Traveling in an RV and visiting places on the way? What if there's this really great museum/store/restaurant that you really want to see on the way? Your gigantic rig is with you - not in a campground. What do you do? Where can you park your RV in a town or city without getting into trouble? Can you just leave your 50 ft long setup anywhere and go sightseeing?
There are many places where you can usually safely and legally park your RV for a few hours:
- The parking lot of the establishment you're patronizing.
- Large nearby stores like a Walmart, Costco.
- Parking lots of local schools, hospitals and churches (if they are large enough and have spots for RV's or buses).
- Street parking - where available.
In this post, we're going to discuss what you need to be looking for when parking an RV and go over each of the above options. There are caveats to each one that you need to be aware of, so please keep reading.
Keep in mind that this is not about overnight camping!
Overnight camping is a whole separate issue. This post is strictly about having to pull over for a few hours to visit a place in a town or city on your way.
Why parking an RV for a few hours can be a challenge
There are two challenges when you're looking for a parking spot to put your RV in for a few hours in a new town or city.
You need a big parking spot
First, RVs are large. There's the technical challenge of just finding a parking spot large enough to accommodate a rig. The large the RV - whether motorhome or towable - the more difficult this will be.
Almost ironically, the smaller the town, the less of an issue this is. In a small hamlet of 50 people, there are no sidewalks or infrastructure to consider. You can just pull over just about anywhere. In a town of 10,000 people, it's going to be more of an issue. In a city, you're going to have a very difficult time finding parking space in the business center.
You need room to maneuver
If you're very experienced, parking the rig may not be difficult per se but you'll still need enough time so you can do that safely. More often than not, this would mean the traffic in both directions would need to slow down and possibly come to a stop. Depending on the amount of traffic and the number of lanes - this can be a problem.
If you're new to RVing and don't have a lot of experience - or lack the systems that help you park your towable or motorhome - you definitely do not want to start practicing in the middle of a town you don't know. It won't make you very popular with the locals.
Locals will be wary of you staying overnight
In most towns, locals will appreciate the fact that you're stopping by to visit an attraction or grab lunch in their town. You're bringing money into the local economy which is always nice. What they don't always like is people who stay overnight. Why? For many reasons which we won't go into here. Honestly, we think some of that is just primordial sense of territoriality.
The point is if they know for sure that you're only parked for a few hours, they're more likely to welcome you. If you're staying over, then that should be in a campground (or a motel) - basically, an establishment that can turn a profit from you staying the night.
To avoid that false impression, make sure you don't look like your staying overnight. That means -
- Staying hitched if you're in a travel trailer or 5th wheel.
- Keeping your slides tucked inside, awning rolled up.
The type of RV you need to find parking for matters
Whether you're driving a motorhome or towing a 5th wheel or a travel trailer - the size and type of RV matters when it comes to finding the right parking spot for a few hours.
Now, driving a class B van-like RV, parking just about anywhere is very easy. A Roadtrek 190 Popular is only 20.5 ft in length - not substantially different from an 18 ft long GMC Savana van. They're easy to find spots for and don't take up a whole lot of space. In most areas, a Class B RV is going to be so inconspicuous no one will even notice it.
However, if you drive into town in an F-350 pulling a 45ft long 5th wheel, that's a whole different story. You're huge. Your setup can easily be 60ft long. That's long. It means you're going to take up a lot of space parking - and that just parking by the curb won't be easy where other cars are parked.
With that in mind, let's review the options.
Parking your RV in the establishment you're patronizing
Many places offer parking for their guests. Museums, zoos, parks and other attractions usually have extensive parking lots. They often have sections that are reserved for buses and RVs, so look for those.
Some places might charge for parking which is ok. The fee is usually very reasonable and if the location is convenient, you can leave your RV there for the day and spend a few hours sightseeing around or checking out a nearby restaurant.
If this is your plan, it's worth avoiding weekends and holidays, or at least checking with the attraction in advance to see how much parking space they actually have. Some places have such huge parking lots that you'll probably be able to squeeze in even on a busy day. Others, not so much. Call in advance to know where you stand.
Can you just park an RV at any Walmart or Costco?
Yes, you can.
And while with overnighting you always must ask for permission - and won't always get it - when it comes to parking for a few hours while you're shopping, you can absolutely park your RV there. Most places will have space reserved for large vehicles, so use that.
It almost goes without saying but we'll mention it anyway: Don't look like you're camping. Don't put out your awning and deck chairs. Just park. And if you do decide to stay overnight - check with the store first to see if that's even an option.
Using the parking lots of local public venues
By public venues, we mean places like schools, churches, hospitals etc. These are the kinds of establishment where people don't show up as paying customers (even though they can certainly be expensive when you use their services! - but you know what I mean there, they are not stores per se).
Many of these places have large parking lots with convenient spots for buses and oversized vehicles. Use your common sense here (well, everywhere, really!) If a parking lot is small and heavily used - don't try to squeeze your RV in it. If you hit the place on a busy day, it might not be the right choice for you either.
Be considerate and make sure your rig is not of the way of locals who are actually using these places for their daily needs. You're just a guest in their town, so show some respect.
Can you just park an RV in a residential street?
Ahh, the big question.
We've visited countless US and Canadian towns and cities during our road trips (45 US states, 4 Canadian provinces - and counting!) In many residential areas we could see RVs parked in people's driveways and in some places, you can also see them parked on the street. But not often - usually people place them in the driveway.
Of course, a lot depends on the type of neighborhood, but generally speaking, your RV is likely to stand out on a residential street. A smaller RV like a Class B motorhome may not have an issue but anything larger is likely to stand out like a sore thumb.
What people are worried about is that you might want to stay overnight. They don't know you so they're worried you might cause trouble.
But is it illegal to park there?
After all, the side of the road is a public area. Do the local residents even have a say on whether or not you can park your RV on their street?
As always, different places have different laws and regulations. Some neighborhoods decide that they don't want RV parking in their area and some towns just ban RV parking in residential areas across town. The ban can be for overnight camping only - or in general.
Look for signs posted in the entry to the street where you're considering leaving your rig. It also can't hurt to Google the name of the town along with "RV parking" and see if any specific regulations come up.
If you can't find any indication that says you can't, then you probably can leave your RV there for a few hours. If a neighbor comes out, that's actually a good thing for you. Say hello, smile and tell them you're visiting town and will be coming back to your RV and leaving in a few hours. Most people will appreciate the gesture of sharing the information - even if you're not asking for their permission per se.
Clearly, try not to get in anyone's way. Don't block driveways or otherwise pose a problem. And for heaven's sake, don't turn the street into a campground. Don't pull out slides, grill your hamburger by the RV or play loud music on your speakers. Anything like that is bound to attract attention - and get law enforcement over.
Be considerate and use common sense
That's really the bottom line here.
You're a guest in another town, so act accordingly. Be polite and considerate. Don't get in anyone's way. Talk to locals if you can and be friendly. In most places, that would mean you can safely and legally leave your RV for a few hours and enjoy local sightseeing.
Be sure to check out these other helpful guides:
How Fast Can You Safely Drive When Towing An RV?