You might think of camping in your car or van if you want to go camping but haven’t purchased a tent or RV. Even if you believe that nobody ever goes to sleep at campground, you can still find opinions on the subject, like if you try to spend the night in residential areas in the city.
Depending on the campground, you may camp in a van or car. Some campgrounds allow camp, some require you to camp in defined areas, and some won’t let anyone in a car or van camp overnight. Camping like this differs between states and city-to-city camping and whether you can sleep in your car or van.
In our guide, you can learn more about sleeping in car camping. While it may be that you arrived late, or you don’t have a tent. Sites have rules, and some are not as accessible as rest stops, where travelers often pull over.
By the end, you’ll know more about sleeping in your car at a campground, whether a paid one or a camping site deep in a National Forest or on BLM land where you want to park overnight and save money to further your outdoor adventures.
Do Most National Forests Allow Camping in Car?
National Parks and National Forests are two different things; however, mixing them up is simple.
Preserving the ecosystem for future generations is the essential way to view it in a National Park. Therefore, a national park’s mandate is preservation; hence the rules and legislation that apply to them are created with that goal in mind.
On the other side, National Forests are places with many uses. National Forests offer opportunities for Americans to use their resources, even if protecting natural resources is part of its mission. (Read What Is A Walk Up Campsite)
The rules governing where you can camp differ because recreation is a part of the national forests’ mission. The Forest Service, for instance, offers dispersed camping. This phrase refers to camping outside of a developed campsite.
If you’re thinking of dispersed camping, keep the following in mind:
- Lack of bathroom facilities.
- No mains water, so you need to take water with you.
- You’ll need to take your trash bags as you leave.
- There isn’t much protection from wild animals (bears).
Can You Car Camp On BLM Land?
Additional federal land is under the control of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which you can see as an extension of a National Park.
The mission is for land preservation while letting people hunt, fish, and go camping.
On BLM land, camping regulations are like the ones you’ll face in National Forests; camping areas can have specific amenities.
These operate on a first-come, first-served policy, as they tend to be used as BLM sites. You can make reservations on Recreation.gov, although if it is a sudden need for sleeping in your car, you could be out of luck.
Once parking, you’ll need to pay fees immediately, which can vary between campsites.
If you think of long-term stays for your van camping, then you’ll find any BLM requests are for two weeks per 28 days. The BLM prefers that come your fourteen days. You must move at least 25 miles before settling on a new site.
Can I Sleep in Local Parks?
Many communities ban the homeless from sleeping in parks. Small towns rarely have websites, so finding parks is challenging, yet check the park hours if you find an area. When a park shuts, you must depart and can only access the park between sunrise and sundown.
Can I Sleep in Campgrounds?
You can park on a campground that offers parking for a tent, car, or RV if you pay for the spot and arrives with a reservation. You paid for that parking spot, so why shouldn’t you be able to park there?
Where Else Can I Park and Sleep?
You might have gotten a late start, had car troubles, or something else kept you from getting to your campsite on time. If you need to sleep in your car overnight, you can find several locations to get some sleep. (Learn How To Blow Up Air Mattress Without Pump)
1. Walmart Stores Parking Lots
Some big chain stores allow you to overnight car camp in their parking lots; however, there is no other name as large as Walmart in many cities for overnight parking and sleeping in your car.
The company leaves it at the store managers’ discretion, so ensure you ask if you are allowed overnight parking in their parking lot.
Some areas may have stopped the practice, yet many offer that chance to stop overnight when you can’t find it elsewhere.
2. Truck Stops
Depending on the chain and location, several truck stops allow overnight sleeping. Store managers or local ordinances vary this requirement even within the same chain.
Trucks arrive and depart at all hours, so a truck stop won’t be silent as you try and sleep in your car. However, if you can sleep through anything, then the cost of space and chance of a pleasing shower can be welcome.
3. Rest Stops
Most rest stop areas provide a place to stop and rest, not sleep overnight. As is often the case, no national regulations prohibit sleeping in rest zones. However, state-by-state rules have been created for car sleeping as long as you don’t end up tent camping.
Some states allow 3- or 4-hour parking, but not overnight sleeping at rest areas. However, Alaska has no legislation or policy preventing or allowing it, so you may need to check.
Car Camping Tips
Knowing how to car camp means there are certain things you can or shouldn’t do, especially if you ever felt unsafe anywhere.
Here are a couple of examples of safety tips.
- The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is too significant to leave your car running all night.
- Bring your sleeping bag or sleeping pad as it can get chilly in a car overnight.
- Keep your vehicle windows open slightly to let fresh air in and moisture out.
- Park in well-lit locations. Areas with more light deter anyone wanting to commit crimes.
- Cover your vehicle windshield with a sunshade and hang something in front of your other windows to reduce light in a parking lot.
- Always keep your keys within reach but out of sight from onlookers.
- Before you go to sleep, make sure your vehicle doors are locked.
- When car camping, think about carrying something to be used as a weapon against wild animals or people.
- Use camping apps to help plan your car-camping trip, although these apps may not show free overnight parking spots for your extended road trip.
Can You Park A Car At An RV Park?
Sleeping in your car is like doing so in a little RV. Camper vans are cars that can double as campers, so if the campground you’re at allows them, you should be good to go.
The benefit of sleeping in your car or camper van is that you can enjoy the safety and comfort of doing so without needing to reserve an “RV” -a designated camping spot. (Learn How To Hang A Hammock Without Trees)
However, review the rules for RVs at the campground you’re visiting and see how they will affect your vehicle.
You will be subject to the same rules because you are sleeping in your car, and such rules are about powering appliances and lights in a vehicle using a generator.
Even though you’ll be sleeping in your car, you may set up a tent at your campsite if you want to blend in more and avoid questions.
As a result, everything appears “normal,” and the campsite appears occupied. However, it will save you from attracting attention.
Sleeping in Car on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Land
Boondock on National Forest land or BLM land for free, natural car camping (BLM). Luckily, these areas are not only magnificent and wild, but they often surround even prettier natural places like National Parks.
National Forest and BLM land are abundant yet isolated. So if you’re on a road trip, it’s a terrific alternative. We passed across these areas on our seven-month road trip to every National Park.
In National Forests and on BLM land, you can pitch a tent, camp in your car, or boondock in your RV off main roads, with some rules. In addition, some National Grasslands, Wildlife Management Areas, and other conservation areas allow camping.
Car Camping in Public Campgrounds at State and National Parks
The most obvious place to camp is, well, a campground. Most campgrounds include hookups, flush toilets, running water, Wi-Fi, nature paths, bathrooms, and laundry facilities.
Paying for a campground can be convenient if you visit National or State Parks or need electricity and water. But, compared to alternatives, it’s pricey.
Parking at Private Campgrounds and Sleeping Inside Your Car
State-run campgrounds are pricey, though cheaper than commercial alternatives.
Private campgrounds offer park facilities plus more for more money, although these can still start at more than $40 per night. The more popular or features a campground has, the more it costs.
Some campgrounds feature swimming pools, games rooms, laundry facilities, playgrounds, dog parks, and Wi-Fi, and are well-maintained and safe to stay in your car overnight.
Top Tips To Car camp Along the Pacific Crest Trail
1. Do Research
This is true for any trip, but planning is especially crucial for camping trips. First, you’ll need to find out whether campgrounds are open right now besides where it’s possible and legal to camping.
It makes sense to verify the availability of individual sites at campgrounds, given that more travelers are expected to choose road trips and camp in the upcoming months.
State parks provide excellent campgrounds at affordable rates, as they do in many states.
The U.S. Forest Service also provides various camping options, from established campgrounds to something called dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere, for individuals who want a more secluded location.
You can choose safety in numbers because you might be traveling solo on your car camping trip.
2. Choose Campsites Wisely
Spend some time studying the maps and descriptions of the individual campsites if the campground allows booking a particular spot, as Arizona State Parks do.
If you may choose between a pull-through and a back-in campsite, it can be better to pick the latter for car camping. With a car, backing in is simple, and the back-in car camping locations are more private.
3. Understand Your Vehicle
If you are car camping, you need to know your vehicle, no matter if you are carrying your camping gear or sleeping in your car.
If you will sleep in your SUV, don’t assume you have lots of space. Do a trial run by lying down with your partner. You can find the back seats fold flat, yet your front seats remain at an angle.
Besides this, many first-time car campers neglect the wheel wells. These are hard and can get cold when you are pushed against them.
It can be advisable to use an air mattress is possible when car camping for insulation and comfort.
4. Consider Your Privacy
Hanging things against your windows is something we touched on for car camping, and if you are car camping in the middle of nowhere in a state park, you may think it isn’t necessary.
Remember that where you are parked, it could leave you right in the path of the morning sun, which could be bright.