Every veteran RVer has woken up to beautiful, picturesque views and the sweet sounds of nature. Nothing beats opening your eyes to shining asphalt and the passionate cursing of a convenience store couple in the morning. Sure, it’s not mountain views and birds chirping, but nothing beats free overnight RV parking. Right?
If you’ve got a long road trip planned, you might need to spend the night off-grid in a different sense of the word: in an empty parking lot. To help you get started on routing your trip around the states, we compiled this list of the best places for free overnight RV parking.
This one is obvious! Walmart is probably one of the most well-known places for free overnight parking – RV and otherwise. Walmart camping is a rite of passage for American nomads. Although, not all Walmarts will be welcoming. Check the AllStays app for reviews of different Walmart parking lots, and if they allow free RV parking.
BassPro and other chain outdoor-focused stores like Cabela’s Sporting Goods will often let you park overnight. This isn’t a complete guarantee, so we recommend asking staff before you stay overnight. Luckily, many cities have at least one camping store that will welcome overnight guests in need of free RV parking.
After a long day of driving, what’s better than being a short walk from a delicious, hot Cracker Barrel meal? You can stay the night in the parking lot and wake to another scrumptious breakfast in the morning! All Cracker Barrels have maps of all their locations inside, so you can plan which highway-side location you’ll stay at next. This makes Cracker Barrel a great place for free RV parking during your travels.
Movies play late and often run into the early morning hours. After closing, staff members will stick around a while longer to clean and lock up. As a result of these all-hours businesses, movie theaters are usually a great place to park overnight. Although you should ask if you’re unsure, most movie theaters welcome free overnight RV parking.
It might be a tight fit on a Saturday or Sunday night, but most churches will accept overnight RV parking. On weekdays, the parking lots are mostly empty and, by nature, a church or other place of worship is likely to be a little more welcoming to those in need of a place to stay. Again, places of worship are an ask before you level the RV and lower the jack situation.
Planet Fitness is another guaranteed spot for free overnight RV parking. This is an especially great place to stay for members, you can get in a workout and a shower before getting back on the road! We’ve even seen a few of our favorite camping bloggers purchase memberships simply for a place to stay and shower when traveling.
What about public land?
There are acres upon acres of public land and national forests owned by the United States government. These places were set up to protect and preserve the natural beauty of our nation. The best part about public land? Everything there is completely free! You can hike, bike, kayak, explore and even camp on public land for exactly zero dollars.
Sure, national parks sometimes offer actual campgrounds with showers, electricity, water hookups and more. But we’re talking strictly free overnight RV parking here. The US Forest Service refers to this old-fashioned just-you-and-the-woods camping as “dispersed camping.” If you’re able to take your truck, trailer or camper van off-road then camping on public land might be the solution for you. It may not be a tent, but it’s a perfectly legal form of dispersed camping. Most National Forests will have a parking lot as well that you can get away with parking in overnight.
You should note that some National Forests will have exceptions, like ones that are only open from dawn to dusk. Additionally, some parks will have “no overnight camping” signs. These, of course, mean you can’t park there for the night.
Essentially, unless otherwise stated, it’s legal to sleep in your RV on any federally designated public lands.
What about rest stops?
Most rest areas allow parking at all hours, but prohibit camping. This results in a pretty big gray area for RVers. Usually, this means you aren’t allowed to set up a tent and a campfire but are allowed to rest in your car.
In Pennsylvania, where Juniata Valley RV is located, you’re limited to two hour stays at rest stops in a 24-hour period. On the other hand, there are no overnight rules at Pennsylvania service plazas, simply stating that you can’t stay longer than 24 hours.
Although the rules aren’t extremely clear, most states prohibit people from spending the night in public rest stops and service plazas. You’ll often be allowed to sleep in your car, or RV, for two to three hours before being required to move on. Vehicles parked at rest stops for more than a few hours may be considered abandoned and towed.
Overall, rest stops are best for a quick nap rather than overnight RV parking.
If you’re in need of a new travel trailer or motorhome to take you on your boondocking journey, Juniata Valley RV is here to help. We carry new and used RVs and RV parts. We also have an expert service department ready to repair or upgrade your RV. Call us at 1 (877) 714-0415 or contact us here when you’re ready to get started.