If you’re on the road, tired, and in need of a nap or a place to sleep overnight, hotel rooms can get pretty expensive. The cost of sleeping quarters can quickly devour any money you’ve saved for traveling, sightseeing, and eating. Fortunately, there are many places where you can park and sleep in your car — for free!

Wondering about the places to park and sleep is something most of us have thought about at some point.

In This Article:

  • Is It Safe to Sleep in a Car? Is It Legal?

  • Stores and Restaurants Where Can You Sleep in Your Car Legally

  • Truck Stops Where Can You Sleep in Your Car Legally

  • States That Allow You to Sleep in Your Car at Rest Areas

  • Places That May Permit Parking and Sleeping

Is It Safe to Sleep in a Car? Is It Legal?

Before parking and sleeping in your car, it’s important to check local rules with respect to parking. Some cities have local ordinances prohibiting overnight parking for certain people or in certain areas. On streets, keep an eye on parking signs. If you are parking outside of a business, it’s best to check with management or staff to find out if overnight parking is permitted.

Where overnight parking and sleeping is allowed, it’s important to practice good etiquette. You should ask permission when using a business’s parking lot. Find out the best location in the lot, and make sure you don’t block routes for drop off or pick up. You might also leave your plates and car model with management to make sure they don’t have you towed. They may have a policy of towing those who are parked overnight without permission.

When a business lets you use their lot, don’t overstay your welcome. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to stay one night, and if you’d like to stay longer, ask for more time. Don’t leave behind trash, and clean up after yourself. And, of course, when businesses let people stay overnight in their lots, they often expect that it’ll be good for their business. Consider making a purchase or having a meal, if appropriate.

Keep safety in mind when parking and sleeping. Keep doors locked, and crack windows just enough to provide adequate ventilation. Park in well-lit areas, when possible. And finally, be mindful of the weather.

Is it safe to sleep in your car? Yes, if you do it at the places on this list. Is it legal to sleep in your car? Yes, again, as long as you stick to our list. Though remember it’s always best to check the legality and safety of each individual place you plan to stay. It’s better to ask before going to bed so you don’t get awoken to flash lights and interrogation.

Stores and Restaurants Where Can You Sleep in Your Car Legally

A number of national retailers and restaurants allow people to park overnight in their parking lots as a gesture to the added business that usually results from the policy. Some of these have an official policy of allowing overnight parkers, while for others, the policy is informal. Either way, you should always call ahead and confirm with management that they allow overnight parking. Even the most parker-friendly business can’t allow overnight parking everywhere because some cities and towns have local ordinances restricting this practice.

When you check with management at the specific location to see whether overnight parking is allowed, you should also ask where in their parking lot they’d like you to park. Some will have designated parking spots or will ask that you stay away from dumpsters or delivery areas. If you checked over the phone, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself to management or staff when you arrive.

Below are some of the most popular stores and restaurants for free parking and sleeping. Because formal parking and sleeping rules are hard to come by for most businesses, we scoured many traveler and RV discussion boards to obtain reliable information from well-seasoned travelers. When available, we also also included company policies on parking and sleeping and provided a link to store locations for easy reference.

1. Bass Pro Shops

  • Policy: Bass Pro Shops has no official policy on overnight parking, but many locations do allow it. Individual stores generally allow you to park one night and just ask that you park in an out-of-the-way area of the parking lot. They usually don’t have electrical hookups, WiFi, or other similar services.
  • Locations: Bass Pro Shops has stores in most of the eastern half of the U.S., as well as California, Colorado, Washington, and Arizona.
  • Scout Bass Pro Shops locations here. 

2. Cabela’s

  • Policy: Cabela’s often allows overnight parking. Many Cabela’s locations have a dedicated RV area with dump stations, and some even have hookups.
  • Locations: Cabela’s has stores in all states except Hawaii, California, Wyoming, New Mexico, North Dakota, Iowa, Mississippi, Tennessee, Maryland, Delaware, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
  • Scout Cabela’s locations here.

3. Camping World

  • Policy: Camping World frequently allows overnight parking, and many locations also have electrical hookups for those in RVs and the like. Some Camping World locations have campgrounds for those parking overnight, and in that case, they will charge an overnight fee. It’s best to call the store to find out what they offer.
  • Locations: When you access the individual store’s page via the locator, scroll down and look for “overnight parking” under “RV services.”
  • Scout Camping World locations here.

4. Cracker Barrel

  • Policy: Crack Barrel reportedly has a good reputation for treating overnight travelers well, and some locations have marked RV parking. However, there is no official Cracker Barrel policy on letting people park and sleep in cars or RVs overnight in their parking lots. Call ahead to make sure they don’t mind overnight parkers and find out where in their lot you should park. Generally, the more urban the location, the less likely they are to allow overnight parkers.
  • Locations: Cracker Barrel has restaurants in the south, most East Coast states, and Arizona.
  • Scout Cracker Barrel locations here. 

5. Sam’s Club

  • Policy: Sam’s Club’s website notes that overnight parking is permitted, but specifics vary by location because of city and state laws. You can contact a Sam’s Club manager here for permission for overnight parking.
  • Locations: Sam’s Club has more than 600 locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
  • Scout Sam’s Club locations here.

6. Walmart

  • Policy: Overnight parking and sleeping are allowed at most Walmart stores. According to Walmart’s corporate website, “Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able.” Check with store management and look for signs about parking before you stay overnight. While there is no official list of which Walmart stores allow overnight parking, informal online reports estimate that 80-90% allow overnight guests. Roundabout Publications maintains a useful directory of no-overnight-parking Walmart stores, but because they aren’t affiliated with Walmart, it is still a good idea to double check by calling the store.
  • Locations: There are more than 4,000 Walmart stores nationwide.
  • Scout Walmart locations here.

In general, large retailers and chain restaurants like those listed above are a fair bet when looking for a place to park and sleep, and many openly accept overnight parkers. They’re also useful pit stops if you’re on a trip and need to do some shopping. Some others to consider are Lowe’s, Kmart, and Home Depot. These didn’t make our list because they have no official policy, and more often than not, don’t permit overnight parking. Nonetheless, they, too, have large parking lots and may be worth checking out if you don’t have other options.

Truck Stops Where Can You Sleep in Your Car Legally

Truck stops are another reliable option when looking for a place to park and sleep. As the name suggests, truck stops serve trucks — specifically those carrying freight. But they usually also have services for other overnight parkers, including road trippers in cars and RV motorists. Below we list parking policies for national truck stops, the services they provide, and a link to their locations.

7. Pilot Flying J

  • Policy: Pilot Flying J truck stops allow you to park for up to 24 hours for free, provided you can find a spot. Some locations have paid “prime parking.” It may be more difficult to find a free spot at these locations.
  • Services: Most locations offer restaurants, free WiFi, and bathrooms with showers. They also have a mobile app and rewards program that gives you access to discounts on gas.
  • Locations: Pilot Flying J has locations nationwide.
  • Scout Pilot Flying J locations here.

8. Travel Centers of America

  • Parking Policy: There is free parking on a first come, first serve basis. You can park for up to 23 hours — check in is at 4 PM, and check-out is at 3 PM.
  • Services: Travel Centers of America truck stops usually have convenience stores and restaurants. Car drivers can take advantage of coupon savings. There is a rewards program, but it is open only to those with commercial driver’s licenses. And while they do have showers, they are available only to professional drivers.
  • Location: Travel Centers of America has locations nationwide.
  • Scout Travel Centers of America locations here.

There are many other truck stops with single locations, and you can try tools like The Trucker’s Friend to search for them. While truck stops usually offer free parking for the general public, remember that because their services are tailored to professional truck drivers, those services are sometimes not available to the public.

States That Allow You to Sleep in Your Car at Rest Areas

Rest areas are part of the interstate highway system and therefore must be maintained for the public’s use, free of charge, according to federal regulations. Rest areas are intended to be a place for tired drivers to rest so that people can be more alert on the roads. States are allowed to set specific rules on parking in their rest areas, and while most encourage drivers to nap in their cars if they’re feeling too tired to drive, few permit overnight parking. Many rest areas also have bathrooms and basic tourist information.

When parking at rest areas, keep your safety in mind — these areas are often poorly lit, and unlike most businesses, they won’t have security.

The following is a list of states that permit overnight parking and sleeping:

Arizona

California

Minnesota

  • Parking policy: Minnesota maintains two rest areas where overnight parking is permitted. They also allow camping at these two sites.
  • Locations: Manitou Rapids Rest Area (on Rainy River, eight miles East of Birchdale on T.H. 11) and Pomme-de-Terre Rest Area (at Pomme-de-Terre River, North of Appleton on T.H. 12)

Nevada

  • Parking policy: You can park for up to 24 hours at rest areas, and overnight parking is permitted.
  • Locations: Map of rest areas and list of amenities by rest area

Ohio

Oregon

Texas

Washington

Places That May Permit Parking and Sleeping

These final places are general, and because they aren’t chain stores or state governments, they don’t have uniform rules. Nonetheless, they often have roomy parking lots and won’t mind an over-nighter, as long as you don’t overextend your stay or abuse their hospitality.

Churches, synagogues, and other religious buildings often have parking lots and won’t mind overnight parkers. You should check with the staff, if possible, and introduce yourself. Be aware of when services are so that you don’t get in the way, and try to park farther from the building, so you don’t inconvenience those attending services. Be aware of signs with parking rules. Remember, even though religious buildings are often friendly to those in need, local ordinances may restrict overnight parking.

You may be able to park and sleep outside businesses that are open 24 hours a day. These places might not be the quietest, but constant traffic and light means more safety than some other options. If appropriate, ask management before staying and sleeping. It’s a good idea to find out what part of the parking lot is the best for you to sleep in so that you don’t block any deliveries to the business.

Casinos, usually open 24 hours, are a popular overnight parking spot among RV motorists. They often welcome overnight parkers because of the possible additional business, and they usually have security, so parkers feel safe. Some casinos have even built campgrounds to accommodate their overnight guests with RVs or camping supplies. Casinos with campgrounds will generally charge for overnight parking.

Local police stations sometimes let people use their parking lots, and will usually be happy to provide you with information about their city, if you need it. If you feel comfortable parking at a police station, it’s worth a call to one nearby to see if they’ll allow you to park for a night. And police stations are one of the safer places where you can park and sleep overnight.

In Summary

And those were the places to park and sleep for free.

There are many options for parking and sleeping in your car. Large retailers and restaurant chains are some of the more obvious choices, and some even have a general policy of allowing over-nighters, subject to any local ordinances on parking. Truck stops and rest areas are others that often welcome overnight parkers, and are ideally located if you are on a road trip. When parking overnight and sleeping in your car, be respectful of whoever has let you take up a spot, and always keep your own safety in mind.