When meandering across this great nation or the great nation immediately north of us (as we commonly do), we regularly park overnight at various businesses—but only with their permission. Consider the following policy statement taken verbatim from the Walmart website…
Can I park my RV at a Walmart store?
“While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space, and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.”
Other places you may be able to boondock overnight include Sam’s Clubs (these are different from the Walmarts), Flying J truck stops (not the truck park but up front where they allow RVs), Sam’s Club, Cracker Barrel (only those that allow bus parking but their bus spaces can be pretty short), Fred Meyer, Giant food stores, Food Lion, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain, some Rest Areas and Visitor Centers (along Interstates), Lowe’s, Home Depot, occasional malls, some organizations (Elks, Moose, VFW, American Legion), most casinos, various city parks, fairgrounds, marinas, BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands, and others. With the exception of Rest Areas and Visitor Centers, we always ask permission by calling ahead (if possible) or going in to ask if we could not call. In Canada, we have boondocked with permission at Walmarts, Canadian Tire Stores, and some various types of small businesses.
The Walmart SuperCenters have 24-hour-security driving around, we’ve…
- been offered a “special” RV parking area (with painted parking lines)
- had the security people knock on our door to say “Welcome” and they would keep an eye on us
- had a manager come out and literally guide us into a parking spot
- been offered free electricity (110 v) for the night.
We do prefer their 24-hour locations because of security. However, we have never had a problem. All this has definitely enhanced our “shopping convenience.”
I’ve heard unverified estimates that there are approximately 500 municipalities nationwide that have passed some ordinance to ban overnight parking (city-wide). That number changes constantly based on local city councils voting to enact or rescind parking bans so the only way to accurately know is to call and verify. If overnight parking has been banned, don’t go there and plan to park. That’s why you call and ask. You cannot phone Rest Areas or Visitor Centers but they may have signs posted such as, “Nighttime Security.”
A Personal Story… We lost our motorhome brake lights and definitely did not want to drive at night. We had a service appointment the next day and stopped at an Interstate Rest Area to, hopefully, stay the night. Signs were posted, “No Overnight Camping.” I spotted a state trooper in his car and asked if we could stay the night. He said sure, they were providing 24-hour security in the Rest Area, he would be there all night, and we were welcome to stay. I asked about the sign. He said that meant no tents.
Commercial business parking lots are not a “campground” so don’t “camp” there—no grills, chairs, awnings out—no jacks-down either, especially in hot weather on their blacktop. Don’t even think of leaving your trash there! It’s a convenient place to park overnight, period.
Don’t assume that if one RV is parked, it must be okay since many RVers just pull in and park without asking. Seeing other RVs parked there should not be construed as “automatic” permission. So call ahead, ask permission, park away from the store, shop a bit, get/fix dinner, watch TV, sleep, get up, have coffee, and leave. If you are going to stay two or more nights and be a local tourist, get a campground.
I also do not recommend truck parks—the parking area next to truck stops. Except for Flying J, other major truck-stop companies sometimes tolerate RV parking but it’s not encouraged. Indeed, many of the truckers don’t like it either. They are required to get off the road (by law) and must park, so stay out of their way so they can do their jobs.
It is becoming more common for fast-food outlets (especially those near Interstate highway exits) to have a small truck park. There is no normal or average size but those I have seen would commonly hold about 8–10 trucks. The “requirement” is that you eat in the restaurant. Yes, ask permission to park there overnight.
What a Great Opportunity
Having thousands of business and government locations (rest areas, etc.) available for your use is a privilege all RVers should take seriously. Simply, it comes down to hearing a “Yes” or “No” when you call and ask permission to park overnight. Those businesses are not under any pressure or influence to say “Yes” so when they do, they are doing you a giant favor. They have made it convenient for you and saved you money—and they didn’t have to do it. Thank them. Take care of their property. Play nice.