Campervan Parking: 15 Sweet Spots for Van Life Adventures

One of my favorite parts of van life is that when I am done traveling for the day I can park, make myself a meal,…

campervans parked in the dry lakebed outside of Joshua Tree, California

One of my favorite parts of van life is that when I am done traveling for the day I can park, make myself a meal, brush my teeth, and crawl into bed without even stepping foot outside of the van. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a parking lot or a campsite in nature; it truly feels like such a luxury to have my entire home with me at all times!

campervan parked outside
Photo by @PettyPrinethePromaster

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Campervan Parking Considerations

Of course, you can’t park a 20+ foot van just anywhere, but there are plenty of options for overnight campervan parking around the country based on your rig and what you need.

Think about your goal when you consider where to park overnight.

  • Are you are looking to break up a long drive and rest for a few hours?
  • Do you want to spend some time exploring a city in your camper van?
  • Maybe you’d like to post up on some public land near one of the national parks for a while?
  • Are you looking for free places to stay overnight or do you plan to pay to stay at RV parks and private campgrounds?

No matter your travel style or what you’re looking for, I will walk you through the different options available for parking your camper van overnight. Plus I’ll share the most helpful apps, tips and tricks, and accessories to help you search for, locate, and park in the spots that work best for you.

Campervan Parking Lessons

When I bought my Promaster campervan, parking was not something on my radar. I hadn’t considered where or how I would park overnight. The thrill of the renovation and moving into the van were all I cared about; I guess I just assumed it would all come together. While some nights were easy to figure out, others were an absolute nightmare.

There are a lot of rites of passage in van life, but this is one I’d like to save you! There are plenty of van dwellers who have made already mistakes so that you don’t have to.

Don’t Believe the Photos on the Internet!

Scrolling through social media, you might think that if you live or travel in a campervan, you’re going to park in epic locations every night.

You’ve probably seen those beautifully curated shots of campervan doors open to majestic mountains or a gorgeous beach. While those parking spots certainly exist in some instances, it is very likely that they won’t be your reality at other times. Remember social media is more of a highlight reel than a full picture.

For example, this is a day use only spot. No overnight parking is allowed!

campervan parked at the beach
Photo by @PettyPrinethePromaster

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that for the first few months of van life, I spent way too much time and energy on what the view out my back windows was and not enough on figuring out how to level the van or park in the most comfortable or sensible spot for the night. You live and you learn, but hopefully my experiences can help save you some struggle!

Make Sensible Choices!

Choose a spot that is easy to get to if you only plan to stay a short period. Miles and hours of bumpy washboard roads aren’t worth it for just one night’s sleep!

Don’t drive down deeply rutted roads when rain is forecasted unless you have the gear and enough friends to get you out. That parking spot won’t feel as epic it if you get stuck and need a tow to get out of it!

Park safely!

This probably seems like it goes without saying, but take caution with where and how you park.

As a rule of thumb, I generally try to park facing the direction I would exit in case I need to leave quickly. Then, I can just jump into the driver’s seat, turn on the van, and go.

Use your parking brake. It can keep your campervan from rolling down a hill and lessens the stress on your transmission. If you aren’t used to using a parking brake, put a sticky note in the corner of your windshield or on the dash to remind yourself.

Be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut. If a parking space doesn’t feel safe, find a new one. If you’re traveling alone, share your location with a friend or family member.

Please note: This is all cautionary and proactive advice. Nearly all of my experiences traveling and finding parking in a campervan have been positive and safe!

Where to Find Campervan Parking in a City

When I moved out of New York City and into a van, I was ready for a break from the hustle and bustle. I didn’t intend on spending much time in cities with my campervan, but nothing ever goes as planned in this lifestyle, and I found myself back in New York City, living in my van, for nearly nine months!

campervan parked in New York City at night
Photo by @PettyPrinethePromaster

The whole, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” schtick about New York used to annoy me, but after driving, parking, and living in a van in New York City for most of a year, I can verify it’s true!

Driving and navigating a massive city in a campervan, not to mention regularly parallel parking a 20+ft vehicle, has given me an arsenal of confidence and persistence that I didn’t have before. I think everyone should give it a try!

Stealth Camping

Stealth camping refers to keeping a low profile and trying to remain unseen as much as possible. In crowded cities, it is a good idea to keep somewhat stealth so you don’t draw attention to yourself and make your van and its contents a target for theft. (Keep in mind theft is often a crime of opportunity that can happen anywhere, in rural camps, on city streets, or even in suburban neighborhoods.)

stealth camping in the city on a snowy night
Photo by Brooke Alexander

Some cities and towns may have local laws or ordinances against habitation in a vehicle or height/length parking restrictions for street parking (I’m looking at you, San Diego!), so you should be sure to check for these before stealth camping on any street.

Street Parking

Street parking is the most common and usually the best option when overnighting in a city. Parking in residential areas is usually safe bet, but be sure to follow all posted regulations about street cleaning, vehicle size, permit requirements, and distance from schools.

Folks tend to be bothered less in more industrial and mixed use zones as opposed to residential areas, especially if your van looks like a work truck, but the trade off is that industrial zones are usually quite noisy early in the morning and later into the evening.

Pro tips: Fold in your mirrors when parked on city streets to make sure other vehicles can pass you easily and avoid any issues. When possible, park with your slider door opening to the sidewalk and away from the road so that you don’t have to jump out into traffic!

Parking Lots and Parking Garages

In cities, some businesses like Walmart, other big box stores, or large shopping centers will allow overnight parking in their parking lots. Check with a manager via phone or in-person to make sure you won’t be asked to leave after the business closes.

Park and ride lots are located on the outskirts of a city for commuters near train or bus terminals. These can be another overnight option in cities. Always look for posted signage about overnight parking at the entrance to the parking lot and throughout the lot on the light poles.

Parking garages do sometimes work, but it’s extremely important to know the exact height of both your vehicle and the garage so you don’t get stuck or cause damage to your rig or the parking structure! Also, even if you fit in the parking garage, be mindful that your van will be covered and won’t be taking in any solar power from the sun, so your batteries may suffer if you plan to park there long term.

campervan parked in a parking garage
Photo by Brooke Alexander

I typically only park overnight in a parking garage at airports. For example, LAX airport in Los Angeles has space for taller vehicles (mine is 8.5 ft) on the first level of economy parking only. It is secure and patrolled and I actually slept here one night after dropping family off at the airport. As you might guess, it is NOT quiet, but it does the job!

City Parks

When I visit a new city, one of the first places I look for street parking is near a city park. These spots are ideal because I can walk the dog before bed and first thing in the morning, I won’t be parking directly in front of someone’s home, and greenspaces bring a sense of calm in a chaotic city. As a bonus, many parks also have a restroom open during the day.

Here are two of my favorite overnight parking spots near city parks:

McCarren Park in Brooklyn is where I lived for about 8 months in my van while working in New York City. Pay attention to the street cleaning signs for each side of the street, but otherwise this is a great spot for short or long term campervan parking.

campervan parked at McCarren Park in Brooklyn
Photo by Brooke Alexander

City Park in New Orleans is absolutely beautiful and I stayed overnight here for a week with my very first van life friend! A major bonus is the Café du Monde location for beignets, coffee, and a restroom without having to wait in line at the famous French Quarter location!

campervan parked in a City Park in New Orleans
Photo by @PettyPrinethePromaster

Where to Park Overnight When You’re Driving from Point A to Point B

If you just need a no frills place to sleep without any views, privacy, or amenities, there are quite a few places that offer free overnight parking for RVs, campervan, buses, and other vehicles. Here’s a breakdown of spots to park overnight while you’re traveling between destinations.

Truck Stops

Truck stops like Flying J, Pilot, Love’s, Travel Centers of America (TA), and Sapp Bros. are a safe, albeit somewhat noisy option for overnight parking. You’ll likely be surrounded by semitrucks idling their engines all night. My vent fan is VERY loud; the nights I stay at truck stops or in a busy city are the only times I’m grateful that it drowns out everything!

Convenience is key with truck stops. Some truck stops have showers or RV hookups for a small fee. Almost all truck stops have a fast food restaurant, a mini-market, and restrooms.

Pro Tip: Try to park on the outskirts of the overnight area at truck stops. Don’t take up space needed by the truckers or block trucks from getting to the dedicated extra-long semi-truck parking spaces. It will be quieter than being sandwiched between trucks, too!

Rest Areas or Rest Stops

I love a good rest stop! They are built specifically for travelers to stop and sleep or rest while in the midst of a road trip. Most rest areas allow overnight parking, plus they have trash bins, restrooms, potable water, and sometimes even a dump station! Some states provide security patrol at rest areas as well.

My favorite rest area is the Georgia State Welcome Center heading south on I-95. It has a huge walking path for pets (and humans!) porch swings, vending machines, super clean restrooms, and plenty of travel information. I’ve even gone out of my way to sleep there a couple times because it’s so nice!

beautiful Georgia State Welcome Center at night
Photo by Brooke Alexander

Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts

Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome are both subscription services that connect travelers with either businesses or individuals that are willing to let self-contained campervans and RVs park overnight. The membership gives you access to the contact information but you must confirm stays before arriving. Many Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome locations are pet-friendly, but always double check!

Boondockers Welcome is a network of folks that allow overnight parking in their driveways, yards, or other areas of their private property. Some Boondockers Welcome hosts offer electric or water as well. A membership to Boondockers Welcome is around $80.

Harvest Hosts is a network of wineries, farms, breweries, distilleries and other places of interest where you can park overnight in exchange for annual membership fee. A year’s membership to Harvest Hosts costs just under $100.

Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome have teamed up so that you can get a joint membership for $169. You can also upgrade to a plan that includes stays at golf courses as well as access to dump stations for $179.

I don’t have personal experiences with Boondockers Welcome, but I have been a Harvest Hosts member for years. Here are a couple of my favorite Harvest Hosts experiences:

Summer Crush Vineyard and Winery in Fort Pierce, Florida has beautiful grounds, wine slushies, and live music. The place runs like a well-oiled machine and is a great stop in Southeast Florida.

campervan parked at Summer Crush Vineyard and Winery in Fort Pierce, Florida
Photo by @PettyPrinethePromaster

Peachfork Orchards and Vineyard in Palisade Colorado is absolutely adorable. I stayed in pretty crummy weather, but still had a great time. The owner and host, Phil, is always up for a chat and has great stories!

walking a dog at Peachfork Orchards and Vineyard in Palisade Colorado
Photo by Brooke Alexander

Casinos

Casinos can be an option for overnight parking as they usually have large lots that can accommodate both campervans and RVs. Most casinos will require you to open a free player’s club card account which often comes with a small amount of free play to use on their slot machines. Inquire with security to be certain you’re allowed to park overnight in the casino parking lot.

walking a dog in a casino parking lot
Photo by Brooke Alexander

Walmart

Car campers, van lifers, and RV travelers often opt to stay in a Walmart parking lot because you can do your shopping, use the bathroom, and sleep overnight in a security patrolled space.

The downside to overnighting in a Walmart parking lot is that they can often be noisy, dirty, and bright. I personally feel safer in well-lit areas, but you’ll need some good window covers to block out the light!

Not all Walmart parking lots allow overnight parking, so definitely check with management before staying. I have been asked to leave a Walmart parking lot in the middle of the night, and it’s not fun. Learn from my mistake!

Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel restaurants are a welcome sight for tired overlanders looking for a spot to crash. They have dedicated space for buses and RVs and allow overnight parking at nearly all their locations. It is courteous to ask management if you can stay overnight and make a purchase of some sort in exchange for a parking spot and use of the restrooms during business hours.

There’s a Cracker Barrel restaurant right next to the Daytona Motor Speedway in Florida!

campervan parked at the Cracker Barrell restaurant parking space in Florida
Photo by Brooke Alexander

Pro Tips: Ask for Cracker Barrel gift cards from friends or family for holiday or birthday gifts. Then, when you find yourself stopping over at a Cracker Barrel for the night you can grab some takeout for dinner or breakfast. My favorite Cracker Barrel hack is to order a kid’s meal. You can get two sides (I choose macaroni and cheese and broccoli), a biscuit, and a drink for under $7!

Sporting Goods Stores like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops

Outdoor gear stores sometimes allow overnight RV parking or van parking. Remember that store parking lots are private property and you should always ask permission from the management before parking for the night.

Pro Tip: Bass Pro Shops allow pets and I often walk my pup through the store to get some exercise!

Campervan Parking Spots in Nature

Free dispersed camping options abound in the western United States, but there are lesser known and open camping spots in nature throughout the whole country.

Boondocking

Boondocking, otherwise known as dry camping, is the most common way to park overnight in nature. There are several types of land that are publicly accessible for boondocking.

campervan parked in the mountain area boondocking
Photo by Brooke Alexander

State Forests or State Trust Land

Many states have set aside land for various types of recreation, including camping. There might be a small fee required, usually annually, to camp on state land. For example, there is a $15 permit for Arizona State Trust Land, which gets you access to spots like this. Check the posted rules for stay limits and other important information.

campervan parked at the Arizona State Trust Land with bonfire
Photo by Brooke Alexander

National Forests

National Forests are excellent areas for free overnight parking. Most National Forest land has stay limits and rules posted at the entrance. Pack out your trash and waste and keep National Forest land beautiful and clean for everyone!

Check out this free National Forest parking spot very near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks!

campervan with a dog parked at the National Forest parking spot very near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks
Photo by Brooke Alexander

BLM Land

The Bureau of Land Management manages public lands and resources for multiple uses, from conservation and wildlife to energy and forestry to recreation and interpretation. Look for the tent emblem on posted placards and signs to know if overnight parking is allowed and what the rules are.

With the rise in van camping, many BLM areas are becoming quite popular and jam packed with people. Some of the beautiful spots in California and Arizona, for example, are becoming day use only due to overuse. Do you part to keep them clean and be respectful of the land and your neighbors.

The dry lakebed outside of Joshua Tree, California is BLM land with plenty of space for everyone.

campervans parked in the dry lakebed outside of Joshua Tree, California is BLM land
Photo by Brooke Alexander

How to Find Campervan Parking

Apps and Websites

There are several apps and websites to help you find overnight parking and other important area information.

iOverlander

iOverlander is an app that is packed full of helpful information for travelers contributed by fellow users. You can find overnight parking – both free and paid options, – potable water locations, dump stations, laundry services, and even more. This is by far the app I use the most to find parking, both in nature and in towns or cities!

The best part is that it works without cell signal, though you’ll need service to view any photos or get GPS directions.

Sekr

Sekr includes campsite coordinates with as well as a feature to connect with other travelers. You can post or search events, meetups and even join a caravan!

FreeCampsites.net

FreeCampsites.net is a website where users can post information about free overnight parking options.

Campendium

Campendium is a website that reviews campgrounds on a one-to-five star scale. I use Campendium if I want to find out about cell signal at a location, but now that I have Starlink, this is less of an issue.

Harvest Hosts

As I mentioned before, a subscription to Harvest Hosts gets you access to a network of farms, breweries, wineries, and other spots that allow overnight parking in exchange for small purchases at the business.

Boondockers Welcome

Boondockers Welcome is the subscription service that connects van campers and RVers with “house people” that can offer free and safe places to park and sometimes hookups to charge their batteries or fill their water tanks.

Google Maps

The satellite view on Google Maps can be extremely useful when you’re driving down a forest road and looking for campsites. Look for large clearings just off the road; some even show an RV or van parked in already established campsites. I recommend downloading an offline map ahead of arriving to an area in case their is no cell signal!

Instagram

You’re probably wondering how and why I use social media to find overnight car camping or van parking. Well, on more than one occasion, actually so many I can’t count anymore, I’ve reached out to other van travelers that I follow on Instagram and asked for tips on campsites or parking spots in different places. And time after time, the community comes through!

Facebook

There are tons of Facebook groups dedicated to boondocking, van life, car camping, and an endless amount of RV groups. I’m a member of a boondocking group (membership is free, but you must apply by answering a few questions) where folks post coordinates for their favorite boondocking spots.

The Dyrt

Use The Dyrt app to find campgrounds and read reviews from others who have stayed there.

Campervan Parking Tips, Tricks, and Accessories

Tips and Tricks

If you plan to park overnight at a business, either call ahead for confirmation that they allow parking overnight or arrive during business hours so that you can ask permission.

When wild camping, try to arrive before dark so that you see where you’re going and avoid running into animals or any surprises in the road like mud, deep sand, water, or dead ends with no way to turn around!

If you have trouble falling asleep or are a light sleeper, buy a pair of earplugs or download an offline white noise app on your phone in case you find yourself in a busy or loud camp spot for the night.

Campervan Parking Accessories

Spoiler alert: some of the most beautiful campsites are not flat! Get yourself some leveling blocks to even out the terrain and sleep more comfortably. Use your judgment, but leveling blocks or other equipment that makes it obvious you are sleeping overnight in your vehicle should not be used when stealth camping.

Recovery tracks are used to help get a vehicle out of the mud or sand. You dig out a space and put them under the tires so the wheels can gain traction. Ideally, you’re looking for free camping options when it is light outside and you can see any problem areas, but sometimes they sneak up on you!

If you’re tight on space and want a versatile option for both leveling your campervan and getting it out of a sticky situation, Go Treads are a great choice. I’ve personally seen them work to get a van out of the sand and also to level a van in a slanted campsite. They fold up nicely and don’t take up much room!

Camper Van Parking Summary

With a little planning, you can maximize your travel time and minimize the time you spend looking for parking.

Apps are your friend. Get to know them, find the ones that work for you, and contribute spots when you can to keep them updated.

Fellow travelers are your friend. Reach out to vanners – those you have met in person and those you only know online. We’re a friendly and helpful group with great insight through all of our combined experience!

Take care of the place you park. If it’s a mess when you arrive, clean it up. Leave no trace. Leave it better than you found it. Campervan travelers rely on these different parking options and need to be sure they remain open and accessible.

See you down the road!

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4 Comments

  1. This is awesome Brooke! So comprehensive with information. I shared it with my friend Jenny who has a van for vacation use. She & her husband LOVED it!

    1. Brooke Alexander says:

      Thank you so much for reading! I’m so glad they found it useful.

  2. Hey Brooke! Great interview with Kristin. (Kristin always does great interviews!!) Lots of really useful information there. I ordered GoTreads just now. I live in Rosarito, Baja, and would like to connect with van folks interested in caravanning south for whale season. Also, if van folks are in Rosarito and need things like mechanics, carpenters, upholsterers, body shop, etc, I have a pretty good handle on all of that.
    Perhaps if you’re in this area (San Diego/Rosarito) sometime we can meetup & say howdy?

    1. Kristin Hanes says:

      Yay! Glad you liked the interview, Bruce!

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