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City Stops: How to Find Camper Parking in Urban Areas

Maybe boondocking isn’t your thing. Or your plan to spend the night at a campground has gotten derailed and now you’re approaching an unfamiliar city and wondering what your parking options are. Or you’re just one of those “let’s see where we end up” travelers, only where you’ve ended up is in an urban area and all you want to do is stop for the night.

Whatever the reason, you’re in need of a space for your towable or RV within the city limits. Here are some ideas to consider.

General Rules

There are two basic rules when you aren’t using traditional RV campgrounds. The first one is to get permission to be there and ask where exactly you should park. The second is to not treat the location as a campground: don’t haul out your grill and start cooking, don’t put out your lawn chairs or open up your awnings, and don’t dump your tanks. Finally, says Chuck Woodbury, editor of RVtravel.com, don’t use automatic levelers since they can damage the surface of the parking lot.

Retailer Parking Lots

Wal-Mart, Cabela, Costco, Lowe’s and Home Depot are among those stores that have put out a “welcome mat” for Rv-ers. But first check with the individual store manager to make sure you have permission. If the store doesn’t own the parking lot, it may not have the right to allow RVs to park on the lot or there may be local laws that prohibit pavement parking.

Even if you see other RVs there, check with the manager so you don’t get booted out in the middle of the night. Another option is parking in a factory outlet parking lot, although it can take a bit of doing to find the person to give you permission.

Truck Stops

Most truck stops will allow you to stay overnight but ask first. Then, follow these tips from RV Lifestyle Blog in How To RV Overnight at Trucks Stops: 6 Do’s and Don’ts. Look for spaces marked for RVs, and if none are available, use a back corner of the lot. Don’t use spots meant for truckers, especially since laws require a specific number of hours for rest for truckers, and they need those spots for shut-eye. Follow the general rules above, keep your door locked and shades drawn for security and if you feel unsafe, move on.

Casinos

Even if you’re not a gambler, you might want to consider casinos as a dry-camping location, notes Axle Addict in Safe Places Where You Can Camp or Park Your RV for Free. The post notes that many small casinos allow dry camping (no utility hook-ups), while others do offer full-hookup campsites, and most offer 24/7 security. To be on the safe side, call ahead and ask where you should park and if there is a fee involved, recommends TripSavvy in 5 Places You Didn’t Know You Could Park an RV. Bonus tip from Do It Yourself RV: your casino host may even offer vouchers and coupons.

Rest Stops

According to the Free (and cheap) RV camping website, many highway rest areas allow free stays of varying lengths, although rules vary state-by-state. (If you see a sign saying “No Camping,” that means no pitched tents or sleeping on the ground.) Not sure if you can stay? Check out RV Hive’s state-by-state listing. Some rest areas may even offer electrical hookups, potable water and RV dump stations.

Other Options

Some RV-ers have found overnight parking at restaurants, city parks, visitor centers and convention centers, but don’t assume your RV is welcome. Check first either in person or by calling ahead. TripSavvy lists schools as another option in its post, but stresses checking with school officials first and keep it to one night. Top 12 Secret Spots To Park Your RV has even more locations to consider, from municipal airports to fraternal organizations such as Elks and Moose Lodges.

More Tips

In its RVing In The City: How To Do It And Why You Definitely Should post, Campanda recommends taking into account that cities might have low bridges, construction zones, and narrow streets that can make maneuvering your large RV or towable a challenge. The article recommends using Google Maps or the Park Advisor app to give you a heads-up about any road hazards.

Need a Dump Station?

Does your RV need a potty break? If need an RV dump station but don’t know where to find one, here are some resources that can help:

  • RV Dump Stations — Locate dump stations across the United States, searching by map or by city/state.
  • SaniDumps —Search for dump stations by Near City/Town Listing Method, Full Region Listings Method and by zip code. Or download the Sani Dump Station Guide e-book.
  • Campendium’s Dump Stations —Use the clickable list by state.
  • RV Dump Stations —Search for RV dump stations in the United States, Canada, and Australia by state or province.
  • AllStays’s RV Dump Stations app—Rest Stops Plus is universal, with one price for all devices: iPad/iPhone/iPod. RV Dumps checks your location and displays up to 150 points on a map view.

Resources

Books and Newsletters

Casino Camping: Guide to RV-Friendly Casinos, 9th Edition by Jane Kenny

Guide to Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds (2018) by Don and Joyce Wright

North American Diesel/Parking Directory – The RVer’s Friend by Robert de Vos

The Next Exit 2019: USA Interstate Highway Exit Directory by Mark Watson

Walmart Locator, Fourth Edition: Directory of Stores in the United States by Roundabout Publications

RVTravel.com’s Overnight RV Parking newsletter

Websites and Online Tools

Boondockers Welcome — A list of free overnight RV parking on private property

HipCamp — Book unique camping experiences on over 300,000 campsites, ranches, vineyards, public parks and more, searchable by type of camping needed.

RV Parky —An RV Park directory with information, images, and reviews for the most complete collection of RV Parks and campgrounds in the United States and Canada.

RV Trip Wizard—An online tool to help you map out a trip, find campgrounds along the way (and their ratings), track costs, and locate points of interest in the area you’re visiting.

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