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Is Camping in a Parking Lot Legit?

RVers can find themselves parking in some peculiar places during their travels. Many park their rigs in parking lots to break up long travel days or when campground reservations are nearly impossible to get.

If you’ve shopped at a big-box retailer lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen an RV or two sitting in their parking lot. So is camping in a parking lot a legit place to park for the night?

Today, we’re looking at whether camping in a parking lot could be a good option the next time you’re struggling to find a spot to camp.

Let’s get started!

Camping in a parking lot is legal in some places, but not all. Store parking lots are private property, but the property owners must still follow any local rules or regulations. Some businesses generously share their empty parking lots with travelers passing through town. However, some travelers have taken advantage of the generosity and ruined it for others.

In many areas, cities and municipalities have battled disrespectful nomads trashing an area or setting up permanent camps in parking lots. As a result, they’ve put in place rules and regulations prohibiting overnight camping in parking lots.

Rules and regulations will vary from location to location. Before camping in a parking lot, you must check the local laws and regulations. Luckily, many stores are familiar with the rules and regulations for their area and will often be able to let you know the legalities of their location. 

Parking lot entry sign
Make sure to research before you park up for the night whether or not the parking lot you want to stay at allows RVers.

Is Camping in a Parking Lot Safe?

Safety should always be a top priority no matter where you’re parking. Camping in a parking lot can be safe, but you must take a few precautions to maximize your safety and avoid becoming a victim. Keep all of your stuff locked up and avoid leaving valuables visible to anyone passing by your vehicle while you’re parked. 

Many parking lots have security features like lighting and cameras. We recommend that you park near them whenever possible to maximize your safety. Anyone up to no good will be less likely to mess with you if there’s a chance their activities could be seen or recorded. 

In most instances, camping in a parking lot is just as safe as parking anywhere else. You should always be aware of your surroundings and what’s happening outside your RV. Report any suspicious behavior and leave if necessary.

What Stores Allow Overnight Parking?

There are some stores known in the RV community for allowing overnight parking. Walmart, Costco, Cabela’s, Lowe’s, and Cracker Barrel are popular locations for RVers to park for the night during their travels. However, while these stores may have a reputation for allowing overnight parking, it’s not always guaranteed.

Like all other establishments, these stores must follow local rules and regulations regarding overnight parking. Store policies do not supersede local laws. Law enforcement can issue citations to violators who break overnight parking laws. In many instances, violators get asked to pack up and move on their way to a legal location.

Pro Tip: We took a closer look at What Stores Allow Overnight Parking to help you decide where you can camp at legally.

Family of four smiling out RV windows
Camping in a parking lot is a safe and free way to spend the night in your RV.

Tips for Camping in a Parking Lot

If you’re new to the idea of camping in a parking lot, there are some things that you should know. Here are a few tips to help ensure you have a smooth camping experience in a parking lot. Let’s take a look!

Always Get Permission

No matter what you’ve heard or read online, you should always obtain approval from the store to park overnight in their parking lot. We recommend calling ahead to verify that overnight parking is available at the location before wasting your time, energy, and fuel driving to the parking lot.

Once you arrive at the store, park out of the way and speak to a manager. Be respectful and thank them for their generosity if they do allow you to stay. It’s also a good idea to purchase something from the establishment to support them financially. This is why many travelers love Walmart locations, as there’s almost always something on their shopping list that they can grab while staying.

Don’t Unhitch

You shouldn’t unhitch your RV unless it’s necessary. You want to be able to get back on the road as quickly as possible when you go to leave. It’s also important to consider that you never know when you might need to leave in a hurry. If you need to hitch back up to your RV, you could be adding several minutes to the time it takes for you to pull out of a parking lot.

On the same note, we recommend avoiding putting down the landing gear on your RV. You may experience more movement inside your rig, but it allows you to make a quick exit if necessary. We’ve also heard horror stories of RVers forgetting to retract their landing gear before pulling out of their parking lot camping spot. That’s not how you want to start your day!

Be Considerate of Others

There’s a good chance you’re not going to be the only ones camping in a parking lot. It’s not uncommon to see several rigs parked in a store’s parking lot for the night. As a result, you want to be considerate of others regarding your noise level and where you choose to park. Avoid making more noise than necessary and always give other rigs plenty of space.

Many of these lots are very large and have plenty of room for everybody. Others parking for the night might not receive it well if you park right on top of them or make it difficult for them to get in or out of the parking lot.

RV parked in camping lot in the fall.
Make sure to keep the parking lot clean while public camping.

Don’t Be Trashy

If you have trash, make sure it finds its way into a trash can. Some retailers have trash cans spread throughout their parking lots, which can be a great place to dispose of trash while on the road. One of the leading causes of overnight parking locations getting shut down is users leaving trash behind when they leave.

Local communities often get tired of battling the litter and how it makes the area appear trashy. So even if you are respectful and pick up your trash, it may be worth doing your part to clean up after others that aren’t as respectful. Wear gloves when cleaning up trash to avoid any potential issues with bacteria and other germs.

Safety Is Always Important

As we said earlier, your safety should always be your highest priority. You should never stay in a spot where you do not feel safe. You may feel safe when you arrive, but things can quickly change in the middle of the night. No camping location is worth risking your safety. So don’t be afraid to pack up and move on your way if you feel uncomfortable.

If you see suspicious or illegal activities, report them to the proper authorities immediately. They’ll likely come to investigate the area and address any unlawful activities. This can be a tough choice, as finding a spot to park for the rest of the night may not be easy. However, once you find a safe place to park, you’ll be able to sleep peacefully knowing you’re safe.

Pro Tip: Use these tips on how to stealth camp like a pro and not get caught snoozing in a parking lot.

Aerial view of parking lot
Use camping apps to find free parking lots to spend the night at.

How Do You Find Parking Lot Camping Spots?

There are a few easy ways to find parking lot camping spots. We regularly use Campendium, iOverlander, and AllStays to locate convenient parking locations while adventuring in our rig. We love these resources as they allow users to leave reviews for locations.

These reviews can be beneficial when selecting spots to stay. Users often share helpful information regarding navigating, accessing the site, or how to obtain permission to stay.

We’ve used information from some reviews to avoid a few locations with several negative reviews.

Will You Camp in a Parking Lot?

Parking lot camping can be excellent for stopping overnight while adventuring. However, you can’t just park your RV anywhere and expect a smooth experience.

Make sure you’re only setting up camp in a legal location so you avoid getting a knock on your door in the middle of the night from law enforcement. However, these locations can be very convenient and provide a comfortable place to stay for a night.

Do you plan to park for a night in a parking lot during your adventures?

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