The Best Ski Resorts for Camping in the Parking Lot

Published on 05/08/2023 · 8 min readCamping in your car is a great way to explore new ski areas without spending tons of money on a hotel! Check out these 5 best ski resorts for parking lot camping!
Emily Halporn, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Emily Halporn

Sunny Day Apres. Photo by Emily Halporn

tl;dr While sleeping in a vehicle overnight, in the dead of winter, only to wake up at the crack of dawn to ski might not be appealing to most, it’s a frequent pastime of those self-proclaimed “ski bums”. And it can quickly become a favorite hobby of yours, too—if you know the right spots. In this article, we will discuss some of the best locations for this cost-saving practice, along with some tips and tricks to make your experience as comfortable as possible!

Car Camping—Why Bother? Car camping is a budget friendly way to experience different mountains and beat the morning ski traffic coming in from town. The resort parking lot can also be a really fun community environment, with skiers from all over the country taking part in the apres scene. With many resorts joining the Epic or Ikon Pass systems, bouncing around to different mountains has become more accessible than ever, making it the perfect time for a road trip!

Tips and Tricks for Car Camping:

Car camping set up in my Subaru Forester!

  • Be prepared with ample food and water—not all parking lots will have access to fresh water or supplies
  • Know the snow removal schedule and park accordingly
  • Keep yourself and others safe by sharing your location with others
  • Invest in a warm sleeping bag—yes, warmer than you think you need!
  • Insulate your windows and windshield
  • Make sure you have snow tires and your vehicle maintenance is up to date

Our Top 5 Ski Resorts for Car Camping

  1. Mt. Bachelor: Best for the “Bougie”
  2. Killington Ski Resort: Best for East Coasters
  3. Grand Targhee Resort: Best for Powderhounds
  4. Schweitzer Mountain: Best for Family Fun
  5. Whitefish, Montana: Best for Avoiding Crowds

#1. Mt. Bachelor: Best for the “Bougie”

  • Location: Bend, Oregon
  • Key info: 2 peaks, 101 trails, 17 lifts, 462 inches in average snowfall
  • Distance: Roughly 4 hours drive from Portland

The famed Mt. Bachelor is the sixth largest ski resort in the United States. Only a thirty minute drive from downtown Bend, Oregon, this stratovolcano has one of the longest ski seasons in North America—typically lasting from late November through the end of May.

Mt. Bachelor is home to a series of Woodward-Certified terrain parks, ranging from beginner to expert, so skiers can move up in difficulty as they progress. For those who would like a break from the slopes, guests can choose from 53 km of groomed nordic trails, snowshoeing, or even dog sledding!

Key Camping Info

  • Parking Spot: West Village Base Area
  • Reservations required: Yes
  • Average Cost per Night: $65–75, or $45–50 with no RV hookup
  • RV Electric/Water Hookups: Yes
  • Maximum Number of Nights: 7 days with a 2-night minimum

Expert Review

I love how the shape of this volcano allows for 360 degrees of skiable terrain. Plus, the summit lift gives access to steep chutes and bowls. The downside is that snow conditions on the upper half of the mountain can be very unpredictable, and often result in closures.

The parking lot camping here is definitely on the bougier side, with amenities such as showers, bathrooms, and power hook ups. By itself, that’s pretty appealing after a long day of skiing. And while it’s much more affordable than a lodgeside hotel room, camping reservations are much pricier when compared to other resorts on this list.

#2. Killington Ski Resort: Best for the East Coasters

  • Location: Killington, Vermont
  • Key Info: 7 peaks, 155 trails, 21 lifts, 215 inches in average snowfall
  • Distance: Roughly 3 hours drive from Boston

Killington is one of the better-known ski resorts in New England. Famous for its moguls, parks, and apres scene, this mountain is a must for East Coasters. Located in southern Vermont, the resort can be easily accessed by taking the VT Trans Line bus up to Rutland, Vermont, where a ski bus shuttles guests to the mountain.

The resort is also home to several terrain parks—one of which is made entirely out of wood. Killington is also one of the annual hosts of the FIS World Cup Series races, an event which draws thousands of spectators each year.

Key Camping Info

  • Parking Spot: Skyeship Lot
  • Reservations Required: No
  • Average Cost per Night: Free
  • RV Electric/Water Hookups: No
  • Maximum Number of Nights: 2 nights per week

Expert Review

Killington is one of my favorite resorts in Vermont. I mostly head down there in the early and late seasons. The snow-making infrastructure allows for early access, and the snowpack usually lasts through mid-May. Plus, the world-famous Superstar Trail boasts some of the biggest moguls in the region.

My only beef with Killington are the long lines and crowds that typically congregate on powder days and busier times of the season. To combat this, the resort offers a fast-track pass that allows premier line access for its higher-paying customers. Overall, I believe it is worth sleeping in the parking lot to catch some freshies, or for convenient relaxation after a long day harvesting corn.

#3. Grand Targhee Resort: Best for Powderhounds

  • Location: Alta, Wyoming
  • Key Stats: 3 peaks, 72 trails, 6 lifts, 500+ inches in average snowfall
  • Distance: Roughly 1.5 hours drive from Jackson Hole

With such a high average annual snowfall, who wouldn’t want to stake out an early-bird spot in Grand Targhee’s parking lot? Camping here is definitely favored by locals and tourists alike, facilitating an early start to fresh tracks.

With shuttles running from the Jackson Hole airport, this seemingly remote area is very accessible for out-of-town travelers. While there are no crazy couloirs or wide-open bowls, a majority of the terrain is catered towards intermediate to advanced skiers.

Key Camping Info

  • Parking Spot: Lot 2
  • Reservations Required: No
  • Average Cost per Night: Free
  • RV Electric/water Hook ups: No
  • Maximum Number of Nights: 2 nights per week, no RVs

Expert Review

Grand Targhee is opportunely located on the western slopes of the Tetons, where massive storms from the Pacific tend to land. As a powderhound myself, this is enticing enough; and combined with the resort’s unpretentious atmosphere, it’s my paradise.

The region’s abundance of snow can make for an interesting camping experience—something like waking up to find your vehicle buried. Though in my mind, it’s definitely worth digging to enjoy this resort.

#4. Schweitzer Mountain: Best for Family Fun

  • Location: Sandpoint, Idaho
  • Key Info: 3 peaks, 92 trails, 10 lifts, 300 inches in average snowfall
  • Distance: 1.5 hours drive from Spokane

Schweitzer Mountain Resort is a somewhat isolated ski town located in the northern tip of Idaho. It is continuously ranked the top family-friendly ski resort in the Pacific Northwest, and offers a healthy blend of beginner, intermediate, and advanced terrain.

The resort’s most prominent features are the front and back bowls of the mountain, as well as ample tree skiing. And unlike most resorts in the greater area, the mountain is independently owned and operated!

Key Camping Info

  • Parking Spot: Fire Station Lot, located 1 mile from lifts on Schweitzer Mountain Road
  • Reservations Required: No
  • Average Cost per Night: Free
  • RV Electric/Water Hookups: No
  • Maximum Number of Nights: 3

Expert Review

I really enjoy the steep terrain that Schweitzer offers, and its two bowls provide a lot of different ski lines. Plus, free overnight parking never hurts. However, that also means a further walk from the lifts, which is the major downside to camping here. Further, a lack of water or electric hook ups calls for more pre-trip preparation.

#5. Whitefish Mountain Resort: Best for Avoiding the Crowds

  • Location: Whitefish, Montana
  • Key Info: 3 peaks, 113 trails, 11 lifts, 300 inches in annual snowfall
  • Distance: Roughly 3 hours drive from Missoula

In the northwestern corner of Montana, bordering Yellowstone National Park, lies a laid-back mountain resort by name of Whitefish. Named for the nearby town, this ski area is free from glitz and glam—allowing athletes to focus on their skiing.

The resort is mainly known for the Hellfire Run, which is a grueling 2.52 miles long. However, there is also a healthy mix of beginner trails, groomed cruisers, and expert chute lines that allow for a wide diversity of skiers and riders to enjoy themselves on appropriate terrain.

While the resort doesn’t possess a bustling apres and nightlife scene, that’s of little consequence to those sleeping in their cars in search of fresh tracks.

Key Camping Info

  • Parking Spot: Willow Trail Lot
  • Reservations Required: No
  • Average Cost per Night: $15
  • RV Electric/water Hook ups: No
  • Maximum Number of Nights: 3

Expert Review

Truthfully, I am always partial to a mountain that focuses on the joy of skiing as opposed to the amenities which typically overshadow larger resorts. So, Whitefish’s easy-going attitude makes for a very welcoming atmosphere, especially when hanging out in the parking lot.

Overall, good vibes can be found all around this well-kept Western secret. My only grievance is the frequent cloudy and gray weather. It can be difficult to hang dry wet ski clothes if there is no sunshine.

Connect With a Real Expert

Backcountry ready - showing off tech gear before a backcountry ski after camping in a Tacoma.

Whether you’re looking to catch fresh tracks after a storm or simply save some money, I hope this list has helped to prepare you for your next adventure. And if you’d like a bit more help with planning, reach out to a Curated Skiing Expert, like me. Our knowledge team is always happy to provide free, customized gear recommendations and travel tips.

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