stealth camping in an RV

How to Stealth Camp in a Class C RV

When you picture a 29’ Class C RV, “Stealth” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. But in my young RV Life,  I was determined to be a stealth-nomad, flowing in and out of cities, flying under the radar and living free!

I’m not quite sure where the idea came from, but for some reason, when I first starting living full time in my RV, I equated “full-time RVer” with “Outlaw”.  Who knows where I got the idea  -or maybe it was just an  excuse to let my inner outlaw/rebel come out to play.  Or maybe, since,I was dropping out of society and living on the fringe, I thought I was suddenly invisible.  Whatever the reason,  I was convinced that normal rules and laws no longer applied to me.  I scoffed at “No Parking”  signs and laughed at  warnings of “No Trespassing”.   Nope-  I’m FREE: mere mortals’ rules don’t apply to Tilly, Capone and me!

Boy, did I get a rude awakening!

Yeah, my 29’ Class C RV and me – not so invisible. And as FIVE security guards, cops and property owners told me in my first eight weeks of my new life, laws most certainly DO apply to me!  Perhaps even more so now that I was living on the fringes; and in some peoples’ eyes a dirty, freeloading, homeless vagrant. (I also thought showering didn’t apply to me anymore either! When I do something, I go All In! lol).

It was a real wake up call.

I’d read a lot about stealth camping before I started my new life and I knew a 29’ monstrosity like Tilly would never exactly be “stealthy”. Still, being the rebellious person I am, I was determined to make it work. I spent about two months pushing my luck, determined to find places to ‘stealth’ camp in cities and towns around the Bay Area. I had some success, but also had more than my share of knocks on the door in the middle of the night or early in the morning, making me mosey on down the road!

stealth camping in an RV
Stealth camping in a Warehouse on a Sunday in Auburn, CA

Here is what I learned about stealth camping in a Class C RV:

No Trespassing means NO trespassing – even if you THINK no one is looking! Seriously I’d be on a desolate road or a gravel parking lot that seemed like no one EVER goes to, and sure enough, I’d get a visit from a farmer in a dually pick-up telling me to go: even when I gave them my “I’m a woman alone and need a safe place to park” spiel. They were nice about it, but still kicked me out.

Street Parking – In cities where you can find street parking, warehouse districts work well. You can even turn on the generator, because no one is around on nights and weekends. And on weekdays, it’s so noisy with big rigs, no one will notice your generator running.

However, it’s not always easy to find street parking. It’s amazing how many cities make it illegal to park on streets overnight. Just because you find a warehouse or commercial district, doesn’t mean you can park there.  Woodland, CA for example, just off I-5, has absolutely NO Parking on any commercial or warehouse streets in the entire city! So, you either have to keep searching, go to another city or just take your chances (like I did and got kicked out in the middle of the night).

I’ve also had good luck parking overnight on streets near medical offices, apartment complexes and parks and baseball fields. As long as they’re away from houses and there aren’t any “No Parking” signs.

I also found that community colleges can be good places to park: when school is not in session (often Sundays and vacations). Otherwise permits are enforced and I learned the hard way, campus security will knock on your door at 7 am with an actual police officer and ask you to move.  But if you know for certain the campus is closed, it can be a great place to park AND get free wi-fi! I stayed at a Community College in California for two or three nights.

New housing subdivisions are also great stealth camps!  I’ve spent four or five nights in areas where new houses and neighborhoods are being built. The streets are there, maybe even the foundations of houses, but they’re not occupied yet.  Park there when construction crews aren’t working or get in late and leave early before they get there.  I stayed in one for 2 nights in a row and was never bothered. (Do a google search for “Model Homes” and you can often find new developments)

Stealth camping in a Class C RV fulltime
Stealth camping in a new housing development dead end street, Vacaville, CA

Walmart. We all know that Walmart is RV friendly and you can often park overnight there.  Unfortunately, many cities aren’t as accepting of this practice and have local ordinances making it illegal to park overnight in Walmart parking lots. So, before you go parking in any old Walmart, check ahead of time to make sure it’s ok.  Here’s the resource I use:  http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts/. I’ve also seen RVs park overnight in Walmarts on the Do Not Park list (Medford, OR, for example).  If you’re in a bind, go in and ask management. You may be able to get away with it if local law enforcement is lax.

I’ve stayed at a couple of Walmarts – one was loud and a little sketchy (Rancho Cordova, CA) and the other, quite pleasant (Gardnerville, NV).  While Walmart is never my first choice, it works in a pinch -and beats getting a knock on the door in the middle of the night!

I’ve also stayed near Truck Stops, off remote country roads, boat launch parking lots (I got lucky on that one, the next night they closed and locked the gate!),  residential streets where the houses are behind big brick sound-walls, dead end streets, parking lots behind warehouses and local and regional park parking lots that didn’t have “No overnight parking” signs.

Tips for successful stealth camping in a Class C RV:

  1. Don’t attract attention to yourself: If you must park someplace where sleeping on the street would be frowned upon, do your best to stay under the radar. Walk your dog somewhere else, so they don’t see you coming in and out of your RV. Leave your lights off or put up blackout curtains. Don’t run your generator and don’t put out your slides if you have them. Parking your RV on the street is not a problem – SLEEPING in it is. So we want to give the impression no one is inside.
  2. Explore the city or town you’re in for the best spot: Some of my best spots have been discovered by driving around. And sometimes, I just have to take a chance. Recently, in Medford Oregon, I camped near a warehouse in a gravel lot. I felt safe and slept well. I decided to stay put for a few hours in the morning and work and drink my coffee (it was a Sunday). I got a visit from the property owner telling me I couldn’t be there (even though there were no Private Property or No Trespassing signs). He was nice and explained that they’d had a lot of problems with vagrants. “in fact”, he said, “It’s not safe for you to be here.” Of course, “safe” is relative and the ‘vagrants’ could very well have been people just like me. Nevertheless,  I moved on.

    Stealthy camping in a class c rv
    Stealth camping on a country road near Latrobe, CA (the night after my scary night)
  3. Use Google Maps and Google Earth. This is one of my best resources for finding areas to park. You can look for parks, forest roads, commercial centers and medical parks and get street level views. This is very helpful! You can also Google search “warehouse space for lease”. This usually gives me an address so I can find the warehouse district.
  4. Ask people. I was once kicked out of a community college by a Police Officer who, when I asked where a better place to park might be, gave me the name of a business owned by a friend of his who wouldn’t mind me being there overnight. Of course, the conversation was completely off the record. But he was very helpful. As a woman, I find most men want to help me if I pull the “I want to feel safe” card.

All in all, my outlaw days are mostly behind me. I prefer the safety and solitude of the forest and no longer need to stay near cities and towns. But there are times it can’t be avoided and I’d rather take my chances stealth camping than spending $35-$50 to stay in an RV/Trailer park jam packed with residential mobile homes.

What are some of your questions/concerns/experiences stealth camping? I’d love to hear from you.

 

17 comments

    1. Hey girl that’s so awesome… I’m jellious. My husband Sean and I have found that one other way to find a place to park is to look at large out of the way property’s for sale, there are many that border BLM. and many of those people will let you stay on their property for weeks sometimes. Of course we were really interested in the property’s for the most. When you contact them and say you want to look at the property and will be traveling in an event and ask for their permission to hang out for a few days. And for the most they really don’t care. God bless you and kapone and stay safe. I hope you at least have some form of a weapon … Cheryl in Oregon

      1. Cheryl,
        OH wow… good tip for the for sale properties! I would imagine they might also not mind having on-site “security”. Good tip, thank you for sharing Cheryl in Oregon. I spent the summer in Oregon and loved it. great boon-docking state!

  1. Hi Carolyn,
    It’s sounds challenging to find a place to park! I get nervous reading about some of your encounters with people. I guess the world is smaller than we think.
    Cindy

    1. Cindy – yes the world is small – and crowded – and crotchedy! lol. I’ve learned not to fear the knocks on the door so much (if you saw my Shower, Interrupted video that might explain why I opened the door in that situation) – they are just people doing their jobs or protecting their land. And as I’ve said, once they see a woman, even if they make me leave, they are nice about it! I had one security guard in a strip mall even become protective and help me find a safer place as he kicked me out! You get used to it! – Thanks for reading. Good luck and have fun with it – it’s all part of the adventure and makes great stories! 🙂 – Carolyn

  2. I have never felt comfortable staying overnight in any of the places you mentioned.
    Except for State Parks, national parks, or Rv parks, I personally don’t think it is safe. Even the BLM lands and national Forests are risky because anyone is able to come in those at any time day or night.
    I know it costs money to stay at a pay to stay park, but there is a controlled environment that makes it safe and I sleep like a baby.
    If I was 5 to 10 miles back in a forest or somewhere in the desert and someone was to break into my rig with me in it, even if I had a cell signal the cops or rangers would have to find where I was first then it would take a long for them to get to where I was. The criminals would be long gone by then, and who knows if I would be alive to tell about it.
    All you have to do is Google about dead bodies found in the forests, there is a lot of them.
    Not saying that those bodies were in rvs, but the secluded places are where the hard core flee to from the law or get rid those they have killed.
    It is a dangerous world we live in and there are many dangerous people that don’t think a thing about hurting people to get what they want or just to be mean.
    All you have to do is read to know that is a fact.
    Be careful out there.

    1. Steve, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. The blog was about stealth camping – which I realize isn’t for everyone. Just as camping in National Forests and BLM land isn’t for everyone. For me, staying in RV Parks, campgrounds and National Parks is no different than living in a crowded city with the rest of the herd. I choose to break away from the herd and find my own place in this world instead of living where others tell me to live. But that’s just me.

      As far as safety: I guarantee more bodies are found within a 100 mile radius of the places you stay than the ones I do! I’ve backpacked hundreds of miles alone, traveled to 8 countries alone, I’ve lived in some of the roughest neighborhoods in San Francisco and Oakland alone and my experience is the opposite. People are mostly kind and helpful Sure, there are always the few assholes who want to run your day, but they are few and far between. My experience is that the world is a kind and friendly place, but then, I’m an eternal optimist. I believe we all see what we choose to see and our experience with the universe follows..

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your concern – I really do. Take care and be safe! – Carolyn

  3. I apologize for getting off the subject. I guess I was carrying over from your Youtube video of things going bump in the night. Also I am a skiddish type of person and tend to be overly cautious. Probably too cautious to a fault.
    I have boon docked somewhat at times but I am uncomfortable if I am the only one there. I’ll probably never get over that hangup.

    I do enjoy your blog and you have lots of interesting and helpful advise and experiences.
    Steve

    1. Steve, Yes, I have a lot going on at the moment, I can see that you carried the convo over from Youtube now.
      The beauty of being human and having free will is that we get to do what makes us happy and we don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do! One of my favorite sayings is “Live and Let Live’. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same!

      Thank you for following along on my crazy journey! – Carolyn

  4. Hi Carolyn!

    We’re big time Walmart overnighters because we like to visit cities. Some even have free WiFi now. Besides Walmart, Sams Clubs, Lowes, Home Depot and Cracker Barrel restaurants are good.

    Out in the country we’d much rather stay on public land than a campground but sometimes that’s not available so we’ve stayed in scenic overlooks, small rural rest areas and large pull offs used by truckers.

    We’ve gotten “the knock” just a few times in all of our years of fulltiming and most people have been very nice about it. The last one was just a few weeks ago. We stopped at a Walmart that, unknown to us, had closed down but still had security patrolling. After telling us we had to leave the security guard not only told us where we could park but actually lead us there!

    Our experiences mirror yours – the world is a kind and friendly place.

    Looking forward to meeting you at the RTR!

    1. Karen,
      I’ve stayed at a Costco without any troubles.. I forgot about that. And I love Home Depot during the day for the wi-fi. You’ve had luck parking overnight? good to know!

      I’ve had similar luck with strip mall security guards- usually very helpful – they just want you out of their parking lot, so happy to point you in a new direction!

      Thank you for sharing your stories and for validating my philosophy about the world not being so big and bad and scary! Since posting my videos, I’m really concerned about all the fear that’s out there. It can’t be healthy for us (collectively or individually). Anyway, glad to ‘meet’ you and look forward to doing it in person in January!

      all the best, carolyn

  5. I’m so glad i found your page. staying in walmart, truck stops and rest areas have been just fine for me. my rig is a little larger and with my truck or trailer attached i need just a little more room; but i’ve found places and slept very well. traveling alone as a woman doesn’t bother me and i haven’t gotten bothered.
    i am careful and keep a watch on my surroundings.
    you be careful out there, you’re doing full time what i am only doing part time.

    have fun i’ll be following your dialog.

    1. Hey Red! Yeah, Walmart and Truck stops can be nice spots to stay. I agree, no trouble at all as a woman traveling alone.. people are generally very helpful. glad to hear that’s your experience too.. Thanks for the kind words and you be safe as well!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shares