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The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots

| Updated Dec 6, 2023

There's been a lot of chatter in the RV world about rising crime in Walmart parking lots. Is it true or idle chatter? Here's what we've learned.

Walmart parking lots have served as temporary campsites for RVers for decades. The free overnight parking has saved many an RVer who couldn't find a spot at a nearby campground or just needed a place to rest on a long journey.

I'd be willing to bet that most avid RVers have stayed in a Walmart parking lot at least once. The convenience really comes in handy at times.

But are those quick and easy overnight stays turning into nights you need to sleep with one eye open? Is crime in Walmart parking lots increasing? Is a free night worth the risk of being attacked or robbed? That's what everyone's been asking.

Do All Walmarts Allow Overnight Parking?

The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots
The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots

No, not all Walmarts (or their city ordinances) allow overnight parking, but the majority do. That majority may decline, though, if problems continue to increase.

Walmart’s overnight parking policy is left to the discretion of each store manager. And Walmart does not keep a list of what stores participate and which do not. Your best bet is to call ahead and speak to the manager at the location you are trying to crash at. 

There is even a humorous term used to describe camping at Walmart: Wallydocking! Jennifer and I love to boondock and have “Wallydocked” ourselves a few times. 

Camping in Walmart parking lots was started by the founder of Walmart, Sam Walton. He wanted to provide a safe space for RVers to park at night when traveling. 

He also knew that if he provided a free place to stay, travelers would shop at the store. Which, of course, they do! 

It turns out, however, that staying overnight for free in a Walmart parking lot is a double-edged sword. While it can be a great way to save money while traveling a far distance, there are growing concerns about crime occurring at and around Walmart stores.

Sam Walton’s vision about having a safe place to stay overnight might not reflect his original vision.

Crime in Walmart Parking Lots

Across America, there is a significant level of crime occurring at Walmart. In fact, many police departments have reported over the past decade that they are overwhelmed with the calls that require them to go to Walmart. Criminals seemingly flock to the superstore.

Most of the crimes involve theft, like shoplifting. But there have been other more violent crimes as well, including assault, armed robbery, rape, and murder. Many of these crimes occur in Walmart parking lots.

If you google recent crimes in Walmart parking lots, the results are inundated with violent crimes. It seems there's a shift from petty theft towards violent crime and it is certainly concerning. But is that shift limited to Walmart?

Violent Crimes on the Rise

Violent crimes have been on the rise across the United States since 2020. What's interesting is the country's not experiencing a crime wave overall, but there's been a surge of violent behavior.

Between 2019 and 2020, the murder rate rose by 30%. That's the largest increase in the U.S. murder rate since at least 1905, if not ever. The rate of aggravated assault also rose nearly 12% in the same year.

So, crimes in Walmart parking lots may in fact be on the rise, but it's very possibly more of a national issue than a Walmart issue. However, these violent incidents sure do seem to be happening more at Walmart than, say, Target parking lots.

Why Is There More Crime at Walmart?

The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots

There are a few theories as to why there is more crime occurring at Walmart than at other retail stores. 

First, Walmart stores are usually located in areas that have a higher crime rate on average than other neighborhoods. In other words, there are more desperate people in the area where the stores are located. 

Another reason that Walmart attracts criminals is the store’s hours of operation. Locations that are open 24 hours tend to attract the types of people that participate in illicit activity. 

Another reason for the uptick in Walmart crime may rest on the shoulders of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lee Scott that took on that role beginning in the year 2000. He began to aggressively cut costs across the stores, resulting in 400,000 fewer workers across America. 

While those cuts saved money during a time that the retail giant’s sales grew by 23%, crime also started to increase. There was less security and employee presence across the board. 

Did the cutbacks send the message to criminals that no one was watching what they were up to?

However, new CEO Doug McMillon began in 2014 and started to implement programs to improve stores. He focused on cutting shoplifting. However, many theorists see a correlation between cutting petty crime and less violent crime. 

Although changes have been implemented, police departments still see more crime at Walmart than other similar businesses. 

Finally, Walmart parking lots may attract people that cannot afford to stay elsewhere. Since you do not have to pay to stay overnight, many people that are down and out on their luck will choose to stay there. That also means they may be more desperate in their life’s circumstances and may make poor decisions regarding illegal activity. 

What Does That Mean for Overnight RVers?

The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots
Where to boondock?

Unfortunately, the rise in violent activity is making local authorities and local Walmart management rethink their free overnight parking policy. More and more cities and Walmarts are shutting it down. Just like boondocking sites getting shut down, the bad apples are spoiling it for the rest of us.

Hopefully, these things will calm down but what do we do in the meantime? Should we give up staying at Walmart?

First and foremost, we all need to use our best judgment and trust our guts when it comes to staying anywhere, not just Walmarts. If nefarious sorts seem to be lurking about, keep driving.

Here are more tips to help keep you safe:

  • Check local crime rates, as they are a good reflection of what to expect at the local Walmart
  • Park in a well-lit area of the parking lot if possible and allowed (Walmart designates overnight parking ares)
  • Keep all doors and windows locked, and perhaps blinds and shades, too
  • Never open the door to a stranger (talk through the door if you must)
  • Always be willing to get up and drive away if you ever feel unsafe
  • Trust your gut!

So, my friends, my advice is to be watchful but not fearful. Be aware of your surroundings and be willing to move on if something doesn't feel right. Let's continue hoping the crime will decline across our country and we can continue to benefit from Walmart's free overnight parking.

Have You Witnessed Crime in Walmart Parking Lots?

Please share your experiences in the comments below. The best way to gauge the danger is to hear from fellow RVers. Thanks so much! If you are part of our Facebook Group you can see their experiences right here.

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The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots 1

Throw off the shackles of traditional RV Parks and campgrounds, stop paying high fees every night that you spend in your RV, and experience the boundless amounts of nature while boondocking!

You’re done with the noisy RV parks, the 3.5 feet of room you have squished in between two other RVs, and other people’s kids running through your campsite?

You’ve ditched the hookups, the concrete blocks and have replaced them with self-leveling and Navy showers?

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2022-02-21

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

21 Responses to “The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots”

December 27, 2022at8:24 am, Jacques Bernatchez said:

Thanks for all that info, not an RVer yet but next year, save all this info for future reference.
Thanks and so useful.


December 27, 2022at12:16 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Appreciate you saying this, Jacques! Team RV Lifestyle


December 22, 2022at5:24 pm, Mary Nagy said:

Add Cabela’s to the list. We overnighted this year at two. The one in Lexington Ky was wonderful. A section set off for RVers. Great lighting. And the manager told us their police do plenty of checking during the night. The one in Charleston WV had Rvers space in the back. We did not feel safe back there. Too dark with trucks coming and going. We parked in the front parking area off to the side under a light. Much better.


December 23, 2022at10:12 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Hi Mary – Cabela’s is a great place for overnighting! Thanks for adding this to the list – Team RV Lifestyle


December 22, 2022at8:26 am, Dempsey James said:

There are numerous other places that allow overnights. Lowe’s, Cracker Barrell, Home Depot (some), churches,and several clubs have parking spots available for their members (Elks, Moose,Masonic Temples). Just plan ahead,


September 07, 2022at11:35 am, Barbara Wiborg said:

I stopped to park at a Walmart in Bozeman, MT once and after parking, I noticed a large group of homeless people congregating nearby. Then about 4 police cars showed up and they were having a serious discussion with them. I decided it was time to leave. I parked at a mall a few blocks away.


September 09, 2022at9:43 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Sounds like a smart decision. Being alert to things like that is so important! Thanks for sharing – Team RV Lifestyle


May 01, 2023at5:52 pm, Jay B said:

This is good to know. We have stopped over at the Bozeman Walmart at that time of year. Always good to keep an eye out.


June 12, 2022at4:17 pm, Wesley Heller said:

There are many apps with maps that list overnight parking places. One I use marks each place with an icon description of allowed, not allowed and unknown. Most Walmart super centers allow overnight stays, the smaller store do not allow it. A quick search for “free rv overnight parking” will
return most of the current usable apps. Safe travels!


June 13, 2022at9:11 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Excellent addition – thanks for sharing! Team RV Lifestyle


December 22, 2022at8:17 am, Dempsey James said:

Generally, a Walmarts located in a community with small parking lots does not allow overnight parking. Those are usually labeled “Market Places”. Only the large ones do. Walmart published an “Atlas” years ago listing all of the stores, location, services available to include if parking was allowed. I still have mine but they weren’t updated.


December 22, 2022at9:42 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Thanks, Dempsey, for sharing! Team RV Lifestyle


January 21, 2023at7:21 am, Eva Budde said:

Which app don you use?


May 10, 2022at11:09 pm, Bev Parkison said:

I never did understand why someone that can afford an RV would want to spend the night in a noisy and scary parking lot just to save $30 to $40 dollars. I’m glad I’ve never had that desire.


June 01, 2022at5:59 pm, T N said:

They do it because campgrounds aren’t always convenient to one’s route. Sometimes people just need a place to pull over and sleep on their way somewhere else. It’s not necessarily an effort to save money.


December 22, 2022at8:20 am, Dempsey James said:

There are several websites and programs available that list every RV park in America and Canada. A little planning goes a long way


May 17, 2023at11:40 am, Rob Heisserer said:

Ditto this


August 29, 2023at2:11 pm, Barbara Wiborg said:

When you full-time on a budget, you need to save money where you can. And also, there may not always be a convenient campground in the area you want to stop for the night. I plan to spend about $20K on an RV and am on SS, so I can’t afford $40+ every night. I plan to boondock and occasionally Wallydock when I need to. Not everyone owns a $200K rig.


February 21, 2022at8:43 am, Jim Gallagher said:

I spent a good deal of my career getting zoning approvals for Walmart. Numerous towns and cities have required the banning of overnight parking in Walmart lots as a condition of approval.


February 21, 2022at11:41 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Thanks for your comment.


March 02, 2022at8:28 am, Curt Lightbody said:

Hi Jim. Thank you so much for making us aware of the zoning and local restrictions that limit what a store manager can allow. I am sure that far too often the Walmart manager gets blamed for saying “No”, when he/she can’t say “Yes”. I hope this info gets out there.


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