When we first heard about the annual Buffalo Round-Up at Custer State Park we knew it was something we needed to experience. Then we found out the 2019 event would occur during our school’s September Break, which made it our obvious destination. With only a week off, we knew we’d need to fly instead of drive. But one of our favorite campgrounds is in Custer, SD. Our solution: an Outdoorsy RV rental. With an RV rental, we’d be able to enjoy a road trip out West in only a week.
Ultimately, we chose to fly into Denver, CO and rent a camper van. Our first stop was a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park. After that, we drove to Custer, SD for the Buffalo Round-Up.
After a week in our Denver camper van rental, we couldn’t be happier with our decision and are excited to share our experience and itinerary with you!
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Why an Outdoorsy RV Rental?
If you’re not familiar with Outdoorsy, it’s basically Airbnb for RV rentals. The platform offers drivable and towable RVs, including just about every type of camping unit option you can think of. Outdoorsy offers everything from Class A motorhomes and fifth-wheels to camper vans and rooftop tents. With all the options, there’s sure to be something for just about any camping style and budget.
For someone who doesn’t own an RV, an Outdoorsy RV rental is a great way to experience the camping and RV lifestyle. In our case, it was a good way to do a road trip out West with limited vacation time.
We chose to rent with Outdoorsy rather than through a more traditional RV rental company for the human connection and we are extremely happy with our decision. Indeed, it was some of the personal touches that made our camper van rental just about perfect.
If you’re trying to decide if an RV is right for you or just want to camp somewhere and don’t have time to drive there, an Outdoorsy RV rental is a great option.
In all of our years of traveling together, we have camped in a tent and in our own 27-foot trailer. Camping in a camper van was a whole different experience. Not necessarily better or worse than our other camping experiences, just different.
For those trying to decide what type of camper to buy, “testing out” several different styles with an Outdoorsy RV rental is a great way to make sure you choose what is best for you.
Outdoorsy Booking Process
The booking process on the Outdoorsy platform is very straight-forward and easy. It’s really not much different than reserving a car or a condo. The best part? An RV rental covers both of those reservations!
You’ll start your search by location. Of course, what is available will depend largely on where you search. I first looked at options in Rapid City, SD, which is the closest “large” city to Custer. Unfortunately, the options were fairly limited, which was not surprising since Rapid City really is not that large. When we decided to add on a visit to Rocky Mountain NP, we searched for RV rentals in Denver. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot more options for Outdoorsy RV rentals in Denver!
After starting your search on Outdoorsy, there are several filters you can use to narrow your options, such as the type of camper, number of people, price or amenities. If you have questions about the camper or the rental process, it is easy to contact the owner through the messaging feature on the Outdoorsy web site.
Some rentals are automatic; others are simply a request and must be “accepted” by the owner. I suppose that is an option that each owner chooses for themselves. Just pay attention to those details so you know what to expect.
Each listing will describe what is included. Our rental included linens, towels, basic kitchen supplies, camp chairs and 150 miles per day. If you’re going to be doing a lot of driving, be sure to pay attention to the mileage allowance. The fee for extra miles can add up quickly if you go over the included allotment.
After considering all our options, we chose an 18-foot camper van.
Choosing the RV Type
If you’ve never RV camped, then choosing the right type of RV could be a bit difficult. We chose a camper van because it is small enough to park just about anywhere but has more amenities than a rooftop tent or truck with a camper top.
Of course, the price was a factor too. A larger RV will certainly cost you more. That’s just basic economics.
After a couple of days in the van, we agreed if we were coming straight from tent-camping, which we did for many years, the camper van would have been glamorous. While a camper van is easy to drive, most are really only designed for 2-3 people. After camping in a 27-foot trailer for the past four years, however, the 18-foot van felt a bit cramped.
Still, our camper van rental was perfect for our itinerary and our budget and we would do it again in a heartbeat.
If you have a lot of people or aren’t used to “roughing it,” you might want something a bit bigger or nicer. Just remember that a large RV will not be easy to drive through a large city or park just anywhere.
If you’re looking for a trailer, consider the vehicle that you’ll use to tow it. You never want to tow more than about 75% of the vehicle’s towing capacity.
In short, when choosing your RV rental, you should consider your itinerary, budget, number of people, where you’ll be driving and camping, and desired amenities.
Preparing for the Trip
Almost immediately upon booking our van, the owner, Glen, contacted me. This first message was simply to thank me for the rental and see if we had any questions. A couple of weeks before the trip he contacted me again to ask our preference on a few options, like keeping the third seat in the camper (which came in handy!). We also discussed the pickup process and he helped us to make sure we knew the best way to get to his house.
Of course, this experience can vary depending on the RV owner, but our experience was a great one! It was these personal touches that really made up feel good about using Outdoorsy for our Denver camper van rental.
Picking up our Outdoorsy Camper Van
From the Denver airport, we took the train into town and then a Lyft to the van location. Again, the pickup location/process should be noted in the Outdoorsy listing, but be sure to ask if that is a determining factor for you. I am confident that some owners would be happy to meet you at the airport, though it might cost a little extra.
Unfortunately, Glen (the van owner) was out of town during our rental, so we didn’t get to meet him. Instead, his neighbor (Erin) assisted us with picking up the van, giving us an orientation and signing the appropriate paperwork. The only downside to Glen not being there was that we didn’t get to meet him and thank him personally for the use of the camper van.
The pickup process took about 20 minutes and was very smooth and easy. Honestly, it really wasn’t much different than picking up a rental car. Of course, there were a few additional considerations such as getting oriented to the van and learning the basics of the battery and where items were stored.
Of course, in our haste to get on with our adventure, we did forget to ask a few important questions, such as where the heater was located and how to plug in the camper. Thankfully, a quick text to our “handler” answered those questions! Unfortunately, the heater was left out of the van. We did have a couple of cold nights and mornings but the heavy-weight blanket made up for it!
Our Denver Camper Van Rental
The van we rented was a fairly basic unit but had everything we needed. We opted to save a little money by not getting a camper that was too large or super glamorous. For example, the drawer unit was actually a large toolbox rather than a dresser or cabinet. It was absolutely perfect, though not necessarily “polished.”
What we enjoyed most about our camper van rental were the little touches such as the binoculars, basic spices and even sunscreen. Additionally, it was obvious that he uses the camper at least somewhat regularly. There were plenty of chargers, small lights in just the right places and tie-downs to keep items from moving around while driving.
At only 18-feet long, our van did lack a table and any sort of bathroom. We were staying in campgrounds every night, though, so that really wasn’t an issue. Still, if having running water or a toilet is something you really want, be sure to include that in your search filters.
You can book the camper van we rented by clicking here.
Our Basic Itinerary
After picking up the van in Denver, we stopped at Walmart for supplies then headed north towards Rocky Mountain NP. We spent our first night in the small town of Lyons, about 30 minutes east of the park. The campground that we found at the county park, LaVern M. Johnson Park, was just about perfect for a one night stay.
From there, we headed into Rocky Mountain NP. Here, we spent three days hiking, driving the scenic roads and looking for wildlife. We spent one night in each of the three campgrounds that were open in late September. While we had spent one brief morning at Rocky Mountain NP on the day after Christmas in 2013, this was our first full visit and it did not disappoint!
From Rocky Mountain, we headed about five hours northeast to Custer, SD. There we spent one day hiking and driving around Custer State Park and another day enjoying the Buffalo Round-Up. Custer SP is regularly rated as one of the country’s best state parks, and deservingly so. The Buffalo Roundup was quite an experience. It really is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
In Custer, we camped at one of our favorite campgrounds, Big Pine RV Park. We first camped there back in 2012 and have been looking forward to a return visit ever since. It may have taken us more than 7 years, but the campground was just as great as we remembered! Indeed, we do hope to have the opportunity to return yet again in the future!
Returning Our Camper Van In Denver
As easy as the camper van pick up was, returning the van was even easier. We were on a bit of a time crunch, especially considering we were driving in from Custer, SD. Additionally, we were going straight to the airport, meaning we had to make sure we arrived in time to drop off the van and get to the airport in time for our flight.
We made sure everything was cleaned and all our stuff was packed before even leaving Custer. Along the way, we checked in with our contact and scheduled a Lyft pickup once we had a reasonably confident arrival time.
Once we arrived at our drop off location (the same house where we picked up the camper van), we simply had to get our stuff out and give Erin a chance to make sure everything looked good. We chatted for a few minutes as we waited for our Lyft to arrive, then took off for the airport.
Truly, the camper van rental return was a quick and easy process. Of course, each individual experience could be different based on the owner and the type of unit. But, for us, it was smooth and painless.
Outdoorsy RV Rental Cost & Fees
Now, the not-so-fun part: the cost of an Outdoorsy RV rental. First, remember that when renting an RV the cost is basically your car and hotel. You’re also paying a bit for the experience, though, so yes, it might cost a little more. And, don’t forget, you’ll still have to pay for your campground, though there are a few free and cheap options out there.
When you start your search for a camper on Outdoorsy, you’ll see the daily rate for each unit displayed with the search results. Some RV rentals offer a weekly or monthly rate, but not all. As you look at the details of the camper, you’ll see the taxes and required fees added onto the base price, all shown clearly on the right side of your screen.
Be sure to scroll down to see all of the camper details, amenities, rules, options and customer reviews.
One thing that is a little frustrating is the potential extra costs, but I suppose that is somewhat common with any sort of rental these days. Thankfully, most of these are optional.
Many of the Outdoorsy RV rentals have optional add-ons for linens, tank dumping, delivery or other extras. Of course, these will not show in your total cost as you begin your search. We made a point to choose a camper van rental that included all necessary linens and other items. If you’re renting from somebody local you’ll have a better opportunity to bring your own gear and could potentially save a little money.
Outdoorsy also offers insurance, which is required, I believe, on all units. There are three different levels of insurance to choose from; for that reason, this cost does not show on the required taxes & fees.
We chose the cheapest insurance option at about $20/day. You’ll see that additional cost added on once you make your selection and request booking. If interested, you can also add on damage protection, roadside assistance or trip insurance. We declined all of these coverages.
When you book, you’ll have to put down a deposit. Our initial deposit was about 30% of the total cost. Outdoorsy collected the remaining charges about two weeks before our trip.
One last fee consideration for your Outdoorsy RV rental is the security deposit. Our security deposit was charged to our credit card a couple of days before we picked up the camper van rental. And yes, it was a charge, not just a hold. Our deposit was a little more than half of the overall rental cost, so not an insignificant amount.
The Outdoorsy web site says “some owners charge a security deposit upfront.” Based on this wording, I suppose you may be able to avoid that charge. I would expect it is a relatively common charge, though.
After returning the camper van, it took a little over a week for us to actually get the deposit back. I do think it took a little longer than normal because Glen (the owner) didn’t return from his trip until a couple of days after our rental. Additionally, the funds were released on a Friday; I expect that the weekend slowed down the processing time.
Final Thoughts on our Outdoorsy RV Rental
The Denver camper van rental through Outdoorsy really turned out to be a fabulous experience for us. After tent camping and camping with a trailer, it was interesting to try something different. I don’t know that I’d say it was better or worse, just different. If you’re looking to be on the go a lot and don’t need a ton of space, then a camper van rental is not a bad option.
Our itinerary involved us staying in a different campground each night in Rocky Mountain NP, then driving 350 miles to Custer. With all this driving, the camper van was just about perfect. I think we might have been more comfortable in a slightly larger van, but that is only because of our time traveling in our own trailer.
The Outdoorsy rental platform is super easy to use and, depending on your location, there really is something for everyone’s needs and budget. We especially enjoyed the personal touch of renting from an individual rather than a company.
This was our first experience renting through Outdoorsy, but it won’t be our last. In fact, we’ve already booked a Jeep with a rooftop tent for our upcoming time in Maui during the summer of 2020. Yes, that will be a bit more rustic but we’re excited about yet another camping adventure!
Whether you are new to RVing and are just testing out the whole camping experience or you’re combing a flight with a camping trip, an Outdoorsy RV rental is a great way to vacation outdoors.
We are grateful to the folks at Outdoorsy for reaching out to us about becoming an affiliate of their program and working with us on this trip. As always, we don’t recommend anything we haven’t used and enjoyed. All opinions remain our own.
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
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We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
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If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
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We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
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As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
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We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
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We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
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We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.