Whether you’re a full-time vanlifer or a weekend warrior, one of the most appealing aspects of traveling in a campervan is the ability to take off on a road trip on a whim, stopping and sleeping wherever and whenever you please.
Mostly wherever and whenever, that is.
While life on the road in a completely self-sufficient adventure van means you don’t need to pay for hotel rooms or spots at campgrounds, it also doesn’t mean that campervan parking involves sleeping literally anywhere, at any time.
Whether stealth camping in a populated area or setting up shop and enjoying a night under the stars in solitude, it’s important to keep both safety and legality in mind when finding places to park overnight.
BLM Land & Dispersed Camping Areas
BLM land is public land in the U.S. managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The department manages a stunning 245 million acres of land, the majority of it in the West. Anyone is welcome to enjoy these public lands and take advantage of scenic campervan parking, so long as you follow the rules.
While the BLM does have developed campgrounds all around the country, for the most part, BLM camping involves dispersed campsites, rustic sites without amenities such as bathrooms or RV hookups. Campers may generally camp wherever they’d like on dispersed public land, making this one of the best options for places to park overnight.
Dispersed camping is completely free (really!), but it’s important to know what you can and can’t do.
- Do not set up camp within a one-mile radius of developed campgrounds, day-use areas, or recreation sites unless otherwise indicated. These sites typically have lots of dispersed BLM land nearby offering other places to park overnight
- Camp at least 100 feet away from any water source, manmade or natural
- Observe all signs indicating where you can camp (i.e.; in some national forests, you must camp 1,000 feet away from forest roads)
- Find out about and obey local fire restrictions
- Practice Leave No Trace principles: pack out all your trash, start fires and set up camp only in already-established sites, and travel on durable surfaces (especially important when it comes to camper van parking)
You can stay at a single BLM site for up to 14 days in a 28-day period. After 14 days during that period, consecutively or combined, you must find a new place for campervan parking. The same rule then applies to the new campsite.
Campervan Parking in National Parks
Camping overnight in national parks is slightly more complicated than BLM land. In national parks, you need to reserve a campsite ahead of time – way ahead of time. Campsites in popular parks like Zion and Yosemite typically sell out for the entire season within minutes of being released!
Note that while national parks offer unique, scenic places to park overnight, they also come with fees. You’ll need to pay to enter the park (we highly recommend getting an annual national parks pass!), as well as to rent a campsite. Each park has different rules and fees, so check recreation.gov for information on the specific parks you’re interested in.
Luckily, our B-Vans fit perfectly into tent camping spots and they’re completely self-contained. That means you don’t need to reserve RV-specific sites or worry about hookups.
Public Parking Lots
Public parking lots are a great asset for travelers when it comes to RV and campervan parking. They’re easily accessible from major roads, generally well-lit, spacious, and typically have at least some traffic so that you aren’t totally alone. Believe us, we’re all for solo dispersed campervan parking most of the time, but sometimes you want to be around civilization!
Wal-mart and Sam’s Club are some of the most well-known stores that allow campervan parking. Most Wal-marts have at least a few semi trucks in the parking lot on any given night and you can almost always find a Wal-mart nearby, so this may be a great option for a quick overnight stay.
Outdoor-centric Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s are also great options. They’re far less common than Wal-Marts, but generally welcome overnight campervan parking. If there’s one along your route, it’s best to call ahead to check with the manager.
Cracker Barrel, Lowe’s, and Home Depot are other national stores known to allow overnighters. As a bonus, they tend to have locations just off interstates in rural areas. If you have a Planet Fitness membership (also great for showering on the road!), you can take advantage of campervan parking in their lots as well.
Just like with anything else, it’s important to keep in mind that not all businesses permit overnight campervan parking. In some cases, you may find that a Wal-Mart or other store allowed you to stay overnight in one city, but doesn’t permit it in another area.
To be safe, always call ahead and speak with a manager so you have a firm game plan. Ask for their name or the name of the manager who will be on duty during your stay. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s good to have a point of contact. It should go without saying, but be respectful to businesses letting you use their property and don’t overstay your welcome. If, for some reason, someone asks you to leave, do so gracefully and do not argue.
A middle ground between campervan parking in dispersed areas and public parking lots is Harvest Hosts. This membership-only program provides access to nearly 3,500 private locations across North America with safe campervan parking for single-night stays.
Because it’s membership-based, Harvest Hosts isn’t an ideal solution for everyone. However, full-time vanlifers and other frequent travelers may find it to be perfect.
Rest Areas for Campervan Parking
Rest areas can be tricky. Each state has their own — very different — laws regarding overnight stays in these areas. Most states technically do not allow overnight parking or camping in rest areas at all. There are a few that do, however, and a few that are a bit of a gray area.
The best option here is to research the Department of Transportation website for the state you want to park in overnight. Online forums such as Reddit or vanlife Facebook groups are also a great resource.
If you do stay overnight at a rest stop, don’t set up and camp. You should keep your stay brief and remain stealthy. Don’t make it obvious that someone is sleeping in the vehicle, especially if you’re traveling solo.
Side of the Road
While there may be areas where it appears you can safely park overnight on the side of the road, this is a major gray area. Like with rest area overnight parking, most jurisdictions have unique laws, so it’s important to check legalities beforehand.
Safety is also a major concern. If overnight parking is allowed and you can stay stealthy, you may have no problems. However, it’s generally safer and less stressful to find a parking lot where you can pull in for the night.
Campervan Parking Safety Tips
- Make sure you have enough food, water, and fuel on hand, particularly when in remote areas
- In cities, stick to well-lit areas
- Keep a low profile and don’t make it obvious that you’re sleeping in your vehicle
- Lock your doors and keep keys nearby in the sleeping area, rather than in the driver’s area
- Park your camper van in such a way that you can take off immediately if necessary, without needing to back up or turn around
- Familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations
Hit the Road in a B-Van
Whether you’re already part of the B-Vans owners’ community, you’re interested in renting a van for a weekend trip, or you’re just doing some research, we hope this information on overnight campervan parking is helpful!