According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), over 46 million Americans plan to take an RV vacation in 2020. As people cruise the highways and byways, the money-saving option of dry camping in Walmart parking lots for a night isn’t as available as it used to be. So the question is, can you camp in a Walmart parking lot?
We’ll walk you through every aisle of this controversial topic and explain what’s going on. You’ll learn about some great alternative stores that allow overnight parking and what apps to find them. Finally, if your plans include parking lot dry camping, we’ll discuss some example RV categories you may want to consider.
How It All Started
In 1950, Samual Walton opened his first five & dime store (a retail store that sells various household and personal goods originally for a nickel or a dime) in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walton’s 5 & 10 became Walmart in 1962 with his first level of expansion. He attributed his success to the great value and customer service he offered to his customers.
Sam Walton and his family were avid RVers. As his business expanded, he had a rule that every one of his stores had to follow. He allowed RV overnight parking. If you visit the Walmart Museum in Bentonville, you’ll see how much Mr. Sam preferred driving his 1979 Ford F-150 versus flying. He and his wife visited the stores in their RV.
The Actual Rule and Boondocking Etiquette
Walmart has had to adapt its policy due to many factors. Their present policy states:
“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 parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space availability and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.”
When you dry camp (a.k.a. boondock) at Walmart, think of yourself as a guest at someone’s home. Remember, as a member of the RV Community, your actions reflect on those that set up tomorrow. Follow these easy suggestions to avoid any complications.
- Manage Your Utilities Ahead of Time: Use Sanidump or other apps to manage your tanks and other utilities before you pull in for the night
- Look Before You Leap: When you first pull in, check the parking lot out. See if there are other RVs around. Look at the light posts for signs that state no overnight parking. Look for other clues that make you question if this Walmart location allows free overnight RV parking.
- It’s Better To Ask Permission Than Forgiveness: We know the saying states the opposite, but if you park at a store that doesn’t allow it, there are vacation altering issues that arise. Even if you see someone else already parked, it’s always wise to walk in and speak to management directly to ask permission.
- Huddle Up Considerately: Not everyone keeps their generator going throughout the night. Those that do will park near each other so the others that prefer quiet can enjoy their night.
- Stay self-contained: This isn’t a time to pull out the outdoor furniture or outdoor kitchen
- Show Your Gratitude Through Patronage: The best way (if possible) is to go inside and purchase something. It’s Walmart; we’re sure you’ll need something, even if it’s to appease your snack craving.
- Don’t Overstay Your Welcome: Officially they say 24 hours, but it’s more like from dusk until dawn. Remember, they’re running a business. Besides, in the morning, we’re sure you’re eager to get back on the road.
Non-Company Factors That Prevent Boondocking at Walmart
From the 1970s up to the millennium, most Walmarts existed in their privately held buildings, on their deeded land, and had huge parking lots to accommodate everyone. The RV Community numbered less than 9 million, and Walmart didn’t have to worry too much about travel trailers getting in the way of customer parking.
According to a Walmart overnight parking locator, over ¾ of all Walmarts in 2010 allowed you to sleep in a Walmart parking lot. A decade later, about ½ now allow it. Many reasons for this aren’t the company’s fault. As much as we’d like to blame the corporate and store leadership, they must adhere to external factors.
Many Walmarts in city and suburban areas lease strip mall space. As tenents, they must adhere to the landlord’s wishes. The parking lots must accommodate parking for other businesses.
Specific government ordinances forced Walmart to stop overnight parking due to local issues they’re trying to control. Opponents of Walmart boondocking claim that this practice increases crime and homelessness in their communities.
Proponents of Walmart overnight dry camping feel this is rare. Many who sleep in Walmart parking lots will connect and look out for each other to avoid problems.
Walmart management allows the store managers to decide on RV overnight parking since they are the “boots on the ground.” They can assess the situation and make decisions based on all of the mitigating factors involved.
Who’s Picking Up The Slack
You don’t want a knock on the door and find out your RV’s getting towed from a Walmart parking lot because you parked illegally. There are other boondocking parking lots available as long as you follow the proper etiquettes. They include:
- Cracker Barrel (don’t leave without trying the dumplings!)
- Cabella’s (some have dump stations)
- Sam’s Club (as in Sam Walton)
- Home Depot
- Camping World (some)
- Pilot/Flying J
- Public Land (make sure there aren’t signs posted that restrict RVs)
- Casinos (truck parking area. Some have shuttles if you want to try your luck)
- Highway Rest Areas (check the state’s department of transportation website first. Georgia allows you to stay up to 3 hours only. South Dakota lets you stay and some have dump stations)
Great Apps For Boondocking
If you’re young, have enough money, and have a smaller RV, you can have a great time bouncing from one parking lot to another across America. For those of us that need to let the tires and our backs have a break, there are plenty of locations you can dry camp for multiple days for free.
One of the best parts of the RV experience is finding those out-of-the-way places the tourists haven’t ruined yet. What if you could set the jacks down for a night, buy fresh-from-the-field produce or locally made wine from some of the best wine-makers in the country. Forget about sleeping in Walmart parking lots in California and enjoy the day.
Harvest Hosts has around 1,300 participating wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, and museums apart of their network. For a $79 annual membership, you can take advantage of their locations that spread throughout the United States, Canada, and Baja, Mexico. They even have locations in Alaska.
Members must have a fully self-contained RV that allows you to dry camping (including your own bathroom facility). The program currently doesn’t allow tent camping. You are limited to one night unless the host specifies otherwise, and you must carry RV liability insurance.
As always, Harvest Hosts recommends patronage of at least $20 to thank your host if you can. This way, everyone wins. Before you reserve your space with your host on the website, make sure you read through their listing. You will want to make sure miscommunications aren’t apart of your experience.
With over 2,600 host families worldwide (yes, across the entire planet), Boondockers Welcome is a network of campers helping other campers. As a host, if you have a driveway, 100 acres of land, or anything in between, you can earn credit for free guest privileges when you decide to hit the road. When you host someone, the network pays it forward to you with guest credit.
If you want guest privileges only, the annual membership is $50 a year. The yearly fee gives you total access to the website to search for host locations that will fit your RV, length of stay, and location features that fit your needs.
Some hosts may ask for a nominal charge to assist with any utility or internet usage, but nothing unreasonable. Spending $5- $10 to get some work done, watch your shows, or let the kids connect to their friends is worth it.
The mother and daughter team that designed this network built it on the values of the RV Community. Peer-to-peer reviews are a core component to both host and guest reputations. Each side can choose each other and write a review. Make sure you spend a few minutes to post your comments. Also, don’t leave without letting your host family know.
What do you get when you put a young couple in a restored 22-foot 1963 Flying Cloud Airstream (insert RV jealousy here)? If you’re talking about Brian and Leigh Easterling, then it results in Campendium.com.
This site is an excellent resource in finding free, public, and private campgrounds all across the United States. The Easterlings and their team are continually adding and updating to their database. Members of their site can add to the collection as well.
As a resource, it allows you to find the locations, but you can’t book a campsite through them. Other membership sites are now just starting to publish public land maps, but Campendium shows you specific locations. It makes a great companion resource when planning your next expedition.
Excellent RVs For Walmart Boondocking
In the United States, the average size of a parking space is 18 feet long by 8.6 feet wide. Doubling that length is 36 feet. Even though boondockers park in the back of Walmart parking lots, you still want to make sure your RV isn’t getting in the way of the driving aisles.
Give yourself an error of margin. Don’t park in the absolute corner parking spaces. Choose one aisle in and the second to last row. Doing this will ensure there isn’t a tight squeeze between your coach and the traffic passing by while you’re parked.
It’s unavoidable to use two parking spaces in the same row, but you want to do your best to stay under the combined 36 feet. The average length of a mid-sized SUV is a little over 16 feet. Full-size SUVs hover around 17 ½ feet.
Teardrops and small 20-foot travel trailers are the best choices for sleeping in Walmart parking lots. They’re hard-shelled, lockable from the inside, and will fit well within the parking space. Even if you stay hitched up to your tow vehicle, make sure you deploy your tongue jack to give the rear suspension a break from the weight.
Timberleaf Pika Teardrop
- Length: 8 feet
- Axle Weight: 3,500 pounds
- Sleep: 2 people
The Timberleaf Pika fits perfectly in Walmart overnight parking in Colorado. The night before you head up the mountain, you can feel secure with the locking doors and plenty of lighting. The electric system supports many options like a Yeti chest-style fridge, Propex portable furnace, roof fan, and standard LED lighting.
Whether you use a solar, gas, or propane generator, this teardrop is easy to power since its wattage requirements are low. The suspension comes in standard, all-road, or off-road. YOu won’t have a problem matching this RV up to your small or mid-size SUV.
Forest River R-Pod 193 Travel Trailer
- Length: 22.11 feet
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR): 4835 pounds
- Sleep: Up to 5 people
Family-friendly bunkhouse travel trailers are all the rage for the 2020-2021 market. The R-Pod series is one of Forest River’s best selling lines due to the many features it offers. This single-slideout travel trailer will comfortably fit your whole family. It even helps you clean up after them with the built-in central vacuum (an industry first for RVs at this size and price point).
You’ll enjoy the boondocking and campground experience due to the compound insulation. Besides the standard rigid foam, both the exterior and interior walls use Azdel material. This fiberglass alternative has an insulating feature that not only aids in temperature but also dampens sound.
All three categories of motorhomes can fit within the 36-foot parking space requirement of Walmart parking lot rows. We’ll add an asterisk (*) similar to how the baseball commission added one to the 1961 season (you can either Google it or check out Billy Crystal’s Movie 61* for an entertaining, but “based on” explanation).
In this case, our as refers to not all versions of each category that will fit. There are Class A and Class C motorhomes that measure below the limit. If you’re toading (towing a passenger car), you’ll end up having to take up multiple spaces as you park perpendicular to the painted spaces.
Class B motorhomes fit perfectly within the spaces. Since they keep full-size van dimensions (even the extended length versions), there length and width only take up a single parking space. Those that enjoy the #VanLife in stealth campervans have the least problems. It’s always a good idea to keep to the boondocking etiquette.
Thor Sequence 20A Class B Motorhome
- Chassis: Dodge Ram ProMaster 3500
- Length: 20.11 feet
- Sleep: 2 people
The Thor Sequence gives you and your traveling companion everything you need to hit the road. Whether you stick to the pavement or find those back roads, you’ll have a full-featured motorhome with plenty of storage for those long trips. It even comes with standard self-sustainability equipment like solar panels and other off-grid components.
You won’t go broke trying to afford it either. With an MSRP under $95,000, it rivals many of its competitors, which are at least $50,000 or more. How many people can say they have a motorhome with a king-size bed for less than six-figures?
Jayco Greyhawk Prestige 31FP Class C Motorhome
- Chassis: Ford E-450
- Length: 32.6 feet
- Sleep: 4 people
Rarely does boondocking and luxury go together in the same sentence. Yet Jayco’s Greyhawk Prestige series checks both of those boxes. You dry camp in Walmart overnight parking in Illinois as you get ready to cross the state border for your northwestern adventure. This top-of-the-line Class C has the best features, including an optional 12 cubic foot refrigerator.
With a Class C of this width, you’ll fit in the two parking spaces, but make sure the driver side spaces are empty if you plan on opening up the slideout. Once you hit the road, you and your passengers will love the smoothness of the JRide suspension that only comes with a Jayco RV.
Newmar Bay Star Sport 3226 Class A Motorhome
- Chassis: Ford F-53
- Length: 32 feet
- Sleep: 4 people
The Bay Star Sport is Newmar’s most popular gasser. The width of this Class A is 8.46 feet, so keeping the coach within the row is a tight squeeze, but it’s possible. You’ll want to hang out with the “generator gang” if you’re going to keep your climate control going overnight. The good part is, you be one of the quietest ones of the bunch with the 4.0 kW Cummins Onan generator.
As you’re maneuvering yourself into place, you’ll have a great view with the rear and side cameras making you look like a pro. Before you stand up, you can use your optional Xite Dash Radio monitor with the Rand McNally navigation system to familiarize yourself with tomorrow’s leg of the journey.
Be Aware When Boondocking
The RV Community has always looked out for each other when bad things happen. Unfortunately, when you’re by yourself, some target RVs for robbery and other things. It’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and consider getting an alarm system.
Whether you’re in a Walmart parking lot, set up on public land, or a highway rest area, safety is essential. Not everyone shares our values. Something as simple as a self-contained camera that watches your entryway can alert you and your dog from possible disaster.
We wish you happy memories as you continue to explore our great country with your RV. To add to your Camper Smarts, check out our website for more articles about the RV lifestyle, categories, and pro tips.