Free Overnight RV Parking = Finding “Freebies”
So, we’ve been avidly planning our route to OR these past two days. As is typical in summer most of the public campgrounds are booked solid, but we’ve managed to find a few sweet spots that we’re really looking forward to. For the couple of nights where we can’t book we’ll rely on free overnight parking along the way. Most people who full-time RV know this trick, but I thought it’d still be nice to do a quick post on it for those who don’t.
I call them “freebies” and they’re spaces where you can park for free (no hookups) for the night. In my mind this is not the same as “boondocking” (= camping out in the boonies/nature). When you “freebie” you don’t camp and you don’t stay for the views. It’s simply somewhere convenient to pass the night, usually right next to the road. We did one on the way to Grand Junction staying overnight at Walmart locally the night before our 7AM RV appointment. Not only did it give us the chance to stock up on some groceries, but it was safe and a perfect location for the night. There are lots of places who offer this wonderful service and a couple of rules that I follow each time we use them.
Who Offers Free Parking?
I’m always amazed at the number of places that’ll let you stay overnight, even a “beast” size like us. Here’s a short list:
- Walmart – Most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking unless there’s a city ordinance that prohibits it.
- Casino’s – Many Casino’s have secure parking areas where you can stay for more than one night. Some even give you a discount on a meal. Live.Work.Dream wrote a great post about them here. Also check out www.casinocamper.com.
- Flying J’s – Many Flying J Truck Stops have a separate RV parking area where you can spend the night.
- Big Stores – Some of the larger stores (K-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot, Camping World) will allow you to spend a night.
- Rest Areas – Some rest areas (in some States) allow you to stay overnight.
- Others – Plenty of other unusual spots allow one-night stays. You can find lots of additional listings at www.overnightrvparking.com and at the fabulous Escapees Days End Directory.
What Are The Rules?
There are really no “official” rules for free overnight stays, but there are a few unofficial ones which I always follow:
- Ask Permission – This is rule #1 and I think it’s critical. Unless you know for a fact that the spot allows overnight parking (i.e. it’s clearly marked), then the right thing to do is to ask for permission. Before we arrived in Grand Junction, CO I called ahead to ask Walmart if we could stay. There are actually 2 Walmart’s in the area and only one allows overnight parking (because of city ordinance), so the phone call was worth the trouble. If I show up at a spot without calling, I’ll go in and ask the manager on-site.
- Park Out of the Way – If you’re parking at a business chose a spot where you won’t get in the way of the regular daytime customers. At Walmart I’ll try to park at the very back of the lot.
- Don’t Set-Up Camp – These “freebies” are overnight parking, not camping. So, keep the slides in and the jacks up. We’ll sometimes put out one of the small slides (as long as it doesn’t hang into a parking spot) and we may run the generator in the early evening but I don’t push it further than that.
- Use Some Cash – This is not really a “rule”, but I like to spend some money at the spot I’m staying. It’s a way of giving back to the business for letting me stay for free.
- Be Courteous – Be nice to your “hosts” and your neighbors.
- Don’t Overstay Your Welcome – Most of these places are really just overnight parking spots. Some (like Casino’s) might let you legitimately stay more than one night, and others might allow it if you ask (and have a good reason), but for the most case it’s just a 1-night deal and it makes sense to support that policy.
- Leave It Spotless – It goes without saying that you shouldn’t dump gray water or leave trash at these spots. Leave it clean and spotless.
And the last thing, although it’s not a rule is more common sense. If you don’t feel safe don’t stay. Most of the big businesses are pretty safe, but there might be areas of town that are rougher (esp. in big cities). Overall I love “freebies” and consider it a priviledge that I get to use them. Got any favorites of your own?SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Rene & Jim, LiveWorkDream says
Thanks for the blurb guys, excellent post!
Right back at ya! Nina
Jim O'Briant says
There are literally thousands of places that will allow Overnight RV Parking, but there are also thousands that don’t allow it. The searchable online database at http://www.OvernightrVParking.com lists more than 9,000 of these places, showing where it is and isn’t allowed. Costs $25/year, but you can save more than that in one night.
Yup, that’s the website I listed in the post under the “others” section. One of my favorites!
Jil Mohr says
We do as u do….. Wish more people would too.. When they don’t it makes it bad for the rest of us….
Yeah not everyone follows the “rules” unfortunately. I do think they’re worth it. Nina
Jerry and Suzy says
Nina, there definitely ARE rules for these overnight freebies. They are published by a joint group of such organizations as Escapees, FMCA, Good Sam Club and others. The rules are almost exactly as you list them: certainly no barbecues, lawn chairs, awings etc, outside. No leveling jacks, and no big slides. As for places for freebies, Escapees has a Day’s End listing for members only. Our favorite so far is Peggy Sue’s Nifty Fifties Diner in Yermo, CA. Lots of room, great food, and you are definitely welcome. But as you say, go in and ask anyway. Then return for dinner — it’s a fun place.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention the Days End Directory. We’re a member and use it quite a bit. You can even download the map locations onto Microsoft Street and Trips (quite handy!)
Love the sound of that Fiftie’s Diner in Yermo!
We wish people would follow all these rules! Some set up camp and make it bad for the rest of us.
Here is a site that is for either free or nearly free campgrounds.
Here is another one. Membership is $30/yr but all camping is free after that.
Just thought I would share a couple sites you may enjoy checking out. Good job!
Thanks! Another couple of great links! Nina
For those in the South don’t forget CrackerBarrel Restaurants! They are happy to accomodate you as long as you park after the rush dinner hour and they love for you to enjoy a home cooked breakfast the next morning.
Cracker Barrel are another great idea. Interstingly their “official” company policy is no overnight parking which is why I didn’t mention them in the post. I do know RVers that use them and often the individual restaurant will make an exception. As long as you ask the manager, I think they’re another great resource!
Jim O'Briant says
Not all Cracker Barrels allow Overnight RV Parking. Some don’t have RV spaces. You need to either check an accurate listing that shows which ones do & don’t allow it (and then obtain the manager’s permission when you arrive), or else telephone ahead for permission.
Sound words of advice!
jil mohr says
I might add that although there are “rules” there is no way to enforce them… it is pretty much the honor system….
Very true. I consider it more a “code of honor” than a set of rules.
Another great opportunity for camping….wineries and farms :O)
Yup, that’s a FABULOUS link that I forgot to add to the post. Thanks for reminding me.
I’m planning to use these that resource on the West Coast as we go thro’ the wine regions.
Debby & Bill Kasson says
Just started using overnightrvparking.com and LOVE IT!!!
So very happy to hear you’re enjoying it!
Jim Harden says
The Cabela’s store in Kansas City, Kansas allows overnightparking, they even have a small corral for livestock as well as fenced kennels for dogs, water is available. There is no longer a dump station.. They are located just off I-435 just north of I-70. From 435 take the State Ave. West exit then the first right and watch for the signs.
How excellent! Will add that to our list if we go thro the areas. Cheers for sharing it!
Russ Krecklow says
We recently listed our place on “boondockers welcome”. Just had our first guests yesterday, as a matter of fact.
Daphne Georgia says
Cabella’s in Thornton Colorado (north north Denver) allows overnighters. They have a dump station and kennels for your dog if you want to go in to shop. exit I-25 at 144th
As we’ve traveled more extensively across the US we’ve noticed more & more Cabella stores that offer overnight parking as well as services (dump station, or something else). Cabella’s are actually a great option for overnight stays & tend to be VERY RV friendly. Thanks for pointing out the Colorado store…dump & kennels…how awesome!
Beverly "SilverBee" Scofield says
First time visiting you. I am an (ahem) “mature” woman who is getting ready in the next month to begin quite an adventure. I’ll be traveling alone in a 1995 Ford F150 pickup pulling a 26′ 1996 Coachmen Catalina travel trailer. Well, I’ll be alone except for my five cockatiels. We’ll be heading from Tennessee to California, for starters.
I have traveled alone before, pickup and slide-in camper, but this will be more exacting, I think. I’m older and–well, I’m older. (smile) Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to reading your blog and picking up pointers that will help me on my way. And believe me, I need all the help I can get!
Thanks for going over the tips for finding and accessing overnight stops.
Welcome to the blog and congrats on your big adventure! I’ve met many lovely solo gals on the road, of all ages. You might be interested in reading and linking with some of the gals in this blog post:
Hope to see ya down the road!
Susan Pritchett says
Loners on wheeled
Awesome group of folks!
Kudos to you, Beverly! I’m not brave enough to do alone, but am eager to try it with my partner. How has your road trip gone? I’d love to hear any advice.
Hello “mature” traveler with birds! Im courious as to how your adventure is going. I myself am a traveling granny (smile). Grandpa. Huckelberry(dog) butters (cat)”Shelby, delilah (citron-crested cokatoos) an I have been wondering for a couple of years now. We are still trying to get the hang of it. lol
The most imoptant thing to remember is, _________. I guess i forgot. My only advice is to roll-with-it, go with the flow because things are rarly as expected or advertised and in this RV plans change mile after mile. So enjoy yourself, your life, your birds and try to find the fun in a flat tire.
Ive had more fun while improvising and winging it, then ive had at any LTVA campsite (its a good thing because out here (San Diego CA.were always winging it.)
Best wishes and safe journey.
my wife and I are new bees and would like to thank all of you for sharing your knowledge
Is it possible to use a pop up camper… It’s tough to use a pop up and not extend the beds…what do you think? I understand not setting up camp…ie chairs, grills, etc… I am interested you anyone’s take on extending the beds…
I think if you keep it low-key, park away from the front entrance and don’t spread out it’s acceptable.
My hubby, our last of 5 kids at home, 13 year old Zac, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a bearded dragon lizard have begun to spend more and more time in our RV (31ft. TT). Hubby retired last year and we spent the winter in our RV to be close to our grown kids and grandkids. We love the simplicity of the RV life. We have stayed at many Walmarts here in Canada and have also found the Superstore grocery chain to be very RV friendly. The one In Vernon, BC is awesome! Lots of room, big grassy area to park by, dump, water and places within walking distance for eats and a casino too. Gas and diesel available from the store as well. The Walmart in Vernon does not allow RVs overnight, so it’s nice that the Superstore has stepped up and allowed us in! We have stayed at other Superstores in BC as well. Happy Trails!
Jim & Cindy Nelson says
Even though we operate an RV Park in Alaska, we love Freebie Campsites when we’re on the road ourselves! Thanks for this info, it helped us on a trip last year where we travelled from Alaska through Canada and on the following route: WA, OR, ID, WY, MT, ND, MN, IA, SD, NE, CO, KS, OK, TX, NM, AZ, NV, CA I’ve been meaning to write and tell you so!
We enjoyed short-term Freebie stays of 1-3 nights at the following locations and note the states and some extra Freebies that were included at some sites below:
-Camping World (ID) with free electric
-Walmart (everywhere) had free pizza delivery to Walmart parking lots more than once
-Cabelas Sporting Goods (AK, MN, NE, OK,) our favorite, with free septic and water at some locations, and some even had free horse paddocks and dog kennels!
-Lowe’s Home Improvement (MN, NM, CA) our 2nd favorite because we always got good quality free Wifi for Netflix!
-Flying J (WY, NE, SD)
-Rest Areas (MN, OR)
And, to top it off, we camped in the parking lots at two Resorts in MN during the off-season (fall) for free or nearly free including electric and Wifi. The nearly free one (Melgeorge’s Elephant Lake Resort) had a septic dump as well. The free one (Oveson’s Pelican Lake Resort) had free electric, Wifi and a great location on a lake. We simply asked if we could park for a few nights and both locations obliged with Minnesota-nice generosity.
All of these freebies helped us balance the travel budget to travel longer and afford those times when paying for an RV Campsite was absolutely necessary (Yellowstone’s Madison Campground, Orangeland RV Park in Anaheim, Stub Stewart State Park Campground in OR, KOA in Santa Cruz, and our personal favorite Carmel by the River RV Park in Carmel, CA).
Thanks again for all the info you share on your site, it helps more than you know!
All excellent tips! We’ve enjoyed several Cabelas since we originally did this post (they’ve become a top choice for us for overnights) and we still enjoy the occasional Walmart too.
We’very stayed at several Cracker Barrels,
One was on 25 North of Denver. We had dinner there with our 7 grandkids….it was such a nice area we then asked the manager and they had no problem. After dinner we sat in thir famous rocking chairs played chess. It was after 8 so it had slowed down. We had a great dinner and fantastic service. Yes it was nice not cooking one night! 🙂
I am new to your blog. I just joined today! Great information on so many things I am interested in, thank you.
We do a lot of “freebie” camping on our many trips east-west and north-south. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel in PA on a recent trip home from Vermont. I went in to check about staying and the manager said “why yes! Welcome, is there anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable?”, we ordered some food to go (so we could enjoy a bottle of Malbec in the RV ) and when I went in to pick up the food the cashier said “I understand you are our guest this evening, welcome! We hope you enjoy your stay” We don’t get that service in a Motel 6 !
Benjamin Johnston says
Hi Nina an Paul, you do a great job with all your information. Realize this is a really old post but think it would be a good one to do over with so many newbies out her on the road. I’m out in NM for the Balloon Festival. I’m camped in a national park about half way between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Anyway to make it short, I went to Wal-mart in Santa Fe because its was a little closer to pickup a few things. They allow overnight parking as you probably know. Well there was probably 10 or so RV’s on the lot and half of them had their jacks down and slides out. (One had his jacks extended so far on the front axle his front wheels where off the ground.) LOL They may not know any better not sure, but they can easily cause major problems for the rest of us. Like you said these freebies as you call them have almost become a necessity in the summer months, as most campgrounds are full on the weekend.
Thanks hope you are having fun
Just found the site. Will be taking advantage of it now that I know about it. My folks lived in a motor home for nearly 30 years traveling from the Salton Sea to Or, Wa, Montana, following the best fishing. October the sold pumpkin and Nov and Dec they sold Xmzs trees. Had a good life and lived to be 90 &88