RV ownership sure doesn’t come cheap.
Once you get over the initial financial hurdle of purchasing your vehicle, there’s a whole slew of other costs that await you. You have to pay for fuel for your RV, must-haves like a generator (which also needs fuel), and any other maintenance and repairs that come up along the way.
Then there’s the off-season, in which you have to shell out to keep your RV at a storage facility. Well, unless you’re lucky enough to be able to keep your vehicle on your own property.
Finally, you have to pay to stay at most campsites overnight. This can cost anywhere from $50 to $100+ depending on where you stay and for how long.
Well, what if I said there was a place you could park that didn’t cost you a cent? Because there certainly is, and it’s known as Cabela’s.
A History of Cabela’s
Cabela’s is an outdoor sporting store that has gear for hunters, campers, boaters, and fishermen. Richard N. Cabela, the namesake and founder, opened the first Cabela’s back in 1961 in Springfield, Missouri.
Since 2004, when the company decided to go public, income skyrocketed. In that year alone, Cabela’s raked in $1.56 billion. This branch of Bass Pro Shops has continued to see massive success, mostly due to its direct marketing mail-order catalogues. The store will ship its goods to 120 countries and all 50 states in the United States.
Today, you can get Cabela’s Club Visa cards through the World’s Foremost Bank, buy and sell guns through their Gun Library, or browse real estate at Trophy Properties LLC.
If you’re driving on a highway with retail stores, there’s no way you can miss a Cabela’s. Even in a busy shopping center, it stands out. That’s because most stores are decorated ornately from the exterior in. A Cabela’s typically includes indoor mountain structures, sprawling aquariums, and even taxidermied animals.
As of 2014, there are more than 50 Cabela’s stores in Canada and the US. They’re not everywhere, but you can expect to find them in most states. If you do indeed find one, you don’t have to stress about where to stay for the night.
Their Stance on RV Parking
Most Cabela’s stores welcome RV parking. If you look at their parking sign when you arrive, you’ll quickly see whether you’re allowed to stay there. The parking lot will be divided into two sections: one for visitor (shopper) parking and the other for RV and truck parking.
Still, just because you see a sign for RV parking doesn’t mean you should be presumptuous. You should always pop into the store and ask if you’re allowed to stay overnight. You never know what kinds of restrictions that particular Cabela’s may have.
That’s a good point I want to reiterate. Just because Cabela’s has an RV-friendly attitude in general (they even write a blog with great tips for RVers) doesn’t mean every store does. Whether RVs are allowed will be a decision that each store manager must make. If your particular Cabela’s management doesn’t want RVs for any reason, then that’s that. You’ll have to keep looking for somewhere else to sleep.
What Kind of Parking Situation Can You Expect at Cabela’s?
If you do get to park at your particular Cabela’s, then you’ll often be around the back of the store. This way, you’re out of the way of customers and employees alike. In this back parking lot, you should see spots specially demarcated for RV parking. The lines are large enough to fit most big rigs like yours.
Do know that parking is limited. In the Acworth, Georgia Cabela’s, for instance, there are only five spots for trucks and RVs. If those are full, then they’re full. A Cabela’s employee could turn you away.
Are Hookups Available?
The best part about staying at Cabela’s is you’re not completely without hookups. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t get electricity, so if you were hoping for that, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Some Cabela’s will have their own dump stations. The one in Acworth certainly does, as I was able to find a semi-recent review attesting to that. The dump station comes from SaniStar and isn’t free to use. You have to put in a credit or debit card and it costs $5 to empty your blackwater and/or graywater holding tanks.
This particular Cabela’s dump station recommends you access either the blackwater or graywater holding tank and then connect a drain hose. Make sure the sewer opening contains the hose’s drain end. Then, start draining the waste. There is an included hose for cleaning up any messes. Cabela’s asks you make sure the waste stays in their sewer.
There are no freshwater city hookups, either, but you can use their water station. That said, the water is not potable. There’s even a sign at Cabela’s water station that reads as follows: “Water is not to be used for drinking or domestic purposes.”
You will need to provide your own freshwater, then. I would recommend showering somewhere earlier in the day when you have a water hookup. Then, use jugs of water for cooking, drinking, and hygienic reasons for the rest of the day/evening.
Let’s circle back around to the fact that there’s no electricity. If you’ve never boondocked, which is where you stay in your RV without power and other hookups, then it’s worth doing at least once. You get a real feel for roughing it.
You should make sure your electronics are fully-charged before you arrive to Cabela’s. While you can likely use Cabela’s Wi-Fi, there will be no way to recharge your devices unless you have one of those rechargeable battery packs.
You might want to dust off your portable DVD player so the kids are entertained during the evening. Also, remember that no power means it can get chilly in your RV! Make sure you have plenty of extra blankets on hand. A battery-operated space heater can also help you stay toasty.
Tips for Finding a Cabela’s to Park at
If you take a look at Cabela’s official store locator map, you’ll see that there are Cabela’s in pretty much every state of the country. Now, it is important to differentiate between the blue and green markers. The blue markers are for Cabela’s while the green ones denote Bass Pro Shops. Remember that the two stores are in the same umbrella.
Once you find a Cabela’s that’s in your vicinity, we recommend you call them and ask what their RV parking situation is like. Then, when you arrive at the store, check in with management and double-check that you can stay there. Sometimes an employee picks up the phone who isn’t sure about the RV policy, and you would hate to drive all the way there just to find out you can’t stay at the Cabela’s in question.
Etiquette and Rules to Follow
Cabela’s does welcome RVs and won’t charge you for it. That’s very generous on their part, so you should be a gracious guest. Just because you’re parked around the back and customers and employees won’t see you doesn’t mean you can do what you want. Here are some rules and etiquette tips:
- Always be courteous and polite, even if you’re told that you can’t stay overnight. You never know when you’ll be back to that Cabela’s, so you don’t want to burn bridges. Treat everyone with respect.
- Watch your noise levels. It may be tempting to try to rig up your generator to get some power and warmth to your RV. That said, I discourage you from doing that. Generators are incredibly loud, and you don’t want to be rude. On that note, be careful about the volume of your activities, from watching movies to listening to music.
- Don’t overstay your welcome. It’s cool to stay at Cabela’s for a single evening, but that’s about it. Of course, there are always extenuating circumstances, but plan for a one-night stay only.
- Don’t leave any garbage or waste in and around the RV parking lot. Wash away any blackwater and graywater tank messes you make. Throw your garbage away in your RV trashcan or dispose of it in a Dumpster or somewhere else. No littering!
- If you find that you need to buy anything for your stay, you should do Cabela’s a favor and buy it there.
Staying Safe Overnight
Cabela’s is not open 24/7. Eventually, the store closes, the customers leave, and the employees return home for the night. While you won’t see any of this happen because you’ll typically be tucked in a back lot, it can be kind of unsettling.
It’ll just be you and any other RVers out there. You also won’t be able to get into the store to purchase anything or use any facilities. I recommend you take care of anything that requires you to leave your RV well before Cabela’s closes. Once the store shuts down for the night, lock up your RV and stay inside.
If you hear or see anything that seems suspicious, you should contact the police. There might be Cabela’s security that hang around the lot overnight, but this isn’t always guaranteed. Be alert and stay safe!
What if Cabela’s Is Full? Where Else Can You Park?
Oh no! You waited too long and now the Cabela’s you planned on staying at is full. There are no other Cabela’s in the area, so what do you do? Do you have to call a campsite at the eleventh hour and hope they have a vacancy for you?
Not necessarily. There are plenty of other retailers and even restaurants that will let you stay on their property for free. As always, you will want to call ahead and ask about parking your RV at these places overnight. Then you should check in a second time when you arrive. This way, you’re certain you’re in the clear.
So which retailers and restaurants should you look out for if you get bad news from Cabela’s? Try any from this list.
Bass Pro Shops
Since Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s are under the same ownership, it makes sense that you can park at this sporting retailer as well. You can use the map I linked to above to find a Bass Pro Shops store near you.
While there are fewer Bass Pro Shops than Cabela’s, if you’re traveling near the southern part of the country, you can find them in spades. If you read around online, people have had mixed experiences with parking at a Bass Pro Shops store. A lot of the stores don’t seem to welcome RVs, which isn’t because of company policy but rather local ordinances and other rules. That’s why I always caution you to call ahead.
There doesn’t seem to be a designated area to park your RV at the Bass Pro Shops parking lots, so keep that in mind. If the lot is full or if there’s no space large enough for your RV, then you’ll have to move on.
Walmart is so beloved for its free parking for RVers that the practice has a name: Wallydocking. Unlike Bass Pro Shops, the average Walmart parking lot does have spots designated for RVs like yours. That makes it easy and convenient to park.
I should mention that you can only typically stay overnight at Walmart Supercenters. These are the much bigger Walmarts that operate 24/7. A bigger store means a bigger parking lot, so you wouldn’t want to lodge at a smaller Walmart anyway.
As one of the most popular retailers in the country, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a Walmart on your travels. They’re also incredibly pervasive, with just about 6,400 US stores as of this writing.
The Walmart Locator website is dedicated to sharing which Walmarts you can—and can’t—park your RV overnight. Bookmark it and keep it handy if you see a Walmart on your road trip.
Although you wouldn’t think so, Cracker Barrel also lets you stay overnight in your RV. While I would recommend you stop in for a meal, it’s otherwise free to lodge. After your dinner, you can talk with a manager about parking your RV for the night.
There are bus and RV parking options in some Cracker Barrel parking lots, but not all. If there are such parking options available, then you’ll see a sign telling you where to go. Some Cracker Barrel parking lots only have room for three RVs while bigger lots have space for 10 vehicles.
If you’re thinking of staying at a Cracker Barrel, use this handy map to find one on your voyage. They’re a pretty popular restaurant, so there’s no shortage of ‘em.
Truck stops are littered across the country. If these parking areas have the capacity to house large commercial trucks, then surely your little ol’ RV can fit, right? Definitely! Like always, don’t just assume you can stay here for the evening. Contact an employee at the truck stop and double-check that there’s a vacancy to be filled. Most truck stops have bathrooms and other facilities, although you’d likely still be dry camping.
Casino Parking Lots
Although it’s not a guarantee, there are a lot of casinos out there that will allow RVs to take a respite for the night in their parking lots. Here’s a list you can use for starters. If you don’t see a casino near you on that list, then you know what to do. Call the casino and ask if you can use their parking lot until morning.
School Parking Lots
Some schools don’t mind RVs taking up the parking lot. That said, it must not be during a major schooling event or when the school is open. You will have to get up pretty early in the morning to be off the property in time, then.
This is kind of the riskiest option, as you can’t always contact school administration after hours and ask about the parking situation. Plus, if you’re coming in from out of town, the school might be a little paranoid about letting a stranger stay in the lot. I thought this option was worth mentioning nevertheless, but try the other places first.
Cabela’s is a sporting and hunting store with locations across the country. If your store allows you to, you can park your RV there overnight at no cost to you. Some Cabela’s even have dumping stations and water stations (this water isn’t potable, though).
Although I said it a lot in this article, I do want to mention it again: you should always call and ask management in person about you staying. This way, you don’t step on any toes or find yourself out in the cold for the night.
You should use basic common courtesy when boondocking. No loud music or generators, no garbage outside of the vehicle, and no being rude to employees or anyone, really.
If you can’t stay at a Cabela’s for any reason, try Bass Pro Shops, Cracker Barrel, Walmart, or even a truck stop or casino parking lot. Good luck!
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