Free Camping Our Way Across America

RVing on the Cheap means when you can do it for free you take advantage of it. Does this mean paying to stay in a campground or resort when all you’re looking for is a few hours of shut eye? No way, we go to places where they roll out the red carpet with no charge attached.

Of course this can mean your accommodations will range everywhere from being barely tolerable to down right comfortable. How well you do your research will go a long way in assuring you’ll find all the services you need, totally free with no strings attached.

Recently we made a journey to the Black Hills region of South Dakota. With 1,500 miles of driving involved, finding a place to stay, a way to empty waste tanks, and reload water tanks, was top on our list of necessities.

Running a close second in demands was the ability to run our air conditioner, either by generator or plugged in, as the temperatures were hovering in the high 90’s, making sleep almost impossible.

Before we even left home a little on line research gave us a pretty good list of possible sources for the services we needed. The list of Walmarts that don’t allow overnight parking eliminated only one Walmart in South Dakota. The Spearfish S.D. Walmart doesn’t open their lot to overnight parking. Don’t go blaming the company, most likely the reason is local ordinances prevent them from doing so.

Before we headed out we had cities with RV friendly Walmarts highlighted on our road atlas as well all the rest areas along the way. You can’t camp in the rest areas but those found along the interstates all have RV dump stations and separate drinking water stations. That takes care of the waste and water issues, now for a place to park.

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It’s common knowledge that most Walmarts welcome overnight RVers looking to spend the night in their parking lot. You may not know that Kmart was the first large chain store to open their parking lots to overnight parking. In many instances Kmart will be a better choice for no other reason than a smaller customer base. On this voyage we were welcomed by the service desk attendant at Kmart in Mitchell S.D. With instruction to park along the perimeter, we slid up along side a shady row of pine trees.

Not only did this provide some shelter from the sun and a nice view (at least out one side), it muffled our generator noise, which was required to run the air conditioner. When the sun went down, temperatures quickly dropped. By 10:00 pm the generator went silent and we enjoyed being the only RV in the lot for the night.

When we reached Rapid City S.D. arriving at the Walmart lot was pure chaos. With barely enough room to wedge a couple RV’s in on the farthest end of the lot, there were already a half dozen luxury coaches pulled in and set up for the night by 3:00 pm. There we sat, parked leaning uncomfortably toward the drivers side, in full direct sunlight with temps in the 90’s. People and activity everywhere, for someone who doesn’t like crowds it was enough to make you anxious.

On the way into town I noticed a Cabella’s slightly away from the main traffic area. We headed to their lot and found sanctuary on the east side of the building. Why is this significant you ask? The sun sets in the west. With the building acting as a shield it would cool off much sooner on the east side.

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Once again the service desk confirmed we were welcome to stay and when darkness arrived the generator went silent again. Throughout the night only one other RV pulled into this designated overnight parking area, it was like we had the place to our self.

Cabella’s really makes the extra effort to welcome Rvers. Not only is their designated parking area flat and shielded from hot late afternoon sun, they also provide an RV dump station, a dumpster for your trash, and if you happen to be bringing your horses along with you the Rapid City Cabella’s provide horse stalls complete with fresh bedding and a place to dispose of manure.

During our trip we had a list of truck stops as a backup plan. Fortunately in every case we found retail establishments that were happy to have us. All it takes is a little beforehand research to find plenty of comfortable, quiet, places to spend the night.

When you travel be a courteous Rver. Especially when you’re staying for free. Patronize the establishment when you can, and leave the area cleaner than how you found it.