It's just part of the game. Just like faking injuries in soccer, staying overnight in a parking lot is just a part of the game. More specifically its just a part of full time RV living. RVers always need a place to hang their hats for a night while in transit.
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The Old Standard
Traditionally, staying in a Walmart parking lot (AKA: Wal-Docking) has been one of the best options for overnighting. In some instances, Walmart might be the best option. However, there are other businesses that are RV friendly but not many RVers know about their other options.
We still love Walmart for the convenience. Usually the locations are a well lit, well monitored area that we generally feel safe in. Plus, there is always an ample selection of supplies and groceries if we need anything!
However, many Walmart locations no longer allow overnighting and the Walmarts in some cities are not allowing RVs to enter their lots at all.
Here is a list of 5 locations that allow RVers to overnight for free.
We recently discovered Sam's Club parking lots. We have been members forever, but never considered the option of staying overnight at one. We also never considered that the owners of Walmart would also let RVers overnight in their Sam's Club locations.
We prefer these locations over most Walmarts because...
Not many RVers know this is an option. While the good spots at the nearby Walmart are being taken by all the other RV travelers, call the nearest Sam's Club and see if they allow overnighting.
Msny Walmarts are open 24 hours a day which means there is traffic all night. Most Sam's club locations close at approximately 8pm at night which means the traffic in and out of the parking lot in minimal.
Most Sam's Club locations are located near medical facilities. The mear fact that Sam's Clubs are located in larger towns, means that there should be a decent hospital nearby. This might not be important for some, but we have had two medical emergencies while traveling so we like to be near hospitals when we overnight. Stephanie had a real scare when we were boondocking in Northern Colorado. We were in the middle of nowhere. After that experience we always try to overnight near a medical facilities.
Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's
Two In One
Did you know that Bass Pro Shops actually owns Cabela's? What a great store. Both of these places have a way of getting me to spend money even when I tell myself over and over that I'm not going to buy anything.
They are an RV friendly establishment and every one of the employees that we have encountered has been fantastic.
Many Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's locations have actual RV lanes.. Thats right...they like us so much that they installed lanes just for RV'rs. If I had a choice between any other free location, I would choose this place. Maybe it's because we just love the store.
Our entire family loves this place because our kids can check out the fish in the huge water tank and play with the hunting games. They are also pet friendly so we always take our dogs in to stretch their legs. I can't say enough about Bass Pro and Cabela's.
Some city parks actually let you stay overnight. Some city parks even have partial hookups. late last year we stayed at a park in Lamesa Texas.
The park allowed overnighting on a first-come first-serve basis some spots were equipped with a 30 amp hookup and some were equipped with a 50 amp hookup. all of the sides had water and the park had one central dumping station.
Even if there are not hook up some city parks just allow you to overnight so it's worth checking the local ordinance.
Bureau of Land Management
Most BLM sites are found out west. BLM land is public land so anyone can stay on it. These pieces of land are great for overnighting but you can also use BLM land for extended boondocking. Typically you can stay 14 nights in a row.
US Forestry service
There are 175 national forests in the United States. Most of these public lands are patrolled by law enforcement and most have dedicated camping areas signified by a fire ring.
We have found that OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) use areas are great for overnighting in addition to longer stays. They can get busier on the weekend with ATV lovers and dune buggy enthusiasts, but we have visited in the middle of the week, and there was not a soul in sight! We even had a picnic table!
Rest stops are not one of our go to stop overs. However, in a pinch, they are sometimes a great option for a quick overnight stay.
Not all rest areas allow overnight parking. It seems a bit counter intuitive since they are called "REST" stops but they don't want just any car setting up camp and spending the night.
If the rest stop does allow it, there could be lots of road noise and trucks pulling in and out through the night. But the good part is that they are safe. They are well lit, and often are patrolled by security or police.
Don't Forget Your Manners
There are some things that you always want to remember when parking at any location for the night. Adhering to these unspoken rules will ensure that establishments continue to let RVers park overnight for free.
1. You are not actually "camping"...you are stopping for a quick overnight. This means no awnings, grills, chairs, or anything else outside.
2. Always ask permission...just because another RV is already parked does not mean that they asked.
3. Leave the area better than you found it. It won't hurt you to walk around with a bag and pick up a few trash items or anything else you see. Just leave a good impression.
4. Don't outstay your welcome. Pull in, eat dinner, go to bed, get up, have coffee, leave.
5. Don't be a nuisance. It is ok to run your generator for a little while to charge devices or heat up dinner. But don't run it all night unless absolutely necessary. The same with slides. We suggest only pulling slides out if you absolutely have to, and only do so if parked way out of the way, like against a curbside
There are almost always other alternatives to paying for a one night campsite that will save you money and time!
Let us know if you have found other alternatives not listed above. We are always finding new options and want to share those with you!