When you start RVing, one of the biggest headaches and common concerns is “Where can I park my RV for free?”. Most RVers will tell you the only solution is booking a spot in a campground or an RV park many months in advance, and this might or might not cost you.
However, there are times when you need quick overnight rests on the route while there are simply no campgrounds available in an area, and not having to pay for parking is of course all the better.
In other cases, there are many campers who deliberately choose to avoid crowded campgrounds. One of the reasons is that many campgrounds, both public and private, have been steadily increasing their rates in recent years.
This guide will help you answer the age-old question “Where can I park my RV for free?”. Read on to find out places where you can actually park your RV overnight in a pinch with no cost at all, plus how to easily search for free places where you can actually boondock and camp for some time.
- Where Can I Park My RV For Free For a Few Nights: Free Campgrounds
- Where Can I Park My RV For Free Overnight: Places You Might Not Know
- Tips To Help You Get Permission For Free Overnight RV Parking
- Etiquette And Rules You Need To Observe
- Why Some Campers Avoid Paid RV Parks
Where Can I Park My RV For Free For a Few Nights: Free Campgrounds
This section will outline where you can camp or boondock your RV for a few nights, as opposed to simply parking your RV for one night only when you cannot find anywhere else to camp.
There are indeed free campgrounds, however finding these free camping opportunities is not always as easy as Googling “free RV campgrounds in …”. You will see many books and websites that advertise free campgrounds, but if you read on, they might still charge certain fees including entry fees or extra cost to use amenities. You most likely will have to sort through them to find the rarer RV parks that actually have zero cost.
That said, there are quite a few awesome free campsites with useful reviews and user-friendly interface, given you know where to look.
One of the best free campsites directory is FreeCampsites.net, which allows campers to easily search for absolute zero-cost campsites or almost-free cheap campgrounds in a given area.
You can find out valuable information, including reviews and visitors’ photos on each facility, and its amenities such as restrooms, litter bins, BBQ spots and picnic tables. You might be able to find a few campsites on the directory that even offer RV hookups, though these extra perks might sometimes require an extra small fee, which is still a great deal though.
Another super useful and user-friendly directory is FreeCampgrounds.com.
Where Can I Park My RV For Free Overnight: Places You Might Not Know
If you are a budget traveler and would like to simply take advantage of dispersed camping opportunities to save money, there are websites and books devoted to cataloging free RV parking locations.
The most popular of such guides are Guide To Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds and Don Wright’s Guide to Free Campgrounds. Many seasoned campers keep a copy of these books in their RV always to look for free overnight RV parking spots while they’re traveling between campgrounds.
It is important to note again that the most common places that allow free overnight RV parking typically only allow you to stay for one night only. Thus, they must be treated as resting stops along your travel route and not for camping, so overstaying is a big no no.
In general, most free overnight RV parking will be found on public lands. In the US, free RV camping on public lands is available especially extensively throughout the western area, and available to a lesser extent in the eastern region.
That said, even if you own the Guide To Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds or consult free RV parking websites, the surest way to find or confirm free places to park an RV is to ask the local police or sheriff office, as there might be changes in regulations or certain limitations due to circumstances.
Simply make a phone call, be polite, introduce yourself and clearly tell them your purpose, and they might direct you to many surprisingly great places available, and free at that. The rule of thumb is such free RV parking spots are easier to find and the inquiring process is smoother when dealing with smaller communities that are not hugely popular tourist spots.
In the US, another great resource is the Bureau of Land Management and National Forest websites, where you can search for free overnight parking or camping on government-owned land.
When parking an RV overnight in a pinch outside of regular campgrounds, make sure you clearly inform and ask for permission from whoever manages the area or the facility, such as the manager of a store, the owner of a private property or the officials. Some will be willing to let you park for one night, but this is not always the case, so make sure you ask so that you won’t wake up in the middle of the night being towed.
While asking for permission, make sure you follow their instructions on exactly where to park, what rules or etiquettes you must follow, and clean after yourself when you leave. Remember, being responsible when parking out of the ordinary as an RVer shows gratitude, and you won’t negatively affect the opportunity of other campers who come later.
Without further ado, below are the odd places where you can park your RV overnight for absolutely free, many of which only the very seasoned campers know about. Some might sound surprising, but as long as you stick to the rules and etiquette guidelines that follow this section, you should be fine.
You might be surprised to hear that truck stops aren’t just for trucks and tractor trailers only, although this was the case a while ago. It has become the norm for campers to park their RV overnight at truck stops.
That said, despite this “new normal”, you’re still parking out of the ordinary, so the rule of thumb is making sure to observe the rules of other truckers and be courteous. Park straight, stay one night only and best to leave by mid-morning if you choose to park your RV overnight at a truck stop.
A pro tip by experienced campers: Since truck stops are crowded with people driving in and out even at night time, whether you’re in the RV or wandering out and about, remember to lock your doors, windows, and keep valuables out of sight for your peace of mind.
Casinos is another unexpected RV overnight parking spot that only the seasoned and curious campers know about. Many casinos, especially those along the NASCAR circuit in the US, allow RVs to park for one night, given that spaces are available of course. Note that some casinos charge a small fee during peak hours, weekends and holidays.
If you’re lucky, you might even come across some that supply full-hookup campsites. To check which casino offers zero-cost RV parking and hookup campsites, you can do a little research on a site called casinocamping.com.
While gaming is not required, you can stay in a casino’s parking lot as long as you ask permission. A huge perk is most casinos offer 24/7 security.
Permission is key. It’s important to call ahead and check with management if and where you can park before parking.
Some casinos have specific spots for RVers, but they surely fill up very quickly, so you might want to check exactly where you should park so that you will not get towed. Most of the time, other casinos allow RVers to park as long as they’re far enough away from the entrance, so they are not blocking the traffic flow.
In case you have a friend or family member in town, they might let you park in their property.
Otherwise, the C2C platform Craigslist, or certain services like RVwithMe and Outdoorsy, can be a quick way to find kind people who are willing to let you park in their driveway for one or two nights.
In both cases, whether you’re planning to park at an acquaintance’s or a total stranger’s place, make sure to inquire ahead and check city regulations to see if parking an RV on private property is allowed.
Note that more cities are banning RVs parking on neighborhood streets and enforcing quite a hefty fine. This means it is safer if you can fit your big RV in a driveway.
Seasoned RVers considered the bix-box retailer Walmart as the best place to park their RV overnight free of charge, as most, although not all, Walmart stores allow this, and you can find them everywhere. Some even have designated parking spaces for large recreational vehicles.
With permission, you may also be able to stay overnight at some other big box stores such as Kmart, Lowe’s and Home Depot,given that you park far from their normal traffic flow, that is the entrance and exit.
In addition, do note that not all stores allow overnight RV parking due to city regulations. Therefore, the rule of thumb is calling ahead of time to check individual stores for policy or best ask to speak with the manager directly.
These US nationwide restaurants usually allow free overnight RV parking. They are scattered throughout the country, so quite easy to find, and offer spacious parking spaces for trucks and RVs.
Camping World is the largest and most trusted retailer of RVs, RV parts, and outdoor gear in the US. Along with Walmart, Camping World is considered the first few options to drycamp your RV overnight for free, as they provide spacious parking spaces for recreational vehicles, given the nature of their business, and often allow free parking overnight. Of course, make sure that you park away from the store’s traffic flow and to be on the safe side, ask the store manager for permission.
Like Camping World, Cabelas is another prestigious retailer of hunting, fishing, and outdoor gear, and typically has spacious parking lots with designated spaces for large RVs and often allow one-night parking on their premises.
Small Town Venues
As mentioned above, you will be more likely to find free parking spots in smaller communities. In small towns, you can most likely find free overnight parking in fairgrounds, city parks and county parks. Most of these are very clean and green, some even have hookups and designated parking for large recreational vehicles.
Just like big-box stores, churches often have large parking areas for their visitors. Churches tend to get their parking space filled up on Sundays, so it’s easier to ask for permission to park overnight during the week when there’s no service.
If you happen to be looking for a church service on Sunday and there are plenty of parking spaces, you can park and ask for permission to stay the night before the service or the night following it. When asking for permission, do let them know that you will be attending the Sunday service.
Even if you’re not attending a service, you can certainly ask for permission to park for the night. Just make sure you follow their instruction on where to park, stay away during their busy hours and leave in the morning.
Last Resort: Schools (Weekends And Holidays)
Since schools are busy during the week, you might be able to ask for permission to park in their parking lot on the weekends and holidays. Don’t even think about being there after 6:30 AM on a school day.
This should be your last resort parking spot if you can’t find anywhere else legal to park your RV, as long as the parking lot is empty. If you’re not attending an event there or are not part of the community, some schools might consider camper parking in their premises trespassing. Check with the school officials before parking and make sure to stay for one night only.
The rule of thumb, especially in the cases of schools and churches, is that courtesy is key. Introduce yourself, be courteous and explain about your trip and why you’re driving through their town.
Inquire about specific times when you believe the school to be empty. For credibility, provide a mobile phone number and an email address. If you’re traveling with kids, mention this too.
Let them know you’ll be out of there long before school hours, if you leave on Monday morning, and make sure you do just that. Plus, make sure to park exactly where school officials tell you to. Otherwise you may block their traffic flow or students moving about campus.
Tips To Help You Get Permission For Free Overnight RV Parking
You’re asking strangers who don’t know a thing about you to help you out, so be as polite and friendly as possible, and don’t be irritated or disheartened if you’re rejected.
You will be asking permission from managers, officers and officials, so keep in mind that whoever is on the other end of the line is most likely busy. Always be short and to the point, but polite and sweet at the same time.
Indicate That You’re A Customer
Where relevant, mention that you plan on using their service as well, in case you’re parking at a big-box store, a restaurant, camping gear retailer or church, if you’re actually planning to do so. These places tend to be friendlier to customers, naturally.
Don’t Mention The Word Camping
This is of utmost importance: do NOT say you would like to “camp” in their parking lot or property. What comes to most people’s minds upon hearing the word “camping” is a tent, fireplace, and some makeshift toilet spot behind the trees.
Instead, only, and only use the word “parking.” After all, all you need is a place to park your RV, and as long as you’re not trashing the place or making a lot of noises, no one needs to know what you are doing inside.
Ask For Permission Twice: Written & Verbal
It’s best if you can ask for permission twice. First, try calling or emailing ahead of time with the person in charge, and then approach the manager on the premises personally upon arrival.
Emailing ahead of time is safer than calling; this way you’ll get a clear, indisputable written permission from a manager who has the authority to give such a permission.
Make Sure You Talk To The Right Person
As mentioned above, you must ask for permission from a person who really has the power to do so. Many campers got a “yes” over the phone, only to discover later on that the person they had talked to was not a, say, manager, but an employee of the facility.
Be as polite and sweet as possible, even apologize in advance, but do ask specifically for the manager or the owner, and explain that you need to make sure that you’re actually talking to the right person.
Etiquette And Rules You Need To Observe
Be courteous, polite and respectful. Trying to leave a good impression is how you can make these facilities more willing to welcome other RVers in the future as well. Stick to the pointers below to make sure you’re not overstepping boundaries.
Stay for one night only and it’s best not to leave too late the next morning. Do not overstay until the afternoon. And never, ever, ever make them come over and ask you when you’re going to leave.
If there’s an emergency that requires you to stay for longer, talk to the owner or manager first, thank them for their kindness and politely explain your circumstances, but try not to sound imposing.
Maintain A Low Profile
Remember, you’re there to “park”, NOT to camp, so be as quiet, modest, or as “invisible” as possible:
- Stay away from their usual traffic flow, that is the entrance and exit.
- Keep your tow vehicle hitched if possible.
- Keep your parking spot clean.
- Don’t play loud music.
- Don’t operate a loud generator.
- Keep the awning folded in.
- Only use slideouts when you absolutely have to, like when using the bedroom, but don’t make it look like you’re about to stay there forever.
- Don’t extend your jacks or level the RV unless you really have to.
Permission, Permission, Permission
If you’re not sure about anything, always ask the management first so whatever you do wouldn’t have an adverse effect on their facility.
Why Some Campers Avoid Paid RV Parks
You might be wondering why an RVer would deliberately go out of their way to find free RV parking overnight and avoid RV campgrounds and parks, the most obvious and hassle-free solution.
Well, there is the obvious answer of money savings. When you camp often, those campground fees can really add up, so this is an important factor for many full-time, budget campers. However, money is not the only reason.
The second most common reason one might choose to find free camping is for the amazing locations available among the many stunning and spacious public land and parks. This type of camping outside conventional RV campgrounds — often referred to as boondocking — is typically more secluded with plenty of space and no loud neighbours in all directions.
Another reason many campers avoid RV campgrounds is flexibility and more choices. While most RV parks require reservation and the best ones fill up quickly, free camping spots are in abundance, if you know where to look and how to ask, and they rarely fill up. You will gain more options this way, and can come and go as you please.
We hope you have pocketed a few helpful places and tips for your question “Where can I park my RV for free”. The places listed in this guide all are safe havens for RVers who do not have access to regular camping facilities on their route or the budget-minded campers who want to save a few dollars, as well as those who want to enjoy the flexibility and the great locations available outside RV parks.
By doing a bit of online research and calling ahead, you can find many more places where you can safely park your RV overnight for free in a pinch. Remember that in most cases, these facilities will not provide the same comforts or security that full-hookup private campgrounds provide, so know what to expect.