An RV park is an obvious place that someone would park their RV while on a trip. However, it isn’t the only place as there are many different alternatives that have more advantages when compared to what an RV park can offer. The problem with parking in RV parks is that they are often crowded and leave little room for those who like their privacy. Of course, some are a lot nicer than others but the overall experience of an RV park isn’t always the best.
Fortunately, you don’t have to settle for an RV park unless you want to. Although they do have advantages that we’ll discuss later on, they also come with negatives to go along with it. Some of the options below will provide a better overall experience than what you might find in a crowded and often expensive RV park.
This list will be based on my opinion and experiences and not everyone will agree that these are viable options for avoiding the RV park crowd. However, I have stayed in almost all of these places and also in my fair share of RV parks and campgrounds. I have determined some viable alternatives as outlined in the list below with my favorites being listed first.
Most of the places listed below will be suitable for self-contained RVs but a couple may also allow those who are not self-contained.
1) Harvest Hosts
By far my favorite alternative to RV parks is Harvest Hosts locations. I have been a member for about a year now and have stayed at many different locations. All of the locations I have stayed at have been wineries and farms. These locations are usually always a welcomed stop on my journey and I look forward to connecting with the people behind the business as well as having a quiet refuge for the night.
These places differ from RV parks since they typically only allow for a few RVers at a time. Most of the places I have stayed at had limited spaces and I was often the only one staying the night. There have been a few times when other campers were around me but well-dispersed. I have always had a peaceful experience when visiting one of these locations.
I have written about my experiences with various Harvest Hosts locations. You can read about it here.
2) Hipcamp / Private Property
Hipcamp is like Airbnb for camping. With this service, you can purchase a night or two or more on someone else’s land and pull your RV in and stay awhile. The price is reasonable for most listings and there are listings available all over the United States. Similar to Airbnb, you just choose your dates, pay the fees and you are all set. All you will need to do is show up at the location ready to enjoy your stay.
All of the places I have visited using Hipcamp have been excellent. Of course, you’ll need to read through the reviews to make sure that the place you are going is suitable and well recommended. However, some of the popular destinations stay booked so you’ll need to plan in advance if you expect to get in at some of the better places.
Most of these properties offer limited available spaces. Some only offer one space at a time which usually gives the guest a quiet and private experience. However, some may offer more spaces so that other campers can stay on the property at the same time. It’s pretty easy to find a secluded spot that will be a quiet refuge without breaking the bank which is why I love using this service.
The price for a quiet and safe place to stay is comparable to that of an RV park and usually less.
3) Boondockers Welcome
Similar to Harvest Hosts, Boondocker‘s welcome is another service that allows you to stay for free on other people’s property. While Harvest Hosts has a large portfolio of wineries, farms and other small businesses, Boondocker‘s Welcome generally consists of individuals who have extra space on their land that you can stay for free. These people are usually RVers themselves and enjoy helping other RVers out.
With this service, you may end up staying in someone’s front yard or parked on a nice piece of land on a farm. There are numerous types of locations that you can choose from and these span throughout the United States. For one small yearly fee, you will have access to be able to stay for free on other people’s private property. All you will need to do is set up the dates and request to stay and once approved, you are all set.
4) Free Dispersed Camping Locations
Free camping is what we all dream of but unfortunately, unless you live in the western United States, you will not find these types of locations. This would probably be my first choice if I lived in an area or traveled through an area more often where these locations exist. However, these are few and far between where I live in the Midwest.
For those who live or travel in Western states, these locations provide you with amazing locations to park and have a peaceful stay. You may end up out in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors in sight which is a good thing depending on how you look at it.
These locations are managed by the Bureau of land management and are available to anyone on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you would like to find out more about where you may be able to find these types of locations you can visit the BLM website.
5) Storefront Parking Lots
Some large businesses allow RVers to stay in their parking lots for the night. The primary businesses that we all know about include Walmart, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, and some Camping World stores. These places often allow self-contained RVs to stay for the night and some may require that you check in with the manager first before assuming that you can stay. I would suggest always doing this no matter what store it is so that you know that you have permission to be there.
These stores are nationwide but not all of them have the same policies so some may allow you to stay and some may not. You can visit RV Parky to get an idea of the locations that will allow RVs to stay for the night. Still though, you will still need to speak with the manager to make sure. Of course, if you are in a stealthy van, it is likely that no one will even know you are there in the first place. This is especially true in 24-hour businesses that have people coming and going all night long.
The downside of parking in one of these storefronts is the noise and lack of privacy. You will hear cars coming and going all night long and if you are a light sleeper, this is probably not a good option for you. On top of that, these stores are generally located near an interstate so you will hear the roaring of loud trucks and cars driving down the interstate all night long.
The good thing about parking in one of these locations is that you will be able to do some shopping while you are there. If you are parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot, you will be able to go in and stock up on goodies. You’ll also be able to use the restrooms if you don’t want to use your own private one in your van or RV.
These types of places are my last resort when I am out on the road and need a place to park. I do not sleep well when there is a lot of noise around and usually have to use earplugs and a white noise generator to drown out as much noise as possible.
6) Residential Neighborhoods
If you are traveling and need a place to stay for the night, you may have to get sneaky and work your way into a residential neighborhood. Of course, this isn’t likely going to be an option if you travel in a large motorhome. However, a camper van that is made to be stealthy can easily get away with parking for a night in a location like this.
The main trick for doing this is to arrive late and leave early so that you do not look suspicious. Your only goal is to be able to park your vehicle and get a good restful sleep and then leave before you are even noticed. You’ll have to master the art of where to park your van without drawing attention to yourself. You will likely be parking directly on a street and covering all windows so that no one knows whether you are a parked van that is visiting someone or not.
7) Rest Areas
Similar to the store parking lots listed above, rest areas are also loud areas that you may be able to park your RV for the night. All states have a different policy on this so you will need to make sure you are abiding by the law when you pull into one of these places. These are often great places to pull over and grab a bite to eat and rest your eyes for a bit but some states will have limited hours that you can stay.
To find out where each state stands on this, click here.
8) Truck Stops
A truck stop would be my absolute last resort but it is often an available option to stay a night. It’s going to be loud and it might not feel very safe for some. Love’s is one that you will see along the interstate that often allows for overnight parking. These are great for those times when you are traveling long distances and need a place to pull over and rest for the night.
Reasons To Stay In RV Parks
When you stay in an RV park, you have access to amenities that you will not have in the locations mentioned above. This makes it more attractive to stay in an RV park if you need to have access to amenities such as showers, dump stations, electricity, water, Wi-Fi, and all of the other modern conveniences that you may be used to.
Staying in an RV park will often be a safe environment since there is usually management on duty and other great people also enjoying their stay. Some of the other alternatives mentioned above may leave you in areas where you don’t feel as safe. Besides Harvest Hosts and the other paid alternatives, some of the free camping locations may open you up to potentially dangerous situations. This isn’t always the case and you can usually tell when the place just doesn’t feel right.
An RV park usually has a community of RVers to watch out for one another and is a great environment overall. You will generally be surrounded by very friendly people.
3) Dump Tanks & Fill Water
RV parks can be a great place to swing by on occasion even if you don’t stay in them all the time. It’s a great place for you to fill up your RV with freshwater as well as dump your wastewater and trash. If you are always staying in alternative places to RV parks, you may run into situations where you need to dump your wastewater. None of the alternatives mentioned above offer this service except for some truck stops. You may be able to dump a cassette toilet in a standard toilet at some of the other locations but an RV park ensures that you will have a place to get rid of any waste that you may be carrying.
4) Easy To Find
RV parks are all over the place and are very easy to locate. There is an RV park in nearly any town that you travel through so if you are ever out on the road and need a place to stay, an RV park is likely somewhere close by. They may not always have availability but this will depend on the location you are in and the popularity of that location.
5) Meet Other Like-Minded People
Traveling in an RV, camper van or other camping set up can often get lonely, especially if you stay in remote areas. I am an introvert so I prefer solitude and being away from the crowd. However, there are times when it’s good to see other people and make conversation. This can be easy to do when you are staying in a community of RVers. Even if you are just looking to say hello to others, it can be a welcoming experience to see a friendly smile from another when you have been off the grid for a while.
This doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to meet other great people through some of the alternatives listed above. For example, all of the Harvest Hosts locations that I have visited have allowed me to meet so great people.
Reasons NOT To Stay In RV Parks
1) Lack Of Privacy
When you are staying in a crowded RV park, you will not have the privacy that you may get from staying somewhere where you are all alone. Whether you are staying on private property or a dispersed camping location, alternative places generally leave you with more privacy unless you are staying in a storefront parking lot, rest area or truck stop.
The noise level can be considerably more in an RV park due to the number of campers along with the location of the park itself. These are often located not far from the interstate so traffic noise can often be a problem. I have stayed in RV parks where the sound of the roaring interstate kept me up late at night. However, I have also stayed in RV parks that were quiet and peaceful. You’ll need to do your research on this before booking your stay to make sure it will suit your noise-level preference.
This type of camping can be quite pricey, especially in popular destinations. Although not quite as expensive as a hotel room might be, you can still end up spending quite a bit of money over time by staying in RV parks. Most of these parks are reasonable but it still adds up when you consider the free or yearly membership alternatives that are available.
Whether you choose to stay in an RV park or use an alternative location, camping in an RV is a great way to experience the great outdoors. It’s likely that you will stay in all of these locations at some point on your journey if you intend to travel often. However, only time and experience will tell which ones that you prefer over others. I prefer to use paid membership hosts as much as possible such as Harvest Hosts and Boondocker’s Welcome. These provide awesome locations to enjoy solitude on private property.
However, there are times when I do enjoy staying in RV parks, especially when I need to have amenities such as Wi-Fi, and dumping stations. RV parks are handy and can be found anywhere so you are usually a short drive away from one matter where you are.
If you intend to travel in camp in your RV, know that there are alternatives to the usual RV parks. These aren’t the only place to stay and there are other good alternatives as we have seen in this article. I recommend trying some of them out and you’ll eventually settle on the ones you like the best.