Since camper vans are so small and can be similar to driving a car around, one might think that they can be parked anywhere. This is true if you are only concerned with parking your camper van during the day time.
Most camper vans can fit into standard parking spots so you should have no problem parking a van anywhere. However, this doesn’t mean that you can park in a spot and expect to set up camp there for the night.
This was my hope when I initially began building a camper van for myself.
The fantasy that I had was that I would be able to pull off the road onto an overlook or some remote parking lot, and I’d be able to park for the night and sleep no matter where I was.
It’s easy to think something like this when you see it happening all over the Internet. People are creating YouTube videos and writing about their experiences of stealth parking and stealth camping.
Who wouldn’t like the idea of parking for free nearly anywhere and enjoying the night without having to pay for a camping spot?
It certainly makes the lifestyle more attractive and much cheaper. It also makes it more flexible as to where you can stay. But is it really like this?
Can you park a camper van anywhere?
I wasn’t sure about this myself until I finished my camper van and actually got out on the road. After traveling a bit and doing my research, I learned that parking a camper van anywhere you wanted wasn’t going to work.
A camper van can be parked nearly anywhere that a car can during posted hours. However, you are generally not allowed to park overnight in most public places unless specifically stated. Parking in restricted areas without permission may result in fines, towing or even further legal action.
Of course, there is a chance that you will not be caught in some places but this is a risk you’ll be taking. There are many designated areas that one can park overnight without the fear that someone will come knocking in the middle of the night and ask you to leave.
I prefer to park in designated areas where parking overnight is allowed. These places are not always free but it gives me greater peace of mind knowing that I have permission.
Where Can You Park a Van Overnight?
Here are 10 places for you to look when you are looking for a spot to say the night in your van or RV.
Public Lands – BLM
If you live on the East Coast of the United States, public lands are not an option. However, there are many places to park on public lands in the western states of the United States.
BLM land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and may be used by the public for Boondocking and other types of Camping.
Walmart generally allows RVs to park overnight in most of its locations. However, many Walmarts do not allow this and you will be asked to leave if you are caught. This is often a problem for larger motorhomes but camper vans may go unnoticed in a large parking lot such as Walmart.
Anytime you have a 24-hour store that is as large as Walmart is, it is easy to park without being noticed by others especially in a smaller van type of motorhome that may blend in well with other cars.
It’s best to always ask management for permission before you try this. Call ahead or ask for a manager when you arrive to make sure you are allowed to stay the night.
There are many side streets that you may be able to park on and blend in with the rest of your surroundings. This may also be allowed on city streets where signs are not posted that prohibit overnight parking.
Many streets have signs that say no parking during specific times such as 9 AM to 6 PM. This means that after 6 PM, you may be able to park as long as you are gone by 9 AM.
You have to be careful in parking spots like this and make sure that there are no other signs that strictly prohibit overnight parking.
Private Property – using HipCamp.com
One of my favorite ways to park my camper van is by using other people’s property. Although this is not free, it is often a very fair price for a peaceful night’s sleep without worrying whether or not you are allowed to park there.
My favorite place to find parking like this is using hip camp.com. This website is similar to Airbnb except it offers camping spots or RV parking on people’s private property.
My experience with Hip Camp has been wonderful so far. The first time I used it, I found myself parked on a secluded farm beside a creek in the foothills of the smoky mountains.
This parking spot for the night only cost me $15 and I never saw another person other than the owner of the property, who greeted me and then left me alone to enjoy my evening.
Locations like this are the reason that I was interested in building my camper van and these are the locations that I look forward to visiting.
My second favorite way to park my camper van is by using Harvest Hosts. Harvest Hosts is a network of businesses such as wineries, farms, distilleries, golf courses and museums that allow you to stay one night for free at their location.
Although free, it is generally expected that you support the business by purchasing some of their products. I do not mind this at all as I am generally visiting places that have products I would be purchasing anyway.
The picture below is my van parked at an apple orchard where I stayed the night for free. It was a peaceful night in the Blue Ridge mountains near Asheville North Carolina and I was able to purchase some Great tasting apple products as well as breakfast in the morning before I left.
This was a wonderful evening and a great location for parking a camper van.
Visit Harvest Hosts for more information about the memberships that they offer.
The Boondockers Welcome membership connects you with other property owners who are willing to allow you to stay at their property for free. These are typically fellow RVers who have space and are kind enough to offer it to other people for the night.
I have not used Boondockers Welcome but I have heard great things about it and I intend to try it out soon.
Visit Boondockers Welcome for more information.
RV Parks & Campgrounds
The most obvious place to park your camper van is in an RV park or campground. Although these are not the ideal location if you are seeking a peaceful refuge from the daily grind, some of them can be a great place to stop for the night and they also allow you to dump gray tanks and re-fill your water if needed.
It’s often a good idea to include a stay at an RV park during a trip that you are taking. I prefer to stay at these often because it gives me a way to dump my cassette toilet and to refill water as needed.
They also provide a place for you to take a hot shower and use a toilet if you do not have one in your van or do not want to use your own.
This can be nice if you have been out on the road and need a nice warm shower to refresh yourself.
Cracker Barrel restaurants are another place that you may be able to park for the night. Many of these restaurants allow motorhomes to park similar to the way Walmart does.
Some locations do not allow this so you will need to check with management and call ahead before you assume that the one you are headed to allows this.
One downfall of this is that most Cracker Barrel locations are located right off the interstate. If you are sensitive to noise, you may have a difficult time sleeping throughout the night with all of the loud interstate noise only a small ways away.
Rest areas can be a lifesaver when you are out on the road and can’t find another place to park. You can always pull into a rest area off of the side of the interstate and catch a nap or even sleep for the night in certain states.
Similar to Cracker Barrel’s that are mentioned above, rest areas aren’t far off the interstate and are noisy 24 hours per day.
A rest area gives you a place to use the restroom and possibly dump your cassette toilet which can be great if you are in a pinch.
Here is more information on different state rules regarding overnight stays in rest areas.
Camping World has been known to allow overnight parking at some locations. Many of these do not allow it so you will need to call ahead to determine whether or not a location participates.
Van Life Parking App
- iOverlander – this is a popular app for finding free Boondocking locations where you can park for free. It is user-submitted data and is not always accurate so use it at your own risk.
- RVParky – This is an outstanding resource for anyone seeking to stay overnight in an RV. You will find campgrounds, Walmart locations and other locations that allow you to park overnight. Visit RV Parky or download the app to your phone.
- Campendium – This is similar to RVParky and gives you details about campgrounds and other overnight locations for the area you are in. Visit Campendium for more information.
- RoadTrippers – This is more than just a campground or overnight stay finder. You will tell the app where you are starting from and where you are going to and it will show you things to do and allow you to discover places you might not have thought about. Visit https://roadtrippers.com/ to learn more.
- Park4Night – This is a great resource for anyone traveling in Europe and will allow you to find places to camp overnight.
Tips For Overnight Camping in a Van
The following are a few tips that you can use that will help you to make the most of your experiences in your camper van.
- If you are unsure, don’t do it. If it feels like you are parking somewhere you probably shouldn’t be, it’s probably a good idea to pack it up and go somewhere else.
- Plan ahead. If you just set out without a plan thinking that you’ll just park stealthily wherever you can, you may run into problems when you are unable to find a safe place to do so.
- Always seek permission. If you pull into a Walmart or another place that you think allows overnight parking, see if you can find management and ask if it is allowed. This may help keep you from being awakened in the middle of the night by authorities.
- Consider joining Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome. If nothing else, these can be the last resort type of solutions when you are out on the road. It’s always good to have as many options as possible.
- Always have a backup plan. This may not be always possible but it’s important to understand that you may have to move and go elsewhere if you are stealthily parked in a camper van.
It would be great if you could just hop in a camper van and go anywhere you want, park for free and live with no worries. However, it isn’t quite like that in reality.
Although by looking on the Internet, you would think that this is the reality and many people are disappointed when they try to live this lifestyle. Parking a camper van requires some thought and planning just like traveling in any other type of motorhome or RV.
The location that you are in can be a huge factor in where you are allowed to park and where you are not. Rules are different in different areas and it’s always best that you do your research and learn where you can and can’t park so that you will know before you go.
Most importantly, you should always strive to stay safe. It isn’t always safe in areas where you might succeed in parking for free overnight.
I would rather pay for a spot and know that I am safe than to take a chance on staying in a place that isn’t safe.