Free Overnight RV Parking = Finding “Freebies”

Gotta love free parking at Walmart!

So, we’ve been avidly planning our route to OR these past two days. As is typical in summer most of the public campgrounds are booked solid, but we’ve managed to find a few sweet spots that we’re really looking forward to. For the couple of nights where we can’t book we’ll rely on free overnight parking along the way. Most people who full-time RV know this trick, but I thought it’d still be nice to do a quick post on it for those who don’t.

Free overnight parking is a convenience many old-timer RVers know about.

I call them “freebies” and they’re spaces where you can park for free (no hookups) for the night. In my mind this is not the same as “boondocking” (= camping out in the boonies/nature). When you “freebie” you don’t camp and you don’t stay for the views. It’s simply somewhere convenient to pass the night, usually right next to the road. We did one on the way to Grand Junction staying overnight at Walmart locally the night before our 7AM RV appointment. Not only did it give us the chance to stock up on some groceries, but it was safe and a perfect location for the night. There are lots of places who offer this wonderful service and a couple of rules that I follow each time we use them.

Who Offers Free Parking?

Parking at an abandoned lot off the I-10 in Texas.

I’m always amazed at the number of places that’ll let you stay overnight, even a “beast” size like us. Here’s a short list:

  • Walmart – Most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking unless there’s a city ordinance that prohibits it.
  • Casino’s – Many Casino’s have secure parking areas where you can stay for more than one night. Some even give you a discount on a meal. Live.Work.Dream wrote a great post about them here. Also check out www.casinocamper.com.
  • Flying J’s – Many Flying J Truck Stops have a separate RV parking area where you can spend the night.
  • Big Stores – Some of the larger stores (K-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot, Camping World) will allow you to spend a night.
  • Rest Areas – Some rest areas (in some States) allow you to stay overnight.
  • Others – Plenty of other unusual spots allow one-night stays. You can find lots of additional listings at www.overnightrvparking.com and at the fabulous Escapees Days End Directory.
April 2012 Update – There is now a new service launched by the fine folks at Frugal RV Travel called Boondockers Welcome where you can connect with other RVers for the chance to overnight for free on private property. Another great resource!

 

What Are The Rules?

We always make sure we park in the very back of the lot where we won’t be in the way.

There are really no “official” rules for free overnight stays, but there are a few unofficial ones which I always follow:

  • Ask Permission – This is rule #1 and I think it’s critical. Unless you know for a fact that the spot allows overnight parking (i.e. it’s clearly marked), then the right thing to do is to ask for permission. Before we arrived in Grand Junction, CO I called ahead to ask Walmart if we could stay. There are actually 2 Walmart’s in the area and only one allows overnight parking (because of city ordinance), so the phone call was worth the trouble. If I show up at a spot without calling, I’ll go in and ask the manager on-site.
  • Park Out of the Way – If you’re parking at a business chose a spot where you won’t get in the way of the regular daytime customers. At Walmart I’ll try to park at the very back of the lot.
  • Don’t Set-Up Camp – These “freebies” are overnight parking, not camping. So, keep the slides in and the jacks up. We’ll sometimes put out one of the small slides (as long as it doesn’t hang into a parking spot) and we may run the generator in the early evening but I don’t push it further than that.
  • Use Some Cash – This is not really a “rule”, but I like to spend some money at the spot I’m staying. It’s a way of giving back to the business for letting me stay for free.
  • Be Courteous – Be nice to your “hosts” and your neighbours.
  • Don’t Overstay Your Welcome – Most of these places are really just overnight parking spots. Some (like Casino’s) might let you legitimately stay more than one night, and others might allow it if you ask (and have a good reason), but for the most case it’s just a 1-night deal and it makes sense to support that policy.
  • Leave It Spotless – It goes without saying that you shouldn’t dump gray water or leave trash at these spots. Leave it clean and spotless.

And the last thing, although it’s not a rule is more common sense. If you don’t feel safe don’t stay. Most of the big businesses are pretty safe, but there might be areas of town that are rougher (esp. in big cities). Overall I love “freebies” and consider it a priviledge that I get to use them. Got any favorites of your own?

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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. says

    There are literally thousands of places that will allow Overnight RV Parking, but there are also thousands that don’t allow it. The searchable online database at http://www.OvernightrVParking.com lists more than 9,000 of these places, showing where it is and isn’t allowed. Costs $25/year, but you can save more than that in one night.

    • hlibertatemamo says

      Yup, that’s the website I listed in the post under the “others” section. One of my favorites!
      Nina

  2. Jil Mohr says

    We do as u do….. Wish more people would too.. When they don’t it makes it bad for the rest of us….

  3. says

    Nina, there definitely ARE rules for these overnight freebies. They are published by a joint group of such organizations as Escapees, FMCA, Good Sam Club and others. The rules are almost exactly as you list them: certainly no barbecues, lawn chairs, awings etc, outside. No leveling jacks, and no big slides. As for places for freebies, Escapees has a Day’s End listing for members only. Our favorite so far is Peggy Sue’s Nifty Fifties Diner in Yermo, CA. Lots of room, great food, and you are definitely welcome. But as you say, go in and ask anyway. Then return for dinner — it’s a fun place.

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh yes, I forgot to mention the Days End Directory. We’re a member and use it quite a bit. You can even download the map locations onto Microsoft Street and Trips (quite handy!)
      Love the sound of that Fiftie’s Diner in Yermo!
      Nina

  4. mariettta says

    For those in the South don’t forget CrackerBarrel Restaurants! They are happy to accomodate you as long as you park after the rush dinner hour and they love for you to enjoy a home cooked breakfast the next morning.

    • libertatemamo says

      Cracker Barrel are another great idea. Interstingly their “official” company policy is no overnight parking which is why I didn’t mention them in the post. I do know RVers that use them and often the individual restaurant will make an exception. As long as you ask the manager, I think they’re another great resource!
      Nina

  5. says

    Not all Cracker Barrels allow Overnight RV Parking. Some don’t have RV spaces. You need to either check an accurate listing that shows which ones do & don’t allow it (and then obtain the manager’s permission when you arrive), or else telephone ahead for permission.

  6. jil mohr says

    I might add that although there are “rules” there is no way to enforce them… it is pretty much the honor system….

    • libertatemamo says

      Yup, that’s a FABULOUS link that I forgot to add to the post. Thanks for reminding me.
      I’m planning to use these that resource on the West Coast as we go thro’ the wine regions.
      Nina

  7. Jim Harden says

    The Cabela’s store in Kansas City, Kansas allows overnightparking, they even have a small corral for livestock as well as fenced kennels for dogs, water is available. There is no longer a dump station.. They are located just off I-435 just north of I-70. From 435 take the State Ave. West exit then the first right and watch for the signs.

  8. Daphne Georgia says

    Cabella’s in Thornton Colorado (north north Denver) allows overnighters. They have a dump station and kennels for your dog if you want to go in to shop. exit I-25 at 144th

    • libertatemamo says

      As we’ve traveled more extensively across the US we’ve noticed more & more Cabella stores that offer overnight parking as well as services (dump station, or something else). Cabella’s are actually a great option for overnight stays & tend to be VERY RV friendly. Thanks for pointing out the Colorado store…dump & kennels…how awesome!

      Nina

  9. Beverly "SilverBee" Scofield says

    Hi, Libertemamo!

    First time visiting you. I am an (ahem) “mature” woman who is getting ready in the next month to begin quite an adventure. I’ll be traveling alone in a 1995 Ford F150 pickup pulling a 26′ 1996 Coachmen Catalina travel trailer. Well, I’ll be alone except for my five cockatiels. We’ll be heading from Tennessee to California, for starters.

    I have traveled alone before, pickup and slide-in camper, but this will be more exacting, I think. I’m older and–well, I’m older. (smile) Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to reading your blog and picking up pointers that will help me on my way. And believe me, I need all the help I can get!

    Thanks for going over the tips for finding and accessing overnight stops.

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