A Guide to Car-Camping – in Walmart Parking Lots

As any experienced road tripper, climber, or long-term traveler can attest, one of the biggest issues with life on the road is finding a place to rest every night. Between tight budgets, uncertain routes, and evenings spent driving at ungodly hours, there is often a need to find a makeshift place to catch a few hours of sleep.

One of the tried and true traditions of my climbing trips and cross-country excursions is the practice of spending a night (or two) in a Walmart parking lot. I was extremely reluctant and nervous my first time, during which I hardly achieved a few moments of rest. However, after nothing but positive experiences, the sight of a glowing Walmart sign on the side of a highway has become a welcoming landmark.

While Walmart founder Sam Walton has allegedly been quoted in feeling strongly that all travelers should reverie his stores as a destination for safe rest and refuge, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the practice of overnight camping in the parking lots. While I have never been approached during my brief stays, I have heard plenty of stories of people being asked to leave, or told they couldn’t stay.

So, should you spend the night in a Walmart parking lot? I’d say sure, but first, educate yourself on the do’s and don’ts of overnighting at one of these fine American institutions (ha).

What You Should Do:

Depending on your attitude, calling ahead to inquire about a specific location’s overnight policies is the safest course of action. However, if you’ve pulled into a random store in the middle of the night, desperate for sleep – you will likely be fine. Always be discrete. While large campers and RVs are sitting ducks in the parking lot pond, sedans and smaller vehicles have the advantage of blending in fairly well.

A few crucial elements of discretion include parking away from store entrances where shoppers should have priority, keeping your ‘space’ clean, and leaving as early as possible in the morning. Additionally, you should make an effort to give patronage to the place that is giving you a safe place to sleep – buy something. If you just grab a protein shake and cheese stick in the morning, fine. Need to stock up on some camping supplies? Even better – you’ll make the entire car-camping community look good.

Just because Walmarts are generally a secure place to stop for the night doesn’t mean that every location stands equal when it comes to safety. Always be aware of the surrounding neighborhood – a sketchy area equates to a sketchy Walmart parking lot. Be smart. Always keep your keys within reach. I prefer to keep the driver’s seat open and easy accessible, in case there is a need to make a quick getaway.

What You Shouldn’t Do:

*Note: Niko wasn’t actually in a Walmart parking lot in this photo, no worries.

Basically, don’t be that guy. If you roll up to a Walmart at 11 PM, pop open the hatchback, and set up a few chairs around your parking spot while throwing back a few beers – don’t be surprised when you get the boot. Anyone traveling in a non-car rig is should never set-up camp in any conspicuous manner. If security or management approaches you, don’t be disrespectful. It is a privilege to have access to staying overnight, and travelers must remain understanding that some locations have had bad experiences with long-term or disruptive ‘campers.’

Don’t leave a mess. You should be practicing this in all aspects of your adventures, but littering free accommodations is especially offensive. Nothing leaves a bad taste in a manager’s mouth than rude overnighters.

Despite the usually relaxed overnight regulations at most locations, there are some stores that are actively against travelers shacking up in their parking lots. Check out this listing of Walmarts that do not allow overnight stays.

Niko says: “I’ve been crashing in Walmart parking lots ever since I was able to drive — it’s a “simple comfort” for dirtbags. On long nights, you know that just down the road there’s a parking lot where you can grab some munchies, clean up in the 24-hour bathrooms, and shut your eyes for a couple hours. I always crack a window in my car to get some fresh air, and like to stop in the store to grab breakfast before heading out – think of the cost of your milk and cereal as a camping fee.”

If you aren’t bothered by the unavoidable florescent lighting and likelihood of waking up in a sea of cars from Walmart’s morning floods of blue collar customers, pulling into one of their many parking lots provides a great venue for catching some rest before embarking on your next day of adventuring.

Have you ever spent the night in a Walmart parking lot?
Got good any experiences to share? Any bad experiences?
Sound off in the comments and contribute to the conversation!

 

Katie Boué lives and breathes the outdoor lifestyle. She is an ardent advocate for fresh air, muddy boots, and clean eating. After spending a 365 days living in a van during a yearlong climbing road trip, she continues to document and share the everyday adventures of life.

Comments

  1. I’ve thought about it several times, although never spent the night. The walmart near my house is rather skeevy, so they all seem that way to me now. But maybe I’ll just have to start. :)

    • I’ve definitely decided against staying at particular Walmarts, but honestly, some of them are really nice – and totally beat crashin’ at a truck stop for the evening.

    • I am homless, jobless and have been starting at a wallmart since 4th july.have no were to go..just recently have been harassed by there stupid security dueches, saying that I cant be there, I explained my situation started that om from cross the country stranded with a lawsuit pending, they gave absolutely no sypathy to me nor did they care ay all..’s.what should I do have tried getting a job but florida is a fluke for jobs plus I have a dog that I have had for over 4 years… All I really want is to go home top oregon, I can be homeless there, and have for many months at a time!!!! Input is needed!!! Thanx for reading! Ryan

      • Ryan, it sounds like you’re in quite a unique situation. I’ll definitely admit that I’m not surprised Walmart gave you the boot – I would never suggest permanently setting up camp there; this article is more for the purpose of a quick overnight stay when your options are thin.

        I think the best bet for you is to locate a RV or tent campground, and strike a deal with the management there – offer to pitch in and do some work around the property in exchange for a free stay! You may have to contact a few different places to get someone to agree to the bargain, but it may be your best option.

        Good luck with everything!

      • Brother when you have lemons create lemonaide! If you cant get a job I have an easy start up business that will generate about $1500 monthly. First bum about bucks, then buy a 24 pack of bottled water at the walmart! Youll make $19 bucks a case profit. Floridians buy water consistantly. You should be able to sell over 2 cases a day. I estimate $50 bucks profit daily. Work hard, say your prayers, save and u will be home in no time buddy. Good luck god bless!

  2. I knew that Walmart allowed overnight stays since sadly, I worked there in high school. I didn’t know some didn’t allow it though. Crazy. Bookmarking this for future use. Thank you!

  3. This is awesome. I just got off a 4 day climbing road trip to bishop and can definitely attest to the fact that if you have a small footprint, the footprint on your behind will be small.

  4. Ok, this is seriously the funniest thing I’ve ever read! Is this common back East??? I camped in a million random places on my bike trip (behind grocery stores, behind gas stations, in people’s front yards, etc) but I have literally NEVER car camped in a WalMart and didn’t know that was a “thing”!

    • The first time Niko made me sleep in a Walmart parking lot I thought he was NUTS – but it’s totally common. I’d be way more sketched out about sleeping behind a gas station!

  5. thealpine says:

    I disagree that you should patronage if you sleep there. You should NEVER spend your money at Wal Mart. EVER.

    • I definitely agree with you that Walmart generally SUCKS as an institution, but I still think that if you’re going to use their space, you owe them at least the <$5.00 it costs to buy a cheese stick and bottle of chocolate milk.

      I'm all for not shopping at Walmart, but if I didn't, I'd stay at a rest stop instead – seems fair. Thanks for your input! :)

  6. I’ve often stayed in WalMart parking lots. A good place to get q few winks on a long trip. I spend my money there, too. Can’t beat the value. Thanks for letting others know about this simple way to get some much needed sleep.

  7. Sounded interesting but that list u posted of place that won’t let u, it was basically every Wal-Mart in CA. Is it different out of this fine, if overcrowded & expensive, state?

  8. Felicia says:

    I’m actually staying at one as we speak (or type rather) LOL. Although I’m not familiar with this area, so I’m a little nervous. This location is quite busy. See I’m about to drive cross country, so to save money for my trip I stayed a few nights at one close to where I use to live, and it was perfect . It is up on a hill. . So no other traffic besides Walmart customers. I didn’t even leave early cuz noone bothered me. I parked all by myself at the far end of the oarking lot. It’s quiet enough that I get sleep, but I felt sa here fe as well with mostly only employees there in the middle of the night. it’s 1 am

  9. Felicia says:

    continued … Here now at this new location, and the place is hoppin. Although it’s a huge parking lot ( duh) so I am far away from the store itself. It just isn’t as cozy as my usual Walmart. Also I’ve read a few blogs, and some of them are overdone, you don’t have to go to extremes sleeping outside or in your car. Do what feels safe and comfortable, and use common sense just like anything else. Oh and sorry for the typos, on my phone and hard to correct. Screen and keyboard very small ;(

  10. Felicia says:

    Oh and Jack, I’m originally from Socal and it makes total sense California would be in the lead of banning overnight stays, although I was homeless many years ago, and actually the first time I learned this was out there. A lot of SoCal areas were very vocal about it. Lots of my friends had motorhomes , and were so glad to have that resource. Also back then Target was cool with it , and lots of Churches will offer it.

    • Thank you for all the great feedback Felicia! Glad to hear you’re enjoying your stay at Walmart. :) Each location definitely comes with its own unique atmosphere, that’s for sure. I’ve found the biggest variance to be whether or not it’s sitting on it’s own lot, or shares a parking lot with other shops in a strip mall. Enjoy your travels, and stay safe!

  11. Alright, here’s my biggest question – how far open do you leave the windows while you’re sleeping? It’s probably a silly unimportant question, but the one time I slept in my car, I was too worried to leave them more than a teeny bit open and ended up baking inside the car all night! And as great as this sounds for road trips, there’s just something about the illusion of privacy I have in a closed, covered tent. I’m not sure I could deal with people looking in my windows! Though I’d guess not many people would if you set up late enough and leave early enough :)

    • Hahaha, I’m a privacy fanatic too – so I like to imagine how much space it would take for someone to get their entire hand/wrist into the window space. You can ask Niko, I get neurotic with the opening amount. I also have a sun roof, so cracking that a little bit really helps.

  12. I slept outside a Walmart lot in Topeka, KA a few years ago on my way back to NY from (a break-up in) Breckenridge, CO. I had Couchsurfed on my way west, but had nothing set up for my eastbound trek. After driving all day,a and attempted to check out a Super8, but the lobby smelled awful. I’d remembered reading an article about Walmart camping and decided that was my best bet. It was the end of January, foggy (and therefore insanely bright in the lot), and nearly 1am before I got settled (never leaving the car once I parked). Other than waking up screaming from a dream that there were bad people outside my cars’ windows – it went off without a hitch. I didn’t patronize, however ;)

  13. I love this post. While it isn’t the most glamorous camping spot, sometimes it happens. :)
    -Andy

  14. After hours of research and trying to find an affordable place to stay near a larger capital city, I came across Walmart RV Parking. Def. gonna catch some shut eye in my Jeep there this weekend. This is awesome. Plus no need to bring camping supplies and food = more space!

  15. My boyfriend and I are currently driving cross-country and debating whether or not to stay in a Wal-Mart parking lot in our car in the middle of Nebraska. My parents have a camper and I grew up staying in Wal-Mart parking lots at least once every vacation, on days when we were driving 12 hours. Wal-Mart was always a lifesaver! I think it’s a relatively well-kept secret from the non-camping public.

    Anyway, great post and thank you for the tips! Definitely boosted my confidence about car camping in Wal-Mart.

  16. I’ve camped in wally world parking lots up and down the east coast. usually sleep in my boat:-) cushions are nice and security usually can’t figure out where the owner of the vehicle is.

  17. Eddie Willers says:

    I trekked from Nova Scotia to Veracruz, Mexico in a Chevy Suburban a few years ago – sleeping in the back on an air mattress while parked in Walmart lots all the way. Helluva experience!

  18. Being apart of a band, we’ve done this numerous times to help with out tight budget. I think the most important parts of this article are 1) taking a look at the neighborhoods around the Walmart and 2) making sure to stop in the next morning and at least buy something small as a nice thank you.

    For us it has always been a safe and comfortable place to get some rest after long late night drives.

  19. I’ve stayed at a few different Walmart locations over the last couple years. Always come after 11pm and out by 7-730. I’ve never had a problem or been asked to leave. It’s quiet and I feel much safer at Walmart than a rest area. I totally recommend you stay at Walmart if your trying to save a few bucks or just need a place to sleep for the night.

    • I had been told by many that Walmart allowed overnight stays. We are new to RVing, and pulled into a Walmart parking lot in Solomon, MO right around 10:00pm. We found a spot in the back corner of the parking lot, and quickly, bedded down for the night. About 3am their parking lot sweeper (I guess) began walking around my coach with a gas powered leaf blower cycling the throttle off and on over and over. After being awakened and looking out the window to see what was up, I saw him walk over to another coach and walk around it several times doing the same thing. He kept doing this for 20 minutes or so, and then got in his sweeper and drove right at us with his lights on high beam and spun circles around us a few times. Then he finally moved on sweeping the parking lot. It is now an hour later and he has once again picked up his leaf blower… This is my first experience, and maybe my last. I don’t know?

      • Mary Miller says:

        Hope you didn’t let this idiot run you off, he was an insecure “little person” who was messing with you. If the inidividual had any authority, he would have asked you to leave; he didn’t, so there ya go!

  20. briandaniels says:

    So I am here at a Wal-Mart in Alabama right now and definitely on hyper alert. It’s really nice but its just hearing everything (door slams, homeless guy searching garbage bins, people laughing clear across the lot) that will probably make this a sleepless night. And for some reason, one of the RV’s just moved to the middle of the lot. It’s amazing what is interesting when there’s nothing else to do and can’t sleep. Anyways, thanks for the read and ideas. I may just drop the rear seats, crawl in the trunk, and take a couple of Tylenol PM to get through it until time to head on to the airport :)

  21. Incognito says:

    Been living in my car due to lack of finances to afford a rental or room and walmart has been a godsend. While traveling learned that not all walmarts or the neighborhood in which they reside are as gracious. Take Colorado many of the affluent neighborhoods that have walmarts forbid overnight stays of any kind. They claim its the neighborhood but either way you’ll want to prepare. Aurora walmarts are cool but there’s some extremely seedy areas in Colorado with extremely seedy walmarts to boot. Stay far away from these types of Walmart parking lots. Especially if like me you are female. All that being said I sure have saved a bunch of Benjamin’s during this personal famine I’m having. Happy car camping.

  22. thanks for your write up. im planning a trip and dont think i can pull the overnight drive but seriously a CHEAP hotel is gross and frankly the same price as a tank of gas. sooo yep im doing it!

  23. I fed a stray cat each morning when I used to stop at the Subway inside our town’s Walmart before I went to school. I brought dry food and paper towels from home and fed him/her off to the side of Walmart. One morning, when I was walking to the side of Walmart to fed the cat, before I went into Walmart to get breakfast and coffee, I was startled to see a huge clump of newspapers moving around. To my surprise, out popped a young man who looked around sheepishly. I got the beck out of there, but later I would see him hanging around at times, just inside the entrance…most likely to get warm and stay dry. It was around that time that the feral cat disappeared. Hymn. It is interesting when you think about it…what lives in a Walmart parking lot. It almost has its own ecosystem.

    • Michelle Lauck says:

      That’s an awfully ignorant and prejudiced view of a homeless PERSON. I don’t like that you called them an ‘it’ and implying that they are animals. Many fine folks have found themselves homeless through no fault of their own.

  24. You only crack your windows enough to breathe. If you cover your back and passager windows with navy blue or black towels or small blankets know can see you. I sleept in truck for 3 mos. Prepare and just be ready for anything be sure to have some protection. Be sure to have water, food, some snacks, first aid kit, flashlight,change of clothes, towel, wash cloth, soap, toothpaste,toothbrush, pillows, covers and etc. God Bless.

  25. I have slept in Walmart parking lots too many times to count. As a general rule, if you’re inside you’re vehicle you should be fine. I have actually laid out straight up on the parking lot ground as well. You can pull it off if you lay behind your car in some way, but you are more likely to get woken up and asked to leave. As I’m typing this I’ve actually set up camp inside the actual store, another option if you’re in a pinch. Just pick an inconspicuous location! Scrub life.

  26. I am camping out at a walmart right now too and just wanted to add that most of the supercenters have McDonalds – which means free wifi. I set up my lap top, have a cup of tea and enjoy a night of catching up in the digital world.

  27. Yes I have slept at Walmarts all across the country. Never had a problem. It’s really good when you’ve been driving all night and don’t really want to pay for a few hours rest at a hotel. As long as you leave early in the morning and don’t attract attention or make a mess it’s fine. Less frequently, if there is no Walmart I’ve slept in hospital parking lots too.

  28. Actually crashing in a Wal-Mart lot atm due to lack of housing. I drove cabs here in Jacksonville, NC and at the old one they dont care as long as you dont do anythinf stupid. Just be careful guys :)

  29. My husband and I have stayed at walmart parking lots. You have a bathroom at least and a place for breakfast right there. Window shades are good to have. We also have asked and stayed in McDonald parking lots. Sleeping in the car for a night here and there is ok. Just don’t make a habit of it. A nice shower and comfortable bed every other night is nice. Jean

  30. In most parking lots here in western Washington state you’ll get some people pissed off at you for being there !!!

  31. Steve R. says:

    I’m actually in a Walmart parking lot right now getting ready for good night’s rest after a long drive. Thanks for the great read..

    ps: So far so good and it seems like there are a number of other people here doing the same tonight and no one seems to mind.. there’s even a police car that’s patrolling here that makes the stay even more easy.

    At the Walmart here in Laguna Hills, Ca.

    -gnight, Steve

  32. Silent Penguin says:

    My son and I are definitely going to give this a try tomorrow night. That list of Wal-Marts that don’t allow overnighters was a big help. If the information is still correct, there’s a Wal-Mart in the town where we were going to stop for night that allows overnighters. If we are sent away, I’ll report back.

  33. My husband and I started full time RV’ing on Feb 1st from California. No jobs, no income, no retirement. Working as we go. We’ve stayed at WalMarts, 99% of the time. We’ve stopped at WalMarts in California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama. OH! And New Mexico. One thing we do, is if there is a security officer patroling, we ask where can we park.
    One security officer, in New Mexico, said she’d keep an eye on our motorhome while we went into the town. We’ve never had a problem. In fact, in Mississippi, one security officer told us we’d be more comfortable at the WalMart on the other side of town, as the one we were at, was a bit sketchy. Never a problem.

  34. Michael says:

    This a great idea! I am going on a low budget road trip up north in a few weeks and will definitely try wal-mart camping.

  35. I was wondering if sleeping over at a 24 hour fitness would be good. I belong to one that has a huge parking area, that is shared by a defunct night club. Any thoughts???

  36. I stay at the Walmart in norwich ct at least one weekend out of the month. I usually park away from everyone and I don’t make a mess.

    It’s a surprisingly great spot to pick up chicks. They really seem to dig the “really cool idea” about camping In The parking lot.

    Some of the girls even volunteer to do special favors for me like ash some of my clothes and they even fetch my eats for me.

    I recommend that you try it too

    See you under the lights

  37. Ive been homeless now for over a month in Coral Springs(Margate), Florida. I simply approached the Rent-a-cop in the SUV with the lights the patrols the parking lot and told him my intentions. He lets me know where to park every evening based on the flow of traffic and checks on me throughout the night. This entire situation has been a blessing.

  38. I was just asked to leave :(
    I had been staying at Walmart Pkg Lots since Oct – but today a policeman and Walmart mgr asked me to leave- I told them I heard it was Walmart’s policy to let people stay in their cars but the Walmart Mgr said it had never been. bummer

  39. I was just in Chat with some friends climbing at Foster Falls and stayed at the Crashpad as well, awesome place, cheap and met really cool people! I’m getting ready for a road trip from Orlando to Yellowstone (S. Montana) and def staying here again on the way, hopefully get good weather to boulder!

  40. Christheexplorer says:

    On the road 2 months now southbound from NY. MAJOR thanks to all walmart persons and fellow travellers who ‘follow the rules’ and keep this going safely.

    Theres really no new info to add – only a reminder to
    1.) buy something small before u crash, not in the morning ,
    2.) if your intentions are to sleep there then do that, dont chill and get others to notice ,
    3.) have a respective and thankful attitude no matter what happens to you personally – keep this a low-key option for all people smart enough to research it.

    I actually crashed in a louisiana WM for 5 days straight while stranded thanks to bank transfers and holidays. I stuck to the code and had not 1 issue :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] We’re also spending a day climbing at Rocktown, one of Georgia’s best crags – but honestly, what I’m most excited for this trip is finally getting the chance to stay at The Crash Pad in Chattanooga. This hostel caught my attention when it was a mere concept and a patch of neglected land; it now proudly stands as one of the most innovative and inviting hubs for adventurers visiting Tennessee. I won second place in their Ultimate Adventure contest a few months ago, and after multiple failed attempts at booking my two free nights (seriously, these folks are killin’ it; they’re always booked solid), I finally snagged myself a private room! It’s going to be way snazzy, and certainly beats the hell out of camping in a Walmart parking lot. [...]

  2. [...] a night spent sleeping in a Walmart parking lot, we arrived to an empty gravel lot at the base of the Boat Rock crag. Within minutes, the entire [...]

  3. [...] are a lifesaver for late-night pit stops. If you haven’t already, check out my guide to car-camping at Wal-Mart. ‘Nuff [...]

  4. [...] are seasoned pros at spending evenings camping in Walmart parking lots, but we’re really looking forward to checking out BLM areas once we get out [...]

  5. […] concerns, pack up our house and leave late Tuesday to make the drive to Louisiana. We slept in a Wal-mart parking lot in Alabama… a stop that required me to do some emergency repairs to our truck-and-trailer combo. Did you […]

Speak Your Mind

*

CommentLuv badge