The urge to save money on a hotel and sleep in your car instead can be quite tempting. Not only is it a great way to save money, but car camping is also plenty of fun and it’s often a memorable experience. So, is car camping illegal?
Car camping is illegal in some states, but most states let you sleep in your car on public property. You can legally sleep in your car at rest areas, truck stops, some hospitals, and many campgrounds. Stores like Walmart, Costco, Bass Pro Shop, and Cabela’s also allow car camping, but that is up to state laws and the manager’s discretion.
You can even go car camping at many Cracker Barrel locations for one night. Car camping can be dangerous in areas with high crime rates, so make sure to roll your windows up and lock the doors. Follow along as we explore where you can legally sleep in your car and highlight precautions you must take.
Is Car Camping Illegal?
Car camping is not illegal in most states and municipalities. However, you must make sure that it’s legal to sleep in your car on a particular property. Car camping is illegal on private property unless you own it, and you can face fines and charges if you are caught in many cases.
Many states, such as Nevada and Illinois let people sleep in a car and park there for 24 before they must move. Others, like New Hampshire, only let you sleep in your car in one spot for 4 hours at a time. It’s worthwhile to look up the legality of car camping in your state and research areas where it’s allowed to avoid legal trouble.
Where Can You Sleep in Your Car
Rest areas are the best option if you must sleep in your car. As the name suggests, rest areas are there for people to safely park and rest. They also typically feature vending machines and restrooms which are quite helpful when car camping.
Pay attention to the signs on the highway to find a rest area or simply use your phone to find local rest areas. Rest areas are run by the state, and there are currently 1,840 rest areas in the United States.
Truck stops are known for being quite accommodating, and that includes letting people sleep in their cars. You can legally sleep in your car or truck at most truck stops, but you must follow the rules of the establishment. For example, you shouldn’t simply park and sleep in one of the parking spots right in front of the convenience store at the truck stop.
You must also park legally between the lines when car camping so you don’t block anyone else from parking. Exercise caution and cover your windows or make sure nothing valuable is visible in your car to avoid crime.
Many campgrounds allow car camping in designated areas. However, car camping is illegal in areas at public campgrounds that don’t allow vehicles. You can face fines and legal penalties from park rangers if you get caught car camping in areas that don’t allow it.
Many hospitals let people sleep in their cars, especially if they enforce restrictions on how many people can visit patients. Some hospitals have COVID-19 restrictions and visitation protocols that limit who can enter the hospital to visit a patient. Because of that, some people have to spend time or even sleep in their car.
Make sure to check to see if passes are required to park at the hospital. Not all hospitals charge visitors to park there, but you can get a ticket if you fail to get one when they are required. If you are nervous about it, simply ask a hospital staff member if it’s okay to sleep in your car overnight.
Find the nearest Cabela’s location in your area if you must sleep in your car before you hit the road again. Cabela’s doesn’t always allow car camping, but many of their 160 locations will let you sleep in your car. Call the store or stop inside and ask an employee if it’s allowed at that location.
Bass Pro Shop
Bass Pro Shop is similar to Cabela’s when it comes to their car camping policy. You can sleep in your car or an RV at many Bass Pro Shop locations, but it varies between stores and managers. However, if car camping is illegal in the state, then Bass Pro Shop won’t let you park overnight and you could face fines.
Cracker Barrel is a staple of many road trips, and that makes it one of the best places to legally sleep in your car. It varies between locations, however, but many Cracker Barrel locations that are right off the highway all car camping and overnight RV parking. Enjoy some comfort food at Cracker Barrel and get a good night’s sleep, that is if the manager allows it.
Much like Cracker Barrel, many Walmart locations feature big parking lots that are lit well. This makes them the perfect place for car camping overnight, and it’s not typically illegal. Contact the manager of Walmart and ask them if you can sleep in your car overnight if you are worried about it.
It’s common to see RVs parked at Walmart overnight because it’s the perfect location for it. You can also stock up on anything you need before or after you sleep, and that makes it one of the best car camping locations.
Not only is it typically legal to sleep in your car at Sam’s Club, but it’s also typically safe. Sam’s Club features bright lights in the parking lot which may make it hard to fall asleep, but that can also make you feel safer. Owned by the same umbrella company as Walmart, Sam’s Club has always accommodated RVs as well.
Costco is another major store chain that typically lets people sleep in their cars overnight. It’s worth checking with the manager before you sleep in your car, but you shouldn’t have a problem. Make sure to park far away from the entrance to the store to avoid people and give customers easy access to the door.
Your Friend’s Property
Sure, car camping is illegal on private property. However, there is nothing illegal about car camping on private property if the property owner permits you to. That’s why car camping on your friend’s property is a great idea because you won’t get in trouble, and you’ll likely be comfortable.
This is especially true if you have been to the property several times before and you know it’s a safe area. If the police visit you to see if you are trespassing, you will likely need your friend to verify that you have permission. That can be irritating, but it’s better than getting fined and even arrested for trespassing.
Car camping at your friend’s property is a great option if you are tired and have a long drive ahead of you. It gives you the chance to get some sleep without having to find a public property that will let you sleep in your car.
Is It Safe to Sleep in Your Car?
It is relatively safe to sleep in your car if the engine is turned off. That said, car camping isn’t necessarily safe in every area. Use online resources like NeighborhoodScout to research crime statistics in the area before car camping.
Nighttime is when 80% of car break-ins occur, so there is always a risk that something bad could happen. However, car camping in a safe area where it’s legal shouldn’t be too dangerous as long as your car is in good condition. Make sure to lock the doors, roll up the windows, and turn off the lights so your battery doesn’t die while you sleep in your car.
Can You Pull Over to Take a Nap in Your Car?
You can pull over to take a nap in your car in most states, but the police may speak with you. Ideally, you should only pull over at rest stops to take a nap in your car. That said, some people who are extremely tired or intoxicated pull over on the side of the road to take a nap for safety purposes.
While you should never drive while intoxicated, it’s better to sleep it off in your car than to drive and potentially injure someone. You can still get charged with a DUI even if you pull over to sleep in your car. The officer can arrest you for driving under the influence even when parked if it’s clear you were driving drunk.
So, Can You Sleep in Your Car Camping?
Car camping isn’t illegal at public campgrounds in designated areas and at rest areas. You can also legally sleep in your car at many truck stops, hospitals, stores, and even restaurants like Cracker Barrel. Walmart, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, Sam’s Club, and Costco also let you sleep in your car overnight at many locations, but it varies by state laws and store managers.