Overnight Parking Demystified

Campgrounds are not a Place to Park
One of the great advantages of RV life is being able to park overnight near where you are spending your day, whether you are in town visiting family or friends, or at a festival or event. Most people assume RVers must always stay in campgrounds. However, a campground is not usually a good choice when you just need a place to park for the night. Campgrounds are often located in out of the way places; they do not usually have staff on hand to register a camper arriving late or assist with an early morning departure; other campers generally do not appreciate when rigs pull in late at night or leave early in the morning; navigating narrow, unfamiliar campground roads in the dark with an RV is a risky venture.

We made the mistake of parking our RV at a private campground when we weren’t camping once before. James’ family had rented a cottage outside Tobermory but there was no room for us to park our rig on site. We wanted to spend time with the family and stay in our RV so we booked into the closest campground we could find. It was a lovely campground with great amenities but we were not there to enjoy them. We left early each morning and were away until late each night visiting and touring with family. The location wasn’t convenient either and to rub it in, after we got there we discovered a lovely, treed town parking lot that allowed free overnight parking in a much better location.

Campgrounds are for Camping
The money we spent on that campground could have been better spent enjoying restaurants and attractions in the area. Instead we paid for access to facilities that we did not require or use. Because the campground was so far away, we couldn’t easily pop back during the day so we had to bring our dog with us everywhere we went. It would have been handy to be able to leave her inside for a morning or afternoon nap. We learned a valuable lesson from that experience: campgrounds are for camping; if you just need a place to park for the night because you are engaging in other activities, a campground is not the right choice.

Etiquette Guidelines for Overnight Parking
Overnight parking in parking lots is a widely accepted practice in the full-time RV community. There are some etiquette guidelines that the majority of RVers follow: ask permission, park out of the way, do not set up camp (no awnings, chairs, bbq grills), keep slides in, no jacks on asphalt, one night limit, buy gas, food or supplies, and leave the area cleaner than you found it. Many large retailers not only allow but welcome overnight RV parking since RVers will frequent their stores and restaurants. In particular, Walmarts are known for promoting overnight RV parking. There are some stores or even communities that do not allow overnight parking; usually these are located in popular tourist areas. In cases where entire communities do not allow overnight RV parking, word gets around the RV community fast and RVers avoid the area completely at an unfortunate loss to the local businesses.

Government Ban?
A Canadian economist completed a fascinating study in 2005 of the effect on RV tourism of an ill-conceived provincial overnight parking ban in Nova Scotia. Prompted by campground owners who wanted to try to “force” RVers into their campgrounds, the ban in the Tourist Accommodations Act of 1994 had the opposite effect. Though never enforced, the mere existence of a province-wide ban coincided with a notable decline in tourist activity as RVers chose not to visit the province. Nova Scotia tourism quietly lifted the ban in a 2010 revision of the act and they now confirm that overnight RV parking is not considered camping and is not illegal in the province. As a side note, according to the Federal Department of Tourism, a province does not have the jurisdiction to ban RV parking in commercial parking lots. Whether to allow overnight parking is a private matter between a business and their customers and falls outside the scope of governmental control.

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