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12 Places to Look for Free Overnight RV Parking

Anyone (like myself) who has a tendency to attempt 12+ hour days on the road has probably run into the scenario of needing a place to sleep and needing it fast. Sometimes our distance goals are a bit too lofty, and midway through a drive, we realize an urgent need for some shut-eye.

So what is one to do when road tripping and in need of a safe place to pull off and grab a few hours of sleep?

This can be quite the dilemma when RV parks and motels charge a flat rate for a nightly reservation, regardless of how many hours you intend to be there. I once paid for a whole night at a campground and only stayed for 4 hours before getting on the road again, it wasn’t fun and felt like a massive waste of money.

This incident occurred when I was quite a bit younger and much more inexperienced on the road. If I had the knowledge of the free overnight RV parking locations I have now, I probably would have been able to hold on to that $32.

In this article, I’ve compiled a list of free RV parking options for people who are looking to overnight somewhere on the cheap before hitting the road again.

where to park rv overnight for free

Table of Contents

Reasons for Needing Free Overnight RV Parking

High-mileage days on the road are not the only reason why someone might be looking for a night or two (or more) of free RV parking.

Full-Timers

For many folks that live out of RVs and vans full-time, the biggest appeal to this lifestyle is the money saved on living expenses. Think about it for a second, someone who rents or owns a house is very likely going to be paying a large portion of their monthly income on rent or mortgage payments.

So what if you were to take this exorbitant monthly expense and cut it in half? Or a quarter? What if you were able to make this expense disappear entirely? That’s the goal for many people when they transition into living out of their RV full-time.

By spending a few years living cheaply out of an RV, it is possible to quickly save money for a down payment on a house or to start a business.

Traveling for Work

Journeymen and other contract workers that travel across the country for work often choose to buy themselves an RV in order to have cheap lodging wherever they end up being deployed.

electric workers

If these workers can find free RV parking for the duration of the job, it is possible for them to save a ton on living expenses while they finish their contract.

In addition to the money saved on lodging, some RV-dwelling journeymen that are given a daily living stipend are able to pocket that money and put it directly into savings. Not a bad way to save, huh?

Events

Concerts, festivals, weddings, and sporting events are just a handful of events that might draw people into a location for just a night or two.

By sleeping for free in an RV or even just a car, it is possible to significantly cut down the costs of attending such an event, especially if it is in an expensive city or metropolitan area.

The legality of Free RV Camping

The laws surrounding where you can park and sleep in an RV overnight for free are going to vary state to state and city to city. While there are some federal laws that apply to RV parking, these types of laws are generally created, monitored, and enforced by state or county governments.

So my number one suggestion before hitting the road: research and familiarize yourself with the RV parking laws in your state, or any city/state you will be traveling through. Know the laws, know the nuances, know the loopholes.

Do this, and you can avoid the dreaded midnight knock on your camper window from a state patroller. I’ve been there, it’s stressful.

Where to Park An RV Overnight For Free

Alright let’s get into it. Check out these spots if you are in need of a night or two of free parking.

Business Parking Lots

The following businesses have historically been friendly to RVers and will let people park their rig overnight for free.

RV Parked

If you choose to sleep in the lots of one of these businesses, keep these suggestions in mind to show them gratitude and respect:

  • Park as far in the back as possible, and park well. Don’t take up more spots than necessary and don’t take spots close to the main entrance. If a lot looks particularly full, consider finding a different lot to sleep in so you don’t take up valuable spots for paying customers.
  • Patronize the business you are sleeping at. I know, it sounds counterintuitive if you are trying to save some money. But, more than likely you’ll be spending that same money anyway at some point, and honestly, it’s kind of a d*ck move not to show them a bit of customer love.
  • Don’t plan on partying late into the night (or at all) if you plan on sleeping in a business parking lot. Loud music, smoking, and drinking will all get you booted from a lot pretty quick.
  • Only stay overnight, maybe two nights if you really need to. Abusing these privileges is the quickest way to get them taken away.

Walmart

Walmart, the holy grail of free urban overnight RV parking… or at least it used to be.

Back when I first started traveling around in my camper, it was widely known amongst RVers that anyone could park their camper in the back of a Walmart parking lot and sleep for a night or two, hassle-free and at no cost.

In the last decade, many Walmarts have changed their policy, and no longer allow overnight parking for campers. That said, many still do, so don’t be afraid to give it a shot. Unless there are signs specifically stating that there is a penalty fine if caught boondocking in a Walmart parking lot, the worst they can do is ask you to leave.

You might have to have an uncomfortable conversation with a security guard or local cop, but you know, no pain, no gain.

By the way, I wrote a whole article about my experiences sleeping at Walmart overnight and why Walmart allowed it for so long. Give it a read if you want to hear about the time I spent two whole days hanging out at a Walmart in Montana.

Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel and some other well-established, destination restaurants will sometimes allow free overnight parking for campers. This can be convenient because it’s a free place to stay, and a quick commute across the parking lot for a bite to eat or a nightcap.

If you plan on utilizing a Cracker Barrel parking lot, check with the manager to ensure the location you are at allows, overnighters.

Lowes

Lowes and other large home improvement stores like Home Depot are known for free overnight parking. Because their lots are made to accommodate large construction rigs during the day, they have ample room once the store shuts down and the lots clear out.

Home improvement stores can be hit-or-miss when it comes to overnight RV parking, so be on your toes and be ready to clear out if necessary.

Cabela’s

Cabela’s knows their customers. This hunting and sporting goods store that is found nationwide knows that many of its patrons are stopping in to gear up while traveling on hunting, fishing, or camping trip.

Cabelas Rv parking

To help their road-weary customers out, Cabela’s will commonly allow overnight parking for campers. The same goes for many Bass Pro Shops.

Casinos

Casinos are a pretty reliable spot for a couple of nights of free parking.

A lot of casinos know that some people—especially older, retired folks—like to stop by a casino and gamble a bit while road tripping. Because of this, most casinos will allow for a night or two of free overnight parking… as long as you make sure to visit the casino floor at least once during your stay.

If the casino is hosting a large event such as a concert or sporting event, they may charge you a small fee to park, but typically on weeknights, it will be free.

It’s best to check with reception about overnighting, as casino security can be a bit rough around the edges sometimes.

Planet fitness

Planet Fitness is popular amongst full time RVers for a number of reasons. With super affordable membership fees, Planet Fitness is a great place for people living the RV life to grab a shower, use a clean toilet, and even get a workout in if they feel so inclined.

For a long time, because of their loyal RVer customer base, Planet Fitness and other 24-hour gyms didn’t mind if members slept in their camper in the parking lot.

Unfortunately, that is rapidly changing and many gyms around the country are adjusting policies against boondockers.

If you do have a membership to a 24-hour gym, it couldn’t hurt to ask for permission to overnight, they may be cool with it.

Truck Stops and Rest Areas

Truck stops

There is quite a bit of debate in the RV world over whether or not it is alright to park your RV at a truck stop and sleep for a night.

This debate exists because, on one hand, these lots are built for people with big rigs who need a couple of hours of sleep before continuing on the road. On the other hand, they are built specifically for truckers.

Truckers face strict regulation over how many hours they can drive before being legally required to pull off for some sleep. As a truck driver, pulling off at a truck stop and finding all the spots filled with vacationers in their RVs would be pretty frustrating, don’t you think?

So, if you do choose to try to catch some sleep at a truck stop, keep these things in mind:

  • DO NOT park in the big spots that are for large 18-wheelers. These are for the truckers.
  • Some truck stops accommodate RVs and have parking spots designed for them. If the truck stop you are at has these spots, use them. If not, find a large spot off to the side or towards the back that will not be blocking access to anything.
  • Patronize the convenience store and gas pumps in order to keep truck stop employees happy and on your side.
  • Some truck stops can have lots of interesting characters traveling through them. Make sure to lock your doors and windows before going to bed.

Rest Areas

RV Rest Area

Across the country, most rest areas have signs specifically prohibiting overnight camping. With that said, it is usually possible to get a least a couple of hours of sleep in before a patroller will ask you to move on.

Want to know the easiest way to avoid being talked to? Keep it chill. Don’t pull out camp chairs, the grill, or anything that will make it look like you are doing more than sleeping for a few hours.

If you are ever at risk of falling asleep while driving, definitely pulls off at a rest area and get some sleep. Even if you end up being asked to leave after a while, it’s better than driving off the road and hurting yourself or others.

Urban Boondocking

Parking in a residential area and getting some sleep is commonly known as “stealth camping” or “urban boondocking”. It is a common practice among van lifers who live in cities and people who are coming into a city for just a night or two.

Urban boondocking is going to mostly pertain to people traveling out a camper van, stealthy truck camper, or a car. Other types of RVs are way too conspicuous to stealth camp so it really shouldn’t be attempted.

Here are 5 things to remember if you plan to park in a residential area for some sleep:

  1. Read the vibe of the neighborhood you are parking in. Wealthy neighborhoods will almost definitely call the cops on van dwellers while impoverished neighborhoods might have people prowling around at night. Best to find a quiet neighborhood of middle economic standing.
  2. The best way to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep in a neighborhood is to drive to the parking spot, immediately kill the engine and all the lights, and go right to sleep. This means having your teeth brushed and all pre-bed routines done before parking.
  3. Arrive late, leave early. Be truly stealthy by arriving a couple of hours after dark and leaving before most people wake up. This way, most people in the neighborhood will never know you were ever there. Don’t forget to set an alarm for the morning.
  4. Park in between streetlights and away from houses with bright porch lights. I’ve found parking spots in the middle of neighborhoods that are so dark I couldn’t see my truck until I was half a block away.
  5. Park far away from schools and parks. For obvious reasons, people consider camper vans parked near schools and parks to be very sketchy. Never park overnight near either.

Dispersed Camping

To me, dispersed camping is the true holy grail of free overnight RV parking.

Dispersed camping refers to free camping on land that is managed by government agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the National Forest Service (NFS). It is easy to find free overnight RV parking spots on these types of lands because there are millions of acres of BLM and NFS land in the USA.

Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service Land

BLM and NFS lands are your best bets for finding free dispersed camping.

There are many camping opportunities on these lands right off major highways and because they are so plentiful, you can almost always find somewhere to park.

One thing to keep in mind is that many of the roads on these lands are old logging roads that are not often maintained. If you have a big rig, you might have trouble accessing some of the steeper, rougher forest roads.

Are you interested in a camper trailer that can be taken deep into the backcountry? Check out this super versatile teardrop trailer made by Ecocampor.

Recreation Areas

Recreation areas are pieces of land that are managed by local or state government agencies and are specifically designated for the use of off-highway vehicles (OHV’s). OHV’s are a type of vehicle that can travel on rough, backcountry terrain. These types of vehicles include dirt bikes, ATVs, and dune buggies.

Many state recreation areas (also known as OHV Parks) are managed by the BLM, so there are often the same dispersed camping options that you might find on normal BLM land.

If you do choose to camp in a recreation area, please be intentional about where you park. Make sure to not block any trails or turn-around spots for rigs with trailers.

People who ride OHV’s have very limited options for places to recreate, so it is our job to respect these spaces when we utilize them.

National Parks and Monuments

Sequoia national park

National parks and national monuments are not typically the best places to look for dispersed camping, but it’s not unheard of to find a spot in these areas.

Before attempting to camp in one of these areas, do some research and know the park rules before you enter. There are usually penalty fees if caught illegally camping in a national park or monument.

Closing Thoughts

I’m of the opinion that with enough foresight and diligence, there are very few reasons to ever pay for an RV camping spot.

Between restaurant and box store parking lots, residential neighborhoods, and the plethora of dispersed camping options, it should always be possible to boondock somewhere for virtually no cost.

If you are just needing something quick and convenient right off the highway, finding a big box store parking lot will certainly suffice. But if you are willing to spend the time and money on fuel, I suggest driving into a beautiful wild place for some dispersed camping. It’s always worth it.

As long as you are safe, smart, and courteous, you should have no issues finding places to sleep overnight for free as you tour the country in your RV.

About Author
About Author

Schuyler has been working and playing outdoors his entire adult life. As a ski-bum in his early 20’s, he began building campers in the beds of pickup trucks to pursue a life of freedom and adventure. After a decade of experience as an artist and carpenter in Washington State, he moved to Colorado to work as an RV technician, converting vans into luxury campers. Now he is traveling the world, using writing as a way to continue his passion for creativity and artistry.

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