Is Stealth Camping Illegal?
Most cities have laws against camping within their borders. They also have laws against sleeping in your vehicle, or sleeping overnight in your vehicle. Many cities also have made it illegal to park your car along city streets between the hours of 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM. Police and parking enforcement can use these laws to evict you from your parking spot, or even cite you with a ticket.
City laws still apply to private property. That means it is technically illegal to park overnight at a Walmart, or a Camping World, or even a Costco. That also includes camping on your own private property. See our other article, “Is it Illegal to Live in a Tent in Your Backyard?”
It’s Only Illegal if You Get Caught
Even though cities have laws that make it impossible for stealth camping, not all cities enforce these laws. Generally, only the larger cities enforce them. This is because large cities have a bigger problem with homelessness and people living in vehicles. People who stealth camp at a small town Walmart typically don’t get bothered. Meanwhile, those who stealth camp at a Walmart in a very large city, is more likely to get asked to leave.
Don’t Leave the Lights On
Police and parking enforcement generally don’t mind people leaving their cars parked overnight along city streets, as long as there are no signs prohibiting overnight parking. However, if they see you inside your vehicle overnight, they will stop and knock on your door. Hence, if you need some light inside your vehicle, find ways to make it impossible to see that light from the outside.
Don’t Stay Too Long
Stealth camping generally becomes a problem when you remain parked in the same spot for more than a day. If police or parking enforcement notice your vehicle has been there for more than a day, they will stop to investigate, which includes knocking on the door and shining a flashlight in your window. If you can move to another part of town within 12 to 18 hours, you’re generally good. Try to find five or six places within town you can sleep overnight.