You’re a road warrior, a captain of the interstate, or a pirate of the freeway. You love to travel in your RV. But, when the sun goes down and it's time to rest, you need to find overnight RV parking. Even though you’re traveling with all the comforts of home, you can’t just pull off to the side of the road and set-up camp for the night. You need to make sure you’re not only parking legally, but where you are welcome.
While you’d love to find someplace free, you don’t know if that includes any amenities or if you can even dump your tanks. And, you need it to be safe, but also quiet. There are lots of options out there for overnight RV parking, and we’re here to help you sort it out.
What Is Overnight RV Parking?
There's a difference between overnight RV parking and overnight RV camping. Overnight parking is for one night and one night only. You are expected to be gone by morning and not to come back again, at least not that night. Overnight camping is for more than one night. You are allowed to stay all day and all night and are welcome to stay for multiple days.
When you park your RV, you generally get a safe place to park, and that’s about it. When you camp, you will usually have access to more “things.” These things include hookups for your RV, a place to dump your tanks, and possibly showers, a pool, Wi-Fi, and other amenities.
What Is Boondocking?
Boondocking is when you overnight park or camp without any hookups for water, sewer or electric. Some people may also refer to this as dry camping. Most free overnight RV parking is boondocking. When you boondock, you’re on your own to find hookups and to dump your tanks, unless you have your own generator or use solar power. While it may not be for the faint of heart, boondocking is a great way to save on fees.
How to Be a Good Overnight RV Parking Guest
Just like you want to be a good houseguest when you stay with a friend, you want to be a good RV guest whether you park or camp. It’s more than just “be polite” and “say please and thank you.” Not only does this make for a more pleasant stay for you, but it also ensures that the owner of the site will allow future overnight RV parking for you and others.
This is the biggest rule of all: ask for permission. Even if you see others parking somewhere, that doesn’t mean it’s safe or even legal. Just because it’s a public parking lot (even a free one) doesn’t mean that overnight RV parking is allowed. Not only is it a polite thing to do, but it’s also the right thing to do. Letting the lot owner know you are there allows the owner to keep track of who is around and helps keep you safe.
Crazy as it sounds, make sure you park correctly. This means as straight as possible and between the lines. Make sure you leave enough room between you and the next RV or truck next to you so they can get in and out easily.
Also, make sure you are parking in the designated overnight RV parking area. This could mean parking at the far end of a parking lot across three spots. Or, it could mean the area with the “overnight parking allowed” signs. Wherever it is, make sure that’s the only place you park.
Don’t overstay your welcome
Sure, you might want to sleep late, but it’s considered good overnight RV parking etiquette to be out of the parking lot by mid-morning at the absolute latest. The lot owner may need your spot, or spots, back for the morning rush, regular customers, or just to clean-up.
Don’t set up camp
Remember, you are only there for one night. As an overnight RV parking guest, you shouldn’t make it look like you’re planning on staying longer than that. While it might be tempting to set up some chairs to sit outside and gab with other guests, don’t do it. It’s fine to be neighborly, but don’t give the impression that you’re moving in.
Again, you don’t want it to look like you’re taking up permanent residence. Sure, you need to eat, but this is not the time to pull out the grill and have a cookout. This is the time for sandwiches or other quick and convenient meals you don’t need to cook outside your RV. Save the s’mores for when you’re at an actual RV camping site.
Sure, it may be tempting to run to the edge of the parking lot and dump your tanks, but don’t do it. Not only is it rude, but there’s also a good chance it’s illegal. If you get caught (or the lot owner gets in trouble) they may not allow overnight RV parking anymore. You don't want to be that guy that ruins it for everyone.
Be a good patron
Many of the overnight RV parking sites we suggest are at businesses or restaurants. These places are happy to have you park overnight and even welcome you and your RV. While it’s certainly not a requirement, it is a nice idea to patronize the business. Even if you only buy a small trinket, it’s a respectful gesture to make and something many businesses will appreciate.
Ask about the jacks
It’s common for RV’s to have and use jacks. However, not all overnight RV parking sites want you to use your jacks because it might damage the parking lot. Some don’t want you to use the pads. Make sure you check with the owner before you set up for the night.
Clean up after yourself
This should go without saying, but make sure you take your trash with you and leave nothing behind. You want it to seem like you were never there. The less the owner has to do in the morning, the better it is for everyone. This isn't just great advice for boondocking, either - campers and RVers should always leave their campsite as clean or cleaner than they found it.
Choose a Safe Spot
Of course, safety is an important issue when parking overnight. The first rule to follow is: trust your gut. If something seems fishy or unsafe, leave and find someplace else to park.
Make sure the place you are parking is well lit. While you may not want to park right under the light, make sure the entire lot has enough light so you (and others) can see what’s happening at all times. And, try to park near other overnight guests, but make sure to lock your doors.
Don’t park behind a building -- even if it is well lit. Choose a space in the front of the building or close to a main street. And, again, make sure the owner knows you are there in case something does happen.
While you are supposed to be a quiet guest, a fog horn will surely draw attention if you get in trouble. If you’re really in a pinch, a can of bear spray will keep any intruder at bay. Have a heavy flashlight handy, also. It’s good for seeing in the dark as well as for self-defense.
Where Can I Park for Free
There are many places you can park your RV overnight for free. Just make sure you are a good overnight guest and that you always talk to the owner of the parking lot or campsite before you set up for the night.
Walmart doesn't just allow overnight RV parking, they encourage it! Some Walmart parking lots even have their overnight RV parking spaces outlined. However, don’t just pull into any Walmart and assume it’s okay to park overnight. Not all Walmarts allow overnight RV parking for various reasons. Your best bet for overnight RV parking is a more rural Walmart but always check with the manager first.
A unique location for overnight RV parking is a casino. Many of them allow you to park overnight if they have space available, so call ahead to make sure there is room. Some casinos may charge a small free. Casinos are usually located right off the highway, making it an easy and convenient stop. And not only do casinos offer an endless buffet of food for your dining pleasure, but you can also test your luck at the tables or maybe even see a show. Some may also have pools or spas you can visit for a small fee.
Known for southern hospitality, Cracker Barrels are more than just a place to grab a meal. You can also overnight RV park at many of their locations. Stop in any Cracker Barrel location to grab a map that shows exactly which locations offer overnight RV parking. It’s usually in the back with extra large parking spaces. Just follow the signs. Given that allowing overnight RV parking is a corporate rule, you can probably count on finding overnight RV parking at any Cracker Barrel -- but make sure you double check before setting up camp for the night.
You can buy and service your RV at Camping World, and they also allow overnight RV parking. However, some locations only allow you to park if you purchased your RV at Camping World, so make sure you check before you pull-in for the night.
Overnight RV parking at a truck stop is another option when you need to rest. The advantage is that a lot of truck stops have hook-ups, a place to dump your tanks and may even offer showers. However, not all truck stops welcome RVs. Check before you park to make sure overnight RV parking is allowed. If it is, make sure you don’t take a space reserved for a trucker who also needs to rest.
Where Else Can I Park Overnight
Of course, boondocking in a parking lot may not be your thing. While you may still want to boondock, you might want a better view or even some amenities.
For $99 a year, you can join RV Golf Club, a members-only service that gives you exclusive access to properties that allow you to park overnight. These properties include golf courses, country clubs and several types of resorts. Not only do you get to park at these properties, but you will also receive discounts on amenities, and many offer discounted hookups as well.
Farms and vineyards
For a truly unique experience, try Harvest Hosts. Offering overnight RV parking in something other than a parking lot, Harvest Hosts has over 400 different options for parking. These include vineyards, wineries, distilleries, and farms. You will have to pay a membership fee to access the list, but most of the sites allow you to park for free.
Sometimes, you just want a little peace and quiet. And, perhaps, to be the only RV on site. If that’s the case, try Boondockers Welcome. It’s like Airbnb for the RV set. Search the listings and find a host that welcomes overnight RV parking at their home. Many offer hookups, and you’ll likely be the only guest on site. Most of the hosts, though, do not offer their sites for free.
The odds are pretty good that when you’re using your RV, you’ll want to visit national parks. Fortunately, RV’s are allowed in most national parks, and they allow overnight RV parking and overnight RV camping. However, you can’t just pull up to the gate and find a place to park. Most national parks require you to make a reservation at least five days in advance, although some parks have a first-come-first-served policy.
Let’s Hit the Road
Now that you know where to find overnight RV parking and you know the rules of being a good guest, it’s time to take that road trip you’ve been dreaming about. What are you waiting for? It's time to pack up the RV, drive off into the sunset and enjoy life on the open road. Safe travels!
Did we miss your favorite place to boondock it overnight? Let us know down in the comments.