Finding overnight campervan parking is an essential part of van life. Find out our best tips and recommendations for getting a great night’s sleep on the road!
Right, so you’ve taken the plunge, packed up your house, sold off all your clutter, and you’re ready for a life of travel and adventure in your van. Van life awaits!
One of the most important things that new van lifers tend to overlook is where to park overnight as it seems like the simplest aspect of the van life movement. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
It requires a fair bit of advance planning because you don’t want to be spending your time in parking lots, at truck stops, or even at one of the Walmart parking lots. You’re going to want to be exploring national parks, forests, the open road, and all the amazing places in between.
If you plan it properly, you’ll be able to make the most of your time on the road and explore some amazing places and really get the most out of this life of adventure.
In this guide, we will discuss the options for free overnight parking, paid overnight parking, and parking on private property. We’ll also look at some of the most popular apps that can help with finding a place to park your van or RV and end off with some useful tips for life on the road.
Let’s dive in!
Free Overnight Campervan Parking Options
First up, we’re going to take a look at the various options for free overnight parking. These options are obviously great because they’re, well, free!
Everyone likes to save money and one of the best ways to do so is by reducing the amount of money you spend on monthly rentals. One of the main motivations for van lifers to hit the road is to live a life of adventure and discovery.
But another reason is to save on monthly expenses by living a more minimalist lifestyle, free of the constraints of modern life.
Having said this, let’s take a look at the free overnight parking options for van life.
BLM/National Forests/Public Lands
One of the most popular options for free camping is boondocking on public land. National forests, BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), and public lands provide some of the best free camping options for van lifers.
This type of accommodation is definitely for the more adventurous van lifers as there are basically no amenities on these lands. You will need to bring everything along with you, and then take it back with you – the “leave no trace” philosophy applies.
The best way to find these available camping spots is through one of the apps that I will discuss later on in the article. You are normally allowed to park overnight and up to 14 days in the same spot before being required to move on.
Always start your search around mid-morning to ensure you find yourself an epic spot, secluded, and away from everyone else. This is by far the best option for those who want to be away from people, with no noise or light pollution.
A couple of downsides are that cell service can be quite poor since you can be quite isolated and there are no toilets. You’re either going to have to bring your own portable toilet or dig a hole.
A Walmart parking lot is a great option for those van lifers that need to refresh supplies before heading back into the wild or onward on your journey. The Walmart parking lots are free to use, they have 24-hour restrooms, and they offer great cell service.
You can park safely in a well-lit parking lot knowing that you will be safe in your van overnight. They also usually have security, as an added bonus.
Walmart does permit you to park overnight at their stores but it is important to check in with individual store managers ahead of time as some local laws don’t permit overnight parking.
While it’s highly advantageous, there are a few downsides to parking at a Walmart parking lot, the main ones being light and noise pollution. They can also be really crowded which means you have no privacy, and you have to walk into the store at night to use the toilet.
Related: Read more about the best practices for overnight parking at Wal Mart.
Another option for free parking lots is at one of the private retailer’s lots. These include places like Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro Shops, and Cabela’s.
They are much the same as Walmart, although the big downside is that they don’t offer 24-hour toilet facilities. You’ll need to find a store that has a gas station close by in order to have toilet facilities covered unless you have a portable toilet in your RV.
Highway rest areas are a great option if you’re in need of a short break while traveling long distances or between states. There’s usually a time limit of around 8 – 12 hours that you’re allowed to spend there, which is perfect for a night nap or a quick shut-eye.
While they’re super convenient, rest areas are super noisy since they’re right next to the highway. But if you take them for what they are, then they’re a great place to park for a couple of hours. The cleanliness of the toilets is also hit and miss – sometimes they’re great, and other times they can be disgusting. You’ve just got to hope you get them on a good day.
Truck stops such as Loves and Pilot are good choices. But from personal experience, it seems that Flying J is the most welcoming to van lifers and RV drivers.
Truck stops are usually pretty safe and you can find yourself a solid spot in a well-lit section of the parking lot for a few hours. They are obviously great to refuel before you hit the road again and offer bathroom facilities.
The downside to truck stops is that they are seriously noisy and bright, so you might not get the best rest unless you’re well-equipped. I’m talking blackout curtains, eye patches, ear plugs, and even noise-canceling headphones.
They also offer shower facilities – for a price! If you’re desperate and willing to fork out $10 for a shower, then be my guest. I’m certainly not willing no matter how desperate I am.
Although it’s not common knowledge to all, many casinos are welcoming of RV and camper vans. This is a great option for an overnight rest stop, and they are normally conveniently located close to major highways.
The problem with parking at a casino is that you might be tempted (like we have) to pop in for a quick gamble. This sometimes ends up being a couple of hours and more dollars than anticipated. Although, you can hit it lucky and it can prove to be a super worthwhile stop.
The bathrooms are 24-hour and are usually super clean, they have restaurants, and it’s a safe spot to park thanks to casino security.
Stealth camping, especially in urban areas, is not something that we highly recommend. If you’re desperate and you know the neighborhood well, or are doing it outside a friend’s house, then we would consider it. And if you are car camping, you can more easily get away with stealth camping.
But always check on local laws first and whether or not sleeping in your van is allowed in residential areas. You could end up getting a fine or even in more serious trouble. It’s really not worth it.
Read Next: Check out our ultimate guide to stealth camping.
Paid Overnight Parking Options
Next up, let’s take a look at options for paid overnight parking. Obviously, everyone likes a freebie but sometimes the paid options end up being way better. You get your money’s worth with clean facilities and most likely a more pristine environment.
While there are many advantages of the KOA private campground sites, the one major downside is that the sites are expensive. You’re looking at $30 or significantly more for a site that isn’t very secluded. They can also be quite noisy with people, vans, RVs, and children running around – not really the relaxing environment most van lifers are after.
The upside, however, is that there are more than 500 of them dotted around North America for overnight RV parking. They also have great facilities, and depending on the type, can even have hot tubs, swimming pools, and other hotel-esque amenities.
National, State and Local Park Campgrounds
These types of campgrounds are great for overnight RV parking since they are pretty accessible and offer amazing natural scenery. The campgrounds usually have other activities on offer such as hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. They have great shower facilities and sometimes even laundries and your fee goes towards the upkeep of the parks.
The downside, however, is that they can be quite pricey, depending on the state you’re in. California is particularly expensive and you can pay upwards of $40. They also get pretty crowded and people can be loud and unruly which is not what van lifers want.
BLM/Public Lands formal campsites
While there are many free formal campsites on public lands, paid ones do exist. But they are way more reasonably priced than national park campsites.
The fee also goes towards the upkeep of the public lands. Another huge advantage (for us, at least) is that they are normally close to some pretty amazing rivers aka nature’s shower.
Again, they can be crowded and noisy since they are often close to major roads and highways which isn’t very relaxing (unless you enjoy the sound of passing cars and trucks).
Independent Private Campgrounds
While there are some amazing privately owned campgrounds out there, they are once again quite pricey. You’re looking at $20 – $40 a night, which I find pretty steep since they’re not always amazing. Some can really be RV parking spaces and feel quite robotic.
They almost always have shower and toilet facilities as well as laundry to do your washing. So, they’re a great option for a night to have a clean shower and do some laundry.
Overnight Parking Options on Private Property
The final option for overnight parking is on private property. These are great as the owners are generally pretty cool and the fee is marginal if any at all. There are also a number of services out there that aim to connect people with these types of landowners.
Let’s take a look at the options below:
Harvest Hosts is a service whereby participating farms, wineries, and breweries let you camp on their land for a short while.
The subscription is $99 a year and there are plenty of participants, especially in the east of the US. You’re normally expected to purchase something from the farm when you leave, in lieu of any camping fees.
Boondocker’s Welcome will cost you $79 a year to join and is essentially like Couch Surfing for RV owners and van lifers. It’s a great way to meet like-minded individuals on your travels. They will offer you free camping or RV parking spaces in their driveway, on a farm, or in any other area. Pretty cool that there are still awesome people out there.
While Boondocker’s Welcome is like Couch Surfing for van lifers, HipCamp is like the Airbnb version. Private landowners will set up places for RV travelers to park their RV or set up campsites for you to use. Their rates are usually lower than RV parks or any other campsite where you can overnight park.
Aside from the low rates and often really cool campsites for your RV or camper van, it’s a great way to meet locals and get insider knowledge of the area you’re in. No one knows an area like a local so it really is a double win.
Finding Overnight Parking
Modern technology has been a godsend to van lifers. The combination of smartphones and the apps that go along with them is amazing.
Thanks to the invention of a number of apps, van lifers can browse many options for free, paid, and public spots for overnight parking.
Let’s take a look at some of the best apps for overnight parking options:
Campendium is a great app for iPhone users as it’s only available for iOS and not Android. Which is a bit of a downside to it. However, there is a website that those without an iPhone can use.
It’s a great app with regard to its search capabilities – you can pretty much narrow down your search to exactly what you’re looking for.
You can click on the individual site that you’re looking at and the app will provide you with a bunch of information about it.
Another cool feature of the paid version (which will cost you $50 a year) is that you can even look into the internet coverage of the sites. This is a big help in knowing before the time whether or not you’ll have coverage so that you can plan accordingly.
iOverlander has many of the same features as Campendium, but the app is available for both Android and iOS as well as a website version.
It allows you to search for overnight parking lots, free RV parking, paid camping, national park accommodation, public campgrounds, and more.
The upside to iOverlander is that you can search for more than just accommodation. You can search for dump stations, where to fill up water tanks, gas stations, and other essentials.
The downside to the app, however, is that it is largely user-reliant so be sure to check how recently it has been posted as well as how many reviews it has received. This should give you a good indication of whether or not it is accurate.
If you’re going to be looking for options for overnight parking in state parks and national forests, the Recreation.gov app is going to be the best option for you.
You’re able to browse availability using the app and even reserve a spot which is super handy when you’re on the road. Some of the most popular campsites in the country (think Yellowstone, Yosemite) book up super quickly so by using the app, you have more chance of scoring yourself a site.
The app isn’t only used for campsites in the national parks but also for hiking trails where you need a permit that can only be obtained in lotteries. You can enter through the app and (hopefully) get yourself a permit to some of the most sought-after hikes in the country
The Dyrt has many of the same features as both iOverlander and Campendium but in addition, has a better filter search function. You can even search for the air quality at the place you’re going to. How cool!
The Dyrt has a paid membership, like many of the apps, that really takes it to the next level. The Dyrt Pro, which will only cost you $36 a year, has a road trip planner and a very cool filter to help you to find off-the-grid campsites on BLM land and USNF too.
But the best feature is that the app has a discount program that will get you deals at more than 1000 campsites across the US. This can save you a lot of money in the long run for such a small initial fee.
These are just a few of the apps out there that will help you to search for free overnight parking. New apps are being created all the time but these should get you started and give you more than enough options while you navigate through the country on your RV adventure.
While Facebook groups are, in a way, a bit outdated, they still exist and can be helpful in finding a place to park for free overnight or even to link up with fellow van lifers in an area you’re passing through.
Tips for Parking Overnight
Among our other great van life tips, we’ve compiled a list of my top tips to share with you, from our experiences living in a camper van. Luckily for you, we’ve been through it so that you don’t have to.
These are just a few tips and some advice when looking for an overnight parking spot for your RV. You could even consider them a few tricks of the trade if you will.
In no particular order, they are as follows:
Listen to that voice in your head!
If you get a funny feeling about a particular spot and it doesn’t feel right, the chances are, it’s not! The last thing you want is to be kept up at night wondering if you’ve made a bad decision about the spot you’ve chosen. Rather be sure so that you can rest easy at night knowing you’ve made the right decision.
Search for a spot during the day
This is the best piece of advice we can offer you. The last thing you want is to be looking for a spot to park overnight in the dark. This isn’t fun, trust us.
It’s much easier to set up during the day than at night. You can get a better feeling for your surroundings and map out the area that you’re in.
Search for a spot at the right time of the day
Following on from the previous tip, it’s important to look for an overnight RV parking spot at the right time of the day.
Search too late, and you’ll get a terrible spot as all the good spots will be taken. Search too early and the previous night’s inhabitants will still be firmly rooted at their spot.
The best time to look for a camp spot is mid-morning. This will ensure that the previous night’s campers have vacated and the new day’s campers have yet to arrive.
Choose your inner city spot wisely
The last thing you want is to be too close to a smelly dumpster or an informal homeless shelter. Both of these come with problems.
Aside from the obvious, dumpsters also attract vermin. Rats, mice, and raccoons. This can be a nightmare if they get into your RV.
Homeless people can also be tempted by your van and its contents. Don’t become a victim of crime and another statistic.
Don’t overstay your welcome
The last thing we want as the van life community is to get a bad name. Don’t stay at free overnight parking lots for more than a couple of days at most. Rather move on and keep a good name for yourself and the rest of the RV community.
Sometimes the best spots are just that little bit further down the road. Just like our theory that there’s always closer parking, there’s often a better spot just further on. It’s not always the case as sometimes we’ve been skunked but remember – you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase a product we recommend using the links in this article, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We promise to use this pocket money to buy lots of coffee and fuel for the campervan to keep us enjoying #VanLife for just a little longer. We appreciate your support, and only recommend products we know and trust. Thank you friends!