We’ve become pros at traveling across the continent in a van!
We have traveled between the West and East coasts more than a dozen times, so we are quite familiar with the roads. Sometimes we choose to cross Canada to enjoy the scenery of each province, but we also love to drive across the border to discover new territories. Are you planning a long road trip soon or dreaming of going away for several weeks? Here’s our recommended itinerary from Vancouver to Montreal il you plan crossing the U.S. by van on Highway 90.
Departure from Vancouver to Washington State
After a few days exploring Vancouver Island, we took the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. The customs clearance process was easy before boarding the ferry, and we didn’t face any difficulties with the food that we had brought with us in our van.
Once we reached the port, we found ourselves at the gateway to Olympic National Parc, which is famous for its peninsula and rainforests. As American National Parks are musts to visit during your trip, we recommend you buy the America the Beautiful pass. This annual pass costs US$80 and gives you free access to more than 2,000 national parks, nature reserves, national forests and prairies. It also includes the lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. By purchasing this pass, you can save a lot of money and get the most out of your visits to these natural wonders.
Taking the road to Seattle
To reach Seattle from Port Angeles, you have two options. If you drive through the interior of the state, it will take you just two and a half hours to reach your destination. The best time of year for a road trip in this region is November, when the colors of the trees are at their peak. Personally, we suggest taking the second option and stretching your journey a little to enjoy the peninsula along the coast. If you follow this route, you’ll discover Crescent Lake, Sol Duc Falls, and a few surf spots! To get some rest, you can either find a forest pull-out on iOverlander or stop at Kalaloch Campground for the night and see the famous Tree of Life.
If you’re traveling with your family, we recommend visiting the Seattle Children’s Museum! The museum is designed like a massive playground with more than a dozen rooms that encourage children to learn while having fun. Contrary to what you might think, it’s actually quite easy to boondock in the city. We spent the night in Seward Park, just off the peninsula. You can wake up to the sight of majestic trees and bald eagles if you’re lucky!
During our road trip while crossing the U.S. by van, we made the most of Montana’s public lands which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. These areas allow free camping for up to 14 consecutive days, just like in the rest of the country. For vanlifers who are always searching for free places to sleep, Bureau of Land Management sites are a great way to escape without having to pay camping fees. However, there are no services available, so ensure that you have enough water and that you pass by a dump station before settling in.
If you take Highway 90 through Montana, you’ll be right next to the entrance to Yellowstone National Park! This renowned park is a must-visit and worth the detour. However, make sure to check the weather and conditions before you go. The weather can quickly become unpredictable in the park, and many roads are closed from late October to late April, so it is best to be cautious and plan your visit accordingly.
Driving through the Dakota badlands
Continue your road trip on Highway 90, with a quick detour off Highway 94, towards Theodore Roosevelt Park! Formed of incredible canyons and plains as far as the eye can see, the park is home to over 500 bison that roam everywhere. If you’ve never seen one of these beasts up close, you’re sure to be impressed by their size and presence. We like to see them from a distance, as long as they’re not too close to the van! If you plan to spend the night in the area, there are several campsites with basic amenities available in the nearby town of Medora.
Once your tour of the park is over, head towards the Badlands! Along the way, you’ll come across the quaint little town of Deadwood. This former western-style mining town, which was deserted when the mine closed, is now full of casinos to keep the place alive! Slot machines are available in most businesses, so you can try your luck if you feel like it. To rest, you’ll be lucky enough to be surrounded by national forests such as Mount Roosevelt, where you can stay for free for up to 14 days.
From Deadwood, it takes only 1.5 hours to reach the northern entrance of Badlands National Park via the small town of Wall. The area is known for its unique rock formations, rich history, and archaeological sites. It feels like you’re in the middle of a prehistoric movie, and you might expect to see a dinosaur after every turn! The area is also full of BLMs, so there’s plenty of room for family play and easy sleeping arrangements. If you head towards the Badlands, near Rapid City, you might want to consider a detour to see Mount Rushmore, where you’ll discover the sculpted faces of 4 American presidents. The patriot in you will be delighted!
Back in the big city of Chicago
During our road trip while crossing the U.S. by van, we made a last stop at Chicago. This bustling city is renowned for its famous deep-dish pizza and Cloud Gate sculpture, which attracts tourists from all around the world. The city is situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, providing ample opportunities for walking and picnicking. If you’re looking for a place to stay in the area, we recommend using Harvest Host to easily find a nearby location. Did you know that there’s a national park less than an hour’s drive from the city? Indiana Dunes National Park is similar to Sand Banks in Ontario and runs for over 40 kilometers along the coast, making it an ideal spot for the whole family to explore.
Finally, our crossing of the U.S. by van on Interstate 90 ended at the Ambassador Bridge via Detroit to Ontario. We made a final stop in Toronto to visit friends, then headed for the Eastern Townships to return home.
During our 20-day trip, we adapted our schedule to accommodate Zak’s first time across the country in our van. We took more breaks, visited museums, farms, and parks to keep him entertained and allow him to stretch his legs. We realized that changing our pace made the experience enjoyable for the whole family, and it created lasting memories. We definitely recommend this type of trip for families who want to make unforgettable memories.