East Coast Versus West Coast: The Best Place to be a Snowbird


This map gives you a very visual idea of the amount of Public land on the East and West Coasts. The yellow areas are BLM land and the green is National Forest. Obviously there is much, much more out West. Why is that important? Because you can camp for free on BLM or NF land. Which looks preferable to you?

By Bob Wells

I just got back to Arizona after visiting my mom for three weeks in Florida and while I was there I went to a small gathering of East coast vandwellers that are all on the cheaprvliving.com forums.

I was delighted for the chance to meet them and see how East coast vandwellers lived in the winter because a topic that comes up fairly often on the forum is which is better for vandwellers the East or West coast? I was curious to see how they did it with very little Public Land to camp on. It turns out that in Florida a few of the utilities company will let you camp on their land for free if you ask permission.


This is a recent weather forecast for Ehrenberg, AZ. It’s hot!! So it’s time to move, but where?

That’s especially on my mind because of the terrible winter most of the country has had this year. While many of you were setting records for cold and snow, here in the Southwest we were setting records for warmth and comfort. This has been one of the nicest winters I’ve experienced in the last seven years of spending my winters here.

In fact, as I’m writing this, it’s been in the high 80’s all week and today it will hit 90 for the first time and then stay in the low 90’s the rest of the week. That’s much too hot for me, so being a good Snowbird, it’s time to move! The question is, “Move to where?”

As I think about the ridiculous numbers of great places I could move to I feel really bad for those of you who’ve been enduring that terrible weather and I have to wonder if you are aware you have better choices. Because we live on wheels, we can move to avoid bad weather and find good weather. I think being a Snowbird is the best!


The Prescott National Forest is the perfect place! It’s 20 degrees cooler!!

The problem is people generally tend to stay where they grow up, so if their family is back East, that’s what they know and think is best, or if you grow up out West you think its best. I have the advantage that I didn’t grow up in either place, I lived in Alaska for 45 years so I don’t have family or roots on either coast.

But I have traveled a fair amount around the East; enough to form an opinion of which I think is best.

When I retired and left Alaska in December of 2006 I moved to just outside of Asheville, North Carolina which I think is one of the very nicest places to live west of the Mississippi River. I lived there for 16 months until March of 2008 when I left to live on Public Land out West. While I was there I took several road trips and explored the East Coast. I managed to camp at least one night in each of the Eastern states except Delaware, it was too hard to get to. This is where I explored:

In the spring I went to a gathering of vandwellers in Ohio where we camped for a week on electric utility company campgrounds that were free.


The great thing about the West is you can get such dramatic differences in weather in very short distances. In this case, by moving a mere 250 miles, it’s 20 degrees cooler. In 6 weeks it’ll be too hot there, but I can move another 60 miles to Flagstaff and it’ll drop another 10 degrees.

I spent a week in Washington. D.C. and surrounding areas in April for the Cherry Blossom Festival and explored the Atlantic coast all the way down to Kitty Hawk, NC.

In June I explored Roan Mountain on the Tennessee and North Carolina border during the peak Rhododendron bloom, and fell deeply in love with it!

In the fall I spent 6 weeks as a “Leaf-Pepper” exploring fall colors in New England. I traveled from Niagara Falls to Adirondacks State Park in New York, into Vermont and quite a bit of time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. From there I explored Maine and then followed the fall colors south over the Blue Ridge Highway.

Because my mom lives in Florida, I took numerous trips to visit her and explored Florida in the winter.

I spent a little time on the Natchez Trace.

I found very little free camping in my travels, so I spent most nights in the parking lots of Wal-Mart stores and other black-top boondocking. That’s okay for short trips, but it isn’t how I want to live my life.

In March of 2008 I left North Carolina and have been living the life of a Snowbird on Public Land on the West coast for the last seven years. With very few exceptions, I’ve camped for free on National Forest or BLM land in a beautiful setting without crowds, little noise and without asking permission. For the most part, that simply is not possible back East.

Because I’m from Alaska I don’t have a vested interest in preferring one over the other and yet I’ve lived and traveled in both places. I’m in a unique position to directly compare the two Coasts and form a reasonably fair assessment of which is objectively better. That’s what I’m doing in today’s post.

First, let me say that I’m well aware that circumstances often conspire to limit us to one place and keep us from traveling — that exact thing happened to me. After my divorce my kids went with their mom and lived in Alaska so I had no choice but be a vandweller in Alaska. No matter how much better it would have been somewhere else, I had to stay there.

If you are in that situation, I’m hoping this information will be helpful to you in the future, even if right now your finances, family or friends confine you to one place.


While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the simple fact is that the great majority of our scenic National Parks are in the 12 Western state. California alone has more than all the states East of the Mississippi combined.

Why I believe the West Coast is the best place for every vandweller.

Much better camping. There is dramatically more public land available for dispersed camping out West compared to the East Coast. The sheer number of acres of National Forests (NF) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is so much greater that it’s very easy to find a free camping site in all the Western States.

The BLM is a prime example. It administers more public land – over 245 million surface acres – than any other Federal agency in the United States. Most of this land is located in the 12 Western states, there is almost none in the Eastern states. The map at the top of this page illustrates that dramatically.

Much easier to be a snowbird. Out West it’s easy and cheap to move with the seasons and find comfortable weather year around. In both California and Arizona you can be a snowbird without leaving the state. You can be warm at sea level in the winter and cool at 9000 feet in the summer by only driving 300 miles. No matter how tight your budget, you can probably afford that.

If you can afford to travel, the three big mountain ranges (Rockies, Cascades and Sierras) offer camping up to 12,000 feet that is cool all summer and are also incredibly beautiful.

The weather generally is better. Most of the West has very low humidity so even if it gets hot or cold, it’s much more bearable than the very high humidity that blankets most of the East.

The scenery is spectacular! Because nature photography is my primary hobby, wherever I go I look for not just pretty places, but the places that make you stop dead in your tracks, your jaw to drop, and involuntarily say “Wow!” Those places are common out West, and rare back East.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many pretty places back East and I’ve tried to visit them all. But very few of them take your breath away, bring a tear to your eye and make you say “Wow!” Of course that’s just my subjective opinion but solid evidence can be found in the sheer number of National Parks out West and the very few back East.

Then, when you visit the ones out West the first thing you’ll notice is the giant number of tour buses filled with tourists from foreign countries. When you walk around you’ll hear much more German, Japanese, Italian and Spanish than you will English. People fly in from all over the world to see the scenery out West, very few do to see the scenery back East.

Cities tend to be much more stealth parking friendly. There are many exceptions to that but for the most part there is generally a much greater “Live and let live” attitude in the West.

The weather is much less dangerous. The East is plagued with Tornadoes, Floods and Hurricanes all of which are fairly rare in the West. No one out here lives in fear of them. You’ll probably respond that the East doesn’t have earthquakes. That’s true, but deadly earthquakes are rare here; there certainly is not an earthquake season every year when you grit your teeth and hope you aren’t hit by one.

Plus, if you get inland away from the Pacific coast, they simply stop. Out West, they are a non-issue everywhere except the “Ring of Fire” which is California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

The East is too crowded. This one is totally subjective, but there are just simply too many people packed into too small a space in the East for me to be comfortable. Often, that makes them irritable and unpleasant — but not always. The mountain people in North Carolina were among the nicest I’ve ever met.

Less Noise, Air, Light and People Pollution. I’m looking for peace and quiet in pristine nature. There is very little of that back East but it’s common out West.

The West is wild and untamed. Growing up in Alaska did leave me with one very strong prejudice, I only want to live in a beautiful place full of wild mountains, rivers and animals. I need to live in a place with an edge to it!

I’m addicted to wild, raw nature and that means it must have an element of risk and danger to it. As far as I’m concerned, tamed nature is a ridiculous oxymoron and is not nature at all, it’s a zoo or a park. Those are okay to visit, but I don’t want to live in one!

The East coast is tamed nature; it was destroyed and then rebuilt at man’s whim. To me, I don’t feel awe and wonder or get in touch with the part of my heart that beats with wild, raw, primitive nature; no, I mainly feel sorrow for the humans that are so cut off from nature that they did these terrible things and pity for their victims.

It’s close to Mexico with its very cheap dental work, glasses and prescription medications. The cost of all those things are skyrocketing and health insurance often doesn’t cover them, so being able to get them for pennies on the dollar is a huge plus for the West coast.

As always, there is no one way that works best for everyone. Just because the West is best for me, doesn’t mean it will be best for you. We are all so different and distinct that we must each find our own way through the maze that is our lives.

My only goal here was to lay out some information and give you my reasoning. What you do with it is entirely your decision. My only wish for you, is a wonderful, free, happy life, wherever and however it unfolds.

Republished with permission from CheapRVLiving.com. Bob Wells has been a full-time Van Dweller for 12 years and love’s it. He hopes to never live in a house again.

© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.