Walmart RV Parking: Is the 60-Year Relationship Really Nearing an End?
It’s fair to say that RVers have a special relationship with Walmart. The megastore that sells everything from frozen shrimp to flat screen televisions is a favorite stop of RVers looking to stock up while on the road.
Shopping isn’t the only bond uniting RVers with the chain that boasts 4,750 stores across the United States. Since it’s birth in the early 1960’s RVers have found a welcoming overnight camping spot in Walmart parking lots.
In fact, RVers are so entwined with the world’s largest retailer that a Facebook group solely dedicated to Walmart boondocking boasts over 6,800 members.
In this day in age where big corporations are looking to mitigate risk, it’s not insignificant that Walmart very publicly welcomes overnight RV parking. Walmart’s website acknowledges the Company’s unique relationship with RVers:
While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, 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. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.
That’s why it’s come as a surprise to many longtime RVers that Walmart RV parking is not as friendly as it once was. In fact, in 2020 only about 58% of Walmart stores allow overnight RV parking – a steep decline from 78% just ten years earlier.
Let’s find out what’s behind the deteriorating relationship between Walmart and RVers.
Why Is Walmart So Important to the RV Community?
If you don’t spend much time on the road, you probably don’t understand the significance that Walmart RV parking holds to the RV’ing community. Before boondocking became a “thing”, Walmart parking lots have long been a safe haven for travelers criss-crossing the country or simply a place for those people with nowhere else to go.
The RV community relies so heavily on Walmart that there is a website providing an interactive map displaying each Walmart’s RV Parking status* (Note this is an unofficial map – not sponsored by Walmart). Always call the store ahead of time to check on legal parking status)
Why exactly is parking at Walmart so important to the RV community?
- Saves $20-$40/night it would cost to park at a campground
- Don’t have to worry about illegally parking on the side of a road
- Opportunity for one-stop-shop to stock up on goods and supplies
- Cameras and patrolling security offer a measure of safety not found in other remote locations
Chuck Woodbury, Editor at RVtravel.com, has a great short video on how to camp at Walmart for free where he lists the “rules” of camping at Walmart:
- Always ask permission from the store manager to stay;
- Park in a remote area of the parking lot;
- Stay only one night;
- Do not extend slideouts or awning;
- Do not set up lawn chairs or grills;
- Do not use your automatic leveler;
- Never dump gray or black waste; and
- Always pick up your trash
You can check out the 3-minute clip here:
Walmart RV Parking In Decline: Who’s To Blame?
It would be all-too easy to assign blame to Walmart for driving a wedge between a six decade long relationship. After all, what interest does a company with yearly sales comparable to the GDP of Norway have in providing free overnight parking to cross-country travelers?
After speaking with Walmart managers over a period of a decade, RVTravel offers some reasoning as to why overnight RV parking is on the decline:
- Parking overnight without permission
- Parking in the wrong part of the parking lot
- Staying more than one night
- Setting up camping equipment (lawn chairs, BBQ grilles, even inflatable swimming pools) outside their RV
- Leaving trash in the parking lot
- Dumping gray and black water in the lot or in storm drains
Lets’s dig a bit deeper we can see some trends have emerged that would seem to explain the decline:
The ethos behind boondocking is to “leave no trace”. RVers and Campers have an unwritten code of ethics to leave campsites just as they found them – including the proper disposal of waste.
The surge in the popularity of RV’ing over the past decade means there are more RVers who either (a) don’t know, or (b) don’t care about preserving the important relationship with Walmart. This has led to thoughtless campers (and regular drivers) littering parking lots and even dumping wastewater on the pavements.
Just last year the Walmarts in Pullman and Moscow (Washington State) decided to discontinue overnight parking after Washington State football fans trashed a Walmart parking lot. The rowdy crowd set fires and left garbage strewn across the parking lot for Walmart employees to clean up.
Said a Walmart employee, “It became a nightmare with no maintenance or people to clean up.”
While this behavior doesn’t seem to be the norm, a few bad apples appear to be ruining it for everybody.
2. Overstaying Welcome
As Chuck Woodberry says, “the idea of staying at Walmart is to park for the night to get some sleep … and then move on.” It’s not really in the spirit of the Walmart RV parking policy to make an extended stay.
People park at Walmart for many reasons, some just for convenience and others out of desperation – but it was never intended to be a longterm camping solution. Longer stays means more vehicles in the lot, more trash, more noise and a greater need for security and maintenance services.
At some point in the near future it may not be worth the headache and potential liability issues for Walmart to allow overnight parking.
3. City Ordinances
More and more cities are passing ordinances that prohibit overnight RV parking on city streets and in businesses. The most high profile of these cases was in Berkeley, California which ban displaced over 200 RVers who couldn’t afford the city’s notoriously high rents. With business owners and residents citing problems with human waste and trash – cities are cracking down just as the popularity of RV’ing is on the rise.
So, Is This Really the End of Walmart RV Parking?
Simply put, no.
All you have to do is look at the interactive parking map at the top of this article to realize that Walmart RV Parking is still alive and well. With over 4,500 stores nationwide, there are still thousands of Walmarts that permit overnight parking.
That doesn’t mean that things may not take a turn for the worse over the next decade. Each year we see tens of thousands more people on the road. While it’s great news for the industry as a whole, the surge means camping space will book up faster, become more crowded and prices will rise.
We can expect this trend to displace many RVers who simply will not be able to afford $50+ a night for a parking spot and place additional strain on Walmart parking lots. How will Walmart react? That’s anybody’s guess, but it’s imperative that campers follow the rules if they want this special relationship to continue for the next 60 years.
We love our readers and encourage you to leave any comments about your Walmart camping experiences.