Apr 202017

I have shared some of this information before, but after yesterday’s blog about summer RV trip planning I got quite a few emails and text messages from readers wanting to know how those free-spirited RVers I talked about found places to park overnight without planning ahead, so I thought we would talk about that today. I’ll warn you ahead of time, it’s a long blog, because there is a lot to cover, but I think you will find it worth your time. 

While campgrounds are great places to hang out when you want to spend time in an area, many RVers object to paying $25 or more for a place to park overnight when they are on the road traveling from one place to another. That’s why a lot of experienced RV travelers spend frequent nights in Wal-Mart parking lots or Flying J truck stops to save money on the road.

But you don’t need to spend the night in a commercial parking lot to save money. There are many safe, comfortable alternatives to campgrounds that savvy RVers use on a regular basis. These include memberships in fraternal and veterans organizations, and free camping programs. We’ll look at some of the most popular in this article.

Small Town City Parks

We have spent many, many nights in city parks in wonderful small towns like Concordia, Kansas; Gibson City, Illinois; Wabash, Indiana; Littlefield, Texas, and probably 100 other places in our years as fulltime RVers. Some of them just offer a safe place to park, while others have full hookups and even picnic tables. Why do those communities do this? Because it brings new people to town, and hopefully while you’re staying there you’ll spend a few bucks at the local restaurants, maybe fill your gas tank, and buy some groceries. Some charge a very small fee, but many others are free. And more than once we’ve had local people stop by and welcome us to town, offer us gifts of fresh produce, and tell us about things to see and do in the area. We publish a guidebook to over 1,000 free and low cost overnight parking spots that you can order as an e-book from Amazon at this link.


A side benefit of membership in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, a fraternal organization dedicated to community service, is the RV parking opportunities Elks lodges across the country extend to traveling members from other lodges.

Accommodations can range from lodge-owned full hookup RV parks to just a corner of a parking lot, with sometimes (but not always) an electrical outlet to plug into and a water spigot on the side of the building to fill holding tanks.

Some lodges do not require any reimbursement for using their parking areas, while others accept donations or charge a small fee. Many lodges are located in areas where commercial campgrounds are scarce or cost more than some travelers can fit into their budget. The greeting to visiting Elks members is always warm, and the savings and convenience of Elks parking can go a long way to making up for high campground costs and ever rising fuel prices.

Annual dues at Elks lodges vary from one location to another, depending on the amenities the individual lodges have to offer. Some can run several hundred dollars, while others are less than $100 a year. The Gila Bend, Arizona Lodge #2089, has low annual dues and is a favorite with fulltime RVers.

Some might think that joining a group like the Elks only to take advantage of their RV parking is selfish, but RVing Elks know that their dues and the donations they make at lodges where they park help to support many educational and charitable projects from coast to coast. Many lodges also have dining rooms, and when a visiting member has a meal at the lodge, that money also goes to support the lodge and its activities. It is the best of both worlds – the visiting Elk member enjoys low cost overnight parking and is able to contribute to the good of the community at the same time.


Much like the Elks, members of the Loyal Order of Moose (LOOM) can stay at lodges from coast to coast. Overall, we have found that there seem to be more Elks lodges with RV parking opportunities, though we have stayed at several Moose lodges in our travels. Both the Elks and Moose welcome women members as well as men.

To join either organization, call or visit a lodge near you and ask about membership. Both organizations require you to have a sponsor, and it’s been my experience that any member will be happy to do so and the lodge will find a sponsor for you. Be aware that while Moose dues are the same nationwide, different Elks lodges have different dues. It’s best to find a small town lodge, where the dues are usually cheaper.

If you are looking for a way to reduce your RVing costs, to visit new areas, and to give something back at the same time, consider an Elks or Moose membership. It’s a win-win situation.

But there are other alternatives to a fraternal membership that will help you save on overnight camping costs. Let’s look at three of them.

Free Overnight RV Parking

Believe it or not, there are thousands of places around the country where you can park overnight for free. These include RV friendly businesses like Walmart, truck stops, small town city parks, casinos, and plenty of other places you probably never thought of. Or, maybe you did think of them, but didn’t know what might be available. That’s where the Overnight RV Parking website comes in handy.

Their database currently contains 13,506 RV parking and (and a few no parking) locations in the USA and Canada. You can even find free RV parking on your mobile device! Their new smartphone app uses your GPS to find free parking near your location, and integrates with your favorite maps app to get detailed driving directions. You can search by your current location, city and state or province, or zip code, and download PDF files by state or province. The database is constantly being updated and we have used it many times in our travels. At $24.95 a year, it’s a bargain that will save you a lot of time searching for a place to park. You can get more information at their website at https://www.overnightrvparking.com/

Boondockers Welcome

Another neat program we were recently introduced to is Boondockers Welcome, which is a network of hosts that invite traveling RVers to dry camp on their property, from coast to coast in the United Sates, as well as in Canada and Mexico, and even far off locations like Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Members pay $24.95 a year and have access to hundreds of overnight camping opportunities. The host profiles on the company’s website include not only the user names and locations of the hosts, but also detailed information on what type of RV parking is available, the size of RVs that can be accommodated, road conditions, and whether water or electric might be available. Since the hosts are all RVers themselves, they understand the needs of their guests and look forward to meeting fellow travelers. You can find more information about Boondockers Welcome at www.boondockerswelcome.com

Harvest Hosts

Harvest Hosts offers members a network of wineries, farms, and agri-tourism sites in the U.S. and Canada where self-contained RVers can visit and stay overnight for free. Some of the places where members can spend the night include farms, wineries, orchards, u-pick fruit and vegetable operations, cider mills, wildlife rescue facilities, alpaca ranches, dairy farms, open air museums, exotic animal parks, breweries, and distilleries. It’s a great way to save money and meet some great people in your travels.

While the program is set up for one night stays, many RVers have found that if the business isn’t too busy they may be allowed to stay longer. In cases like that, making a purchase or offering to help out with chores is a nice gesture. Most of the hosts are small mom and pop operations and will gladly welcome some extra help. At $44 a year, Harvest Hosts is a great investment that will pay for itself the first couple of times you use your membership. For more information on Harvest Hosts, visit their website at http://harvesthosts.com

With programs like Overnight RV Parking, Boondockers Welcome, and Harvest Hosts, coupled with camping opportunities at places like Elks and Moose lodges, who needs campgrounds?

It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for a new Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of the paranormal romance Midnight Moonrising by my friend Kristie Haigwood. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.

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  5 Responses to “Camping Without Campgrounds”

  1. You may have already written about the Natchez Trace but it is one of our favorite roads to travel. From Natchez, Mississippi up to Nashville, Tennessee… 440 miles of 2 lane road, 55 MPH, no billboards… gorgeous scenery… and 3 free campgrounds along the way. We often stay at the Jeff Busby Campground one night, then drive 202 miles north to the Meriwether Lewis Campground for a night before heading north and off the Trace at Nashville. We have never stayed at Rocky Springs campground, but probably will eventually. I know 55 mph isn’t for everyone but we enjoy the drive and the free (and beautiful) campgrounds are a bonus!

  2. We’ve stayed at Elk Lodges in AZ, CO, NM, TX, WA, WY and maybe a couple other states. SD (NOT!) (then…now?..$25/night With or w/o hookups in Rapid City. Great location, golf course, excellent dining hall/restaurant menu, etc: BUT $25 for boondocking?) Ditto staying at Moose Lodges in western half USA.

    At your Casa Grande, AZ Gypsy Journal Rally (’07 or ’08?) you had a Nebraska retired policeman speaker who had free NE-tourist booklets that indicated over 140 NE-city parks free or cheap/donation can. [Booklets can still be received from NE tourism website]. We’ve stayed in 5-6 NE city parks and a few had RV amenities.

    Douglas, WY [Jackalope, created in Douglas-1939} has a lovely free city park almost downtown w/a delightful stream on the west side (adjacent–across the stream is a Holiday Inn Express—-so an ideal location for us). Water, bathrooms and I think a dump. We stayed there 4-6 nights and walked to Jackalope Museum, restaurants, town, etc.

    We’ve overnighted in Walmarts, most (all major?) truck stops, Cracker Barrels, K-Marts, Home Depots, used car lots, casinos (3 diff. casinos in Ruidoso, NM, AZ, WA….and the ‘then’ Trump Casino I-10E/CA, and others). Also have stayed w/listed SKP members who welcome overnighters in western states–i.e. Yakima, WA; Quitman, AR, …WY & others. Long-live fellow RVers.

  3. NICK, I am participating in the Bloggers “A to Z Challenge” and the letter of the day yesterday was “P” which I used to write “P IS FOR PARKING” BLOG: COOLRVERS.BLOGSPOT.COM

  4. Two old men were seating at Yellowstone National Park just chewing the fat. One old man said “Did you know Elks have sex about twelve times a day”? The other man looked at him in disgust and said DAMNIT I just joined the moose lodge! Haha now I thought you’d get a chuckle out of that Nick.

  5. We have traveled 174,000 miles behind the wheel of three RV’s in the last 16 years. We are still working and our travels have been from 6 weeks to 6 months.
    We will make reservations when our schedule is inflexibile and we are in high traffic areas. DC, Disney World, Myrtle Beach, Yellowstone, etc. We have generally left Florida and traveled straight to a corner of the country, toured there and spent as much time returning as our schedule allowed. I usually have a basic route spelled out and I will fine tune it a night or two ahead of time. I will pick two or three possibilities to stay the next evening, write down the address and phone numbers and call during the day. If we are just traveling through I will look at Walmarts’, Flying J’s , Rest Areas, Day’s End Directory Listings from Escapees, Elk’s Lodges, Moose Lodges along with Camp Grounds in the Big Directories. If we are planning on staying in the area for a few days, I will do the same except pass on the Walmarts, Flying J and Rest Area’s. We’ve had problems at Yosemite twice out of six trips. We got in trouble along the California Pismo Beach coast in the summer and had to drive a 100 plus miles. A state park had no room but when I explained our problem, they found a site for one night. Outside of holiday weekends and festivals, our experience is that making a reservation is an awful lot of trouble over the cell phone and why go through the hassle when the park is not even close to full. It is easier to hand the check-in person your printed information and for them to put it in the computer than try to communicate that info over the cell phone and deal with dropped calls. Far more than 90% of the time, no reservation was required to get a site for the night. I have trained the wife to call, tell them that we would like to arrive at 5 and have a 40ft class A. Do you have a spot to handle us for 1 or 2 nights. If not, she moves on to choice two. If that fails, I have to pull over and start looking for another option. That seldom happens. To me it is all about being able to be flexible and not fearing that you do not know what site you will be on tonight, or next Tuesday. After all, we have all been living for a long time not knowing when we are going to stop breathing and most of us do not spend a lot of time trying to make a reservation for that. The process works for us and we adjust to the differing enviornments we travel to. No one size fits all.

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