Where can you find free places to park your RV, motorhome, campervan or travel trailer in the United States?
There is almost no greater joy for vanlifers, weekend warriors and roadtrippers alike than finding a free place to stay. Whether you’re in a travel trailer, motorhome, motorcoach or camper van, being able to pull up somewhere and stay without paying a dime is most satisfying.
With the average price of a campground site pushing $40, scoring a free night while on a long road trip or living on the road full-time can add up. Fortunately, North America is full of places where you can stay for a single night for free—you just have to know where to look!
Sometimes, whoever owns the land (or service station, casino, parking lot, etc.) is kind enough to let you stay multiple nights. Most of the places featured on this page may be familiar to the veteran travelers out there, but 1 or 2 may surprise you.
Mind your manners
One thing we absolutely must stress when staying somewhere for free is to be a good neighbor. Have good etiquette and leave the spot better than you found it. Don’t take advantage of another person or company’s kindness by making them regret their offer. Doing your part to be a good guest helps ensure that these free parking places remain so in the future for you and others.
Free overnight RV and campervan parking without hookups (boondocking)
Store or business parking lots
Free and available single-use overnight parking can be a godsend to road-weary RVers and campers because it’s common to pull into a park without a reservation only to discover that it’s booked up solid.
What do you do, then?
Most folks ask the park manager about alternatives. Sometimes there’s another place nearby to check out, but other times there’s not. Hopefully, you have enough cell service to Google “rv parking near me.”
In such scenarios, it can be helpful to memorize this list of stores that commonly allow RVs and campervans to park overnight for free:
- 24-Hour Fitness
- Camping World
- Sam’s Club
- Bass Pro Shop
- Cracker Barrel
- Home Depot
Just be sure to call the store or casino beforehand to make sure that they allow free overnight parking because each individual store is different and has its own policies—or the city the store is in may have a law against overnight parking.
Rest areas and truck stops
Many states allow overnight camping in rest areas. Check with the state’s Department of Transportation and look for signs at the rest area that indicate “no camping allowed.” If you don’t see any, you’re good to go.
Truck stops are also known to be RV-friendly. As an added bonus, they often have dump stations, showers and hot food nearby.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is known to allow free camping on many of its lands. In fact, nearly 1 in 10 acres in the U.S. is managed by the BLM, but almost all (99.99 percent) of that land is located in the West—in states like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.
Generally, you are allowed to camp on BLM land for up to 14 days at a time—though many vanlifers and full-time RVers get around this rule by simply moving to another nearby campsite every couple of weeks.
Pro tip: Check out the BLM’s frequently requested maps page to start planning your BLM-based free camping adventure or road trip.
Another great resource for free and low-cost camping is U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land, which allows dispersed camping in more than 175 national forests across the United States. For park-specific camping information, you’ll need to contact the ranger district.
Pro tip: Thanks to the USFS.gov website, you can search by state for a specific camping spot.
Though not technically free, another affordable possible option for RVers looking for a deal is the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands annual pass—aptly named the America the Beautiful pass. It costs $80 (plus a $5 processing and handling fee) for 1 year, and it allows pass owners and 3 accompanying adults over the age of 16 (no fee for those under 16) to stay at federally-operated recreation sites all over the country. In addition, the pass grants you access to hundreds of millions of acres that can be used for backpacking and camping.
Pro tip: The 2021 American the Beautiful parks pass is FREE for U.S. military veterans and their dependents and individuals who have volunteered at least 250 hours at 1 or more recreation sites managed by 5 Federal agencies.
The annual Senior Pass costs just $20 (plus a $10 processing fee) —quite a bargain for unlimited access to federal recreation lands for the year! Alternatively, seniors (U.S. citizens age 62 or older) can purchase a Lifetime pass for $80 (plus a $10 processing fee).
Friend or family member’s house
Got a friend or family member in the area? Consider asking if you can park in their driveway or in front of their house. This way, you can catch up and have a free place to spend the night (though it’s not a bad idea to express your gratitude with a bottle of wine or another type of thank you gift).
While sleeping in a vehicle is against the law in many mid to large-sized cities, it is possible to find smaller towns and rural municipalities that do allow you to park your RV or campervan overnight. Just be sure not to park along any stretch of curb with a “No parking overnight” sign. However, just because you can park there overnight doesn’t necessarily mean you are permitted to sleep in your vehicle, so be sure to look up the local laws and guidelines.
Tools and resources for finding free parking
When searching for a place to “hang your hat” for the night, there are several wonderful online resources and apps for finding free spots:
- FreeCampsites.net. This website is easy to use. You can either zoom in to where you’re located or enter a location and the site pulls up the closest free overnight locations to you.
- Allstays. This popular app has massive lists of free and paid campgrounds near you with easy search parameters.
- Campendium. This is another popular website and app that—similar to Allstays—keeps a current list of free and paid parking spots, as well as pictures and reviews of each site.
Best practices for RV and campervan parking
Please remember to “leave no trace” wherever you decide to camp—whether you’re paying or not. No one likes a litterbug. If you pack it in, pack it out. If there are no toilet facilities, be sure to dig a hole at least 8 inches deep and away from water sources. Don’t disturb nature by moving rocks or cutting down trees, and keep your fires small and containable.
Leaving your campsite as good or better than you found it helps preserve these special places for the next generation.
“Boondocking” is a more rugged style of camping where there are no water, sewer or electricity hook-ups. Many of the free camping locations listed above will lack hookups, showers, toilets, picnic tables and trash cans, so be prepared for anything and plan accordingly. If you have boondocking and free camping in mind when purchasing a campervan or RV, be sure to find one that has large-capacity holding tanks to store fresh, grey and black water for several days (if not weeks) on end. You may also want to consider buying a generator or installing a solar setup.
Traveling or living in an RV or campervan is a great way to explore new and wondrous places, bond with loved ones and meet new friends. There’s no right or wrong way to road trip, but having a plan of where you want to stay is important. We hope the tips and resources above can help you stay out longer, camp harder and travel further.
Classic Vans has been in the business of buying and selling new and used vans for more than 30 years. You can count on us to find the best van for you and your family. If you’re in the market for a new or used camper van, Class B motorhome or RV, Classic Vans can help you find the rig of your dreams!