You’re making a trip with your RV, and want to find a way to reduce the cost by finding free parking overnight. Well, we’ve found there are quite a few ways to do it. It’s not always luxurious and you have to plan ahead, but as long as you keep a back-up plan in mind and don’t expect to always park for free, you should be able to save some real money.
The RV community’s continued presence in America has made many parts of the country very amenable to its needs. There’s a host of stores, institutions, and stops that have experience with RV parking and will offer it for free or next to nothing:
Truck stops, rest stops, schools, churches, casinos, Walmart Stores, and Cracker Barrels, as well as many other privately-owned grounds all can be fantastic places to stop overnight. Of course, with each of them, there are various things to know and rules to follow. But if you call ahead and act responsible, it is usually fairly easy to arrange your stay with them. For a more formalized option, there are certain clubs and memberships you can join that guarantee you parking in locations all around the country.
Don’t forget that free overnight parking does not usually include electric hook-ups, running water, or wi-fi. Free parking is great, but don’t overdo it. Be sure to arrange your trip so that you have plenty of access to what you need
Starting out: The Rules for RV Parking
As you might expect, RV parking has a protocol of its own. Following the rules will go a long way to making your experiences smooth and pleasant. Here are the ones that count:
Keep a Cheerful Attitude: As enamored of the roving life as you are, know that not everyone understands it. Some people may see you as an outsider. The best thing is to stay positive, patient, and uncomplaining. If you set the right note from the start, they’ll probably be glad to help you—it’s not costing them anything.
Follow Parking Etiquette: If you want to stay somewhere overnight, call or email ahead of time. Once you arrive, check-in with someone to confirm that you are there. Remind them of the details of the agreement. This could save you a lot of trouble. If there’s a misunderstanding, you’re the one who’s going to be in a spot. Also, RV parking just means parking. It doesn’t mean you can spread your awning, light up your outdoor entertainment center, and start grilling. That’s camping. If you’re using any parking area, especially a free parking area, be quiet and don’t disturb anyone. Wait for the campgrounds to go camping.
Use Your Resources: Get all the information you can before you ask local owners. There are some very helpful apps and social media platforms that can help you find places to park for free. Passport America, Free Campgrounds, Oh, Ranger! Park Finder are all good resources for learning about parks and campgrounds in the area and giving discounts on parking. Walmart Parking App tells you what Walmart stores in your area offer free parking and gives you directions on how to get there. Overnight RV Parking is a directory with more than 14,000 locations where you can park overnight for free.
Parking at Rest Areas and Truck Stops
Rest Areas and Truck Stops can be great options for overnight RV parking. Some even have spots reserved for RV’s. There are some places that will want you to pay a fee and others that will not. If you simply call ahead of time, you’ll be able to find out. Here are some things to know about rest area parking:
State-by-State Variations: Almost every state will allow you to take a break at a rest stop if you really need it, but not all of them allow you to park overnight. You can find a list of all the ones who do here: https://www.frugal-rv-travel.com/rest-stops.html
Benefits: In some ways, the locations of rest areas and truck stops seem ideal for RV parking. You just pull off the highway, refuel, re-energize, and get back on the road. It’s convenient, pain-free, and doesn’t require too much planning. You might also be in company with other RVer’s, so chances are, you won’t feel isolated.
Downsides: Depending on the location and the hour, Rest Areas and Truck Stops can fill up. You don’t want to try and squeeze an RV somewhere. If you arrive and see that there is no space, the best thing to do is move to Plan B. Also, if you park overnight illegally (in-state not on the list), you can be fined for it.
Don’t Crowd the Trucks: Whatever you do, don’t get in the way of the commercial trucks. They have more of a right to space than you do, and it’s a really important part of their job. You don’t have to be jumpy about them, just use common sense and respect their space.
Parking in Schools and Churches
Parking at a school or in a church may not be the first thing you would think of for free RV parking, but often it is one of the easiest to arrange. School and Church officials have no use for their lots most of the time, and often they are located at a convenient distance from grocery stores and main street areas. Keep these things in mind when you decide to park here:
Timing: There are times that both schools and churches are completely deserted, and that’s the time that you’re going to be able to park there. Schools parking lots are usually empty on the weekends. Church parking lots are usually empty on weekdays (and sometimes Saturday nights). Generally, they’re really great places to stay, because they won’t expect you to buy anything from them. If you are religious, it is convenient to park someplace where you can attend a service.
Call or Write At Least a Week in Advance: The most important thing about parking at schools and churches is that you call ahead. Sometimes churches and schools have events on off-days and need the parking lot. Because of scheduling and logistics, they’ll want to know sooner rather than later that you’re coming. They’re also probably going to want to know who you are and why you’re coming through town. After you do arrive, follow up and make an in-person connection to prevent misunderstanding.
Leave before activity begins: Don’t overstay your welcome. This is especially important for parking here because they have such regularized schedules. Get out of the parking lot before the cars start pouring in for school or for service. In some cases, this could mean leaving very early in the morning.
Parking at Stores
Many stores have experience with RVer’s and are glad to have them spend the night in their lot. Often, it can also bring in business for them, as people who stay the night choose the stock up on their supplies in the morning. Because of their reputation as a good spot, you may also find other RVs in the lot with you, which can make it seem less deserted. Here are the ones to check out:
Walmart: Walmart is one of the most popular spots for parking an RV free overnight. Not all stores allow it, but many do. As we suggested above, use the Walmart Parking App to look into it. Be sure to ask if you are expected to do some shopping at the store. Even if it’s not expected, it might be a nice thing to do. Especially if you’re already looking to shop anyway.
Cracker Barrel, Costco, Camping World SuperCenter.: Like Walmart, some of these store’s locations allow you to park overnight for free. Cracker Barrel even has a few 40-foot spaces for RV’s. If you call ahead, you’ll be able to find out whether you’re allowed to park or not. Be sure you talk with someone who has the authority to give you the green light. As at Walmart, ask if they want you as a paying customer.
Follow Protocol: When you park in a store parking lot, you’re expected to keep to yourself and keep quiet. Do not put out your awnings or make use of an exterior tv or barbecue. The parking lots are not campsites, and they’re not designed for nighttime camping activity.
Other Creative Parking Places
Unusual parking spots sometimes make for the very best experiences. You can use memberships to tap into them or look in RV forums online to see what other RVer’s found. Here are ways to find some of the nicest spots available:
Boondockers Welcome: This club a great way to tap into the community of RV owners across America. If you join it, you have access to over 1000 parking locations across the country, some of which provide electric hook-ups and water. It’s made up of other RV owners who don’t mind you staying on their property for a night. Not only is it a great way to find parking, it’s also a way to connect with people who share a passion for your lifestyle.
Casinos: Funnily enough, many casinos offer free overnight parking for RV’s. They’re more likely to expect you as a customer than the stores are, but that’s not always the case. Call ahead and tie down the details. With casinos, it may be best to get permission in writing, through email. That way, you have some official evidence that you are able to park on the site.
Harvest Hosts: If you do a lot of traveling in your RV, you may want to think about buying a yearly membership like Harvest Hosts. Harvest Hosts gives you access to 670 orchards, wineries, and farms for only $79/year. For an extra $20, you have access to 30 golf courses. That’s more pleasant than staying in an empty parking lot!
Campsites: Campsites are the classic parking spot for RV’s and some of them offer parking for little to no money. They are great places to spend the night and usually very easy to arrange. Use the apps we suggested to get fantastic discounts and deals on the campsite passes.
As you see, there are lots and lots of ways to find free or nearly free parking places. You may not get a hook-up or water. You may have to wake up at 5 a.m. and be off before six. But if you’re a serious RV traveler, these are challenges you are prepared for. You may even want them. Now you can go and make a plan for your road-trip that won’t break the bank.
If you have any questions, leave a comment below. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can!