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Central Oregon Camping: VW Style

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One of the best parts about living in Central Oregon is we have the ability to get away from it all in no time at all.

In under an hour we can go from our homes or offices to tranquil campgrounds in the middle of the forest, next to high alpine lakes among majestic mountain peaks. In fact, it’s not uncommon for locals in the summer to head up to the high lakes mid-week for a paddle and overnight camp out, returning to town the next day in time to get to work.

A new Central Oregon business hopes to help visitors get out into the woods overnight – and you don’t even have to bring your own tent or sleeping bag.

Bend Westy rents Volkswagen Westfalia and Eurovan campers for about the same price as a hotel room during the peak summer tourism season. But instead of room service and fine dining options, you get nature right out your front door. That’s a pretty good trade-off if you ask me.

“Mountains, lakes, rivers, trails, and rocks, oh my!  While the Westy Way savors the journey as much as any given destination, your travel spirit will be well fed by savoring the myriad of scenic and outdoor adventure destinations in Oregon.

With over 100 mountain lake and riverside camping destinations with 75 miles of our home base in Bend and three of Oregon’s 7 Wonders in our backyard, there’s no shortage of opportunities to seek out your private wilderness retreat.” — from BendWesty.com

The process is pretty simple: Just visit BendWesty.Com and reserve the camper you want. From there, you’ll arrange a time to go pick it up. Along with a couple of vans owned by Bend Westy, several locals list their campers with the site. The company hopes to add more vans in 2017.

After emailing the van’s owner, we set up a time to meet (and it just so happened she lived just a couple blocks away from me.) I met her at her house and we went through the ins and outs of her 1999 Eurovan’s camping features, which included an awning, built-in sink and propane stove, two camp chairs, a cooler, folding table, two sleeping areas and satellite radio.

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We were able to pick up the van on a Thursday night. The next afternoon, under gray skies and a persistent drizzle, my 2-year-old daughter and I headed up the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. Just 40 minutes later, we arrived at the Elk Lake Campground (past the entrance to Elk Lake Resort, which also has campsites available.) I found a nice spot with a view of the lake and started setting up shop.

In no time at all, I had the awning up, the heater going and some classic rock playing. (The 2-year-old was absolutely no help at all.)

Later, after school was out, my wife, infant daughter and 13-year-old son arrived at the campsite ready for a weekend of relaxing. The weather forced us to nix the campfire and huddle inside the van for the evening, but it was kind of fun. We cooked some pasta and chicken on the camp stove and called it an early night. The camper came equipped with everything we needed to cook dinner including pots and pans, dinnerware and utensils, running water, propane and more.

The van even had an exterior shower sprayer hooked up to the rear that made it easy to wash dishes and could serve as a shower if necessary.

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The campers sleep four adults – but my son and toddler daughter slept in our mini van while my wife, infant daughter and myself slept in the camper. It got a little chilly – temps dipped into the 30s – but thanks to the auxiliary battery, we were able to run the heater on and off during the night to keep things toasty warm and not worry about running down the car battery. (Even without the heater, the van was warmer – and drier – than a nylon tent would have been.)

Overnight the skies cleared (so many stars!) and we were greeted with an amazing sunrise, bright blue skies and Indian Summer temps the rest of the weekend. We played around on a beach area of Elk Lake, relaxed with friends at the campsite and had a nice dinner at the Elk Lake Resort Lodge. Canoe, kayak and SUP rentals are available at the resort during the summer and there’s plenty of great hikes just a couple of minutes from the Elk Lake Campground.

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The Bend Westy experience is an amazing alternative to run of the mill hotel lodging. For additional fees, Bend Westy will provide sleeping bags, pads, pillows & more. All you’d have to do to create the perfect Central Oregon VW camping adventure is stop by the store for some provisions.

You’re able to take the vans as far away as you want – or you can stay as close to town as you want. (Tumalo State Park is a great camping spot right in the middle of Bend. And there are a several great camping options less than an hour from Bend.)

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Bend Westy rentals are available on a daily basis for a 3 day minimum and 14 day maximum.
  • Rental rates vary by vehicle and season, they range from $145-$195/day. Please see the “Reserve” page for specific vehicle rates and availability
  • Daily rate includes 100 driving miles per day.  Miles beyond the accumulation of 100 per day will be charged $0.50 per mile.
  • All rentals are subject to a $50 cleaning fee.
  • Pets are welcome for an additional $50 cleaning fee per pet.
  • Children under 8 are charged an additional $50 cleaning fee per child.
  • A 25% deposit is required to make the reservation.  Full payment is due 14 days prior to pick-up date.  A $1,000, refundable damage deposit is required.
  • Roadside assistance is included in each rental (on supported roads)
Central Oregon Visitors Association
The Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA) is the "Official" Tourism Information Resource for Central Oregon, including the communities of Bend, Sunriver, Redmond, Sisters, La Pine, Madras, Prineville, Crooked River Ranch, Terrebonne, Culver and Black Butte Ranch. Most of the stories posted online can be found in the Official Central Oregon Visitors Guide.