If you are an RVer, you've been in these shoes: that moment when you decide you were done driving and want to just find some free RV parking so you can sleep.
Who wants to spend an average of $35 for a night just to turn off your engine and crawl into bed when there are free options out there? (Not I!)
There are much easier (and cheaper) ways to pull over and sleep.
You probably already know about Walmart parking. But did you know that not nearly as many of their stores allow overnight parking as there used to be?
And did you know that there are many other options for free RV parking out there? If not, you're about to find out.
NOTE: I did not include Boondockers Welcome or Harvest Hosts in this free RV parking article as they technically cost money and you need to reserve. So they aren't as easy and they are not free as the below named places generally are.
Also, please remember, it is NOT your right to be able to park at these places, it is a privilege. Treat it as so.
OR, if you use/try the ones I mention that are, well, sort of bordering on NOT legal, but are still pretty harmless, do it RIGHT and don't stand out or bring attention to yourself OR OVERSTAY YOUR STAY.
Ok, enough of me yelling at you. Let's do this!
Walmart Free RV Parking
This one likely isn't news to you unless you've been living under a rock.
There's a ton of information about how to park at Walmart parking lots on the internet already, so I'm not going deep here.
We even already have an article which is 100% dedicated to teach you the do's and don'ts when staying at a Wallyworld while Wallydocking.
In short, Wallyworld is famous for allowing RVers and car campers overnight parking. This doesn't mean they allow CAMPING. You should pull in late-ish, park, eat, and go to sleep, being as 'stealth' and unobtrusive as possible.
Just be aware NOT ALL WALMARTS allow overnight parking anymore. Call and check with the Walmart you are interested in staying at before planning an overnight stay.
Or, use an App such as Allstays to find out if they allow parking or not.
When traveling on interstates and highways, there are usually rest stops along the way.
Some allow overnight parking and some do not. Even if they don't, in an emergency, you can likely pull in and sleep for a couple of hours without harm.
When relying on this free RV parking, it's best to TRY to plan ahead by researching that particular rest stop.
However, they often don't give much more information than just the fact that there's a rest stop.
I've never felt unsafe at a rest stop. If you feel iffy or unsure, move along.
This one tends to have some controversy attached to it.
The controversy stems from whether RVs should park in the large spots that the truckers use.
First, just know that just about any 'truck stop' gas station allows free RV parking for the night. Of course, they are also expecting you to get gas there or otherwise patronize the business as 'payment'.
The controversy and big stink comes from whether it's ok for RVs to park in the big spots. We have already covered our stance on this subject in this post about truck stops. (DO NOT park in their spots is our stance. You have other options, they do not. You are on vacation, they are working.)
Get Creative When Parking At Truck Stops
Large truck stops such as Love's or Pilot sometimes have pull-through spots MADE for RVs. If this isn't the case, you can simply try to find an area off to the side where you can park.
I mean, where would you park if you were going in the store but didn't need gas? You'd find a place out of the way. Do exactly that when looking for an overnight spot.
It's going to be a noisy night. Use your earplugs or sound machine or download a sound machine app on your phone and use it!
(I use this White Noise app.)
Truck stops feel quite safe to me. Never felt in danger or uneasy. They are populated and busy, just like any other gas station.
Just keep your awareness about you. And obviously, lock up your stuff.
Gas Station Free RV Parking
Not all gas stations will welcome you. But often, they don't care if you're there.
It's not like the employee running the register is regularly going outside to check on the parking lot for overnighters. (But they probably have cameras.)
In this event, I'd try to find a spot on the side where I am not blocking any traffic but am also not so far back in the shadows that I become a target for a criminal.
The bigger the gas station, possibly the better.
I wanted to stay overnight at a Buc-ees (a popular gas station) in Texas once, but they did not allow overnight RV parking. Maybe some do. Whatever gas station you want to try, you'll have to ask.
Your chances of success are probably better in a more rural area than an in-town busy station.
You could ask to park... or just arrive very late and leave very early.
I've done this a couple of times. Long as it's not a hotel or motel that needs a parking permit, this is a very viable option in some places.
In highly desirable areas where there are city ordinances banning overnighting in a vehicle, the hotels/motels are probably on to people doing this.
You're reaching if you try this in such an area.
I stayed overnight once at a motel next to a truck stop that was JAM packed and I simply couldn't find a good spot out of the way.
The motel was across the street. I nestled myself back into a corner and fitfully spent the night and left early in the AM. I was nervous about being called out.
But anyway, this could be an option for you. You decide whether to ask or to just 'risk' it.
These may be more off the beaten path than your route. Regardless, some towns will offer a place for you to park for the night in a city park.
Be aware that this option, by nature, probably is one of the highest in terms of crime possibilities. Some city parks are havens for the homeless or for drug deals, etc.
Being IN town, a public space, and dark/quiet, the chances are higher that someone may try to break into your tow vehicle or toad in the night. Just be aware.
Otherwise, some parks allow free overnights, and some charge a nominal fee.
It's simply one more option.
Also, be aware that the parking lot may not be very accommodating if you have a very long/large RV.
Use Google satellite view before you go to determine if you can get around the parking lot and where you could park.
My best suggestion to finding them is to use Campendium to find if there's a nearby park offering free overnight RV parking.
Some cities, such as Salt Lake City, allow overnight RV parking on certain streets for X number of hours or days.
There will DEFINITELY be rules. In SLC in particular, you are only allowed something like 3 days to park an RV on the street.
However, you ARE NOT allowed to stay in the RV overnight (oops!).
If you want to try for this, don't make it obvious you are inside if sleeping is not allowed (and it's probably not).
I disconnected my tow vehicle from my trailer, thinking it was totally ok. I had lights on inside at night. (I wasn't overnighting. I was staying. Didn't know that that wasn't allowed.)
It wasn't long before I was reported and had to move.
Moral of the story is, find out what is and is not allowed. This is not an easy feat to do. Still, it's doable where it's doable.
I mean... do this at your own risk. This is also a place criminals might be lurking.
You might find a nice open and well-lit vacant lot that will work for you.
Be aware you may get a knock in the middle of the night. It could be the owner, it could be the police.
Just be prepared to move on short notice. Don't draw attention to yourself AKA don't put down your stabilizers, don't put out slides, don't have your step out, NOTHING. Lights off at night.
This will increase your chances of harmlessly sleeping for the night and leaving early early in the AM without intervention.
Camping World, among others, will sometimes allow free RV parking overnight.
Simply ask! Call ahead. They will often be especially accommodating if they are doing some service work on your RV the next day.
OR, let them know you are passing through, and are in the market for a new RV (Even if it's not true). They will likely allow you to stay so you can peruse the lot the next morning.
I have never utilized a dealership. I DID utilize a parking area at a service center before.
They allowed myself and Marshall to park overnight as my axle was on order and getting replaced the next day.
Casinos often love RVers! Well, they love the ones that come in and patronize their casino, anyway.
Since they have huge parking lots as it is, there is plenty of room. Many allow a few nights (not just one!) of stay in the hopes you will stay to gamble.
Chances are you will have to register, so it's not the easiest of free stays. It's still pretty easy.
Again- they aren't necessarily the quietest of stays, depending on the casino. Still, it's an option if there's one on your route.
There may be no room when you arrive. Have a backup plan. Or reserve ahead if possible.
Ask Any Business To Overnight Park
Hey, if it's a parking lot and it's empty at night, it's a possibility! If you don't arrive too late, simply go in and ask the owner if they would mind if you stayed overnight.
Of course, it wouldn't hurt to patronize the business before you ask.
And be very clear that you aren't going to cause problems, stay more than one night, etc.
The worst they can do is say no!
This works best for businesses that own the building and parking lot and stand alone. This means strip malls are out.
Think large furniture stores, movie theaters, maybe propane stores such as Murdoch's or Tractor Supply. ANY privately owned place could work.
Even places like churches and big box stores (Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, Petsmart, Lowe's, Home Depot, Top Golf, Kmart, etc), independent grocery stores, and others are possibilities.
Ask the manager. Or arrive after hours and take your chance.
If you do ask, kindness goes a long way. If you are kind and courteous when you ask, and the business owner knows you are simply in a jam or you JUST want to stay the night, they might say yes.
Again- especially if you drop some greenbacks into their business.
Free RV Parking Wherever The Heck
Say you are tired/falling asleep at the wheel and can't drive anymore.
In this case, I would recommend simply pulling over somewhere and looking for ANYWHERE to park. Even if it's at, say, a mall, on a street, a grassy lot or on the interstate off-ramp. Park and hit the hay.
If you get a knock on your door, simply don't answer it.
Worst that can happen here is a cop knocks. Still, if they don't know anybody is inside, what can they do?
Are they going to have you towed? Not likely.
You may just get a written warning citation on your windshield.
Even if you do answer, you can tell them you were falling asleep at the wheel so you pulled over.
A police officer still may direct you to leave, but you can ask them where is a place you can legally stay for a couple of hours.
They will probably know about a place or two.
Sadly, there may be some day ahead of us where free overnight RV parking is a thing of the past.
Walmarts have already had to cut back on many stores allowing overnight parking because of the people who are essentially squatting in their parking lots, or who dump their tanks and litter, cause a ruckus, harass the patrons, use it as their campground (like the guy above), etc.
Sometimes it's a city ordinance that causes the disallowance. Usually ordinances like that happen for the same reasons listed above.
Either way, it's 2021 and as of yet, there are still some options out there.
Now you have a plethora of choices for free RV parking overnight!
There are other options such as staying free on BLM land or in national forests (public lands).
But usually, those areas are one's destination, not a place for overnight. (Though yes, overnighting is totally feasible on public lands.)
For other public places, follow the rules. And don't stay long, don't fire up your generator for hours (or AT ALL if possible), don't use slides if you don't have to, keep your stabilizers up and lawn chairs inside. Then leave early in the morning.
Patronize the business you're staying at if there is one.
Do all of that and you should be happily on your way the next day.
So, which of these suggestions are you going to try?
Author: Kelly Beasley
He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona.