Living the van life and road-tripping across the country is an exciting adventure! However, finding safe and legal places to park and sleep overnight can be a challenge. Whether you’re living in a converted van, truck camper, RV, or just car camping on a road trip, having reliable overnight parking options is essential.
In this guide, we’ll explore some of the best places and tips for free or cheap overnight parking when you live a mobile lifestyle on the road.
Boondocking on Public Land
One of the most popular options for van lifers and RVers is to camp out in the woods or open spaces on public land. This style of dry camping is known as boondocking or dispersed camping. There are a few ways to find great boondocking locations:
- National Forests and BLM Land – There are 155 national forests in the U.S., covering over 150 million acres of public land! Dispersed camping is allowed for free on Forest Service and BLM land for up to 14 days in one spot. Use FreeRoam or government maps to locate promising remote areas.
- iOverlander App – This must-have app crowdsources user-submitted free camping spots all over the world. Filter by public land sites for boondocking gems.
- Ask the Locals – Swing by ranger stations or visitor centers and ask where they’d recommend camping off-the-grid on public lands. Rangers know their area best.
The key things to look for are fairly remote locations away from cities, plenty of space to spread out, and somewhat existing access roads if possible. Practice Leave No Trace ethics when boondocking to preserve nature and respect nearby wildlife.
Overnight Parking at Commercial Spots
If you need amenities like power or restrooms, staying overnight at some commercial locations is convenient. Here are a few options:
- Walmart – It’s well known that many 24-hour Walmarts across the U.S. allow free overnight RV parking. Check first and don’t set up camp, but it’s handy in a pinch.
- Cracker Barrel – Similar to Walmart, Cracker Barrel restaurants often allow RVs to park overnight in designated areas. AllStays App includes listings.
- Rest Areas – Highway rest stops and travel centers are good for a night’s sleep during long drives. Rest area policies vary by state, so check regulations. Some even have RV dump stations.
Campgrounds & RV Parks
For maximum amenities like full hookups, bathhouses, and recreation, staying at campgrounds and RV parks is a comfy choice. Here are some options, from low-cost to luxurious:
- State/National Park Campgrounds – Wonderful campsites immersed in nature, like the scenic spots in Yosemite National Park. Sites book up months in advance.
- County/City Parks – Cheap sites ($15-30/night) operated by the city or county, like Montlake Park in Seattle. Often close to town.
- Private Campgrounds – Mom-and-pop-owned campgrounds appeal to travelers with amenities like pools, playgrounds, and camp stores. The cost is $40-60 per night.
- Luxury RV Resorts – Top amenities like golf courses and restaurants, such as Outdoor World in TX. Nightly rates from $60-100+.
Check resources like the Moon RV Camping app or RV Parky to find campgrounds along your route. Consider amenities needed and budget.
Unique Private Campsites
For one-of-a-kind camping on farms, vineyards, and homesteads, check out these private campground platforms:
- Harvest Hosts – Membership ($79/year) grants access to over 2000 boondocking sites at wineries, museums, and farms for free. Give back by supporting local businesses.
- Hipcamp – Book tent camping, cabin, and RV sites on private land across the U.S. starting at $10/night. Meet local landowners.
Urban Car and Van Camping
Parking overnight to sleep in your vehicle can also work within cities and metro areas if you’re careful and respectful. Follow rules, avoid residential areas, and use common sense. Helpful apps and tips:
- Research free parking areas and urban camping laws using FreeRoam and forums.
- Note quiet, low-traffic areas like industrial zones or green spaces. Avoid schools, police stations, and hospitals.
- Use blackout curtains for stealth. Print a “camping parking permit” to put on your dashboard indicating you have permission to park overnight.
- Move to a new area every few nights and avoid parking in the same spot multiple times per week.
Finding Your Parking Spots
Aside from using camping apps and guides, a few other tips that can help you locate promising overnight parking locations:
- Look for clusters of RVs – Where other RVers are parked in a neighborhood or town, it’s usually permissible.
- Check for signs – Signs at parking lots may indicate overnight parking is allowed, restricted, or require a permit.
- Search forums – Forums like Reddit, van forums, and RV chat rooms have crowdsourced tips for great overnight parking spots.
- Ensure cell signal – Use the OpenSignal app to check if an area has phone coverage in case you need it.
No matter where you choose to park overnight, always adhere to camping best practices around noise, garbage disposal, and respecting nature.
With so many options across the country, you’ll be able to find safe and legal spots to park and get some quality shut-eye during your van life travels.