Get lodging and transportation in one, without the fat price tag or ponderous progress of driving a big RV.

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When I planned a mid-September visit to Yellowstone National Park, I assumed I’d enjoy reasonable shoulder-season lodging rates.


A check of lodging in hotel-crowded West Yellowstone showed rates starting around $182 a night and rising rapidly from there. I was hoping for something less than $120 a night. Yellowstone’s popularity keeps it pricey.

So I looked at camping options, though I hesitated when a check of Yellowstone’s average September temperatures showed nighttime lows often dipping into the 20s and 30s.

My solution: a camper van rented from an outfit in Belgrade, Mont., about 75 miles north of the park.

Campervan North America is a 7-year-old company based in Belgrade (just outside of Bozeman) and with branches in Las Vegas and, as of June, Seattle (actually Kent) — meaning you could rent the same van for a fall trip to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juans. It offers several sizes of vans, including its basic “Edelweiss” model: a 15-foot Ford Transit Connect delivery van converted with a sleeping platform and 5-inch-thick mattress in the back.

After Sept. 15, the daily rate for my six-night rental dropped from $110 to $99. For $99 a day, I got lodging and transportation in a nimble, easy-to-park van (shorter than a Subaru Outback) that was much easier to drive than a big RV. Mileage? In the range of 25 mpg. Just add campsite costs and gasoline.

You’ll pay much more to rent a real RV. But I was also “roughing it” much more in the Edelweiss, which had no kitchen or bathroom. Company President Bob Swan calls it “camping without the tent.”

However, for an extra $55 for the duration of the rental, I got a Kitchen Kit, including a large ice chest, a two-burner propane camp stove, a 5-gallon jug of water and a plastic tote full of cooking pots, pans, dishes, coffee pot, utensils — everything I needed for campground cooking, easily stowed beneath my bed.

The van also got me off the cold ground, out of the rain and safely tucked away from bears. I always sleep better without a grizzly in my bed.

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