Non-traditional places to stay overnight in an RV

Many RVers stay the night in non-traditional free camping areas — those not officially designated “campgrounds.” Here are some relevant comments and suggestions on this subject submitted by our readers. If you have something to add, please let us know.

The following businesses most often allow RVers to spend the night.

Walmart
EDITOR’S NOTE: In survey on RVtravel.com, a majority of RVers reported they had stayed overnight in a Walmart parking lot at least once, often many times. Here are some of their comments. Each paragraph is from a different person. Most comments have been edited for space.

Wal-Mart is by far the most popular “freebie” place to stay. About 80 percent of all stores allow overnight stays in self-contained RVs.

I called the corporate offices of Walmart and asked about its policy about staying overnight in an RV in its stores parking lots. They were very friendly and said it was company policy to allow RVers overnight parking. They also said it would be advisable to check in with the store manager when you arrive as a courtesy. However, they said if we ran into a store that refused us we were to report this to them. We have stayed in a number of Walmarts and have been welcomed with open arms. Management even alerts security to keep and eye on the rigs during a stay. If you have a wife like mine (Walmart road atlas in hand) she always needs something from the store. If we stay in a Super Walmart we always hit the deli for a good chicken dinner with potato salad and cole slaw. —R. Smith.

We drove the motorhome to the local Walmart last night and got lucky and found a parking spot right by the door. After parking, but before getting out, the greeter rushed out and knocked on our door. He told me that I was very welcome to camp in their lot for the night, and he was ready to show me the designated area, where there were already several RVs. Just in case anyone wonders about Walmart’s attitude toward RVers, this encounter should clear the air. Walmart has figured out how to get an otherwise under-used asset (the far end of the parking lot) to produce revenue by encouraging RVers to park. They know that we’ll almost always run into the store for some goodies. Smart, very smart. —Unsigned

Many Walmart stores now have “No Overnight RV Parking” signs. Be sure to circle the lot and check ALL parking lot entrances. Some with signs: Arizona — east Tucson and Casa Grande, and in Oregon in Newport. We were also told of other Walmarts with signs. —C. Peck

I have spent several nights in Walmart parking lots. We usually park then go inside and pick up then odds and ends you always seem to need. We usually stick to the “Super” Walmarts as they are 24 hour stores. Others I know do the same and none of us have had any problems. I spoke to a trucker who drives for Walmart who told me that he likes seeing RVs when he arrives as he feels he is not all alone on the lot while he waits for his delivery time. —Don

Last year we traveled from the west coast to the Canadian Maritime Provinces. We found that Walmarts were happy to have us stop there overnight. There were very few times we didn’t buy something. An inventive traveler can find places to stop without a fee — school yards, gasoline stations, rest stops, club members yards, etc. —Unsigned

We have stayed at many Walmarts and have only had one tell us we couldn’t, in Vancouver, BC. But they called around to the other area Walmarts to find one nearby where we could stay. It was in Surrey. We have never had a problem with any of the Walmarts. We always check first and make sure we do our shopping there too. We always take out the garbage bags and walk around our area picking up trash and then taking it to a dumpster. —T. Swanson

On a 30-day trip though 12 states, we spent 10 nights on Walmart’s and Big Kmart’s parking lots and felt welcome everywhere except in Florida, we were told that campers used the parking lots like a real campground. We ate and shopped in every store, with pleasure. —René R.

A Walmart or similar retail parking lot does not provide a “campsite.” It is still a parking lot where, with the retailers approval, an RVer can get a few hours sleep. It also provides an opportunity to do some restocking and other shopping. For example, we came through a Texas town recently that had a free campground. But we bypassed it to go on to a Walmart a mile away. We didn’t want to “camp.” We wanted to do a little shopping and get some sleep. It was just easier to do our shopping and then get some sleep where we were rather than doubling back to the free CG, or, for that matter, going on to a commercial CG. We didn’t need swimming pool, showers or any other amenities that come with the fee or the extra time it takes to get checked in. So, it’s not always a matter of $$. As in this case, sometimes it is just more convenient. —Bob C.

Flying J travel centers often have designated areas for RV parking. Be sure to stay there, not with the trucks. The truckers don’t like that.

Flying J Truck Stops
It is a well known fact that Flying J Truck Stops are RV-friendly. But if you use the truck stops to stay overnight, by all means fill your tank, get propane, eat a meal or buy something in the convenience store. Please don’t abuse this good thing or it will be taken away from us. —R. Handel

I recently completed a 12,000-mile trip in my Champion motorhome, which started out in Canton, New York and took me all the way to San Diego. I always tried to arrange my stops at the Flying J’s. Their gas prices were always better than anyone else. I also filled up my LP tanks there. Most of them had a separate area for overnite RV parking, away from the semi trucks. It was always a pleasure stopping there. —Dale Lally

I have stayed at a Flying J once, but have attempted too many times. I’ve found arriving late pretty much guarantees you won’t be staying there. They fill up in front. —Al

Camping World
I contacted the company’s headquarters and was told that some stores do let you stay overnight, but to check with each store. You can find a listing of stores and maps at the Camping World website. —Terri Swanson

Most Camping Worlds allow free overnight parking. The one in San Marcus, Calif., just inland from Oceanside in Southern California is completely fenced in and no overnight camping is allowed; they sell RVs there and it’s in a crime area so that may be the reason. We had to park in the Sam’s Club parking lot nearby — the Walmart didn’t allow overnight parking there either. —Kathleen

We travel in our motorhome about 7-8 months a year. Camping World is a good overnight spot. Like Walmart, they figure you’ll buy something also. —Alice and Don

Cracker Barrel
You can stay a night in most Cracker Barrel restaurants. As with Walmarts, you should ask first, but generally they don’t turn you down if you arrive just before closing. Good breakfasts too!” —Paula

EDITOR’S NOTE: A spokesperson at Cracker Barrel’s corporate headquarters told FreeCampgrounds.com that free stays in its store parking lots is not officially permitted. Most RVers report, however, that they stay routinely with no problems.




Kmart, factory outlet stores & shopping centers
Kmart allows over night parking. As a matter of fact, they were the first to provide the overnight camping opportunity. —Roger Schmidt

Kmart allows overnight parking. I normally ask the store manager if he minds if I spend the night. I have never been turned down. Most will tell me they will let their security staff know so they can keep an eye on my rig during the night. I always park off the beaten path and never leave any trash. If it’s a Super Center, then my dinner will be its fried chicken, potato salad and cole slaw. Yum, yum. —Unsigned

Once we talked to the mall management at Grapevine Mills in Grapevine, Texas and asked if we could park in their lot since we were shopping, having dinner and seeing a movie. They said fine and even had the security guards watch out for us. The next day the guard came by and asked us if we had a nice time. —Terri Swanson

Other camping areas

Highway rest areas

EDITOR’S NOTE: We recently polled the readers of RVtravel.com, asking them “How often do you stay the night at a highway rest stop? Of the 334 respondents, 13% reported they stayed often, 31% once in awhile, 19% hardly ever, and 37% never.

In Washington state you can “camp” for up to eight hours. The no camping symbol means no sleeping on the ground or in a tent. Sleeping inside an RV is okay.

About 20 years ago I was traveling by myself and got tired while driving from Florida to California. At a small, remote rest area, I parked the motorhome by itself and sacked out. About 4 a.m. I heard a car drive up. Four doors slammed and as they had parked close by, I was awakened. They came over by my motorhome door and started to whisper. By that time, in the dark I had grabbed my Remington 12 gauge auto shotgun and sneaked up on the other side of the door. Silence. Finally one of them whispered “Let’s do it” and grabbed the doorknob. Simultaneously, I pushed the button on my shotgun receiver and the LOUD magazine slammed shut. I then yell something like “Get the #$%@!! out of here!!” and they did, taking off like crazy. So did I. I have never parked at quiet rest stops since that time and only stop at campgrounds or BUSY truck stops. —T. Berdan

This campground east of Tonopah, Nevada on U.S. 50 has plenty of room for RVs along with clean restrooms and a free dump station.

We have stayed in rest areas many times, but only ones that list that overnight parking is okay. We have never had a problem. We also look for other RVers and park as near them as we can. We seldom stay more than 8 to 12 hours. —T.S.

Fraternal lodges
Some free (or very cheap campgrounds) happen to be at Elks Club Lodges. Many of them have RV hookups at either free, or very cheap rates. Most all have nice restaurants and lounges along with other activities (music, dancing, etc.). These benefits are for Elks Club members only, however, once a member, you can use the facilities all over the country, and the Elks are a very civic-minded organization and contribute to many worthwhile activities. —Larry Robertson

I’ve never run across any Elks Lodges where camping is free. Most have increased their prices over the prices listed in the books or they ask for a donation. The campgrounds are a large money raiser for the lodges. Some of the members work very hard building and maintaining the camp spots. —Dorothy Smetana

Miscellaneous
Flying J and Union 76 truck stops publish flyers that list what they offer RVers –propane, dump station, etc., and encourage them to spend the night. I have made it a habit that if I spend the night I spend money at the business. I always need fuel. And if not fuel I purchase a meal. More and more truck service centers realize that RVers mean money and offering the RVer the same service as the truckers increases their botton line. —Unsigned

Quit a while ago I saw an article in a Thousand Trails magazine about free camping at Union 76 truck stops. I wrote them and they sent me a brochure listing all their truck stops, what they offered the RVer, like propane, dump station, etc. The brochure stated very plainly that RVers were welcome to spend the night. During my travels I have stayed at Union 76s along the way, always buying fuel or a meal for being allowed to stay in their property. I believe it is the right thing to do and they know that by tapping into the ever-growing RV market there is money to be made by offering them a free place to stay. The same welcome mat is offered by Flying J truck stops. Their corporate offices sent me literature, each with a map of their truck stops and what they offer the RVer. —Roger Schmidt

When parking overnight in a truck stop with an RV, use the front parking lot where the cars are. It’s quieter, safer, and more convenient. It’s safer because you lesson the chance of a big truck backing into you in the middle of the night. There are a lot of new drivers out there in big rigs now that have a hard time parking when rested, and a terrible time parking in the middle of the night. —Unsigned