One of the first things you hear when you purchase an RV is that there is free RV camping at Wal Mart.
But this immediately begs the question: Can you really park overnight at Wal Mart?!
In this post, we’re going to cover the myths and realities of Wal Mart overnight parking to answer that question.
Plus we’ll help you find participating stores and share how you can be a good camper during your overnight stay.
Now, think back to that person who told you that you can camp for free at Wal Mart.
No doubt your source was credible. And most people who RV for any substantial amount of time are decent, honest people looking to help a fellow RVer out.
But why would anyone ever consider sleeping in a Wal Mart parking lot?
Why Consider Wal Mart Overnight Parking
Chances are before you owned your RV you likely visited a variety of big-box retail store parking lots that post signs stating “No Overnight RV Parking.” Or, more simply, “No Overnight Parking.” More classically they might state, “No Trespassing.”
However they read, the fact remains that until you actually own an RV you might not have ever considered camping at Wal Mart.
But now that you’ve hit the road in your RV – for a few weeks over the summer or full-time – you know more than ever that there are legitimate reasons to consider an overnight stay at Wal Mart.
Here are some of those reasons:
- Convenience. There are Wal Marts virtually everywhere. It’s likely that you won’t be further than a few hours away from a Wal Mart wherever you travel in the US and Canada.
- Cost. You can’t beat free when it comes to camping expenses. And while it might not be luxurious, if you’re looking to save a few bucks on camping then you really can’t beat free.
- No alternatives. Maybe you ended up visiting a popular destination at a time when it was far more popular than you anticipated. You are willing to shell out for a proper campground. But with no sites available you find yourself stuck.
- Social experience. You want to make friends, spend a few days hanging out in beautiful places and expand your social network. Well, this isn’t really a reason to consider camping at Wal Mart. But you might meet some interesting people in the process!
READ MORE: Read why Harvest Hosts is our favorite way to camp for FREE across North America.
Can I park my RV at a Walmart store?
The corporate policy toward Wal Mart overnight parking is as follows:
“While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers.
Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able.
Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on the availability of parking space and local laws.
Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.”
So while, in general, you are able to camp in Wal Mart parking lots. For each specific instance, you must check with the manager to ensure that it is permitted in that particular location.
READ MORE: RV clubs and memberships you should join before hitting the road.
The Do’s of Camping at Wal Mart
- Check to make sure it’s OK (start with the app, look around, confirm with manager)
- Park indiscreetly in the back or side. Chances are you aren’t the only one trying to camp in the Wal Mart parking lot. Generally migrating toward the back and corner of the lots tends to be the acceptable place at participating Wal Marts.
- Stay one night. Wal Mart is not a full-time campground. So even though you may not have forward plans, camping at Wal Mart courtesy implies you’re just stopping in for the night, purchasing anything you need, and carrying on to your next destination.
- Shop in the store. Chances are you need to purchase something anyway. This is one of the reasons why Wal Mart allows RV camping in its parking lots. Campers spend money just like anyone else. So go support their business purchasing the items you need or want anyway.
- Follow any posted rules. Some Wal Mart parking lots post where RVs are or are not permitted to camp, what the hours are for camping and so forth. In most cases, it is courteous to follow these signs. In other cases, such as in littering, it is illegal to not follow them.
The Don’ts of Camping at Wal Mart
Most of these are common sense. But I’m going to start with a photo and let you decide what’s wrong with what you see.
- Assume it’s ok. Although you may see other RVs in the Wal Mart parking lot it is good practice to go inside and ask the manager directly. Sometimes the RV you saw in the parking lot was simply parked during a quick shopping trip. Remember what they say about making assumptions.
- Leave trash (including dog poop) or dump tanks (duh!). This is probably the quickest way to give RVers a bad wrap and have our privilege of camping at Wal Mart overnight revoked. Most Wal Marts have placed trash cans very conveniently located throughout the parking lot. While they may not always be emptied at the frequency with which they are filled, you can almost always find another trash can to use. Remember, camping is a courtesy extended to RVers and we are not entitled to leave our trash in the parking lots- anywhere!
- Take up more than one spot (or more spots than necessary). While you may be used to boondocking in wide-open BLM spaces, the Wal Mart parking lot is designed intentionally to accommodate its customers. Sure, you may be parked in the back and the parking lot may seemingly be empty. But by the time you wake in the morning, you will be surprised at the number of other people in the parking lot. Show common courtesy both to genuine Wal Mart customers and to fellow campers by not taking up more space than you need.
- Run your generator all night (Yes Generator George, we’re talking about you!). We all know Generator George. Hopefully, YOU aren’t him. Generator George runs his (or her) generator all night long regardless of who is around him. Not only is this disrespectful to other campers who happen to be neighbors (especially those who arrived prior to Generator George), but also it is a nuisance to Wal Mart customers.
- Act like it’s your personal campground site (awning, chairs, jacks, grill, etc). So you’ve been driving all day to escape the cold/hot/snow/hail and now you’re finally level in a Wal Mart parking lot. Don’t celebrate the day by breaking out your lawn chairs, rolling out your awning and cracking open the cool drinks. Sure, celebrate your little victory. But do it in the privacy of your own “home” (ie – inside your RV). Unless you own a majority stake in Wal Mart stock, you don’t own the parking lot. So don’t pretend that you do.
How Do I Find the Wal Marts that Allow Overnight Parking
As you now know, whether a Wal Mart allows overnight parking it dependent upon a variety of factors. So how do you know which ones do and do not permit camping?
AllStays mobile app. We rely on this to help us find all sorts of camping spots. And while the mobile app is often wrong (or not updated) it is a great place to start.
If you don’t have it already, be sure to check your mobile app store.
Website. Like AllStays, this website is a mostly accurate way of gauging whether you can stay overnight at a Wal Mart.
Of course, things change so be sure to follow up with the next methods.
Call and ask. If you are uncertain whether a particular Wal Mart will host you for overnight camping, give them a call.
Sure, you are likely to be transferred to a handful of different people who may or may not be able to answer directly (or tell you the truth). But it’s better than assuming that it is OK.
Call and ask again. If you are unsure or didn’t like, the previous answer when you called the Wal Mart of choice, go ahead and give them another call.
Maybe you speak to a different person in a different attitude with a different answer. Just know that you still may or may not be getting the best and most correct answer.
Go inside and ask the manager. The only way to know for sure how to find a Wal Mart that allows overnight camping is to go into the store and get the answer straight from the highest level of management possible.
You still may not like the answer you get. But at least you will have certainty in knowing it is the correct answer.
In short, the longer we travel and the more we overnight camp at Wal Mart the more it seems we receive bad looks from employees, managers and even customers of Wal Mart.
So while that person might have told you way back when that you can “always camp at Wal Mart,” the truth is that over time we who do camp at Wal Mart are seeing fewer and fewer instances where we are accepted.
For this reason, it is even more important to spread the word to other campers about the Dos and Don’ts of overnight camping at Wal Mart.
The more people who take advantage of this incredibly generous offer, the quicker we will lose our collective good standing with Wal Mart and we will be left finding other options.
Other Places that Offer Free RV Overnight Camping
If you struck out in asking the local Wal Mart manager if you could overnight camp in their parking lot, chances are you have a few more options before resigning to drive all night to the next town with a Wal Mart.
Here are a few other corporate businesses that have a general principle to support overnight RV camping.
Over the course of our two years on the road, we have stayed at each at varying times. However, like Wal Mart, each store operates on its own policies and it is always good practice to go inside and ask the manager.
Note: At one of these stores, in a city we won’t mention by name, we asked the manager if we could camp in their parking lot. Here’s the answer we got:
“While it is our corporate policy to allow this, unofficially we want you to know this is one of the worst neighborhoods in the state, we don’t have overnight security, and we aren’t responsible for anything that happens to you if you do choose to stay.”
The manager said this with such a smile on her face I couldn’t help but smile and say thanks as I turned and clenched my butt cheeks in anticipation of the night we would have in store for us.
But we had literally no other options, with Lindsay catching a 5 am flight at the nearby airport, so we minded our camping spot in the parking lot and became the unofficial security guards that night!
- Bass Pro
- Cracker Barrel
- Use iOverlander / AllStays apps to find truck stops, rest stops and other places that offer free RV overnight camping
READ MORE: How we camp on a ridiculously cheap budget!
Wrapping Things Up
The simple answer to the question “Can I park overnight at Wal Mart” is yes… and no. So it’s not so simple.
What is simple is following the established protocol and common sense courtesy that will keep Wal Mart supporting those of us who choose to call the road our home.
As soon as we start to abuse the kindness of Wal Mart’s overnight parking policy then the privilege will likely be revoked and we’ll have to get back to camping in the usual places.