An RV travel adventure can be quite a thrill. Depending on where you’re going, it might also mean putting in a lot of long hours on the road.
When you are on a multi-day trip, you might not want to go spend $50 on a campsite, just to catch a good night’s sleep and hit the road again the next morning.
Of course, every dollar you save along the way is also another dollar you’ll have in your pocket when you get to your destination. So, just where are some safe, and legal places to park up your RV for the night?
The answer might surprise you. There are a lot of different places you can park your RV for the night if you just want to sleep.
There are even a few services available that can help you easily find a spot along the way!
What Are Some Of The Popular Places To Park An RV For Free?
The following is a basic list of some of the more popular places to park an RV for a night or two. Just keep in mind that not all of them allow you to “Set Up Camp.”
You won’t be putting out the awning, setting up the citronella torches and firing up the grill. Still, the following places will let you park up and catch a good night’s sleep.
1. A Walmart Parking Lot
Walmart recognizes the value of RV travelers in their marketing plan. Afterall, they are a popular place to get the discount camping items you need, and most also offer food to restock the cooler.
They know that letting you park there at night means you are more likely to purchase some of their goods before you leave.
As such they are often happy to allow an RV to set up camp for a night or possibly even two. Just keep in mind that they request that you speak with the store manager to get permission.
Walmart parking lots also tend to be well lit and have good security. They also have bathrooms that are open to the public, and most stores even have free WiFi available.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that they don’t have any RV hookups or services. They are just happy to let you spend the night in hopes that you spend a few dollars stocking up the next morning.
The downside of staying in a Walmart parking lot is that most have 24-hour activity. Trucks coming and going at all hours of the night, and shoppers showing up at the crack of dawn to get their shopping done before the crowds show up.
So, unless you have a well-soundproofed RV with blackout curtains, you might not want to see Walmart as your first option for a free place to spend the night.
2. Casino Parking Lots
Most casinos will let RV park in their lots. Some even have hookups available for a very reasonable fee.
Of course, just like Walmart, they offer this in hopes that you will come inside their neon dream palace and spend a few bucks.
Casinos also tend to have restaurants with very good prices for reasonably good food. This can be a nice little break from fast food or you are just tired of your own home cooking.
Some casinos have tax free or “Duty Free” stores where you can stock up on certain items without the tax markup.
Of course, just like Walmart, you are going to have to deal with 24-hour light and noise. It’s also worth bearing in mind that not all casinos are happy to have you park up and simply use their parking lot.
If you start cooking your own meals or lingering in the parking lot, instead of going inside for a meal or a game, you might just get a knock on your door in the middle of the night.
3. Wayside Rest Areas And Rest Stops
Rest stops and wayside rest areas are there to provide truckers and other road travelers with a place to sleep.
The Department of Transportation would rather have you sleeping soundly and driving safely the next morning than swerving and crashing in the dark of night.
This means that it is completely legal to park up and spent that night at all government-run wayside rest areas and rest stops.
Some even have some basic picnic facilities and grills. Most have 24-hour bathrooms, and some even have shower facilities.
A fair number of rest areas will also have visitor center information, free maps, and vending machines, or some type of cantina.
The only real downside to rest area camping is that some of them are a little sketchy. I’ve been to a few poorly lit ones, where I felt like the wisest thing to do was to keep on moving down the road.
4. Off Hour Welcome Centers
Many state borders and popular tourist areas will have a “Tourist Welcome Center.” Many tend to be camper, motorhome, RV, and even semi-truck friendly.
There’s usually more than enough space in the back lots to set up camp for the night. You might even be able to put out the awning and pop out the grill. Some even have free WiFi service available and 24-hour bathrooms.
On the other side of the coin, some Welcome Centers will completely close down their building in the off-hours.
Chances are you might even have a short visit from the highway patrol at some point in the evening or early morning.
It’s not that they are trying to scare you away, they just routinely check these public places, and enjoy a friendly wave, just to let them know you’re not up to anything shady.
5. Public Land
There are parts of the United States, particularly in the west, where public land is open and free to use for all.
The Department of Natural Resources and the Bureau of Land Management often note these areas on their websites. As such it is completely legal to stay on this land for up to 14 days at a time.
However, there are a few rules, which will be noted at the entrance. You are expected to leave the area pristine, follow fire guidelines and any other local ordinances.
This is one of those scenarios where you are expected to take only pictures and leave only footprints behind.
Some of these public land areas have designated camping areas for RVs, hunters, and other overnight campers. This helps minimize the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
6. Shopping Mall and Grocery Store Parking Lots
This is honestly a little bit of a gray area. There are mall parking lots and grocery stores where I have personally seen people stay for up to a week.
There are also other lots where I’ve seen the police knocking on an RV’s window telling them to kindly move on.
It’s not always legal, and you're staying there for longer than full-on shopping trip might be left to the manager’s discretion.
Some of these parking lots, even the well-lit ones are not always the safest place to stay. Unless you know the area from past trips, the parking lot could turn into the “Bad Side of Town” after the sun goes down.
There are also some states where this is illegal, and you could end up with an inconvenient fine.
7. Parking On A City Street
This isn’t the most appealing option, as you never know just how active an area is going to be in the middle of the night. Ideally, you want to find an area in the suburbs where things are quiet, yet well lit.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that most cities do not allow you to sleep in a vehicle parked on the street. So, if you are just desperate for a few winks, you can try parking up. Just make a point to keep a low profile.
Don’t go in an out, and blackout the curtains if you want to watch some TV. Parking a few blocks from a nearby hotel might also give the impression that you are a weary traveler who’s staying at the hotel and needed a place to park your big rig.
Are There Special Services That Help You Find Free Places To Park An RV?
The good news is, that the United States is so road trip-friendly and RV travel are so popular, that some web developers have gone so far as to offer special apps that make it easier to find free places to park up for the night.
This is one of the more popular sites for finding free places to park your RV. They claim to have assembled the largest database of free RV parking locations throughout Canada and the United States.
It includes roughly 14,000 RV Parking and No Parking locations. All of which is synched through there easy to use website and app, which is available for Apple and Android phones.
The extensive database was essentially built by subscriber participation over the course of a decade.
This also means it continues to grow every year as more and more RV travel enthusiasts discover new, free places to stay for the night.
This includes places like:
- Cabelas who offer camping supplies and RV products.
- Bass Pro Shops who also offer fishing and camping supplies.
- Lowes is a hardware store with items for RV repair and maintenance.
- Home Depot also offers hardware supplies for RVs.
- K-Mart is a discount store brand with clothing, furnishings, and appliances.
- Pilot Flying J Travel Centers offer incentives and discount fuel prices for RV club members.
- Rest Areas which allow overnight camping for free.
- Planet Fitness also allows free overnight parking to it’s members.
Another app to consider is Allstays. They actively work to locate free overnight parking options for RV travelers. They offer two different subscription levels.
The first is Allstays Rest Stops Plus which costs $1.99. The second is Allstays Overnight Parking Walmart which costs $2.99.
They have varying levels of membership, each provides increasing exposure to possible free places to stay.
When you purchase both of their subscriptions you will have easy to use access to just about every Walmart, rest area, wayside rest, and welcome center in the United States.
Just keep in mind that they don’t cover the full gamut of options. There are indeed several other places like Costco, Safeway, and Cabela’s that might also be RV friendly, yet are not included in the list.
Once you have an idea of the kind of places you can stay at for an overnight halt, you might just want to turn to good old Google Maps.
As the driver, you can always turn to your trusty navigator to use Google Maps to check the upcoming area for a Walmart, Casino, rest area, tourist welcome center, or shopping mall parking lot which might just fit the bill.
Convention And Visitors Bureaus
Don’t forget about good old fashioned CVBs. These community sponsored offices are staffed by people whose job is to bring travelers in to the area. Of course, they’re not always open 24-hours.
If you have a general idea of where you will end up that night, you might want to call the local convention and visitors bureau during normal office hours.
They have their finger on the pulse of the community, and chances are they can give you several options.
In a pinch they’ve even been known to let a weary traveler stay in their parking lot for a night with out trouble.