Driving across the country in an RV can get expensive fast! Camping at an RV park or public campground isn’t ridiculously expensive at $25-$50 per night, but there’s a cheaper option. Lots of stores offer free overnight parking for RV’s, Vans, and Campers. What stores allow overnight parking for free?
You can stay overnight at most Walmarts, Sams Clubs, Cracker Barrels, Casinos, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, Home Improvement Stores (maybe), Truck Stops, Service Plazas, Rest Areas, Travel Centers, 24 Hour Fitness Centers (Stealth Camping), and smaller hospitals. Make sure you call ahead to check local laws and ask for permission before parking overnight.
Consider Free Dispersed Camping On Public Land
Camping in a store parking lot is convenient, but it’s always nicer to stay in a real campground. I was surprised to learn that there are 1000s of campgrounds across the United States that offer free RV and tent campsites.
Look for National Forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campgrounds on your route. You won’t find free camping at popular national parks, but you can almost always find free public camping somewhere along your route.
They may not always be in the most convenient places, but it’s worth planning your trip around free campgrounds. You can always stay at a store parking lot if you can’t make it to your destination.
I recommend using the website campendium.com and searching for campsites along your route. Click the price filter, and choose $0 or check the “Always show Free” box. It will bring up a list of all the free campgrounds and parking lots along your route.
You should be able to find a handful of free public campgrounds along your route. I was able to travel from Florida to Ohio without paying for overnight parking. There won’t be premium amenities like electrical/sewer hookups at a free campground, but it’s better than staying in a parking lot.
What Stores Allow Overnight Parking?
Free dispersed camping is nice, but you can’t always find a campground along your route. I can’t count how many times I’ve been stuck in traffic and it pushed back my arrival time. That’s when it’s nice to pull over and park in a store that offers free overnight parking.
You can usually find stores that offer free parking if you drive 20-30 miles outside large cities. Stores that are located near large cities usually have laws banning overnight parking. They don’t want “vagrants” using the parking lot as a permanent home and solely using the store as a bathroom/wash area.
Most of the places on this list allow free parking at the majority of their stores, but make sure you call ahead to get an idea of the local laws. If one store on the list doesn’t allow free parking, you probably won’t find free parking anywhere. Keep driving down the road and you should find a place to park 20-30 miles down the road.
Most Walmart stores (and Sams Clubs) allow overnight parking, but the cities they’re located in may not. Larger cities usually have laws banning sleeping in your car or camping. Sleeping in an RV is considered “camping” so it will fall under citywide vagrancy laws.
Look for Walmarts that are located in smaller towns and rural areas. There won’t be laws banning overnight parking and they’ll usually be in neighborhoods with less crime. I’ve had my truck windows smashed, when I was sleeping in my 5th wheel at a Walmart parking lot, so pay attention to your surroundings.
I usually call ahead and ask the to talk to the store manager or assistant manager, to ask about the overnight parking policy. You often get different answers depending on who you talk to. Most 24 hour Walmarts allow you to stay overnight since there’s a constant stream of traffic in and out of the store.
Once they say that it’s okay to stay there, I like to ask a feeler question to get an idea of the crime in the area. I ask a question like, “would you feel comfortable staying in an RV in the parking lot?”. That usually tells me everything I need to know about the localized crime.
2) Big Box Stores: Costco and Sams Club
Big box stores like Costco and Sams Club are another popular choice for overnight parking. The large parking lots make it easy to maneuver longer RVs and Travel trailers. You don’t need a membership to park overnight, but it’s nice to have one so you can buy food and use the restroom.
Big cities usually have laws banning overnight parking, but smaller cities and rural areas are generally safe to stay overnight. You probably won’t be able to stay at BJs club, but some stores will look the other way. A quick call to the general manager will tell you everything you need to know. I’ve found that around 10% of BJs clubs allow overnight parking so they’re the last choice on this list.
3) Home Improvement Stores: Home Depot, Lowes
Home Depot and Lowes don’t have an official overnight parking policy, but it’s up to the managers discretion. There are more than 2,200 Home Depots and 1,700 Lowes stores in the United States and the lots are usually empty late at night.
I’ve found that there’s a 50/50 chance of being able to camp at Lowes or Home Depot overnight. It all depends on the local laws and how the manager feels about RVs in the parking lot. Most places will allow you to stay overnight if you call ahead, but you may be out of luck.
If you decide to park anyway, you may get a knock on your door in the middle of the night kicking you out. I’ve been kicked out of a few places and never gotten a ticket, but it’s up to the police officer. A ticket will probably cost more than a campsite so definitely call ahead to ask for permission and try to leave before the morning rush.
4) Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel has emerged as a popular overnight parking choice. It depends on the local laws, but most locations allow overnight parking. Campendium.com lists all the Cracker Barrel locations that allow overnight parking so head over there to take a look.
The only problem with parking at Cracker Barrel is that most locations have tiny parking lots. Most RVers know that you can park at Cracker Barrel for free, so the spots fill up fast. Not that Cracker Barrel has a mad breakfast rush so park in a way that’s easy to get out. Try to beat the 8:00am rush so you don’t get blocked in by other customers in the morning.
5) Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops
You can almost always park overnight at Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops. Both of these sporting goods chains are owned by the same company that allows overnight parking. Whether or not you can park at these stores depends on where they’re located.
Stores that are on private property allow overnight parking (depending on local laws), but stores that are in joined parking lots may not allow it. They’re leasing land from a private property management company, so they tend to have issues with overnight parking. Allowing overnight parking would require additional security and police so they tend to ban it.
Most casinos have large parking lots with designated RV and Travel Trailer spots. Casinos are open 24 hours per day so they usually don’t mind if you park overnight. Every casino I’ve stayed at allows you to stay for a certain number of nights for free (usually 3).
They may also have a separate dedicated RV park, that charges $20-$30 per night, but they’ll comp your stay if you gamble at the casino. The casino near me charges $30 per night to stay and they have electrical/sewer hookups.
They let you stay for a single night in the general parking lot, but if you play $50 at the casino they comp your stay for the night. If I’m staying at a casino, I’m definitely gambling for a little bit, so I always get my stay comped in the RV lot.
Just be aware of casino security and parking lot shuttle drivers. They can definitely tell if you’re gambling at the casino so make sure you spend some time inside the building. If you don’t like gambling, you can always grab dinner, and catch one of the late night shows.
7) Truck Stops and Service Plazas: Pilot Flying J, Travel Center Of America (among others)
Truck stops aren’t just for trucks, tractor trailors, and oversized rigs. Large truck stops usually have a handful of dedicated RV spots on the outskirts of the truck parking area. Whether or not you can park there will depend on where you’re at.
Some places allow you to camp in the truck parking area, while others only allow truckers to stay overnight. You may have to pay a small fee to stay overnight and use the showers, but others have a large dirt lot where anybody can park for free. Pilot Flying J and Travel Center of America usually allow RVs to park in their parking lots.
Truck stops bring all sorts of people in and out of the parking area, so make sure you lock your doors and keep valuable out of sight for safety reasons.
8) Travel Centers, and Rest Areas
Every state allows you to stay in your car or RV at rest areas and travel centers, but they sometimes have rules limiting how long you can stay. Some allow you to sleep for 2 hours while others don’t have any limits at all.
Check with the local laws and see how long you can stay, but most places don’t kick out people that stay overnight. Allowing people to get a full night sleep is a matter of public safety. I’ve parked at rest areas countless times and I’ve only been asked to leave once. It was right outside a major city and the police officer chalked my tires to see how long I was there.
States That Allow Overnight RV Parking In Rest Areas
Most states allow overnight parking in rest areas, but there are 22 states that ban “Camping”. The definition of camping depends on where you’re at. You can usually sleep in your car, but they may or may not allow you to sleep in an RV. They definitely don’t want you to pull out your awning and hang out in the parking lot.
Please Note: I will mark all states that Ban Camping with an asterisk and any state that allows RVs will allow you to sleep in any type of vehicle for the designated time limit. There may also be rules in place banning overnight parking in certain rest areas near large cities (check for overnight parking prohibited signs).
- Alabama (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Alaska (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Arizona (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Arkansas (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- California* (Yes RVs)- 8 Hour Limit
- Colorado (No RVs)- No Time Limit For Other Vehicles
- Connecticut (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Delaware* (Yes RVs)- 6 Hour Limit, Bans Camping
- Florida* (Yes RVs)- 10 Hour Limit Commercial Vehicles, 3 Hours Other Vehicles
- Georgia* (Yes RVs)- Only at Rest Areas No Limit
- Hawaii- No Overnight Parking
- Idaho* (Yes)- 10 Hours on Interstates, 16 Hours Other Highways
- Illinois* (Yes RVs)- 3 Hour Limit
- Indiana (Yes)- Some Prohibited
- Iowa* (Yes)- 24 Hour Limit
- Kansas (Yes RVs)- 24 Hour Limit
- Kentucky (Yes RVs)- 4 Hour Limit
- Louisiana (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Maine (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Maryland (No RVs)- 3 Hour Limit
- Massachusetts (Yes RVs)- Some Rest Areas Have Prohibited Signs
- Michigan (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Minnesota (Yes RVs)- 10 Hour Commercial, 4 Hours For Others
- Mississippi* (Yes RVs)- 8 Hour Limit
- Missouri* (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Montana (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Nebraska (No RVs)- 10 Hour Limit In Cars
- Nevada (Yes RVs)- 18 Hour Limit
- New Hampshire* (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- New Jersey (Yes RVs)- Some Prohibited)
- New Mexico* (Yes RVs)- 24 Hour Limit
- New York* (Yes RVs)- 10 Hours Commercial Vehicles, 3 Hours For Others
- North Carolina (No RVs)- No Limit For Cars
- North Dakota* (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Ohio* (Yes RVs)- Some Prohibited
- Oklahoma (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Oregon* (Yes RVs)-12 hour Limit
- Pennsylvania* (Yes RVs)- 2 Hours At Rest Areas, 24 Hours at Service Plazas
- Rhode Island (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- South Carolina (No RVs)- No Limit For Other Vehicles
- South Dakota* (Yes RVs)- 10 Hours Commercial Vehicles, 3 Hours Others
- Tennessee (No RVs)- 2 Hour Limit For Others
- Texas (Yes RVs)- 24 Hour Limit
- Utah* (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Vermont* (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Virginia (No RVs)- No Limit For Others
- Washington* (Yes RVs)- 8 Hour Limit
- West Virginia (Yes RVs)- No Limit
- Wisconsin* (Yes RVs)- 24 Hour Limit
- Wyoming* (Yes RVs)- No Limit
9) Camping World: Some Locations
Camping world used to allow anybody to stay at their stores for 1 night, but they’ve moved away from that policy. Now it’s completely up to the store manager, so staying at a camping world is hit or miss. It all depends on who’s running the store, so call ahead of time and find out.
I’ve never tried this, but a friend of mine parks on the street just outside camping world. That’s where people line up to get their RVs serviced, so law enforcement usually won’t cite RVs parked along the street next to dealerships. I don’t advise staying there all morning, but you will probably be fine if you wake up early.
10) 24 Hour Fitness Centers
Most 24 hour fitness centers allow overnight parking for van campers and smaller rigs. They have small parking lots, so you won’t get a spot with a large RV or 5th wheel. Planet Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, and Anytime Fitness are popular choices in the VanLife community.
Technically, they don’t have policies allowing overnight parking in their lots, but you can often get away with it. They’re open 24 hours so it’s hard for security to tell if you’re sleeping in the RV or inside working out.
Just don’t plan on staying at the same location for an extend period of time. Staff will notice your car and ask you to leave. This is especially important if you rely on those spots as a normal paying customer since they’ll flag your account.
11) Hospitals: Camper Vans or Cars
It’s very common to see people sleeping in their car overnight at hospitals. Most of these people are family members of patients being treated inside and travelling nurses that want a few hours of sleep between shifts.
But hospital parking lots are also common overnight parking spots for stealth campers and van dwellers. I wouldn’t pull in a full sized rig, but you should be able to get away with camping overnight in your car or camper van.
This is one of the situations where I wouldn’t call or ask for permission. Most hospitals will look the other way for relatives of people that are in the hospital, but they frown upon random people sleeping in the parking lot.
It’s usually not illegal to park overnight in a hospital parking lot. Even cities that have laws banning sleeping in vehicles look the other way for hospitals. They understand that there’s extenuating circumstances and leave the matter to hospital security.
Larger hospitals (often owned by universities) have rules against overnight parking or exceeding a certain amount of hours. They make you check in at the front desk to get an overnight parking pass if you have a relative that’s staying at the hospital. Hospitals in smaller towns usually don’t have those rules, but try not to draw attention to yourself.