Designated ‘Safe Parking Program’ lots – sleep in a car legally
Vanlife adventures are increasingly common. In addition, homelessness is on the rise, and many people affected sleep in a car. These two trends have created large groups of car campers looking for places to park.
Some cities have created a “Safe Parking Program.” These towns maintain a list of lots where you can sleep in a car legally. The city owns some of these lots. Local business people who want to help out own others. Good samaritans at local nonprofits or churches often offer parking space as well.
You can Google “Safe Parking Program” and your city for a listing. You can also call the town hall for information.
BLM Land and National Forests – sleep in a car and enjoy the outdoors
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Many know America has beautiful National Parks. Some of the more crowded parks have strict camping rules. But adjoining many parks are larger National Forests. These forests are less crowded and less rigid. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management manages millions of unused acres in the western US and encourages camping there. Many National Forests and BLM lands even border active highways.
National Forests and BLM lands often feature networks of “forest roads” maintained for wildfire access. Also, most National Forests and BLM lands allow “dispersed” camping anywhere inside their borders. Officials do not care if you sleep in a car or a tent, as long as you are following other camping guidelines. In addition, they may maintain “primitive” campsites with a fire ring and parking spot. These are either free or only cost a small fee.
If you have your eyes on a specific National Forest or BLM area, call the local ranger station or BLM management office. Describe your vehicle’s capabilities are and what kind of camping you are seeking. They can tell you precisely what they offer. If you stop by the office, you can get maps of the forest roads and camping permits if necessary.
Walmart parking lots – available nationwide
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As vanlife grows more trendy, car campers are trying many urban parking options. Some swear by hiding out in 24-hour casino or gym parking lots (illegal). Others pick inconspicuous places in residential neighborhoods (sometimes legal, sometimes illegal). And many debate whether sleeping in cars at rest stops is safe.
But for decades, older car campers have been sleeping in Walmart parking lots. It’s a classic destination for good reasons.
You can only sleep in a car in a private parking lot with the owner’s permission. But Walmart corporate allows sleeping in their parking lots. In addition, many local franchise owners actually offer coupons to truck drivers and road trippers who stay the night. But individual store owners, managers, and security guards always have the right to ask you to leave.
Most Walmarts where sleeping in your car is legal are well-lit, relatively safe spaces to park overnight. Remember to always shut off the engine while sleeping in your vehicle. Exhaust fumes can be deadly. A window cracked open may allow you to breathe more easily. Read more hacks for sleeping in your car comfortably.
Conclusion: Don’t be afraid to ask if sleep in a car is legal
In a pinch, there are several common places where sleeping in your car is legal. These include National Forests and BLM lands, Walmart parking lots, and parking areas designated as ‘safe’ by the city.
In addition, there is no federal law against sleeping in your car. However, some cities have enacted bans to control homelessness. So always research local laws. That said, parking on private property without permission–from a driveway to a parking mall lot–and sleeping is trespassing.
When cities pioneered Safe Parking Programs, many found local lot owners and nonprofits eager to help. Even if you are in a town with no such program, you may find people who want to help you. It is perfectly legal to ask business owners, landowners, or a local church if you can park and sleep in a car. The worst anyone can say is no.