There are many places that allow you to stay overnight in your RV but there are often rules that apply even when it is just a parking lot, as well as courtesy tips and tricks so you don’t alienate the business or other overnighters.
It has become a problem lately where businesses are now refusing to allow RVers to stay in their parking lots overnight because unfortunately, some RVers have been abusing the privilege such as staying more than one night, leaving trash behind or not parking far enough away from the entrance.
Here are some tips, tricks and etiquette advice for overnighting in Walmarts, Cracker Barrels and the like.
Find out if it is permitted in the city first, you can easily phone the location of the overnight business in advance to see if it is allowed or not, which will make it easier to make alternative plans before you arrive.
Some cities have passed laws and ordinances that forbid anyone from overnighting in a parking lot. So businesses in these areas cannot override these rules and allow you to stay, however, you usually do not have to travel too far to get out of the jurisdiction.
Check with the manager
You can phone ahead to ask if the business allows overnight parking before you get there. But always go into the business and double-check with a manager. Some businesses will not allow it unless you ask prior permission first.
Park far away from the entrance
Be respectful of the fact this is a business and their customers are also using the parking lot too. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to park in the furthest darkest corner that is around the back. But do park quite far away in the main part of the parking lot.
Use a limited number of spots
Park so that you can leave easily, but don’t take up unnecessary space either. If you are a shorter RV, you can fit in a head-to-head space. If you are going to be parking across multiple spots, especially if you are a longer RV or are towing a trailer or 5th wheel, park close to an end, leaving enough room to maneuver at the end in case of someone parking in front of you. This will allow others who may be staying overnight to find space easier too if you aren’t parked in the middle of the row.
Be respectful with your slides
Don’t allow your slides to overhang where people drive, which is unfortunately what I have seen what some have done. Remember that businesses such as Walmart have big trucks with overnight stock shipments arriving and you cannot have your slide blocking the way.
Instead, I try and position the RV so the slide overhangs otherwise unusable space, such as a grass area.
If you don’t need your slide out for sleeping, however, I just recommend leaving the slides in.
Check Google Maps
You can always check Google Maps to get a satellite view of any parking lot you are planning to stop at, that way you can get an idea of what the parking lot layout is like and pre-plan the spot you would like that would accommodate your RV best, especially if you want to use your slides. It will also show you any trees, barriers or other obstacles you may discover in the parking lot.
When you have an idea of where you want to be on Google Maps, it makes getting into the parking lot and knowing where you want to head to so much easier. This trick is especially useful if you are arriving after dark.
It is also helpful to find the area you want to park earlier in the day, then take a screenshot of the parking lot. That way you can just bring up the screenshot on your phone quickly, without having to wait for Google Maps to load again and find the area.
Check curb heights
Some businesses might have curbs that are unexpectedly a bit higher. So be aware of your overhangs and potential damage.
Don’t leave your trailer behind
Never unhook your vehicle to go off exploring while leaving your trailer or 5th wheel behind in the parking lot. This is definitely overstepping what you are allowed to do when parking in parking lots of these businesses that are generously allowing you to use their space for free. But it still happens.
Don’t run your generator all night without permission
Be respectful of others who may be staying overnight as well as the business’s neighbors. It is generally okay if it is just turned on for twenty minutes to cook dinner but do not leave your generator running all night.
And don’t forget, when you arrived there might not be anyone else parked near you, but someone might arrive after you are in bed and get disturbed by your generator running all night. However, parking lots with 18-wheelers generally run their generators all night, so those ones should be fine.
It is excessive generator use as one of the reasons cited why cities are banning overnights in parking lots. If you need to use your generator all night, be sure to ask the business first.
Bottom line, be a good neighbor when it comes to generator use, especially if yours is especially loud.
Don’t stay more than one night
This is one of the main reasons why some businesses have stopped allowing vehicles to stay overnight, because cities don’t want to see their parking lots turned into defacto homeless shelters with people staying for days or weeks at a time.
While it may not be noticeable if you leave during the day, some RVers have been taking up parking spaces during the day. And many of these businesses need those parking spots during the day, especially busy locations.
If you do this, don’t be surprised if they ban you from staying overnight at their business in the future.
Don’t empty your tanks
Shockingly, some RVers think it is appropriate to empty (or partially empty) their grey tanks in the parking lot. And some have even dumped their black tanks right in the parking lot too. This is never acceptable and the cleanup is why some locations have banned overnighters. This includes draining into a storm drain too.
Don’t leave garbage behind
Sure, if you grab a meal at Cracker Barrel, it is acceptable to put the containers or wrappers from dinner in the garbage. But you should never leave any additional garbage behind, or cardboard from your purchases etc.
You should follow the motto of leaving it cleaner than you found it.
Don’t use your awnings, grills, etc
While this seems like common sense for most of us, this still happens. A parking lot is not a campsite and you shouldn’t treat it as one. So don’t break out your grill, put out your awnings, set up lawn chairs or loungers.
Support the business
Businesses such as Walmart, Cabellas and Cracker Barrel allow RVers to stay overnight because they expect RVers will grab a meal or buy groceries or other supplies while they are there. So please do your part whenever you can and buy your groceries, pick up coffee, refresh your ice for coolers, grab breakfast, pick up any repair supplies.
Remember, if you aren’t comfortable eating in the restaurant, you can do pickup at Cracker Barrel too and they also do meal baskets which are complete meals including your favorite Cracker Barrel sides meant for families.
Treat the security guard
Pick up some $5 gift cards for McDonalds to give security guards at Walmart a free coffee or food or $5 gift cards for chain coffee shops for a fancy coffee. It serves as goodwill for those who are patrolling the lot for safety reasons all night.
Check apps & websites
Many apps and websites include information about staying at specific free parking lots and is worth checking as well. But just because a site or app says it is fine to stay in the parking lot, still always check with the manager as things may have changed and the app has not been updated.
Where can you stay for free?
Here are some of the common places that allow RVers overnight. But remember, always talk to the manager first, as some cities do not allow overnighters and some specific locations do not allow it either due to space issues or problems with previous overnighters.
Probably the best well-known option and there are so many Walmarts available. And they are convenient if you are driving down interstates, highways or freeways, as they are often conveniently located near an exit.
You can choose a 24 hour location if you plan to arrive late or leave early and still want to get supplies too.
Always check with each locations manager before you settle in for the night.
While it is commonly known through RV circles that they allow overnight parking, it is something they do not advertise as one of their services. Some locations with larger parking lots even have designated areas just for RVers too.
Again, check with the manager and what most RVers tend to do is grab breakfast the next morning before leaving.
If you need some RV or camping supplies, Cabelas can be a great overnight spot to stay so you can pick up what you need before you head out the next morning.
They often have a separate area for parking for RVs and other oversized vehicles, and if those spots are full they may not allow you to stay in their regular parking lot.
Some Cabela’s locations have a dump station and water availability.
Bass Pro Shops
Bass Pro Shops are owned by the same company that owns Cabela’s and many also allow overnighters. They generally don’t seem to have dedicated RV parking like Cabela’s however.
There aren’t as many locations, although some are joint Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops locations.
Some Lowes allow overnighters but you need to check with the manager for permission at each location.
Some Home Depot locations also offer overnight parking, but again, always check with the manager.
Some truck stops also allow RVers to stay overnight and some even have reservable spots. But be aware that some of the more popular locations fill up early, especially on weekends, at locations close to towns. They do offer some amenities such as showers though, which is great if you want a nice hot shower without worrying about using up too much water in the RV or filling the tanks. Some also include dump stations too.
Only stay at busier rest stops, I try to avoid the exceptionally secluded ones or ones with hardly any other vehicles for safety reasons.
Some Casinos allow RVers to stay in their parking lot overnight, with the expectation you will gamble or eat while you are there. Some have dedicated areas for RVers to park, both for overnighters and for those visiting during the day. However, since some also have RV parks attached to them, they do not allow overnighters for free. So you will need to check with each location first.