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Is Stealth Camping LEGAL? Should You Risk It?

| Updated Jun 20, 2023

Do you have questions about Stealth Camping? Should you risk it?? Here are tips, benefits, and helpful info about stealth camping in case you want to give it a try…

Stealth camping is camping without being noticed. Some people do this in urban areas, while some venture into wild locations. Sometimes stealth camping is legal, while other times it’s illegal (which we don’t recommend!).

For many, stealth camping is done with the mindset that it's easier to get forgiveness than permission. We won't judge. We're just reporting.

The key is arriving at the location late and moving on early in the morning, so you’re not detected. Plus, you don’t want to leave a trace that you were there.

Stealth camping is a terrific way to find spots that are free, secluded, or close to special attractions. If you do it right, you’ll get a good night’s sleep in a location that’s quiet and free of noise from traffic, animals, and other people. Or, that’s really close to a place you want to be, like a beach or amusement park.

Today we will discuss what stealth camping is and how to do it. We’ll give you some great tips that will help you succeed at stealth camping on your first try!

Why Would You Want to Do Stealth Camping?

stealth camping

Now, we understand that some of you may be asking why stealth camping is so alluring. The answer is different for different folks.

For example, there are communities of full-time van dwellers, and their presence isn’t always appreciated in larger cities and towns. So, stealth camping helps them go undetected.

Others travel full-time and want to be more inconspicuous when they’re in towns and the wilderness to enjoy some privacy and an added sense of security. And, take it from us; these things can be hard to find when you live in a vehicle full-time.

Is Stealth Camping LEGAL?

Yes, stealth camping is legal IF AND ONLY IF you are not trespassing and are abiding by local regulations. If done right, stealth camping is simply camping without being noticed and without disturbing others. It is illegal, however, and frowned upon if you pollute, disrupt, or take advantage of a location.

How Do You Stealth Camp?

There is a right and wrong way to stealth camp. Primarily, the wrong way is to do it illegally and/or disrepect the area and the people that live nearby.

Let's get into some more considerations. Here are our top 5 tips for stealth camping:

Choose the Right RV for Stealth Camping

stealth camping
This is one of our Class B RVs from the past on the Beartooth Highway in Montana

Large RVs (towables, Class C, and Class A RVs) are fantastic, but they are very hard to disguise during stealth camping. Hence, it’s best to use a Class B RV or maybe a B+ if it is not too “RV-looking.” 

A small B or B+ RV means you have a comfortable sleeping area and your own restroom, fridge, and cooktop. If you close the windows, your small RV can resemble a delivery van on the street to passersby.

Avoid brightly colored paint jobs and signs. The vehicle should be as plain as possible to make it easier to blend into the surroundings. Some avid stealth campers make sure there are no decals, even going as far as to remove the awning so it doesn't look like an RV.

Also, try to keep the vehicle clean. Dirty vehicles draw more attention, as people are warier about things that are uncared for.

We've legally boondocked overnight for free in parking lots, in shopping centers, out front of 24-hour fitness clubs, in church parking lots, and in city parks. We have never had an issue or bad experience unless you count having a fitful night's sleep because of all the noise in some of the cities where we've overnighted.

Here's a video on how Jennifer and I found a place to… sort of… do some stealth camping late one night:

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

Act Low Key While Stealth Camping

The last thing you want to do is make a lot of noise and draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Don’t clank equipment, shout instructions to your travel mate, play the TV too loud, or let your dogs bark.  

However, you don’t want to be skulking around, either. If someone drives past you, don’t try to hide. Just smile and go about your business as if you belong there. The whole point is to appear as if you’re not there to interfere or cause any harm (which should be true!).

Don’t Make Yourself Too Comfortable

You don’t want to look like you’re settling in.

Passersby will notice if you start setting up a BBQ, chairs, and other larger outdoor items.

The goal is not to be noticed at all. But, if you are noticed, you want people to think you’re just passing through. You don’t want them to think squatters are moving in.

Rotate Spots When Stealth Camping

If you plan to stealth camp in one city for an extended period of time, it’s best to map out 7 to 10 locations throughout the city and rotate them. It's not a good idea to park in the same spot two nights in a row unless you have no other choice.

If locals express their disapproval for you being there, it's probably best to move on and not return. Above all else, you want to be respectful.

Manage Your RV Power Needs While Stealth Camping

photo of rv stealth camping in a city
Stealth camping in a city… next to the Fire Department. Photo by Simon Fairhurst on Unsplash

Managing power is a crucial task! No matter what type of vehicle you’re in, there’s no way to charge your power source while stealth camping.

So, you’ll want to figure out just how long your power will last without a hookup. Then decide which features you can’t live without. This means conserving energy where you can.

The good news is that stealth camping generally only requires a bit of power for the night. Solar panels are great to have, but they may be unnecessary. You can run your LED lights, boil hot water for coffee, power the fridge, and even watch TV with just your coach batteries.

Alas, the AC needs more than your house batteries to run for any length of time so if it's really warm, you will surely need to have your windows open and a fan going… making you a little more visible (and “hearable”) to those walking past.

Speaking of batteries, though, I highly recommend you read more about Battle Born Batteries. They make boondocking and stealth camping much more doable.

Mike and Jennifer's Summer T-Shirts for your next adventure

Is Stealth Camping LEGAL? Should You Risk It? 1
Your Adventure Awaits! New colors and designs are waiting for you.

Safety Concerns About Stealth Camping

Regardless if you choose to stealth camp on a quiet neighborhood street or an overnight parking lot, the most important thing is to remain safe.

We usually try to find places that are still well lit, and we always listen to our gut. If something doesn’t feel right, we keep moving. This is especially true when we’re staying in cities.

Most campers agree it’s a good idea to always leave your keys in the same spot and park in a place that you can exit quickly if needed. So, take the time to reverse into a parking spot if needed so you can pull straight out if required. We call this “tactical parking.”

If you’ve chosen a spot responsibly, the possibility of someone knocking is slim, but it does happen. Do not open your door right away. Look through a window, or call through the door to try to identify the person.

Cops will always announce themselves. If you’re not sure if they’re a real cop, ask for their badge number through the door, and they should be able to tell you without hesitation.

Once you determine that you’ll engage with the person, it’s best to climb into the driver’s seat and talk from there. Our rule is never to open the side door because you don’t want to allow anyone easy access to your living quarters.

Benefits of Stealth Camping

stealth camping

There are lots of benefits you can enjoy from stealth camping. As we mentioned, it’s a fun experience, but may not be for everyone.

For example, if you don’t like solitude and are looking to meet new people, this form of camping is not for you.

On the other hand, if you want to be alone, leave a smaller environmental footprint, and connect with nature, then it’s perfect for you!

Stealth camping is also beneficial to many people because it’s:

  • convenient
  • flexible
  • saves money
  • more efficient
  • allows you to camp in new places and find unique adventures

It can also be a great way to find free spots on city streets which can put you near attractions.

Have you ever stealth camped? What did you think, and would you do it again? Comment below and let us know!

Want more RV resources and information on stealth camping and boondocking on federal and state land?

Want to learn how to boondock?

We created a PRINT version of our most popular guide to help you with the most common boondocking problems. We get a ton of questions from our subscribers about how to get started boondocking that range from where to go and wild animals to water conservation to what equipment to use and more. 

Is Stealth Camping LEGAL? Should You Risk It? 2

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?

This is the book for you.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2023-05-22

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.

15 Responses to “Is Stealth Camping LEGAL? Should You Risk It?”

May 29, 2023at10:45 am, Monika Woods said:

I think you are on to something here! A mobilized trade industry, licensed, bonded, and back ground checked. This is a fantastic idea. Maybe just change it to lawn care or handy man work. I bet you could pick up some extra cash in your travels. Lots of people have mowers they do not use so you could do it for a reduced price 🙂


January 11, 2021at5:13 pm, Jo Bowlin said:

Best stealth camping we did was in a relatively small town for their local festival. We found a vacant lot right on main street that was walking distance from the festivities. We parked our Roadtrek under the streetlight so that we were visible. No on bothered us at all. It was nice because we could imbibe in the local festivities after hours and not have to worry about driving anywhere.

We’ve also parked in restaurant parking lots, with permission after buying dinner. Most of the time, the restaurant doesn’t have a problem.


January 10, 2021at11:19 am, Dave Augustine said:

With the recent events in Nashville, parking on a downtown street wouldn’t be advisable. However, there are plenty of shopping centers, truck stops, rest areas, etc., where one can stealth camp. Like Mike/Jennifer said, be aware of your surroundings, but also take into account the folks living/working near the place you are camping.


January 06, 2021at7:36 pm, Mike Mitchell said:

This is a terrible idea. Stealth camping is by no means camping. Parking on a residential street in a darked out vehicle is no way camping, or safe. There are many places made to stop for a rest or overnight stop. Please don’t do this.


May 29, 2023at10:18 am, Monika Woods said:

Opinions are nice but telling people not to do things is not helpful. When we were growing up we did not need to call it stealth camping. There were always places to park and just hang out. There are 15,000+ nomads in the United States. ALL public lands are exactly that – public lands. There should be no restriction are hindrance of movement to anyone on public lands.
Respect for one another and for the nature that surrounds us is the way to go. I would like to see this changed from the sneaky title of “stealth” to Nomadic living. I have a family member who is a nomad. He is currently living on a sailboat, but has also lived in different public places and abandoned commercial areas. He is responsible, safe, and take proper care of the area around him.
We are all caretakers of the earth.


January 06, 2021at12:59 pm, Troy S said:

I have cut Reflectix to perfectly cover all the windows to blackout the interior. Seeing the television on or people moving about inside the vehicle is a dead give away.


January 05, 2021at1:38 pm, Marsha said:

This is a terrible article to publish at this time. Yes, you did a disclaimer about Nashville. Because of this article, more people will be camping in an RV on a downtown street which will be a red flag for police and more citizens will report it to police. It will also give people ideas on how to do it . . . like the person who commented about putting plumbing and heating to make it look like it is a company RV. Shame on you!


May 29, 2023at10:22 am, Monika Woods said:

Shame? It is the earth and belongs to everyone in it. Teaching responsible citizenry for nomadic living is a wonderful idea. Times have changed and we need to change too. Private lands are a no go, but just think how we can change the world with nomadic living. Fruit trees should be planted in all public spaces. Food that renews should be planted everywhere. Sojourners should be able to live off the land as they care for it.
As responsible living is taught more people will learn how to prevent the negative situations. Learning to love and care for one another will make the world a better place. We need to learn from the mistakes of one another, not be more restrictive and punitive.


January 05, 2021at11:34 am, Sharon said:

My husband and I have stealth camped a few times. Our favorite trick is camping on residential streets in cities with a lot of vacation homes. Start late, around 1030, be ready for bed, pull in front of the house and go straight to bed without television or lights.


January 05, 2021at9:35 am, Bev Clegg said:

I always stealth camp in my Roadtrek. My fridge is propane and I use battery powered lights and fan if it’s warm. I’ve stayed in hotel parking lots, Shopping malls, etc. But Casino parking lots are my favorite, food is cheap, nice restrooms, free coffee in the morning and I usually walk away with a few extra $$$. from the penny slot machines❤️


May 29, 2023at10:25 am, Monika Woods said:

Casino lots that is a great idea! When I travel if I cannot find a safe place to stop for necessary breaks hotels are my favorite. My family and I have given thousands of dollars in hotel stays in our lives so I feel perfectly comfortable stopping. Always neat, clean, responsible, and respectful, leaving things better than I found them. There are so many positive ways that this post will help people learn even better ways to do what is right while making the world a better place.


January 05, 2021at9:14 am, Keith Bradshaw said:

We stealth camp occasionally. We generally prefer a campsite so we can do what you can’t do while stealth camping – which is to get your chairs and bbq etc out and relax knowing your safe and welcome. Stealth camping is however perfect for sleeping while on the move, and staying in some amazing places like in Utah’s back country. I’m not sure the latter is really stealth camping because there is no need to be stealth. I do however hate paying for a campsite just to sleep while on the move. We’ve often just overnight at rest stops and visitor centres – and yes arrived late and left early. We’ve never had a problem and feel better for not having wasted money on a campsite for what was essentially just the overnight use of a parking space.


May 29, 2023at10:43 am, Monika Woods said:

Everything you said :). I grew up with people who drive trucks and ride motorcycles. I truly feel this is a nomadic lifestyle. There are thousands of people in the U.S. often referred to as “homeless” but for some it is a life style choice – I know because I have friends and family who choose this lifestyle! We all have a responsibility to one another and the earth we live on. We take care of each other and everything in it. Like the early people of the world – there were no boundaries. I still believe in private ownership of lands, but I also belive in making public spaces a place for all, and even those who use those public spaces need to contribute in some way – even it if it just being responsible and cleaning their own space.
Thanks for the positive post.


January 05, 2021at9:01 am, George Blincoe said:

Just thought of this… I will get some decals saying George’s Plumbing and Heating for my RV. Might make me look a bit more legit in a lot of parking spaces. If nothing else maybe I can pick up some work. Too bad I am not a plumber.


January 05, 2021at8:42 am, George Larkin said:

I have stealth camped many times in cities, usually in a nice apartment complex parking way in the back and going dark soon after arriving and just sleeping, then pulling out before dawn. Never had any problem.


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