Vanagon culture in the Pacific Northwest: Where to find the best rentals, routes, and repairs

Volkswagen ceased production on its boxy campervan in the early ‘90s, but they are still popular road trip vehicles

There’s a special culture that has taken root in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), and it revolves around campervans—Volkswagen Vanagon campervans, to be exact. It’s not uncommon to see these vans out and about in the region, and some visitors will even fly in just to rent a Vanagon. Vanagon culture is for those who wish to live life in the slow lane, unleash their inner free spirit, and spend time in the great outdoors.

There’s something about the camaraderie of Vanagon drivers that is hard to put into words. Maybe it’s the wave you exchange when you see another driver. Maybe it’s the shared love of a good road trip. Maybe it’s the fact that you can never quite predict what will happen when you hit the open road in one of these vintage vehicles. Whatever it is, it’s definitely special.

If you’re looking to get in on the action, here are some tips on how to rent a Vanagon, suggested road trip routes, and expert repair shops in the area.

A retro style campervan sits parked alongside towering trees.
Photo: Mark Joy

What is a Vanagon?

The Volkswagen Vanagon is a classic campervan first built in 1980, with the last year of production in 1991. Vanagon full campervans have an iconic boxy shape and can easily seat four people. They’re powered by a four-cylinder engine that runs on diesel or gasoline, depending on the model.

The interior of the campervans features a large cargo area with plenty of room for camping and adventure gear. There’s also plenty of room to sleep, with a pop-top roof sleeping area and cushioned bench seating that converts into a bed.

The full camper version includes an exterior propane tank that fuels a two-burner stove and refrigerator. It also has a sink and electrical and water hookups.


Vanagon rentals and repairs

If you’re looking to take part in PNW Vanagon culture without making a commitment to purchasing one—in good condition, they can be priced at around $30,000—there are several van rental companies located throughout the greater Seattle area.

Peace Vans

Peace Vans, located in Seattle, is a one-stop shop for all things Vanagon, including rentals, camping gear, repairs, sales, and modifications—they even perform electric motor conversions, providing these services for other campervans, too.

Peace Vans is focused on getting you outside so you can experience life in new and profound ways. In 2013, its team took over what was then a small and struggling shop, but one with lots of potential. The new team now has one of the best VW Vanagon shops in the PNW.

PacWesty

PacWesty offers incredible Vanagon rental experiences from the scenic Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The company offers vans, gear, and local knowledge to get you out and exploring.

PacWesty calls Bainbridge Island—reachable by ferry from Seattle—its home. The 6,000-square-foot facility stocks special tools and has an extensive parts inventory that makes it the go-to destination for VW van service, repair, and restoration.

Black Forest Westfalias

Based in Fall City, Washington, Black Forest Westfalias (BFW) is a 10-year-old family-owned business that provides services to the greater Seattle area. BFW takes pride in being the longest-running Westfalia rental service in the area, as well as offering the only fully-Ford-engine-converted fleet.

Its small fleet of four Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia rentals is meticulously maintained, perfectly modified, and upgraded for PNW adventures. BFW also offers gear upgrades, including bike racks and canoes. While the rental company doesn’t offer repairs or maintenance services, the owner is an expert at maintaining his small fleet of Vanagons.


Road trip routes

Once you’ve rented your Vanagon, you’re ready to start your PNW adventure. Here are a few recommended routes and points of interest for exploring.

Oregon Coast

On this tour of the Oregon coast along the winding Highway 101, you’ll see many different landscapes, including haystack rocks, sand dunes, capes, bluffs, bridges, the Columbia River, and the Pacific Ocean. You won’t feel in a rush in your Vanagon on this mostly two-lane road that hugs the coast.

Camping and hiking options are plentiful along this route with 13 state parks and many natural areas. Tons of restaurants and breweries dot the coast, along with historical sites such as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Stevens Park, which was built during World War I.

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is a must-visit if you’re coming to the PNW. This route is perfect for a weekend getaway.

Starting from Seattle, head to the base of Mount Rainier National Park. Drive through lush forests of tall cedar and pine trees, and cruise past meadows as you climb higher in elevation. You’ll find plenty of stops on the way toward the summit, like the Paradise area and Sunrise, the highest point reachable via car. There are also several campgrounds along this route, featuring scenic views and hiking trails.

During the summer months, take advantage of the warm weather and go backpacking or rock climbing. During winter, enjoy activities such as snowshoeing or skiing at Crystal Mountain.

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