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Where To Park Overnight With A Rooftop Tent?

Where to park overnight with a rooftop tent?

It can be hard to find a spot to park overnight with a rooftop tent. Sleeping in a rooftop tent isn’t like camping in an RV, van, or regular camper. You’re exposed to all the noise and commotion of the surrounding environment and there’s absolutely no chance of stealth camping. So you need to find an authorized place to camp without a lot of commotion. Where can you sleep with a rooftop tent?

Dispersed campgrounds in National Forests/Grasslands or BLM Land is the best place to park overnight with a rooftop tent. You can also stay in Rest Areas, Cracker Barrel, Sam’s Club, Costco, Home Improvement Stores, and many other places.

Where Can You Sleep With A Rooftop Tent?

Throughout the years, I’ve witnessed countless campers sleeping in rooftop tents. I’ve seen people camping overnight in rest areas, Cracker Barrels, Walmarts, Sams Clubs, and countless other areas. It’s hard to imagine how you could get a good nights rest sleeping in a crowded parking lot, but they somehow manage.

Treating a rooftop tent like any other RV or camper van will lead to restless nights. You need to find a quiet place to sleep away from heavily trafficked areas. That can be almost anywhere, but there are a few places where you should be able to get a night of undisturbed sleep.

Local Laws Dictate If You Can Use A Rooftop Tent In Store Parking Lots

Before I get into the places you can camp in a rooftop tent, lets go over a very important issue. Most medium to large cities ban overnight parking in public parking lots. They want to avoid creating a “Shanty Town” situation where parking lots are filled with permanent RVers and people living in their cars.

Make sure you call ahead to ask if there are laws or local regulations preventing you from camping at any of the stores on this list. You may also want to check out my list of “What Stores Allow Overnight Parking?“.

1) Free Dispersed Camping and Public/Private Campgrounds

You can park for free at dispersed campgrounds and pay a small free to use a rooftop tent at public/private campgrounds.

Camping in a store parking lot or rest area is convenient, but it’s so much nicer to stay in a real campground. Noise issues are the biggest concern for people camping in roof top tents. You can get around the noise problem by staying in a campground with dispersed campground.

I was surprised to learn that there are 1000s of campgrounds across the United States that offer free RV and tent campsites. You can stay at most National Forests and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campgrounds for free, but there are a wide range of free campgrounds that you can choose from.

Dispersed campgrounds won’t be as convenient as pulling into the local Walmart or Cracker Barrel, but you won’t have to worry about the noise of traffic flowing in and out all night. It doesn’t matter where you’re travelling, there’s probably a free campground somewhere nearby. free dispersed campgrounds and parking areas.

I recommend using the website to look for free campgrounds along your route. Click the price filter and choose $0 or check the “Always Show Free” box to bring up a list of free campgrounds. They also list stores and rest areas where you can camp overnight in the parking lot.

You should be able to find a handful of free public campgrounds that are a short drive off the highway. I was able to travel from Florida to Ohio without paying for overnight parking at any of the campgrounds I stayed at. There won’t be premium amenities like electric/sewer hookups, but it’s better than staying at a store parking lot or rest area overnight.

If you can’t find a free campground along your route, you can always stay at a public/private campground for a small fee. Most primitive campgrounds charge $15-$25 per night, which is well worth the price to get away from the noise of a Rest Area or Parking Lot.

2) National Forests/Grasslands and Bureau of Land Management

You can usually camp for free at national forests and BLM land.

This is where the vast majority of rooftop campers stay overnight. The United States National Forest Service manages land all across the country. There’s no reservations needed or designated campsites. Just drive into the National Forest, and pull off on the side of the road to setup your rooftop tent.

Please Note: There’s a big difference between National Forests and National Parks. Camping at National Parks is strictly controlled to preserve the national environment, but National Forests have a wide variety of uses (timber, recreation, grazing, wildlife, fishing, and more). There are rarely rules restricting camping in National Forests (don’t obstruct traffic), but you will need to reserve a campsite in a National Park.

The Bureau of Land Management has more land than the United States Forest Service and almost all of it is open for camping and overnight stays. BLM land is limited to the western states, and there’s rarely signage indicating that you’re entering into their space.

I use the FreeRoam camping app (iOverlander and Gaia GPS also work) to find National Forests and BLM land. Once you get into the area, just pull your truck off to the side of the road (away from traffic) and setup your rooftop tent.

There are a small handful of places that are designated as Day Use Areas and Wilderness areas that you can’t park at, but the FreeRoam app does a good job at telling you where they are.

4) Rest Areas and Travel Centers

Most states allow you to park overnight in Rest Areas and Travel Centers

Surprisingly, I’ve seen lots of rooftop tent campers sleeping at rest areas. This is a great option if you can get past the noise. Unfortunately, it’s hit or miss on whether or not your state allows you to camp overnight at rest areas.

It all depends on the state laws and whether or not law enforcement or security feels like enforcing the rules. Some people may get away with it and others don’t. I recommend referring to the list below that goes over where overnight camping is allowed at rest areas.

Every state allows sleeping in your vehicle for a few hours at a rest area, but roof top tents fall into a grey area. Is it considered camping in a tent or staying in an RV? Unfortunately, there’s no set standard so it’s entirely up to the police officer or security guards discretion.

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

5) Cabelas and Bass Pro Shop

Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops are one of the best places to sleep in a rooftop tent.

Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops are by far the best store chain for camping in a rooftop tent. I’ve had issues parking at Walmart and Sams Club in the past, but Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops have never turned me away.

They’re both owned by the same company and they have a storewide policy allowing overnight parking at most of their stores. There are a handful of stores that can’t allow it due to local laws/regulations, but 90% of stores allow using rooftop tents in their parking lots.

Just try to find a location that’s located on private land that doesn’t share a parking lot with other stores. Overnight parking is rarely allowed on leased property that you find near major shopping centers. Most shopping malls ban overnight parking, and they won’t make an exception for Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shop’s corporate policy.

They will usually direct you to stay in the area where they direct other RVers and campers to stay. That’s usually along the back or side of the parking lot, out of the way of deliveries and other customers. I definitely prefer staying at Cabelas over other stores on this list, because they tend to cater to older clientele (less noise and fewer loiterers).

6) Cracker Barrels

Cracker Barrel usually allows overnight parking, but it depends on the city ordinances.

You can’t make a list of free overnight RV camping spots without mentioning Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel is an extremely popular place to stay among the RV and Camping communities. I’ve stayed at Cracker Barrel more times than I can possibly count.

Cracker Barrels almost always allow you to park overnight in their parking lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a rooftop tent or million dollar RV, it’s usually a safe/quiet place to stay. You won’t be able to stay at Cracker Barrels in major cities (due to camping laws), but there’s usually another location 20-30 miles down the road.

There are 2 major problems with camping at a Cracker Barrel. The parking lots are small and every RVer knows that you can park at a Cracker Barrel for free so you might not find a spot. And there’s a mad breakfast rush so you need to leave early so you don’t get blocked in. You need to try to get on the road before 8am to beat the early morning breakfast crowd.

7) Home Improvement Stores

There isn't an official policy allowing you to stay overnight at Home Improvement stores, but managers usually allow it. Sleeping in a rooftop tent at one of these stores will be much quieter than Walmart.

I have a friend that prefers staying at Home Improvement Stores over other options on this list. He travels across the country as professional waterfall kayaker and sleeps in a rooftop tent on the back of his pickup truck.

Stores like Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, etc. attract a mature professional clientele that tends to be more mature than the people you find at Walmart, Sams Club or Costco. Unfortunately, there’s no corporate policy for camping at Home Improvement stores so it’s up to the managers discretion.

I’ve never tried camping at a Home Improvement store in my rooftop tent, but I have camped at Home Depot and Lowes in my RV, Camper Van, and old 5th wheel. Home Depot usually lets me camp overnight (depending on local laws), but Lowes/Menards is 50/50 depending on the manager.

8) Big Box Stores: Sams Club and Costco (Not BJs Club)

You can usually camp overnight at big box stores like Sams Club and Costco.

I’ve had a lot of luck finding a place to stay at big box stores like Sams Club and Costco. Sam’s Club is owned by Walmart, which has a corporate policy allowing anybody to camp overnight in their parking lot (when local laws allow it). Costco doesn’t have a written policy, but 90% of the stores I’ve visited allow camping if you check in with the manager.

I really like parking at Costco or Sams Club in my RV! They have massive open parking lots so it’s easy to maneuver my coach (doesn’t matter with a rooftop tent) and conservative shopping hours. Sams Club has store hours from 10:00am-8:00pm and Costco’s open from 10:00am-8:30pm. So you won’t have to deal with late night or early morning noise.

You don’t need a membership to park overnight at Costco or Sams Club. I’ve never been asked to see my card when entering Costco, but Sams Club requires a membership to enter the store (Check My “Secret Tip” below). They won’t let you buy anything without a membership, but you can use the restroom and eat at the food court.

Sam’s Club Secret Tip: While you need a Sam’s Club membership to shop at the store (in most cases), you don’t need a membership to eat at the café. Tell the greeter that you want to eat at the food court and you can go into the store to use the restroom and grab a cheap/easy meal.

I’ve completely given up trying to stay at BJs Club parking lots. They don’t have a rule saying you can’t stay overnight at BJs club, but they rarely allow you to stay there. I would give it a 10% chance of finding a manager that allows you to stay at BJs club.

9) Empty Dirt Parking Lots In Small Towns

You should be able sleep in a rooftop tent in undeveloped dirt parking lots at the edge of town.

Most small towns have empty dirt lots where developers are planning on constructing future projects. These are usually towards the outskirts of town adjacent to gas stations, hotels, business areas, etc.

You will need to search for these areas while browsing google maps satellite view, but you can usually park overnight for free in these spots. You’re technically trespassing on private property, but I’ve never ran into problems setting up shop in these areas. Just don’t enter into a fenced off area or active construction zone.

I’ve parked in these areas countless times and I’ve never had a 3am knock on my door. The police aren’t worried about kicking a camper off private property and the property owner usually lives in another city/state. I guess you could get kicked off the land in the middle of the night, but you won’t get a trespassing charge unless you refuse to leave.

Other Places That Allow Overnight Camping With Rooftop Tents

  • Casinos: Most casinos have large parking lots with designated RV and Travel Trailer spots that you can use with a rooftop tent. They usually allow you to park in the general parking lot for free if you’re gambling at the casino, but they may have a dedicated RV park with electrical/sewer hookups ($20-$30 per night). Most casinos will comp your stay if you spend money at the casino ($50-$100).
  • Truck Stops and Service Plazas: This will be hit or miss depending on the truck stop and manager working that night. They may allow you to park in a designated RV spot, but I’ve had issues using a rooftop tent at these places in the past.
  • Churches, Synagogues, and Other Religious Places: Most churches and other places of religious worship are open to respectful campers. I’ve had the most luck in rural areas where there aren’t restrictions on overnight parking. Make sure you ask before camping at a church and get out of the parking lot before church services start.
  • City and County Parks: Some city and county parks welcome campers to park overnight for free, but it depends on where you’re at. This is extremely common in the Midwest, but it’s rarely available near where I live. Pay attention to signage to see if overnight parking is allowed and sometimes a small fee or donation will be required.

What About Using A Rooftop Tent At Walmart?

What about sleeping in a rooftop tent at Walmart?

Every camper knows that you can usually park overnight at Walmart. So you’re probably wondering why I decided to leave it off this list. There’s one very important reasons why I wouldn’t sleep in a rooftop tent at Walmart.

People that shop at Walmart are crazy! You can stay overnight at most Walmart’s, but I highly doubt you’ll get any sleep in a rooftop tent. Most Walmart’s are open 24 hours per day (at least they were before Covid) and do crazy stuff in Walmart parking lots.

There’s always a group of young guys revving their cars engines and fooling around in my local Walmart. You might be able to tune that out in an RV or Trailer, but I couldn’t imagine trying to sleep in a thin fabric tent with all that noise. Plus you have traffic coming in and out of the parking lot all night long.

Be Careful Overnighting In Parking Lots and Rest Areas

Don't get robbed using a rooftop tent in parking lots and rest areas

You can definitely camp overnight in parking lots and rest areas, but there are some things you need to consider. Roof top tents aren’t as secure as traditional trails, camper vans, or RVs. There’s just a thin wall of nylon fabric preventing people from breaking into your tent.

All it takes is a knife to slice through a roof top tent and jack your belongings. Never leave your rooftop tent open and unnattended while overnighting in a parking lot or rest area. It’s just like leaving door of your car or RV unlocked. Most people are honest, but there’s always somebody willing to make a quick buck off your camping gear.

Lock up all your valuables inside your vehicle and use a cable and lock to secure the ladder to your cars door handle. People have been known to steal ladders in the middle of the night and you won’t be able to get down fast enough to stop them.

I actually had a guy steal my trucks tailgate ($1200 once I got it painted) in the middle of the night when I was sleeping 10 feet away in my 5th wheel. That happened in a Cracker Barrel parking lot and it was all caught on security cameras. The entire process took less than 30 seconds and I didn’t hear a thing.