As More Walmarts Stop Allowing Overnight Camping, Try These Alternatives
Walmart camping, affectionately known as “Wallydocking” among RVers, has been a staple for many. However, the trend of Walmarts allowing overnight RV stays has been decreasing over the years. A recent lawsuit has sparked concerns that this decline may accelerate.
“A woman named Essie McKenzie [a local shopper] is suing Walmart after her 6-year-old daughter was killed and another daughter, then 9 years old, was left “disfigured” when their minivan became engulfed in flames. The incident took place during the early morning of August 6, 2019, at a Walmart in Fridley, Minnesota.–Business Insider
The lawsuit alleges that a camper’s unattended hot stove sparked a fire that spread to McKenzie’s car, where her daughters were sleeping. If the lawsuit prevails, it could compel Walmart to revise its overnight RV camping policy. This may necessitate RVers who depend on Walmart for brief overnight stays to seek alternative options. Before we get into the Walmart alternatives, below you’ll find some important tips to remember when utilizing any of these locations.
Essential Etiquette for Free Overnight RV Parking
When planning to park your RV overnight for free, it’s crucial to follow some key guidelines to ensure a smooth and respectful experience.
- Check with the Manager: Always ask for permission before parking overnight. This rule applies whether you’re at a big box store, a local business, or a public space. It’s the manager’s discretion to allow or disallow overnight parking, and their decision can be influenced by local laws or company policies.
- Don’t Set Up Camp: Remember, you’re parking, not camping. Avoid setting up outdoor furniture, awnings, or grills. Keep your activities confined to the interior of your RV.
- Depart Early: Aim to leave early in the morning. This minimizes your impact on the business or location and shows respect for the privilege of overnight parking.
- Park Out of the Way: Choose a spot that’s out of the way, ideally at the far end of the parking lot. This ensures you’re not taking up prime spaces for customers or causing any inconvenience.
- Leave No Trace: Follow the “leave no trace” principle. Dispose of your trash responsibly, and leave your parking spot as clean as you found it, if not cleaner.
By adhering to these guidelines, you can enjoy free overnight parking while also respecting the businesses and locations that offer this valuable service to RVers.
Alternative Free Overnight RV Camping
There are a large number of options that RVers may not be aware of when looking to save some money on travel costs. Below are just some of the most popular types of locations RVers use.
Big Box Stores
Many Costcos allow overnight RV parking. The best practice is to call the Costco you want to stay at and ask.
Many Home Depot stores allow RV overnight parking in their parking lots, provided local ordinances allow it and the store manager gives permission.
Like Home Depot, whether or not Lowe’s allows overnight parking is up to the store manager (and the city or local government).
A membership-only retail warehouse chain owned by Walmart allows RVers to park overnight in some of their parking lots.
The popular restaurant chain has RV parking at many of its locations, and most allow RVers to stay overnight. It’s always best practice to call and ask before arriving. One of the advantages of RV camping overnight at a Cracker Barrel is that breakfast/dinner is right outside the door.
Sporting Goods Stores
An RV parts and gear store has allowed overnighting in its store parking lots for RVers in the past. However, in more recent years, the stores that allow overnight parking for RVs have become much fewer.
Bass Pro Shops
Some Bass Pro Shops allow overnight RV parking. However, like all the other stores mentioned, you have to check on a store-by-store basis. Many RVers have noted that their parking lots are generally not quite as big as other options, so larger rigs may have trouble finding a good spot. RV LIFE Trip Wizard and Google Maps have satellite views that allow RVers to look at potential parking areas to see if their rig will fit.
Most Cabela’s allow overnight parking. Like the other businesses, you will want to call the location you wish to park at ahead of time to ensure their location allows it. Some locations are unable to allow overnight parking due to city regulations.
Note about Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s ( June 2023): We have heard from several RVers on iRV2 forums and social media that Cabela’s, now under Bass Pro Shops, has been reportedly limiting RV services, including closing dump stations and restricting overnight parking.
This isn’t officially stated on their websites, as the decision typically falls to individual store managers. However, due to a rise in RV usage and instances of misuse, such as littering or setting up camp, more managers are denying these privileges. While there’s no official declaration from Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops about discontinuing RV parking, it seems that more stores are becoming less accommodating to RVers.
Travel Centers/Truck Stops
This one is controversial. While some travel centers and truck stops have specific spaces for RVs, the long parking spaces in the back are full of truckers for a reason. Those spaces were really placed there for them. RVs are allowed to park in those spaces too, but it takes up a potential trucker’s space. This is a moral sticking point for most RVers because truckers are required to stop after so many hours, while RVers aren’t. This is why many RVers will only take a truck parking spot as an absolute last resort out of respect for the drivers that keep the nation’s supply chain functioning.
Fitness centers such as Anytime Fitness, Planet Fitness, and 24-Hour Fitness do not have an official policy on overnight parking. However, these places have been used successfully for overnight parking by mostly small motorhomes (class Bs) and camper vans.
Overnight RV Camping Rest Areas
Most states allow some sort of overnight stay in rest areas. Those that don’t prevent overnight stays by a drastically small time limit. For example, Florida has a 3-hour stay limit, and their rest areas clearly state overnight parking isn’t allowed.
You can Google the laws of each state when making your plans. However, any time limits should be spelled out on the signage of the rest area. Also, just because you can’t park “overnight” doesn’t mean rest is prohibited. An RVer can park at 1 am and sleep for three hours. And to be honest, as long as you don’t look like you are camping out, most officers aren’t going to come knocking on your door right at the 3 -hour mark.
“We were in Alabama. Rest area had a sign stating 3 hour max in rest area. The center in the rest area was still open, so I went in and talked with the attendant. He told me I was welcomed to stay overnight. No one has ever been asked to leave. He also told me the highway patrol will also send RVs to the rest area. They would rather have you rested than responding to an accident.”–AE Wanderer on iRV2 Forums
You will see many rest areas say that no camping is allowed. Keep in mind that this does not include sleeping in your RV. Camping, according to states, is defined as a recreation activity. So setting up a tent, roasting ‘smores outside, lounging outside with your Bluetooth speaker on, and your RV awning and slides out will probably get a curious officer to question your motives. Pulling into the rest stop and simply sleeping in your car or RV is not considered camping, however. As long as you don’t look like you’re camping and use the rest area for its intended purpose, you won’t likely be bothered.
Overall, rest areas exist so drivers can rest and sleep if needed. It’s never a good idea to drive tired. So even if there is a two-hour limit. If you’re tired, two hours of sleep are better than none. Highway patrol knows this, and unless there is an issue, most would rather let you get some sleep before getting back on the road.
“Over the last 42 years my wife and I have traveled all over the country east to west, north to south, and everything in between we have never been bothered or asked to leave a rest area while we were there trying to get some sleep.”–Jheiser on iRV2 Forums
Harvest Host And Boondockers welcome
Harvest Hosts is a network of wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, and attractions that allow RVers to stay overnight at their locations. While the locations allow you to stay overnight for free, there is a $99 yearly membership fee to access the locations. It is also requested that members support their hosts by purchasing at least one of their local products during their stay. However, with campground fees averaging $40+ a night, you’d only have to stay at a few of these locations to get your money back. And having to buy a bottle of wine for a free spot isn’t all that bad.
Harvest Hosts own Boondockers Welcome. However, instead of staying at business locations like wineries, Boondockers Welcome is a $79 yearly membership that gives members unlimited access to stay at 3218+ privately owned properties and locations.
Some options are on beautiful large properties, while others are basically someone’s driveway. The maximum length of stay varies from host to host as well as the offerings like WiFi access etc.
Many Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome members plan their RV trip ahead of time with RV LIFE Pro. By adding your Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome locations to your RV LIFE Trip Wizard trip, you can build a complete trip and create an RV-safe route to get there. Get 15% off your first year of Harvest Host or Boondockers Welcome membership with the code TRIPWIZARD.
Other Potential Overnight RV Stops
We have stayed with permission if available to ask at so very many different places… For example places we’ve stayed: Churches, Airports, Hospitals, Elks Clubs, Marina’s, Boat Launches, Rec Centers, Town Parks, WMA’s (Water Management Districts), BLM, AZ Trust Lands, USFS, Restaurant Carparks, Canal/Lake Parking areas, Big Box Stores, Stealth Street Parking where allowed still?, Business locations such as rafting, tours we might be using. – SomeDay on iRV2.
Some airports have spaces for oversized vehicles where you might be able to park overnight. However, these lots usually charge by the hour or day.
Some casinos have RV parks attached to them. But those looking for free overnight RV parking will be happy to know that many casinos that don’t feature RV parks allow RVs to stay overnight in their parking lots for free. Again it’s a good idea to call ahead as some require you to check in when you get there, and they give you a parking pass.
Colleges and Universities
Some colleges and universities may allow overnight RV parking. It’s always a good idea to call ahead and ask for permission. More information can be found on forums like iRV2.
Fairgrounds and City Parks
Not all city and county parks are free, but most are low-cost and vary in amenities. RV LIFE Trip Wizard can filter for city and county parks and give you real-world reviews from people who have stayed there.
When fairs are not in town, the fairgrounds often open their spots to the public. These sites usually charge a small fee, but it’s less than you’d pay at a regular campground.
Find overnight RV camping With RV LIFE Trip Wizard
RV LIFE Trip Wizard is the premier RV trip/route planning app for RVers. It not only helps you find campgrounds and estimate trip costs, but it also features an extensive “points of interest” database that allows you to find Costcos, Cracker Barrels, Bass Pro Shops, large travel center gas stations, Cabela’s, casinos, and more. Check out the video below to see how easy it is to find overnight RV camping on your route.