November 23, 2022 4 min read

A woman sitting in a vehicle rooftop tent

Rooftop tent camping is one of the most convenient ways to travel with your vehicle. No matter if you are planning to embark on an overland journey or on a regular road trip, you won’t have to worry about pitching a tent or looking for accommodation. However, you still have to find a camping site.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to find a place to stay overnight in your car tent safely and legally.

Types of Car Camping Spots Available

When searching for a car camping spot, you have plenty of options available. The process is no different from looking for a site for a classic tent, but you also have the added benefit of being able to stay in areas designed specifically for vans and RVs.

In general, campsites that are open to those who travel with a rooftop overland tent can be divided into three categories:

1.   Public Designated Camp Spots

A car with a rooftop tent in a forest

State parks, national parks, and national forest lands typically feature a lot of designated camp spots that come at a small fee. While the majority of such spaces are designed for people with regular tents, there’s no reason why you can’t stay there as a rooftop tent camper.

There are two types of public camping spots:

  • First come, first serve. With such camping sites, timing is key, so try to arrive at the spot early, especially during the high season.
  • Reservation required. To book a spot at state parks, visit the location-specific websites. Nationalparks and forest lands have dedicated booking systems.

2.   Private Campsites

These camping grounds are situated on private land and are for-profit and reservation-based in the majority of cases. The most convenient way of booking a spot is by using a website like Hipcamp or by reaching out to the campsite directly. Private camping grounds are typically easier to reserve and are often used as a plan B if the public ones around are full.

While some private camping areas have better privacy and amenities than their public counterparts, others can be worse. Thus, always do research prior to heading to a campsite.

3.   Dispersed Camping Areas

A car with a blue rooftop tent in a mountainous area

Dispersed, aka wild, camping implies staying overnight on undeveloped sites with no amenities around. Dispersed camping spots are available in National Forests and on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands. Always check the website of the forest or BLM unit you are planning to visit or to find out the rules that apply there.

A typical jeep camping practice in national forests is parking on the side of a Forest Service road and staying there overnight. However, stay close to the road so as not to damage the forest with your vehicle.

Alternative Options

If your itinerary doesn’t entail passing by any of the campsite types mentioned above, there are other places where you can stay overnight in a vehicle overland tent:

Walmart

A lot of Walmarts across the US allow trailers, RVs, vans, and other vehicles to stay overnight in their parking lots. While not everyone would consider this camping, Walmart stores are a good option to keep in mind when setting out on a long journey.

Truck Stops

If you’re still not sure where exactly you will be heading, you can use the truck stop locator from AllStays to find a place along the way. Note that these spots usually require payment, so take care of it before settling for the night.

Rest Areas

Rest area regulations regarding overnight stays are tricky and vary from state to state. Keep in mind that many locations forbid parking for a full night, while others set a time limit.

Casinos

This comes as a surprise for many people, but casinos often offer overnight parking for RVs and car campers. While there are sources that can guide you in finding a casino parking spot for the night, such as CasinoCamper, it’s still advisable to call the venue in advance to confirm the information.

Tips on Getting a Reservation

Two overland jeeps with rooftop tents

Getting a camping spot has never been an easy task, especially during the warm season. However, the COVID-19 situation has made it even more challenging due to the travel restrictions and the consequent growing interest in the outdoors.

Here are some pro tips that will help you secure a place at a campsite:

  • Book in advance.As soon as you know the dates of your journey and its destination, book a place at the campsite of choice without delay. This is the only way to be 100% confident about having a spot to set up a car camp.
  • Check for cancellations.Even if your first attempt at securing a camping spot failed, don’t give up. Check the site regularly since cancellations are quite common.
  • Use various approaches. If you are trying to book a place at the camping area through an aggregator site and there are no spaces available, it is worth trying to contact the venue directly and vice versa.
  • Adjust the search area. Sometimes adjusting the search area on the map is what it takes to get that camping spot. For instance, checking for less popular entrances into state parks could be helpful.

Now that you know how to find and secure a rooftop tent camping spot, you are sure to have a more hassle-free experience when you go for your next adventure. Remember to prepare in advance, always have a plan B for your overnight stay, and enjoy the trip!


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