Our First RV Camping Experience at Walmart

Theresa at our Walmart camping spot

From anecdotal reports, about half of the Walmart stores across the USA and Canada allow free overnight camping in their parking lots for RVs.  Apparently this policy started in the early days of the Walmart empire because founder Sam Walton was an RVer himself and wanted to do something for the RV community.  It also makes good business sense: RVers parked overnight at Walmart are likely to shop there too.

Not every Walmart allows overnight camping.  Because of crime, potential liability, or past abuses by RVers staying too long or causing a disruption in the parking lot, some Walmarts explicitly prohibit overnight camping and often indicate this policy with signs posted throughout the parking lot.  Other Walmart stores take it on a case-by-case basis.  It’s recommended that you stop in the store and ask the manager or a customer service representative if overnight camping is allowed.  It’s also common courtesy to park along the outside edge of the lot, stay for only one night, and don’t get too comfortable, i.e., don’t setup a bunch of tables and lawn chairs and have a big cookout.

There is also a terrific smartphone app for iPhone and Android called “AllStays: Overnight Parking Walmart” that plots on a map the nearest Walmart stores and—using reports from other RVers—indicates which Walmart stores allow overnight camping.

If you read this blog, you know that we are big fans of dispersed camping (outside of established campgrounds) because it’s free and isolated, thus extending our experience out in nature.  We haven’t tried Walmart camping yet simply because we’d rather be camping in a forest or grasslands than in a parking lot.

When we arrived in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, we were looking for an RV park in which to stay for two nights before we started our trip up the Alaska Highway.  We had a list of RV parks in town and were going to check out the cheapest few. 

On the way, we happened to drive by a Walmart and noticed about a dozen RVs parked in the lot.  We always see at least a couple RVs at each Walmart.  Their huge parking lots are quite conducive to RV parking, and their large product selection and low prices cannot be beat—especially in Canada where most everything costs 25-300% more expensive than in the USA.  But this was more RVs than we’d ever seen before.  And we also noticed that many of the RVs were setup for the night with their jacks down and slides out.  It was obvious that this Walmart allowed overnight camping.

The first RV campground we visited was a real hellhole.  It was only $25/night for full hookups, but there was trash and debris everywhere, the parking spots were muddy and overgrown with grass, and there were shady people just loitering about.  We typically prefer the “low class” no frills campgrounds run by moms & pops, because why pay extra for all the glitz?  But the parks need to be clean and safe, and this park was clearly neither.

At that point we decided to just go back to the Walmart and spend the night.  And we were really glad we did.  We asked the manager if we could spend two nights, and she said, “Sure, no problem, most campers do that!”  It was a win-win because we ended up shopping in the store to stock up for our trip to Alaska.  We actually shopped there twice and ate lunch in their McDonalds.

We also got lucky because the Days Inn next door had free wifi.  There was no restriction or terms & conditions requiring us to stay in the hotel to use their wifi, so we didn’t feel bad using it.

The advantages of overnight camping at Walmart are:

  • It’s free!
  • It’s relatively safe
  • Convenient shopping
  • Many locations across the USA and Canada

The disadvantages are:

  • No hookups
  • It’s noisy
  • It’s brightly lit at night (we prefer dark skies)

We had a really good experience and will likely camp overnight at a Walmart again.  We’d like to thank the Dawson Creek Walmart for being so hospitable.

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