(Post updated March 23, 2022)
If you’re one of the 46 million Americans planning an RV vacation, you may be wondering if you can camp in a Walmart parking lot. The answer is: it depends. The money-saving option of dry camping in Walmart parking lots for a night isn’t as available as it used to be. But there are alternatives. We’ll walk you through every aisle of this controversial topic.
What You Will Learn About Walmart Camping
How Walmart Camping Started
In 1950, Sam Walton opened his first five & dime store in Bentonville, Arkansas. Long ago these retail stores sold household and personal goods originally for a nickel or a dime. 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 near Cave Springs, Arkansas, you’ll see how much Walton preferred driving his 1979 Ford F-150 versus flying. He and his wife visited the stores by camping nearby in their RV.
Walmart Overnight Camping Rules
Walmart has adapted its free overnight camping policy due to many factors. The current Walmart overnight camping policy states:
When you dry camp (a.k.a. boondock) at Walmart, think of yourself as a guest at someone’s home. As a member of the RV Community, your actions reflect on those RVers who stay there tomorrow.
Follow these easy suggestions to park legally at Walmart
- Manage Your Utilities Ahead of Time: Use great RVing apps like RV Life Trip Wizard to plan your route with dump stations in mind. Empty your tanks and other utilities before you pull in for the night
- Look for signs that it’s OK to park at that Walmart overnight: When you first pull in, check out the parking lot out. See if there are other RVs parked for the night. Look at the light posts for signs that state no overnight parking. There might be other clues that make you question if this Walmart location allows free overnight RV parking. Small parking lots are one big sign that you should not park there overnight.
- Ask Permission To Park Overnight: Even if you see another RVer parked at the store, it’s always wise to walk in and speak to management directly to ask permission.
- Do Not “Camp Out” by Running Generators, Using Barbecues, etc: This is not a campground. Do not make yourself at home by setting out lawn chairs, slides, landing jacks, etc. Courteous Walmart boondockers get in and out without fuss.
- Buy Something: Go inside and purchase something. It’s Walmart. Things are cheap. You will need something. Even if it’s just a few dollars, it shows youa re grateful for the free overnight parking.
- Don’t Overstay Your Welcome: Officially Walmart overnight camping policy limits say you can stay 24 hours. But it’s more like from dusk until dawn. Remember, they’re running a business. Get back on the road early in the morning.
Not All Walmart Locations Offer Free Boondocking
From the 1970s up to the millennium, most Walmarts existed in their privately held buildings, on their deeded land. Stores had huge parking lots to accommodate everyone. The RV Community numbered less than 9 million back then. Walmart didn’t have to worry too much about travelers getting in the way of customer parking.
In 2010, three-quarters of all Walmarts allowed RVers to stay in their parking lot. In 2022, about half now allow free overnight parking. This is not always Walmart’s fault. Many stores in city and suburban areas lease their retail space. They are obligated to adhere to the landlord’s wishes. These parking lots must accommodate parking for other businesses, too. Many local government ordinances are forcing Walmart to stop overnight parking.
The Walmart corporate office allows the store managers to decide on RV overnight parking. After all, they are the “boots on the ground.” They can assess the situation over time. Local Walmart managers make decisions based their experiences with travelers. It’s up to RVers like us to behave so free overnight camping at Walmart continues.
Big box Stores That Allow Overnight Parking
You don’t want a knock on the door at 3 am, only to discover you parked illegally at a Walmart. Other boondocking parking lots exist. Follow the proper overnight camping etiquette to keep these overnight parking alternatives open:
- Cracker Barrel (don’t leave without trying the dumplings!)
- Cabella’s (some have dump stations)
- Sam’s Club
- Home Depot
- Camping World (some)
- Most Truck Stops (noisy, and truckers might hate you for taking up a space, but good in a pinch)
- Casinos (Check with security. 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)
Alternatives to Walmart Camping
Many overnight camping alternatives to Walmart parking lots exist. Most require a subscription. But you quickly recoup the cost by saving on camping fees. Alternatives to Walmart camping include:
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!
Harvest Hosts has over 1,300 participating wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, and museums apart of their network. For one low cost 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 camp with your own bathroom facility. The program currently doesn’t allow tent camping. You are limited to one night unless the host specifies otherwise. You must carry RV liability insurance. Harvest Hosts recommends patronage of at least $20 to thank your host if you can.
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 travel. Host another RVer and the network gives you guest credit.
If you want guest privileges only, the annual membership is a bit more expensive. 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.
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.
Best Towable RV Sizes
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 NOT good choices for sleeping in Walmart parking lots. They do not have bathroom facilities. Walmart management doesn’t want you using their restrooms as your private bathroom. Larger, self-contained camper trailers with restroom and kitchen facilities are ideal.
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.
Best Motorhome Sizes
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.
Security Tips for Boondocking at Walmart
Whether you’re in a Walmart parking lot, set up on public land, or a highway rest area, self-awareness is essential. Not everyone shares our values. The RVing community tends do look out for each other. But you are the only one who can protect yourself. Don’t go out alone into the store at night. Stick near other RVers in the parking lots. Consider getting an alarm system. Maybe even buying that RV alarm when you’re overnight camping at a Walmart!