This post may contain affiliate links or mention our own products, please check out our disclosure policy.

Excellent Walmart Alternatives For Frugal Overnight RV Camping

Recent Lawsuits May Cause More Walmarts to Stop Allowing Overnight Camping

Walmart camping is so popular it has its own RVer term, “Wallydocking.” The number of Walmarts that allow overnight RV camping has been on the decline for years, though, and a recent lawsuit has many RVers wondering if the number of available Walmarts will dwindle even more rapidly.

“A woman named Essie McKenzie 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

According to the lawsuit, the fire started after a Walmart camper tossed a hot cooking stove in the back of their vehicle before it cooled. The stove was covered with bedding and left unattended. The camper then parked closer to the store and next to McKenzie’s car.

McKenzie was not a camper but had gone into the store and decided to let her two daughters sleep in the car’s back seat while she went in to pick up some things. During this time, the camper’s vehicle caught fire, and the blaze quickly spread to McKenzie’s car with her daughters inside.

The lawsuit alleges Walmart’s overnight camping policy constitutes a campground and that Walmart fails to provide proper monitoring and sanitation of said campgrounds. It also alleges that the store’s failure to follow state and local ordinances regarding recreational camping and campgrounds creates hazards and dangers to the safety and health of shoppers and workers. It also alleges that while Walmart has the capacity to monitor the camping areas it sets up, it has not designated any employee or job potion that ensures the safety of both the campers and the shoppers.

As you can see from the wording, if the case is won, it may cause Walmart to rethink its policy on overnight RV camping. Whether you agree with the lawsuit or not, those who enjoy a quick overnight stay at Walmarts may need to look elsewhere in the future. So below are some of the more popular Walmart alternatives for frugal overnight RV camping.

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.

Costco

Many Costcos allow overnight RV parking. The best practice is to call the Costco you want to stay at and ask.

Cracker Barrel

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.

Cabela’s

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.

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.

Overnight RV Camping at 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.

Fortunately, travel centers like Pilot/Flying J offer RV-specific parking spots at many of their locations, and Love’s even offers full-hookup RV sites with free WiFi for a pretty cheap price. If RV parking spots aren’t offered at a truck stop try the following:

  • Look for an out-of-the-way spot along the edge of the parking area. If possible, park somewhere on site that isn’t in a trucker parking spot. Sometimes there are large areas off the side of the main parking lot.
  • If the regular parking area is large enough and your RV is small enough, park in the main car parking lot instead.
  • Regardless of how you feel about the parking spots, if you are too tired to drive, park where available and get some sleep for at least 3 to 4 hours before continuing. There’s no sense in feeling good about leaving a truck spot open if you fall asleep at the wheel to do it.

Casinos

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.

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.

A Rest area sign in Florida stating overnight trailer parking and camping prohibited, 3-hour time limit.
A rest area sign in Florida stating no overnight parking and a 3-hour time limit
Source: DanTD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

No Camping

“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.

California Rest area sign showing an 8-hour parking limit.
Rest areas sign in California shows an 8-hour parking limit
Source: RightCowLeftCoast, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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

The Rules Of Overnight RV Camping

All of the overnight camping locations above have a few things in common. First of all, “camping” is not entirely accurate to describe the stay. The purpose of using a business’s parking lot or a rest area is to park, get the rest you need, and get back on the road. The following rules should be followed by RVers so as not to ruin the opportunity for the next person.

  1. If it’s a business, call and ask for permission.
  2. Don’t set up camp. In other words, keep your awnings and slides in, avoid wheeling out generators, don’t unhook or drop your stabilizer jacks, and keep the welcome mat and BBQ put away. An exception would be that some casinos may not mind you having your slides out if you ask.
  3. Try to arrive in the evening.
  4. Park as far out of the way as possible in parking lots. Park in designated spots in rest areas.
  5. Respect city laws against overnight parking.
  6. Overnight means one night. Again, an exception to this is some casinos that allow RVers to stay for multiple days.
  7. Support the locations you stay at. You don’t have to break the bank, but if a business provides a spot to sleep, it’s good practice to buy something from them. Even if it’s just a snack or a quick bite to eat — Except for rest areas, of course, taxes pay for those.

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.

Boondockers Welcome

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.

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.

Learn More And Get A FREE 7 Day Trial

  • Levi Henley is a freelance writer and has also been full-time RVing with his wife and pets since 2015. You can follow their adventures and RV-related tips on their blog henleyshappytrails.com as well as their YouTube Channel also called Henley's Happy Trails. In addition, he writes for various RV magazines, blogs, marketing outlets and is the co-author of Seasonal Workamping for a Living: How We Did It, available on Amazon.

DON’T MISS OUT ON CAMPER SMARTS UPDATES

Sign up for the newsletter today!


Related Posts

All About RV Extension Cords

Is your RV power cord coming up short? Extend it with an RV extension cord. Learn all about RV extension cords and the best options.

10 thoughts on “Excellent Walmart Alternatives For Frugal Overnight RV Camping”

  1. Last year I saw the worst abuse of an overnight stay at the local WalMart. They had set up camp like they were staying for a while and had their sewer hoses dumping into the nearby storm drain. It took the local police to evict them.

  2. Other stores, such as Costco, may eliminate overnighting based on what happened at Walmart. But places like that could protect themselves by issuing specific policies regulating overnighting.

    On a different note, my wife are disabled. Staying overnight without the full wall slide out would be very challenging. That’s why it’s worth the cost of a site in a campground for us. But Boondockers Welcome sounds like a good alternative so I will look into that.

  3. How can Walmart or anyone else be responsible for YOU burning up your camper through YOUR own negligence, you threw a hot stove into your camper and tossed blankets on top not Walmart. It’s a sad turn of events but personal accountability is in order here not Walmart, they were just being friendly. Who would you sue if you did the same thing out in the middle of nowhere?

    • Hi Allen,
      Thanks for reading. I have edited the article for clarity based on a few comments we have gotten. You’re absolutely right that suing the store for burning up your own camper would be kind of frivolous. However, the person bringing the lawsuit isn’t the camper. The camper pulled up next to a regular shopper before going inside. When the camper caught fire, it spread to the shopper’s car which had her kids sleeping in the back killing one and permanently damaging the other. So it’s the shopper, not the camper who is suing Walmart for neglecting to oversee the safety “campground” they created by inviting campers to stay.

      Now as a full-time RVer myself, I don’t think all RVers should be painted as dangerous liabilities. And you well know, the vast majority of us stay at Walmarts without incident. However, I don’t think I stated well enough what actually happened in the incident. Sorry about that.

  4. Wally World’s loss. I’ve probably spent hundreds if not thousands of $$$ Boondocking there….. I understand IDIOT’S screwing it up for us and Wal Mart having to do this…. BUT with all their money and lawyers, FIGHT these IDIOTS!

  5. I believe the so called camper that caused the fatal fire was a homeless, well, camper. This is a growing problem in parking lots and even streets in many areas

Comments are closed.