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Van Life in New York City: Where to Go, Park, Explore and Rent a Camper Van

Updated: May 28


144WB Sprinter camper van parked in front of Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo, Brooklyn, New York.

Imagine exploring the bustling city of New York from the comfort of your own home on wheels. Living rent-free in NYC where the rent is getting out of control sounds like a dream, right? Van life in the Big Apple is an exciting and unique way to experience the city, offering you the freedom to roam and discover hidden gems in and out of the city while saving some serious cash on accommodations. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through every step of life in a camper van in NYC - from finding the best spots to park and sleep, where you can shower and fill up your water tank, and how to get connected with the NYC / Brooklyn van life community!


Get ready to embark on an journey as we dive into the growing popularity of van life in NYC, tackle the challenges of living in a camper van amidst the urban jungle, and share essential tips for a successful road trip experience. Let’s hit the road!


Key Takeaways

Experience Van Life in New York City

Van life in the city that never sleeps has gained significant traction in recent years, with an increasing number of people opting for this unconventional lifestyle. Van life offers the chance to explore the city and its surrounding areas at your own pace, all while saving money on housing costs. However, van life in NYC also comes with its fair share of challenges, such as temperature control, parking, and access to services that are typically more readily available in outdoor settings or other cities, like finding potable water (which we do offer!).


Before embarking on your camper van journey through the New York streets, doing some research will pave the way for a smooth and enjoyable experience.


The Growing Popularity of Van Life in NYC

As more people embrace the van life in NYC, it’s becoming increasingly common to see camper vans parked in streets and neighborhoods, such as the famous “Van Alley” (see this video with 2 million views) in Brooklyn New York, or all the camper vans in Greenpoint by the Vital Climbing Gym.


However, with this growing popularity comes its own set of challenges. When living in a van in NYC with a full time job, one must consider the safety and legality of parking spots, avoiding tickets, and manage the cold climate. For a successful van life experience, researching optimal parking locations, packing the essentials, budgeting effectively on the road, and adhering to local laws is advisable.


First, we will begin with parking and overnighting in the city!


Long Term Camper Van Parking in NYC

There's a lot of places for long term parking your camper van if you're not using it. Besides renting out parking spaces in parking lots, there is also the app Neighbors. Think of it as like the AirBnB for parking. We paid $350 / month to store our extra camper vans. Most of our clients are from the city, and have found decent parking spaces close to their home!


5 Places to Van Life and Park in New York City

Most of NYC Van Life happenings are in Brooklyn, as Manhattan is a bit hard for Van Life, and since we know Brooklyn well, we are going to write about what we know best.


Sunny day in Greenpoint, Brooklyn at McCarren Park where there's lots of open grassy space, trees and walking paths

1. McCarren Park: Located on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, McCarren Park is one of our top choices for van dwellings. It's surrounded by wide, one-way streets with ample parking. If you're fortunate, you might find a spot beside the bike lane, offering an extra buffer between you and passing traffic. The park features public restrooms, sports fields, and a dog park, making it a bustling yet safe place to park overnight. On Saturdays, year-round, you can find local produce and provisions at the GrowNYC farmers market. Finally, McCarren Park is also located next to VITAL Climbing Gym, a popular spot for the Brooklyn van life community where you can not only connect with like-minded folks, but also take advantage of the amazing facilities they offer like showers, sauna, full gym, workspace, and fitness classes!


Five members of Brooklyn's Van Alley sit in chairs on the sidewalk in front of their camper vans overlooking the Manhattan skyline

2. Van Alley: A hidden gem in Williamsburg that sits at the corner of North 11th Street and Kent Avenue. Tucked away from main streets and nestled between public parks and an abandoned warehouse, this spot is perfect for van dwellers. With amenities like public restrooms, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, and waterfront views within walking distance, it's an ideal location for van enthusiasts. Over the years it has garnered popularity among vanlifers, forming a mini community where like-minded individuals gather and socialize.


One of Prospect Park's many open green spaces in the springtime

3. Flatbush Avenue at Prospect Park: Prospect Park provides another excellent parking option in Brooklyn. Parking along Flatbush Avenue offers spacious spots without the worry of businesses or driveways. The area is well-lit and usually busy, ensuring safety. While facilities like public restrooms and a dog park are a bit farther away, you can enjoy attractions like the Prospect Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden nearby.


Sunset overlooking the Upper Bay waterway and one of the many historic warehouses in Red Hook, Brooklyn

4. Red Hook: Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that's a bit off the beaten path, offers a quieter retreat for vanlifers. It's relatively easy to find large open spots for bigger rigs, and the neighborhood's tranquility appeals to those seeking a peaceful place to rest. Besides having great bars and restaurants - we'd recommend Red Hook Tavern, Sunny's, Hometown BBQ, Brooklyn Ice House to name a few - you can also conveniently make trips to Lowe's and IKEA in Red Hook for any parts or supplies needed!


Rockaway Beach, a popular camper van destination

5. Rockaway Beach: Get some good surf, take a stroll down the boardwalk, explore Coney Island - this is a great place for van dwellers chasing the endless summer! Rockaway Beach is a popular spot with close proximity to the city, accessible by car, train and bus. While you can come here year-round, this is definitely a summer spot that becomes much quieter in the off-season.


brooklyn campervans shop front street view

Brooklyn Campervans: While not an overnight spot, we welcome vanlifers to visit us at 344A Maujer St. Brooklyn, NY. While street parking can be challenging, we can always create a temporary spot for you out front if you want to drop by for a short visit to fill up water. We understand the struggle of finding water in NYC as often a gas station won't offer it, so we offer a water hookup to top off your tanks. While you're here, feel free to explore our warehouse and chat with us about van life. Just email us or send us a DM on Instagram to let us know you're coming! We also host open houses once in awhile.


Finally, we also highly recommend the app iOverlander for finding spots if you haven't downloaded it already!


Tips for Stealth Camping in NYC

Stealth camping in NYC can be exhilarating, but stay informed about local laws and regulations, and show consideration for the environment and others. When choosing a parking spot for stealth camping, consider factors such as visibility, traffic, lighting, and security. Specifically, choose a spot that is out of sight, and avoid busy areas. However, at the end of the day, it's New York City, and nothing is "truly" out of the ordinary here, so most people won't think twice seeing a camper van. In our experience, the police really could care less and have better things to do. Getting used to it is quick, and you will be a New York Van Life Pro in no-time!


The most important tip: keep valuables out of sight. If you're loading and unloading the van or keeping your lights on without blinders, do it at a different place than where you plan to park or remain the night. When you arrive, you're already set with your blinds down blinds so no one knows what's inside.


Overnight Parking Options in New York outside the City

Campgrounds such as Bear Mountain State Park Campground, Buttermilk Falls State Park, and Hearthstone Point Campground provide full amenities and spectacular views.

Another option is Liberty Harbor RV Park, which provides convenient access to public transportation, allowing you to explore the city while still enjoying the outdoor experience. Croton Point Park and Black Bear Campground are also great options, offering amenities such as hot showers and electrical hookups.


Renting a Camper Van in New York

We understand it's $$$ or a lot of time to buy a camper van or build a custom Sprinter camper van, so if you have vanlife FOMO, there's no worries! There are great options to rent a camper van in the NYC area for your upcoming adventure. Renting a camper van is a convenient and cost-effective way to embark on your road trip without having to worry about the costs and maintenance associated with ownership. However, if you're interested in buying a campervan or having a custom one built out, you know where to look!


One important note about camper van rentals in New York: New York is the only state that doesn't offer RV insurance due to laws about tunnels and propane. Therefore, you may very well have to skip to Jersey City to pick up your van.


Camper van rental company in the New York and New Jersey area

Comparing Rental Companies

In the process of renting a camper van in NYC, comparing various rental companies considering factors like high rent prices, amenities, and customer reviews proves beneficial. For instance, Vanish Travel offers rates beginning at $196, while Indie Campers starts at $86 and offers one-way trips. Escape Campervans is another option if you want to save money that offers rates from $45 per day out of their location in Jersey City, New Jersey. All three companies provide a full kitchen, bathroom, and bed, ensuring a comfortable campervan journey. Based on what we hear, if you're willing to spend a little extra Vanish Travel is the way to go!


Another rental route to consider is checking Outdoorsy and RVShare where private camper van owners post their rigs for rent. You typically will spend a little more here, but you can find some pretty unique vans!


Reviewing customer feedback is a must when choosing a rental company. Reviews from previous renters can provide insights into the quality and reliability of the camper vans, as well as the overall experience with the rental company. Do not skip this step!


What to Look for in a Camper Van Rental

When choosing a camper van rental, consider the following factors:

  • Dimensions: Select a camper van that suits the number of travelers and the amount of extra storage required.

  • Amenities: Look for amenities such as a kitchenette, bathroom, air conditioning, heating, and entertainment options.

  • Insurance protection: Ensure that the rental includes adequate insurance coverage.

By considering these factors, you can find a camper van rental that meets your needs and preferences.


Lastly, consider the distance from your home or destination, the availability of parking, and the cost of transportation to and from the pick-up and drop-off locations.


Planning Your Camper Van Journey from NYC

Once you have a camper van, it’s time to plan your camper van road trips from NYC! The possibilities are endless, with popular destinations such as:

These attractions boast vibrant foliage, pristine lakes, and charming mountain towns, offering a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

When planning your camper van journey, consider:

  • Exploring upstate New York

  • Venturing beyond state borders for an even more diverse and exciting experience

  • Being aware of local laws and regulations

  • Checking the availability of camping sites

  • Considering the cost of travel as you plan your route


A Sprinter camper van out camping in the Catskills

Exploring Upstate New York

Upstate New York is a treasure trove of natural beauty, with popular destinations like the Hudson Valley, Catskills, and Adirondacks offering stunning landscapes and outdoor activities for every adventurer. Take a scenic drive through the picturesque region, stopping at charming towns and breathtaking vistas along the way.


Popular destinations for a camper van trip in upstate New York include Lake George, Saranac Lake, Watkins Glen, and Montour Falls. Hiking, kayaking, and camping are popular outdoor activities in the region, with trails such as the Kaaterskill Falls hike in the Catskills and the High Peaks in the Adirondacks providing challenging yet rewarding climbs with breathtaking views.


A landscape photo on top of a boulder overlooking a lake with fall colors in Acadia National Park

Venturing Beyond New York State

Don’t be afraid to venture beyond New York State to explore nearby attractions like Niagara Falls, located near the Canadian American border, Acadia National Park, and the New England coastline. Each of these destinations offers its own unique charm and beauty, providing even more opportunities for adventure and exploration.


Other popular destinations for nature enthusiasts in proximity to NYC include Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Cape Cod, both of which are accessible with a camper van. The Hamptons also offers a range of activities, including beach-going, fine dining, and boutique shopping, making it a perfect stop on your camper van journey.


Harvest Hosts: Explore #VanLife in COMFORT. Stay at Breweries, Vineyards and Farms!


Out of the 9 Best Van Life Apps, Harvest Host is our personal favorite. For a yearly membership, you can stay at unlimited farms, breweries, golf courses, vineyards, fancy private properties and more!




NY has a TON of locations and we've had so many wonderful memories from waking up to alpacas outside of our camper van to the most delicious farm-to-table meals!!






Essential Tips for a Successful Camper Van Road Trip

Embarking on a camper van road trip is an incredible experience that demands good preparation for a smooth and enjoyable journey. Here, we’ll share some key tips for a successful camper van road trip, including packing essentials, saving money en route, and adhering to safety and legal norms.


Consider these tips as a roadmap to help guide you on your epic camper van journey and create unforgettable memories.


Packing Essentials for Van Life

Having the right essentials packed for van life is key to a comfortable and hassle-free journey. Most van rentals already completely set you up. Some must-have items include:

  • Cooking equipment and condiments

  • First aid kit

  • Camping chairs and table

  • Wet wipes if there is no indoor shower or a Planet Fitness membership

  • A good bottle of whiskey

Ensuring that the items are lightweight, durable, and easy to store is also important.


Summary

In conclusion, van life in NYC offers an unforgettable adventure that combines the excitement of urban exploration with the freedom and flexibility of life on the road. From renting a camper van in NYC, to finding the perfect parking spot, planning your camper van journey, and staying safe and legal, this blog post has provided a comprehensive guide to help you embark on your own van life experience in the city that never sleeps.


So, are you ready to take the plunge and explore New York City from the comfort of your own mobile home on wheels? With proper planning, research, and a spirit of adventure, you can create memories that will last a lifetime and experience the city like never before. Happy travels!


FAQs

What and where is Van Alley?

Van Alley is a dead end street along the East River waterfront in Williamsburg. It is on North 11th Street and Kent Avenue. Ever since Rob Walker and Patrick New Jersey Outdoor Adventure came out with a Youtube video about living rent free in NYC, it has blown up. Now many vanlifers stay there.


How much does it cost to rent a camper van in New York City?

Renting a camper van in New York City typically costs between $50 to $250 per night.



Where to park overnight and sleep in a camper van in NY?

There are quite a few spots in Brooklyn

  1. near McCarren Park

  2. Flatbush Avenue at Prospect Park

  3. Van Alley

  4. Red Hook

  5. Rockaway Beach

Check iOverlander as well!


Is East Coast Van Life popular?

Vanlife is growing remarkably fast in the east coast, especially in Brooklyn, NY. See the blog for hot spots and where to go! There are also more van life events in the east coast each year, such as from Adventure Van Expo, Overland Van Expo etc.


Where to take a camper van from New York?

  1. Catskills, NY

  2. Hudson Valley, NY

  3. Lake George

  4. Saranac Lake

  5. Watkins Glen

  6. Montour Falls

  7. The Pine Barrens in New Jersey

  8. The Gunks in New York

  9. Robert H. Treman State Park

  10. Lake Placid

  11. Thousand Islands

  12. Howe Caverns

  13. Niagara Falls

  14. Acadia National Park, Maine

  15. Lake George

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