Staying at RV parks and campgrounds adds up fast, especially on long trips.
That’s why many RVers and vandwellers turn to boondocking to save money. Although I personally prefer dispersed camping in National Forests and on BLM land, it’s good to know that free overnight parking camping is available – and legal – in many store parking lots as a backup.
Here is the ultimate list of stores that offer free overnight parking for RVs, vans, and vehicle campers.
Stores that Offer Free Overnight RV Parking
Just because store policy allows overnight parking, doesn’t mean local ordinances do.
Many cities have laws that prohibit sleeping in vehicles which cancel out store policy. Always double-check (by calling ahead or checking in the store) before crawling into bed for the night.
Here are a few nationwide chains that often do allow free overnight parking for camping:
- Walmart – My go-to for parking lot camping, although many locations no longer allow overnight parking (due to city ordinances). I generally avoid Walmart camping in or near cities and opt for those in smaller towns and rural areas.
- Cracker Barrel – Although their parking lots can be small (many aren’t large enough for big RVs), Cracker Barrel is my second favorite store for parking lot camping. And, you just can’t beat a cheap, hearty breakfast after a night of free camping!
- Cabela’s – Many Cabela’s locations allow free RV camping in their parking lots. Some even have RV dump stations. In my experience, you usually get a free dump code with an in-store purchase. Otherwise, you can pay to dump your RV waste separately.
- Bass Pro Shops – Some Bass Pro Shops offer free RV boondocking in their parking lots. Call ahead to double-check.
- Camping World – Once popular among RV campers, most Camping World locations no longer allow overnight RV parking. The change came when the brand moved from RV part sales to a full-blown RV dealership. You can still sometimes find a location that welcomes RV campers, but it’s somewhat rare.
- Lowes – Some Lowe’s home improvement stores allow free RV camping in their parking lots, although this seems less common than other stores on this list.
- Home Depot – Just like Lowe’s, many Home Depot locations offer free overnight parking for RVers and vandwellers.
- Menards – Many Menards locations welcome overnight parking lot camping, although, like most locations on this list, it depends on local ordinances.
- Costco – RV camping is allowed at many (although not all) locations. Unlike shopping in the store or buying gas, overnight parking in a Costco parking lot does not require a Costco membership. That said, if you are a member, camping at Costco is very convenient for stocking up on groceries and other supplies.
Remember that you’ll be boondocking when camping in a store parking lot. Don’t expect any hookups or other amenities. It’s dry camping all the way.
Other Overnight Parking Options
The above store parking lots are far from the only locations for overnight parking. That said, many of the locations below require stealth camping (i.e. overnight parking without anyone notice you’re sleeping inside your vehicle).
Here are a few additional locations to look for overnight camping in parking lots:
- Casinos – Many tribal casinos offer free overnight parking for RVs, vans, and other self-contained vehicles. I love casino camping because of its widespread availability, quick access to dining and entertainment, and on-site security.
- Gas Stations – Some gas stations, especially those in very rural areas (i.e. the middle of nowhere), offer free overnight parking. Generally, these are gas stations which also offer free parking for semi-truck drivers, although they are not truck stops. Expect to park in a large, probably noisy gravel parking lot with trucks coming and going at all hours.
- Truck Stops – Although truck stops are designed for use by truckers, many locations welcome RV campers as well. Flying J, Loves, and Pilot often allow RVs, vans, and even cars to use their overnight lots to catch up on sleep. Truck stops also offer showers (expect to pay around $10 for an unlimited-length shower) and cheap Wi-Fi access.
- Rest Areas – The rules for overnight parking at rest areas varies state by state. Many states do allow overnight parking within a certain time frame (usually up to 8 hours). Some states have no length of stay limitations for rest areas.
- Movie Theaters – You can often get away with stealth camping in a movie theater parking lot since movies let out late.
- Grocery Stores – Stealth camping in grocery store parking lots is another option. Look for stores that are open 24/7 for the best chance of making it through the night undisturbed. Street parking near grocery stores is another option if the lot is regularly patrolled.
- Big Box Stores – Other big box stores aside from Walmart can be good spots for overnight stealth parking. Once again, 24-hour stores are your best bet, although any store with a large, somewhat busy parking lot can work.
- Bars and Taverns – I’ve had a lot of luck camping behind rural bars and taverns. My method it to pull up, have a beer or dinner, and inquire as to sleeping in my vehicle behind the bar.
- Churches – Churches and other places of religious worship sometimes allow camping. I always ask ahead (although stealth camping is probably possible). I’ve had the most luck in rural areas.
- Hospitals – Many hospitals have large parking lots with vehicles coming and going at all hours of the night, making them ideal for dry camping. You can often get away with stealth camping at hospitals (although most now require paid parking). A handful of hospitals, generally in smaller communities, even have designated areas set aside for RV camping.
- Mechanics – One of my favorite stealth camping tricks for those nights when I just can’t find anywhere else to camp is to park at a mechanic or auto shop. I arrive late (well after they close) and leave very early (well before opening). Park either in the shop parking lot or on a nearby side street. Even with an out-of-state license plate, passerby will most likely assume your vehicle is waiting for repairs.
- 24-Hour Gyms – Every location is unique, but stealth camping in a 24-hour gym parking lot is totally doable. Like always, keep a low profile and stay for only one night. Better yet, if you’re a full-time RV camper or vandweller, invest in a membership at a nationwide 24/7 fitness chain and take advantage of low-cost showers wherever you go.
- Train and Bus Stations – It’s often possible to stealth camp at train and bus stations, although these are usually regularly patrolled by police or security. RVs will stick out like a sore thumb.
- Police Stations – Interestingly enough, I’ve had a lot of luck stopping at small town police stations to ask about where to camp for free. Much of the time, I’m pointed in the direction of a store, parking lot, or park where overnight parking is permitted. A handful of times, I’ve even been given the okay to sleep for a night in the police station parking lot!
- Trailheads – Prefer to camp in a parking lot not located in town? Hiking trailheads are a good bet. Remember to respect all signage related to overnight parking.
- Scenic Overlooks – Stealth camping at scenic overlooks, especially in rural areas, is a good free camping option. Respect any signage that outlaws overnight parking or restricts the length of stay to avoid the dreaded “knock.” Popular scenic overlooks are regularly patrolled by the police.
- Boat Launches – Another option for free parking lot camping is at a boat launch. Many boat launches (especially those in the mountains and other rural areas) don’t have any signs prohibiting overnight parking. Some expressly allow camping.
- City Parks – Some city parks and county parks welcome RVs and other campers to park overnight for free. This seems most common in the Midwest. A handful I’ve stayed at even have free hot showers! Sometimes a small fee is required or a donation is requested.
- Stealth Camping – If all else fails, stealth camping on streets in residential, commercial, and industrial areas is an option. Just remember to follow all stealth camping best practices so you don’t get woken up by the police in the middle of the night!
How to Find Free Overnight Parking Lot Camping Near You
Locating parking lots that allow camping is one of those things that gets easier the more that you do it. You develop a sort of sixth sense for it after a while.
But, to get you started, here are a few additional tips on how to find parking lot camping near you:
- Our List – Start with the locations on our list during your search for parking lot camping.
- Google Maps – Search for stores that offer free camping before you head out on your trip.
- Call Ahead – Reach out to potential stores about camping in their parking lots before you go out of your way to visit them.
- Try Camping Apps – Freecampsites.net, iOverlander, All Stays, and other popular camping apps sometimes list parking lot boondocking locations (often with user reviews and pictures!).
Why Camp Overnight in a Parking Lot?
RV camping in a parking lot might seem strange (or downright unpleasant) at first. But it’s actually quite nice and comes with a lot of benefits.
Here are a few of the top reasons why I like to camp in parking lots every now and again:
- Convenient – Store parking lots are conveniently located near Interstates, other highways, and roads to popular scenic destinations including national parks, making them a perfect free camping location for road trips.
- Free or Cheap – Most stores which allow parking lot camping do so for free. You can also get away with free stealth camping in many store parking lots.
- 24/7 Amenities – Boondock at a 24-hour store for access to bathrooms, running water, and other amenities. This is why I love to stay at 24/7 Walmart parking lots.
- Usually Safe – This heavily depends on the location, but most store parking lots are well lit and relatively safe. Many have security cameras. Some of those that expressly allow RV camping even have regular security patrols through the night.
- Dump Stations – A handful of store parking lots that cater to RV campers have dump stations. Cabela’s is an example of a chain that sometimes offers this valuable amenity.
Overnight Parking Lot Camping Tips
Before you sleep overnight in a parking lot for the first time, take note of the following asphalt boondocking tips:
- Call Ahead – Always inquire about overnight parking for camping with each store. City ordinances often trump store policy. I prefer to call ahead to doublecheck.
- Park Far Away – Most stores that allow overnight parking dedicate a specific section of their parking lot for campers. Park here if so. Otherwise, park in a far corner of the lot where you won’t be in the way of normal customers.
- Don’t Set Up Camp – Parking lot camping is similar to stealth camping. Stay lowkey and don’t set up camp. Stay inside your vehicle as much as possible. Limit use of generators, slide outs, awnings, and other conspicuous things.
- Be Respectful – Limit noise, pack out your trash, and otherwise be a courteous overnight guest so that stores continue to allow free overnight parking for campers.
- Prepare for Light and Noise – Parking lots are usually bright and noisy. I always pack ear plugs and an eye cover if I plan to sleep in parking lots on my road trips.
Let Me Know If You Have More Questions
Sleeping in a store parking lot overnight is a great backup option for long road trips and traveling on a budget.
Although they’re far from my favorite place to camp, blacktop boondocking certainly has its benefits. In fact, I’ve met many RVers and van-lifers that actually prefer it over other types of free camping.
If you still have more questions about this unique type of “camping,” please don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments below.