The only downside is that you may have to move your car for a plow or two throughout the night, but what wouldn’t you do for first tracks on this epic terrain? Because this overnight parking is not on the ski area, there are no posted rules and regulations. We recommend you follow Leave No Trace principles and always follow rules and regulations of the National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. 

RV & Car Camping: YES (within reasonable size limits)

Tent Camping: NO 

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: NO

Minimum Stay:  NO

Dogs: YES (exercise caution as these spots are on the side of the road)

Fires: Follow Local Restrictions 

Restrooms: NO

Blackout Dates:  NO

Off-Resort Options: YES

Mt. Baker, WA

Mt. Baker might be the most legendary ski area for Car/RV Camping. Since we understand that, being prepared and having all your info before you go is crucial. Trust us, you’ll never want to leave this epic ski-bum haven. 

You will need to make a reservation and pre-pay. There are no hookups and all vehicles must be completely self contained. You’ll have two lots to choose from: the White Salmon Lot and the Heather Meadows lots. The difference between the two is that the White Salmon lot is accessible 7am-7pm, while the Heather Meadows is accessible 24/7. This is crucial to your arrival and departure plans. DO NOT book the White Salmon Lot if you aren’t able to guarantee that you will arrive during the specified hours. 

There are forest service restrooms available 24/7. Fires are permitted only in designated areas, and must be self-contained so that you can haul out all the debris. Lot etiquette asks that you do not use generators or loud equipment in the lot. Pets must be cleaned up after and kept on leash. Mt. Baker’s website has more information on lot etiquette and rules that we recommend getting friendly with if you are planning a trip there. When setting up your spot keep in mind that you may be asked to move for snow plows in the mornings. There is a schedule you can check on the Parking Lot info board. Check out is at 4:30pm on the final day of your reservation. Spots are $25 per night. They cap your stay at a maximum of seven nights. 

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: Not Listed

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: YES

Minimum Stay:  NO

Dogs: YES 

Fires: YES (restrictions apply)

Restrooms: YES

Blackout Dates:  NO

Off-Resort Options: NO

Mt. Hood, OR

Mt. Hood offers limited overnight parking/camping. There are 14 spots available on a first come, first serve basis from November 1st – April 30th. You will need to purchase a Sno-Park permit from the resort.  Sno-Park permits require that your vehicle meet chain and traction requirements. All vehicles must be completely self-contained. There are no services or utilities available on site. There is a maximum of a 3 night stay in any 5 day period. Parking spots are located in the back of the resort’s Sunrise Lot. Mt. Hood asks that all overnight guests pack out everything they bring in as there are no waste disposal services. You may be asked to move your vehicle for plowing purposes… if this does happen, don’t get your undies in a bunch. Plowing happens early in the morning, waking you up in perfect time to make first tracks on this legendary mountain. Read up on the official policy here

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: NO

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: YES

Minimum Stay:  NO

Dogs: Not listed 

Fires: Not listed

Restrooms: NO

Blackout Dates:  NO

Off-Resort Options: NO

Loveland Ski Area

Loveland is an interesting option when it comes to overnight stays in the lot. The ski area has no official policy for or against overnight parking. While that may sound a tad sketchy, this lot becomes a ski bum paradise every evening as soon as the sun starts to set. Sprinters, vans, and car campers often take refuge for the night, hoping to make first tracks the next day. It seems that Loveland simply turns a blind eye to their overnight guests. Naturally, there are no hookups, services, or utilities available as a result. Due to their lack of policy, we recommend that anyone planning to overnight camp here keep their wits about them. No fires, follow strict Leave No Trace principles, maintain social distance, and mind your manners with other campers. You don’t want to be the one responsible for this resort being forced to implement overnight camping policies next season. 

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: NO

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: NO

Minimum Stay:  NO

Dogs: Not listed 

Fires: Not listed

Restrooms: NO

Blackout Dates:  NO

Off-Resort Options: NO

Bluebird Backcountry

Bluebird offers a backcountry experience in an area with mitigated risk and professional patrol, along with plenty of shelter, rentals, and good times. With such an ideal position, it makes a lot more sense to stay and ski an extra day, and Bluebird welcomes guests to camp slopeside! They even have food trucks coming and going during their season to offer a changeup to whatever guests may have brought to cook up themselves. Camping is available Thursday through Sunday for $25/night, with reservations required at least 24 hours in advance. You must check-in at the base area during the day and make sure that everyone in your party signs a waiver. Bluebird wants their skiers to camp with them and they have set up a great place to do it. For an extra bonus, you’ll get five nights of camping included in every season pass. Check out more specifics here..  

RV & Car Camping: YES 

Tent Camping: YES 

Hookups: NO

Maximum Stay: Thursday – Sunday

Minimum Stay: NO

Dogs: YES 

Fires: YES (they have fire pits, bring your own firewood)

Restrooms: port-a-potty restrooms on site

Blackout Dates: NO

Off-Resort Options: YES

The No-Go’s

Arapahoe Basin

A-Basin, much beloved by skiers everywhere, one of the most classic, perfect resorts in the country. Though we love skiing there, we’ve never been allowed to stay overnight. This is always how it has been. Their parking lots are on U.S. Forest Service lands and are not private property. Gates of their lots are locked from 6pm-7am. In past years the Forest Service has allowed overnight camping in the pull-off lots on Highway 6 around the resort…but as of a couple years ago, that has changed. For the cost of a little extra effort, Summit County does have plenty of Forest Service roads, trailhead parking lots, and campgrounds available nearby, although many have limited access in the winter.

Wolf Creek Ski Area

Contradictory to what a lot of info out there would have you believe, overnight camping is strictly prohibited at Wolf Creek Ski Area. Wolf Creek is on Rio Grande National Forest land, and according to the National Forest Service, there is absolutely no overnight camping or parking. But I bet people still know plenty of places to stealth camp in the area.

Sun Valley, Idaho

There is no overnight parking or camping available within designated Sun Valley ski lots, even though this was Warren’s home mountain, and word has it that they won’t hesitate to tow or boot your vehicle if you try and risk it. Head to the nearby Meadows RV Park to stay in either electric or primitive sites for nightly rates starting at $25, with weekend and holiday price hikes at play. Full site availability depends on snow levels, so be prepared for limited offerings when it dumps!

The Maybes: Camp at Your Own Risk….

Powderhorn Mountain Resort

Powderhorn does allow overnight camping in the summer, and there are loads of Forest Service camping options within 5-10 miles of the resort, but there is no policy on their website that explicitly prohibits overnight camping during the winter season. This is one of the resorts that may be opening up their policies due to COVID. We recommend you give them a call before arrival, or simply keep in mind that you may be asked to leave. 

Monarch Mountain

Monarch explicitly prohibits camping within the ski area’s special use permitted area. However, there are a number of BLM and US Forest Service dispersed sites very close by. Some of these sites do have hookups, restrooms, and require that you pay a fee. Naturally, most of these are first come, first serve, so we highly recommend having a backup plan for your overnight stay. 

Purgatory

Purgatory does not have any explicit policies in reference to overnight camping. We have heard mixed reviews on this resort. Some say that Purgatory is totally amicable to overnight campers, others say it’s risky. The most important thing to know is to be sure to park where you are out of the way of any plowing. 

Ski Cooper

This small ski area outside of Leadville doesn’t have too many rules in place for anything, overnight stays included. While they did keep tight reins on operations throughout the height of COVID, they are now “pleased to be able to offer a more relaxed atmosphere this season than we have in the last season and a half”. This most likely translates over to their car camping attitude as well, so you’re likely to have good luck if you keep to yourself in a corner of the lot or down the entryway road a bit or at one of the nearby trailheads with a close eye on how much space you take up. I’ve even seen Boy Scouts camping in the lot there.

Burke Mountain, VT

Burke Mountain is a small family mountain home to the famous Burke Mountain Academy. This classic Vermont experience is one you won’t easily forget. If you plan to go to Burke Mountain or any mountain in Vermont, please only do so if you can be certain that you are also abiding by local rules and regulations. As for Car/RV Camping, Burke has no signs posted that put it out of the question. This means, if you’re gonna test this out, have a back up plan, be prepared for anything. 

Jay Peak, VT

Just a stone’s throw from the Canadian Border, this Vermont resort is seriously underrated. Home to Vermont’s only tram, Jay Peak is a unique old school skiing experience. The resort boasts some great backcountry, and some of the best snowfall in the east. Jay Peak, not unlike their sister resort Burke Mountain, does not have outlined rules about overnight parking and camping on their website. It’s known to be common practice and appears that few have ever reported issues. There is another nearby parking lot with overnight parking and camping: find the small lot just out of Jay where The Long Trail crosses Route 242. This is a well-known spot for overnight crashing, a fairly safe bet. 

THE PRODUCT

Rumpl Travel Dog Bed

This cozy and durable dog bed is made for ski bums and other vehicle dwellers. Both the bed and mattress pack up into small individual sacks for convenient travel so that your dog can bum it out right along with you. Whether you’re using it for car camping at your favorite ski resort this spring or just looking for a great travel bed to keep your best friend comfortable on the road, this bed from Rumpl has got you covered.

Helinox Chairs

If you’re getting after it with endless resort runs or backcountry laps, there’s nothing you want more come dusk than a camp chair to flop into to take your boots off. A tailgate doesn’t always do the trick, so cover your own ass by bringing along an ultra-portable Helinox chair to get your butt off the ground and put your feet up. Their lightweight design and extreme packability makes them ideal for almost every sport from motorcycling and backpacking to car camping and picnics. New is the Chair Zero High-Back, the latest ultralight silhouette that weighs in at a mere 1 lb. 8 oz. while providing a taller, sturdier back for neck and shoulder comfort. Nothing on the market delivers Chair Zero High-Back’s combination of ultralight design, exceptional strength, ease of set-up, and supportive comfort – all in a package that fits right in your boot bag.

Oofos Ooah Recovery Slides

Stop by your car to slip into something a little more comfortable, preferably into the Oofos Ooah Recovery Slides waiting for you to trade in your boots for a taste of clouds. A long day in boots, no matter how light and flexible they may be, puts your feet through some serious trauma, and there’s a quick turnaround before doing it again tomorrow, so take advantage of your short but sweet downtime with these sandals, endorsed by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team.

ROVR RollR Coolers

These portable, functional, and fully loaded coolers help ensure you’ve got the sweetest setup in the lot. ROVR offers RollR coolers in a variety of sizes from 45-85 qt. options. The top of these coolers boasts a pop-up wagon-style bin for additional gear like a beach chair, stove, and other necessities. The wheels on this thing are seriously badass at nine inches for any terrain including deep sand or snow. The insides of these bad boys are no joke with a dry storage bin to keep important items super cold without getting wet and gross, and individual compartments for meats, veggies, and more. They have anchor points for bottle openers, cupholders, stash bags, and a cutting board. Come summer, this cooler will still be your best friend for festivals, camping, and the beach.

Arc’teryx Fission SV Mitten

Arc’teryx makes unquestionably high quality goods for the most discriminating customers, and we recommend adding a pair of their mittens to your kit for on and off the mountain. The insulated Fission SV Mittens are amazing but I also love the uninsulated Venta Mitten with Gore-tex INFINIUM, which have proven to be a favorite for a range of temps and activities.

Biolite Firepit

Standing around a fire at any basecamp is the dream at the end of a long, cold day, yet so many places don’t allow open fires any more. This portable firepit burns real wood and charcoal, yet it’s smokeless and discreet. Using the free bluetooth app you can make changes to airflow and ventilation, giving you control of the size of your flames. The 24 hr. power pack can also be used to plug-in lighting, and can be used as a power backup for your essential devices when you’re in a pinch. Not only is the powerpack versatile, but the airflow over the flames makes your logs burn more efficiently and for longer. The x-ray mesh body turns this firepit into a floating fire with 360 degree views of the flames. In the off chance you are able to enjoy an open fire, be sure to throw in a Pit Commander fire tool, just in case!

Sea to Summit Sanitizing Wipes and Hand Wash Pack

Whether you need to wash up after a pit stop in the woods or clean your hands before diving into the snack bag, these products from Sea to Summit have you covered. The Sanitizing Wipes are convenient and skin-friendly for cleaning your hands or any surface that needs some extra germ-fighting power. The Hand Wash Pack is a super cool new toiletry concept: think Listerine strips, but with liquid-free soap which makes them great travel tools. Tear one or two leaves from the package and lather on your hands with just enough water to allow them to soften and dissolve. They’re biodegradable when used in accordance with Leave No Trace principles. Perfect for keeping kids of all ages wiped up in the lot.

Purist + Scope Top

The Purist Scope Top cap is perfect for keeping a tight lid on parking lot coffee thanks to a dual seal system that eliminates thermal pressure inside the cup when it’s filled with hot liquids so there’s no sprayback in your face, and controls the flow coming out so you don’t accidentally burn your mouth. When it’s time to roll out, switch over to a regular lid to hydrate throughout the day and then back to the scope for driving or the lot. The lid fits both 10oz and 18oz Purist Mover bottles, and their sleek good looks and brushed feel have made them a favorite to put in my pack for several seasons now.

Elevation Outdoors contributing editor Aaron H. Bible is a veteran outdoor, ski and travel writer based in Nederland, Colorado. Follow along on his adventures on Instagram @DefinitelyWild.

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