As I write this, we are camping at a Walmart. We were hoping to stay at a campground today, but the nearby campgrounds were unexpectedly full, or did not allow folks under 55. Unless you plan every place you stay in advance, or completely avoid popular areas, this type of situation is bound to happen.
I do not recommend stealth camping for everyone. Like anything, it has risks. That said, we have camped at different Walmarts at least one hundred times across the United States with no incidents. The trick is to leave if you feel uncomfortable and use your common sense. For example, we have driven in and out of many Walmarts because they felt shady. It happens.
I also want to make it clear that we stay at campgrounds more often than not. When we’re working on the magazine, having hook-ups is very helpful. If quality campgrounds were always available at a reasonable price, that would be our first choice. Since quality campgrounds at a reasonable price are not always available, we keep our eye patches and tricorn hats ready.
This week’s Question of the Week was, “Have you ever parked somewhere overnight in pirate stealth mode?” Here are the responses.
“After returning from New Brunswick into Maine I was looking for a spot to sleep so I could catch the sunrise candy stripe lighthouse at Lubec (the easternmost place in the USA). There were a few promising places and I was getting a little desperate. I spotted a house under construction, with an ocean view, so I parked there. I woke up at sunrise and drove the short distance to the lighthouse and made coffee in the parking lot.” – Larry Davis, 2001 Ford, 1988 Sunline
“Hospitals are a good bet for overnight stopping. There are always people coming and going. If you are stealth nobody knows if you are spending the night or visiting someone.” – Russ Berquam, 2014 Ford F-350, 2015 Arctic Fox 1140
“I have parked in many lots and crossed my fingers. One time I got flooded out of a campground and had to stay overnight in a parking lot with three horses in a trailer in Southern Indiana. We went back to our flooded out site in the morning to a mess and stayed the rest of our vacation. The horses did well in the trailer all night and I figured I would have a good reason if anyone tried to move me along. We had to drive through three feet of water on our way out. The campground was in a valley and we were by a nice stream that became a torrent.” – Joshua Magner, 2010 Toyota Tundra, 2001 Hallmark
“Back when I had a Jayco pop-up, I could sleep on the couch in it almost anywhere. My favorite trick is in the National Parks when the campgrounds are all full, go to the hotel parking lot and stay there. Never had a problem.” – Bruce Ostermann, 2015 Dodge 5500, 2015 Eagle Cap 1165
“I camped overnight at a marina on the coast of Rhode Island. We fit right in with all the other vehicles parked there. I am sure most of them were overnighting on their boats. Marinas are usually a friendly place.” – Dave Stillman, 2005 Dodge Ram 2500, 2012 Lance 850
“This is something I do all the time when I am heading to a trail for some hiking/running. Since my camping vehicle was a minivan prior to my current Outback, I am able to slip in unnoticed a little easier then a truck. I am hoping to get a real camper at some point in the future. Hotel parking lots are my first pick for a safe spot, but I have also slept at trail heads in remote areas. The best place was behind a police station next to their impound lot. I felt very safe there. I have also have used side streets.” – Jim Harris
“Haven’t we all? But I might have more instances than most being that my camper is very stealth when not popped-up.
The beach may not count. We’ve camped overnight free in the weeds hundreds of times in stealth mode even with the top popped up. As a pirate, I may not want to give out my booty secrets, but arrrr what the heck mate.
We all know without electricity and the inability to run a generator (it gives away your camping stealth mode piracy) it sucks in the summertime without air conditioning, a television, and battery charging abilities. So what we do to keep it stealth, is marinas. You’re on the water and the sounds of the sailboat lines tinging off the masts always puts me at rest. Here you can also catch your bounty of fish for dinner, free for the taking.
Marinas all have outlets on the docks and some have outlets in the parking lots. Just be prepared with a very long heavy duty extension cord. Most marinas won’t mind if you ask, especially if you have your wife and/or kid(s) with you. Enjoy the booty my fellow stealth campers.” – Jeff Dean, 2001 Ford F150, 1999 Palomino pop-up
“I’ve camped down town at the county courthouse in Red Bay, Alabama, two doors from the police department. I pulled in about 11pm, got in back, and kept quiet. I left the next morning about 6:45. On the Gulf Shores of Alabama, I camped at an open used truck dealership, on the street out front. I pulled in about 10pm, and left by 7am.” – Bill Strickland, 1996 Ford F250, 1999 Lance 845
“I used to do this quite a bit over the years, but I don’t do it anymore. I had a van, which is far more stealthy than a truck camper. I could also just walk up front and drive away if things started to happen. I’ve seen cars broken into and had security guards where I work wake me up despite having made prior arrangements. I don’t recommend casually parking around unless you’re in safe places. I good night of sleep is worth the price of a campground. Maybe small towns, Walmarts, and national forests are okay, but I would personally avoid suburbs, or even small cities.” – Vince Kurpan, 2014 Promaster, Custom built
“No.” – Bill Gage, 2003 Dodge 2500, 2008 Northstar 650TC
“We call this urban camping and we’ve successfully done it in many places. Our epiphany came when the campground in Astoria was full. We moved the camper round to a B&B that we knew and parked there, just while we worked out what to do. We suddenly realized that if we were parked outside of an inn, the owner doesn’t know anything about who you are, and you might be visiting with a neighbor. Everyone else assumes you couldn’t make it into a campground and decided to stay at the inn. Urban/pirate camping win.” – Heidi Nicholl, 2012 Chevy 2500, 2010 Adventurer
“While on the way to Houston, I parked in a Walmart parking lot in Austin, Texas. I wasn’t sure if this lot was off-limits to overnighters, but I didn’t see any signs prohibiting parking there. The store had a 24 hour gas station so I parked in the lot next to it. My camper is a pop-up, and I chose to stay low profile and slept on the dinette bed. I got up early and headed out. When I got home I checked the internet list and found the location where I stayed at was a no overnight parking store.” – David Blake, 2012 Ram 2500, 2001 Hallmark Ute LX
“I am brand new to truck camping, so no stealth-mode camping yet, but count us among the willing. We are looking toward reading some really good ideas here.” – John Tully, 2014 Dodge, 2015 Lance 855S
“Not with my present truck camper, but twenty-five years ago we toured around Europe in a VW Campervan. While in Finland, waiting for our tourist vouchers to drive into the Soviet Union, we drove north of Helsinki in search of moose. One night we slinked off into the woods on a dirt road off a side road off the main highway. About midnight, we were blasted with a search light from a patrolling police or military unit. Evidently, we were parked in the buffer zone between Finland and Russia. To this day, I don’t know if they were police or military, Finish or Russian, but they managed to convince us that we were in a no parking area. We promptly drove off, considering ourselves lucky not to have ended up in jail.” – Steve Cordis, 2000 Ford F250, 1996 Weekender 1010
“We have spent the night in a dirt lot in a small town. There were a couple of tractor trailers parked there and we just parked between them. We’ve also spent the night at a 24 hour McDonalds. It was not really pirate mode since I asked the manager if it was okay. We left before 8:00am so we did not take up any extra parking spaces.” – Michael Suan, 2008 Chevy Silverado, 2010 Lance 830
“I was at a convention in a big city, coming out late. I fell asleep in my camper in the parking lot of the Convention Center. The next day I was there early to the event, and the same the third day. The total cost was $30.” – S. & J. Mathis, 1994 Dodge Ram 2500, 2003 Northern Lite 9Q
“One time in the town of Bodego Bay, we were searching for a spot to stay on our trip to Washington state. We got a late start, and it was 11:00 pm by the time we hit this dead town. We pulled adjacent to a Safeway parking lot, and shut down for the night. We saw a sign posted about 20 yards away, “No overnight parking or camping”. We were pretty tired from driving, so my wife hunkered down in the dark camper, and slept on the lower bunk. I laid down in the back seat. We weren’t harassed and I guess they ignored our rig. Arrrrrgh, we were just lucky me matey’ fer we got away wit it!” – Mike Kolinski, 2012 GMC Sierra HD, FWC Hawk
“Many times. We cooked dinner, had a beer, read for a while. Slept soundly, and then even had coffee and a shower in the morning. We have never had the midnight knock. If you keep a low profile and don’t spend a lot of time fussing outside, folks will just think you’re parked with no one inside.
We have stealth camped in parking lots, city streets, municipal parks, and beaches. As long as there are no signs specifically prohibiting it, we just go for it. One bit of advice I heard from an old timer many years ago; if you do get the knock, “We’re not camping…we’re resting!” – Bill Tex, 2006 Chevy, 2013 Eagle Cap 850
“Ayyy mate, we’ve slept in more than a few parking lots over the years. The most recent was a Fred Meyer in Idaho Falls. We arrived very late and shut everything off and headed to bed. We had coffee at Starbucks in the AM and we were off again on an adventure.” – Dave Riddle, 2015 Chevy Silverado 3500, 2004 Host Tahoe DSDB
“I’ve stayed at church parking lots in Canada. Be calm and quiet and church going like. I’ve also stayed at movie theater parking lots. Pull in, eat supper in the rig, go to a movie, get in the rig, and go to bed.” – Firman Schiebout, 2004 Ford F-350, 2012 Northstar 9.5 Igloo U
“I haven’t done it, but I want to. I’ve had my truck and camper camper for three years, and have forgone trips when calls to Walmarts led to overnight parking rejections, or campgrounds were just too far away from my desired destination (or closed, as most up north are in the off-season). I’m generally a rule-follower by nature, but I want to get more use from my camper, so I’m one honest, but somewhat clueless truck camper who really wants to see what can be learned from responses to this question. Thanks for posting it!” – Reed Prior, 2007 GMC 2500HD, 2000 Travel Lite
“No. I wouldn’t feel safe!” – Maaja Sutak, 2012 GMC 2500, 2015 Northstar Liberty
“I rarely stay at a campground. I will usually park anywhere I feel safe to stay the night. I found that industrial areas work pretty well. I usually scope an area out to see if it looks too seedy. If it doesn’t, that is where I will park for the night. I found that areas just off the highway exits work well for me also. I have never been roused during the night.” – Bob Chan, 1989 Ford F250 Supercab 2WD, 1988 Lance 780
“A couple years ago we were taking a cross country trip (I think we were in Arizona). It was getting late with no likely camping spots that we could find. I noticed a tire and alignment garage with about ten cars and trucks all lined up for presumably the next days service. We pulled into the next available slot and set the alarm clock for 5:00 AM. We got away clean in the morning. My wife and I still laugh about that night.” – Terry Mechler, 2001 Dodge 2500, 1989 Sunline 11.5
“There was one time that was memorable. It was late in the evening, after dark, and we parked in a Walmart. Because it was late (and we’re early risers) we went right to bed. There were no problems throughout the night. When we got up the next morning and walked up front to get in the truck, my wife said, “Look at that!” Looking up at the light pole right in front of the truck, there was a sign (at Walmart) that said, “No Overnight Parking”. While we seldom park at Walmart, I pay more attention to the signs now.” – Tom Watson, 1998 Ford F350, 1999 Four Winds 5000
“We like the back parking lot of churches. Nice and quiet!” – Burt and Vickie Strong, 1997 GMC 3500, 1997 Lance Legend 500
“Yes, in Albuquerque at the Indian casino between some eighteen wheelers and many times in Texas at roadside rest stops in with the eighteen wheelers. Next to trucks, my little Onan generator running is no problem.” – Harvey Melcher, 2002 Chevy 2500, 2012 Lance 1050
“We’ve stayed in motel parking areas, Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, truck stops, Cabelas, trail heads, marinas, and the beach – all in stealth mode. That’s when we had our Class C. It’s harder now with a camper that has slides, especially when the slides need to be deployed in order to access the interior and stay in it. We still stay in all the above, but we can’t really call it stealth mode, because the slides are out. Still we’ve never had a knock telling us to move along. Knock on wood!” – Mark and Janice Mudgett, 2006 Ford F-350, 2013 Eagle Cap 1160
“We back-in a county garage where they store their stuff. We have to open the slide outs and pull down the darkening shades. We make a little supper. I always take a walk around look over the area make sure we are safe and lock everything up. Then, I’m back in the camper and sleep like a baby! No Walmart for us. There are too many bad stories; it’s not a good place to stay overnight.” – Neil Steirer, 2008 Ford F350, 2015 Lance 1172