For any RV enthusiast, even if you aren’t planning to go halfway across the globe, knowing where to stay overnight is a big issue. Making a wrong decision can bring legal, financial, and even moral consequences. That is why you should know what stores allow overnight parking, and why.
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Generally, the big box stores and places with big parking lots won’t mind, but that doesn’t mean that the municipality will allow overnight parking. You should check the places like:
- Cracker Barrel
- Bass Pro
- Camping World
- Home Depot
- Sam’s Club
Most of these will allow you to keep your RV parked overnight. But, always make sure that it is also legal under state and county law, and that you are not falling under vagrancy laws.
Why and Where are Stores that Allow Overnight Parking?
Most of the stores mentioned above have huge parking lots and not as much traffic at night. That is why they won’t care if you keep your vehicle parked there overnight. But, you should be aware that not caring and allowing is not the same thing every time.
In some states, it is illegal to sleep in your car, and they see RVs in the same way. In others, it is totally fine and as long as you are not disturbing the public you can do whatever you want.
Also, keep in mind that these parking lots are private property. If you are asked to leave you should be ready to do so at a moment's notice. That is why staying in these parking spaces doesn't give as much freedom as actual camping on public and federal land.
For stores that allow overnight parking, it will also be a good idea to inform the staff working night security that you are there and what you are doing. Provided that the store is okay with that, it will prevent them from calling the police if they find your presence suspicious.
Finally, there is a question of the number of RVs that can be on a parking lot. Ideally, you will be able to stay away from each other, but otherwise, it is best to keep contact to a minimum. Any noise or littering might force the store to evict you from the premises.
Parking at Walmart
Walmart allows overnight parking and the lots are big enough that nobody will care what you are doing. It is also a solid place to restock on necessities if necessary.
There are several issues that you should consider when it comes to the exact Walmart you should pick, and you should be aware that oftentimes the easiest places to park aren't the safest. It will be up to you to determine what level of risk is acceptable to you and if you need some additional amenities.
Ideally, you want to pick out a Walmart that works around the clock, as that way it is impossible to determine if you are there to shop or sleep. You can also buy some stuff to show that you are a customer, and during working hours you have the right to use the parking, technically.
But, if this takes a few days, you might be noticed if you have not called to ask the store. At that moment, you may be asked to leave.
The best way to go is first to check the vagrancy laws for the state, then ask the store manager or assistant manager if you can park there for a while. Having consent is always the best way to go.
If you need an excuse, you may want to say that you are working on your RV and need some items from Walmart and some time, which will make it okay to stay. Don’t point out that you need a pillow and some downtime.
- Lots of locations
- Large lots
- Good store policy
- 24/7 locations
- Solid security
- Not expressly allowing
- Generally few amenities
- May become crowded
Parking at Sam’s Club
Sam’s club, which is technically also a Walmart, is both a better and worse choice than Walmart. If you are a member of the club you will have a sure way to show that you are not there loitering overnight. But if you are not, there will be no way not to move immediately.
Sam's club generally has a smaller lot, and there aren't as many 24/7 locations. But, if there is enough room the manager will usually be more open to you staying in the parking lot, as a potential customer.
- Easy access for members
- Good entry and exit
- Frequent local amenities
- Not a lot of 24/7 locations
- Smaller lots
- Non-members may be asked to leave
Parking at Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards
DIY and home improvement stores can be bunched up together because when it comes to staying overnight here they will act generally the same. Provided that they are legal statewide, they are a solid choice for RVers to stay.
There is an issue with smaller lots and generally bigger cars. This is a blessing and a curse because an RV won’t stand out as much as it would in some big box stores. A lot of people come with trailers to pick up materials, and yours will look similar.
But, that also means that you can get blocked if you don’t plan your location upfront. With a lot of traffic coming in early in the morning, you can either leave immediately or wait out the morning rush.
Thankfully, that morning rush also means that you will be less conspicuous overnight. Most home improvement stores open as early as 5 AM and anyone checking won't know if you are sleeping or just came in really early to pick up what you need from the store.
Still, asking the manager for consent is the best way to go, just to be on the safe side.
- Good location
- Usually a lot of local amenities
- RVs blend in with the customers
- Smaller lots
- A lot of noise in the morning
- Can get congested
Parking at Costco
Costco as a company is very open with people using their parking lots to stay overnight. The lots are large, easy to maneuver in, and very rarely get as crowded even in peak hours.
The only issue with Costco is the location. Most venues are urban, and it is usually illegal to sleep in a vehicle overnight in cities. And, it is also quite dangerous for someone to see you sleeping in the cities at night as well, because you may get mugged.
But, if you are anywhere more rural, Costco is a perfect location. The lot size is the same but with fewer people, and most rural places in the USA are surprisingly safe to stay in.
- Excellent company policy
- Very large lots
- Not a lot of traffic
- Generally safe
- Not a lot of locations outside of cities
- Few amenities locally
- Might be out of your route
Parking at Bass Pro
Both Cabela’s and Bass Pro are the same in this case, and they are the same company, so this will apply to both. They have a welcoming policy as a company, but this is one of few locations where you will need to call the manager to ask every time.
The biggest issue with Bass Pro is that a lot of their locations are franchises where some may own the land they are on, while others lease it. The latter will rarely, if ever, allow you to stay on the lot and will call the police if they notice you sleeping in the parking lot overnight.
This is not because of the company but because property managers will frown on this practice.
Those who do own their land will be generally open for someone staying. They are a camping goods store and thus trust that you will be their customer sooner or later.
- Generally an open policy
- Decent size lots
- Frequent local amenities
- Access to camping gear
- Good security
- Leased locations will be unavailable
- Many urban locations
Parking at Camping World
Camping World used to be the best place for boondockers by far. In the past, it was possible even to hook up your RV to electrical and water free of charge. Regretfully, many locations stopped that practice and will not allow you even to park.
It is best to call in advance and ask. If they are okay with it you will have the best experience possible as most of the people working there are boondockers themselves. So if you need any advice or help in maintenance, it is the place to be.
Even if they don’t allow you to stay, parking near the store on public land (provided that it is legal) will be very covert as nobody will know if you are there early for maintenance or have slept the sleep of the righteous for the last 12 hours.
- Lots made for RVs
- Welcoming staff
- Some places have water and power chargers
- You will blend in
- Good locations
- An increasing number of locations don't allow overnight
- Necessary to ask for consent
Quick Rundown of What to Look for in Overnight Parking
When it comes to boondocking, big stores are a very obvious choice because of the big parking lots. But, even if you have a good idea it doesn't mean that it is the best idea. Good planning and good preparation are the cornerstones of any good boondocking adventure, and the same goes for the nighttime.
Thankfully, a lot of stores allow overnight parking, and even smaller stores will have adequate space most time. But the fact that it is possible is not enough. You will need to check off five questions from your list:
- Is it legal?
- Is it safe?
- Will you get stuck?
- Do you have access to food, water, and power?
- Can you do maintenance on the location?
These are in descending importance, as you might have enough supplies and power for the week and don't need maintenance. And even in some cases, you might be willing to risk a fine if the location is very good.
I would never condone any illegal activities, but on the off-chance that you really need to ”loiter” then the best thing to do is not to get caught. Lying is immoral, but it can be forgiven if you are not hurting anyone.
Know Your Laws
This is a piece of advice for any activity, ever. If you are going on your RV adventure, be sure to read up on the law of the land and know your rights and your obligations. Only that way you will know what to expect and how to plan your route.
Take note that state laws might not be what you need to worry about, but rather municipal code. If you know the code of the place you are visiting, it will be easy to select locations to sleep, get supplies, and finally camp out.
Otherwise, taking a fine after fine will make the route more expensive and increasingly annoying, and you won't have anyone else to blame but yourself. The law is on the internet, very public, and usually easy to understand. Use that advantage.
Check the surroundings and read up on the location you want to sleep online. Some places look fine but are known for criminal activities, and you don’t want to get dragged up into anything.
Investing in a magnetic ‘’2nd Amendment’’ sticker might be a good idea, even if you don’t care for firearms. People tend not to mess with RVs and trailers that have them for obvious reasons.
Finally, try to blend in where you can. Hiding in plain sight is always a good idea, regardless of what you are doing.
Searching for Amenities
When we are speaking about amenities most people stick to the lowest rank of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, focusing on physiological needs like food, water, and warmth. But, just above that, there is safety, and we shouldn't disregard social needs either.
When planning a place to stay, it might be a good idea to look for somewhere where there are bars and places to hang out with other humans. Especially if you are on your adventure alone, making some friends from time to time will be good for your mental health.
Getting In And Out
Not really an amenity, but it is something to think about. If you are using stores that allow for overnight parking you should check the working hours and peak hours because sometimes you won’t be able to get out as easily.
Play Nice and Follow the Etiquette
Boondocking has a lot of unwritten rules over the ones imposed by the law. You should always try to make an effort to play nice with the people becoming your temporary neighbors as well as your fellow boondockers.
Remember to ask for consent if you are staying on private land whenever possible. Showing yourself as someone sensible and open will go a long way.
Also, remember to keep a distance from other people and their families, especially if you yourself are not traveling as a family. People don’t know you and you want to show that you are a normal person first before approaching someone.
Still, boondockers are always there to help, and there is, thankfully, a lot of cooperation in the community. If you can find the local community online, they will almost always be open to help.