Nature

Day Camping Techniques for No-Overnighting RV Spots

Day Camping at Jade Cove, Big Sur
Day Camping at Jade Cove, Big Sur

Many times in my three years of full-timing I have found wonderful places where you can’t camp overnight – either because of local regulations or because it’s not in my price range.  What I do is take advantage of the Roadtrek Class B’s main strengths – the ability to pass for a passenger vehicle and to relocate easily – and “day camp”.

With the boondocking capabilities in your Roadtrek, you are freed up to enjoy a full day in an ideal location, and then move to a nearby less scenic but more welcoming overnight location, returning to the nice spot or a similar one the next morning. The scenery isn’t important after dark, and you save on excessive driving around if you can overnight in the area.

I touched on this in an earlier article I wrote about my stay in Ontario. The provincial parks are lovely, but their campground prices and locations aren’t. The day stay areas commanded sweeping views of Lake Erie and Lake Huron; their $45 a night campgrounds were back in the trees among the mosquitoes.  I would buy a day pass for $10-14 as soon as the park opened, stay right on the beach until dark, and overnight in a nearby Wal-Mart or similar location.  Roadtreks are made for this – they look the same whether you’re parked or day camping.  You fit right in with the picnickers. Try this in a big rig or trailer, and the park police will be all over you like whatever the local flying insect is.

Day Camping at Camel Rock
Camel Rock – surf scene by day, casino by night.

Another example is the California coast near Trinidad. Camel Rock is a spectacular day spot, but like many nice spots out there, it’s festooned with “No Overnight Parking” signs. What I would do is show up early at Camel Rock, watch the surfers and whales all day, watch TV and play on the internet as desired, and spend the nights with the friendly Indians at Cher-Ae Casino, a five minute drive away, repeating as necessary. There’s fresh water at the casino and a dump up the highway at the rest area on Highway 101, groceries in town (the only thing we were actually spending money on)… I could get used to this.

If you have a Roadtrek, you’re probably already adept at finding beautiful spots that you can’t overnight in. All you need to “day camp” is a little assistance in finding overnight spots, and you don’t want to start searching the area randomly as it’s getting dark.  If you have internet access through a datacard, free WiFi at a McDonalds, or your smartphone, you can quickly find a place where it’s OK to spend the night.  Allstays.com has Wal-Mart locations across the continent, with information on whether they welcome overnighters, and even an app to use on your smartphone.  Casinos are another excellent overnight parking resource, and Casinocamper.com has a good listing.  There are other free sites on the web, but in a classic case of you-get-what-you-pay-for, many of them don’t have the most current or comprehensive listings.

Hangin' with my homies at Wal-Mart. Like ships in the night, each of us came in, spent the night ten yards apart, and left the next morning. I never even waved to them.
Hangin’ with my homies at Wal-Mart. Like ships in the night, we came in, spent the night 10 yards apart, and left in the morning without even exchanging greetings.

Since I’m a fulltimer, I want world-class information on free overnight parking, and the best site I’ve found is overnightrvparking.com, a $25 a year subscription site featuring over 10,000 places you can park for free or cheaply in the US and Canada (full disclosure: if you mention that you heard about Jim O’Briant’s website from me, I get an extra month on my subscription, and so do you).

This site will pay for itself if you avoid one commercial RV park a year, and Jim gives you extensions on your subscription for updating current listings and reporting new ones.  It lists Wal-Marts, Sam’s Clubs, Cracker Barrels, and all kinds of other locations and shows them on a map centered on your location. It’s the best way I have found to locate the nearest free overnight parking, and you enjoy your day at the beach much better knowing you have a sure overnight spot right down the road.   Jim also has an app for mobile devices.

Boondocking also requires access to fresh water and dump sites, things that come with paid camping but that you have to locate and access on your own if you’re “day camping”.   A free site I have found to be very useful for this is sanidumps.com,  which also has a convenient map format.  Help your fellow campers out by sending in updates if you find the information on this site is incomplete or inaccurate. Since I’m always on the lookout for fresh water sources, I add these when the current listing doesn’t include that information.

So there you have it – the ingredients for an affordable first-class camping experience in locations not accessible to the reserve-a-spot-and-go-sit-in-the-campground campers.  Take advantage of your Roadtrek’s functionality, and camp where the big boys can’t 😉

35 thoughts on “Day Camping Techniques for No-Overnighting RV Spots”

  1. Great article! Thank you for all of the useful information. We are new to this RT world and sure have benefitted from people like you, Campskunk. Keep ‘me coming, please.

  2. Jim Diepenbruck

    There is always a golden nugget or two of info to add to my bag of tricks. Thanks.

  3. Always teaching us new ways to see the world. I’m working very hard at learning and putting these ideals to use. Thank you.

  4. Great ideas! I’ve used the overnightrvparking.com tool for $25/yr … it has indeed paid for itself. I’d like to get to some of the day parking sites you’ve found on the west coast, Campskunk, but that hasn’t happened yet. I HAVE had the opportunity to do some urban day camping in order to enjoy some of the music of Memphis, Chicago, & Austin, TX … It really is the way to go!!

    1. i am slowly getting my money back on my solar panels and other boondocking enhancements – not so much in generator gas saved, but from all the campground fees i have avoided by being able to boondock with all the comforts. well, most of the comforts – i do like a long hot shower every now and again. we find a clean cheap campground, clean up the rig, have a day of beauty, do laundry, and then hit the road the next morning for another week or so.

      1. Eve Schindler

        So – does the comment mean that paying $20 for a campsite with electric costs way more than using the generator to boondock? We are new to Road trekking, and haven’t tried camping without an electric site yet.

        1. eve- $20 buys 5 or 6 gallons of gas, which will run a generator for 10-12 hours. i can charge my batteries back up in about 20 minutes (less than a dollar’s worth of gas), and for my usage that’s 4 or 5 more hours of electricity to run the TV, internet, and laptops. if you need air conditioning 24/7, though, maybe the $20 to plug in isn’t as bad of a deal.

  5. Barbara Dalderis

    Good article, thanks. We’ve been using Jim O’Briant’s web site since it was just a Yahoo group. It is so well organized and user friend. Well worth the annual fee. Although we’ve told a lot of folks about it and have received many free months. We were in Santa Fe last fall for a few days and during the day we were out and about and at night we stayed at one of Jim’s sites right in town next to the Hilton hotel . . . even had free wifi from the hotel! You idea about paying the day fee and moving to the casino is terrific. Appreciate all your good tips in your article.

  6. Just researching the RV lifestyle at the time and the Roadtrek and it’s family is looking very attractive right now!

    To add to your free overnighting possibilities, Kwik-Trip, a chain of gas station/quickie marts in the upper Midwest allows expedited freight trucks or vans to overnight in their lots.

    This chain also features clean restrooms and great food choices for a quick bite on the fly.

    1. yep, anyone who can fit in a regular parking space has just as much right to it as the cars.

    1. Camel Rock is in Trinidad, northern California. Jade Cove is more middle California – about 60 miles south of Monterrey.

  7. Hope to get an RV some day and join the road trekkers…..it seems like the practical way to go !

    1. yep. Jade Cove is maybe 10-15 miles south of the town of Big Sur. it’s near the Plaskett Creek and Kirk Creek National Forest campgrounds.

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