Stealth Camping: Common Sense and Applied Experience

What is Stealth Camping?

Stealth camping has different connotations to different campers but also it has a main theme . . . camping for free in a location not designated for camping and doing it undetected. That's the nut of it but there are many different approaches.

Some folks only stealth camp if in a van camper that doesn't look like a motor home. To some stealth means completely hidden. Many tenters fall into this category, hiding behind tall ground cover or shrubbery, having tents that blend into their surroundings. One night, stealth camping on the coast road of Monterrey Bay, California, it turned out I was cover for a backpacker hidden from view by a tree and my van camper.

Sunset over Monterrey BaySunset over Monterrey Bay
Overnighted overlooking Monterrey BayOvernighted overlooking Monterrey Bay

Most people stealth camp for the free aspect and going undetected is not a total priority. If there is someone to ask then by all means do. Your safety and well being should be your first priority. You might want to ask a business owner you've made a purchase from if you could park overnight in her lot. Or ask a police officer or Chamber of Commerce worker if there is any free overnight RV parking in their community. 

Of course you want to make it clear that it us just for a night. You don't want to appear to be a squatter. I think this is the advantage of a motorhome style van as you are unlikely to be perceived as one. In any case, asking the people who live there would serve to take away any uncertainty.

Uncertainty , Common Sense and Experience 

That feeling of uncertainty is a little stress producing at first. But with experience it lessens. Common sense has a lot to do with it at first and then experience and probability play a key role over time.

I'd like to propose a common sense approach that has worked for me and seems to be a foundation upon which to build future experiences. Whether in a rural or urban setting you want to do a little scouting. Look for parking areas that have no signs prohibiting parking for any time or reason.

I found parking spaces adjacent to urban motels are unlikely to have any signs. I don't know if that's so the motels/hotels can have overflow parking for their guests but it's a safe bet to park there and not be disturbed. The same goes for hotel lots that are unsigned. I think people assume that the RV owner is staying in the motel/hotel and not sleeping in her RV.

Of course being discreet is key. I don't close my privacy drapery over my front cab at night, or play music or watch a video, or run my generator in the early morning to make coffee. Okay, I do play Words With Friends on my smartphone . . . but on silence. If you want to watch a video or listen to music, do it with a headset or earbuds. And just to be safe keep one ear available to hear what's going on outside.

In San Francisco, I found a free parking area along a waterfront picnic area in Golden Gate National Park. There were no signs prohibiting overnight parking. After some late night shopping at the local Safeway and taking in the waterfront sights, I returned to this parking lot. It was after 9:30pm and there were lots of people still parked there. I parked under a light pole, nose into the hillside, pulled the rear and side shades and went to sleep.

Overnighted to the right and below the bridge

Early the next morning, I took a walk and there was a worker cleaning up the trash from the late night picnickers. As I passed him, a man stopped to verify that the parking here was indeed free and asked the attendant how long he could park there. The worker said there were not set limits but that the Park Police would usually tag a vehicle parked overnight, providing a phone number to call if it was broken down. I did not get tagged, so I have to assume this is not routine. But common sense told me I would not park there more than one night. And by the way, I don't think it was coincidence that I overheard this conversation.

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