While the COVID-19 outbreak has many RV owners hunkered down in their sticks-and-bricks home until it passes, there are others that full-time in their RV or snowbirds trying to return to their sticks-and-bricks home. Others, like traveling nurses, may be trying to relocate to their next assignment via RV travel while all this is taking place.
If you are currently on the move or will be soon, the question is, where can I stop to just sleep for the night with most public campgrounds closed and many private RV parks prohibited from taking in RVers on the move for a night or two?
Here is a list of overnight stops to consider:
Public overnight stops
While many are completely closed, others have locked just the restrooms and still allow truckers and RVers to take a rest before continuing their journey.
A better option, try secondary highways where the rest areas are more of a wayside for picnicking that still allow overnight stays. Nevada’s Wilson Canyon Rest Area is a great example of such a place.
Welcome centers and visitor centers
Many allow overnight stays for those in self-contained RVs. While they aren’t likely to be currently staffed, you can visit their website to see what the policy is regarding overnight stays or stop by to see what the note on the door says about the closure.
Fairgrounds (most are publically owned)
Many allow camping on non-fair dates and the few that had spring fairs scheduled have been forced to cancel them during the pandemic. Example: The Washington State Fair canceled their spring fair, but is still allowing RVers to spend the night if you register and pay online in advance.
Fish & Wildlife lands also known as Wildlife Management Areas (WMA)
These typically allow for some sort of camping. Some states have locked down all state-owned wildlife/fishing areas to overnight camping, while some like those in Kansas are still open.
DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and State Trust Lands
Example – Arizona State Trust Lands are still open to camping with a permit.
TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority)
Campgrounds are closed, but dispersed camping is currently listed as an approved activity per this link.
Dispersed Camping (aka boondocking)
This is currently a mixed bag as many forest service districts are closing the forest to all forms of recreation while some BLM lands are actually encouraging people to social distance themselves on huge tracts of public land administered by the agency.
Tribal lands (under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government)
Most tribes sell a pass allowing you to camp on tribal land/campgrounds. A quick online search shows the Navajo have closed their campgrounds, while the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is still selling permits to camp along the shores of Nevada’s Pyramid Lake.
Private overnight stops
While many have been banned from accepting any new guests, others are still operating as normal and some have found creative ways to still accommodate guests in these trying times while still meeting state government mandates.
Check CampgroundReviews.com first, as they are updating the website daily with the most up-to-date information on campground and RV park closures. You can even search the website and select a filter to exclude campgrounds with closures from your search. Always call ahead to check status as things are changing daily for park owners.
Stops like Flying J typically allow RVers and truckers to stay the night. In the midst of the outbreak, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has deemed truck stops essential and to stay open serving the men and women of the trucking industry who are keeping the nation functioning.
Most RVers know about Walmart, but do you also know Cracker Barrel, Cabela’s and other national chain establishments welcome RVers for the night? In fact, K-Mart was one of the first retail chains to roll out the welcome mat for RVers. Factory Outlet Malls also tend to welcome RVers. Again, if the establishment is not currently open you may need to check their website for their policies or see if they were kind enough to leave a note on the door.
Casinos often allow RVers to stay the night in their parking lots. While most are closed during the outbreak you can check their website or Facebook page to see if they are still allowing overnight stays.
Many tribal casinos also operate fuel stations in conjunction with their casinos. While the casino might be closed, the fuel station (deemed essential) is likely to still be operating and can tell you if you are welcome to stay the night.
While most are closed due to social distancing guidelines, churches are always looking to help those in need, especially in times of crisis (think of the story of the good Samaritan). Find a church along your route that can accommodate your RV and give them a call.
While the office is likely closed, the number for the pastor or other personnel will probably be provided via the voicemail system or will automatically forward you. When you reach someone, explain your circumstances and I suspect more often than not you will find a place to park for the night.
Many allow overnight stays year around regardless of when they are operating. Some even offer electrical hookups which they may allow you to use if you pay in advance via a credit card to comply with social distancing guidelines.
Consider a membership with one of the following:
- Harvest Hosts (harvesthosts.com) allows its members free overnight stays at wineries, farms & other quiet, scenic places. Membership is currently $79/year which allows RVers to stay the night at more than 1,000 wineries, farms, breweries and other attractions. Some hosts may be closed or partially closed, so be sure that you call in advance.
- Boondockers Welcome (boondockerswelcome.com) For $50/year, Boondockers Welcome connects RVers with local private property owners (hosts) across the country that allow members to park on their property for free. Some host sites even offer water and electricity.
If you are uncertain about access, gates, or enough area to park your RV at some of the above suggestions, try using the access tips I shared a while back to take a look in advance. Check out the aerial view and the street view of the back roads on Google Earth and RV LIFE Trip Wizard.
Finally, if you are out of options and just need to pull off somewhere for the night only to continue on your way the next morning, call local law enforcement (use the non- emergency number) and explain your situation (you are a traveling nurse, trying to get to a family member, trying to get home, etc) and they are likely to guide you to a place you can stay for the night and alert other officers of your situation so you don’t get the dreaded knock on the door in the middle of the night.
Stay safe and I hope you find this information useful in getting to your next destination during these unprecedented times.
Follow Dave’s RV adventures as he travels the West in search of forgotten and unique places. For Dave, home is where you park it, the more remote the better!