We’ve all been there: You’re tired, you’re a bit drowsy, and you’re looking for a place to park your RV for the night. The campground you were headed for is too far away for you to make the drive safely, and there are no others nearby.
You’re keeping your eyes peeled for a rest stop or other suitable alternative, when your eyes light on a nearby Bass Pro Shop. Since they stock fishing supplies and other outdoor necessities, it stands to reason that they’d be sympathetic to your plight. Surely they wouldn’t mind if you parked your rig in the lot overnight, would they?
We’ve asked the same question of Cabela’s, the camping supply chain. Businesses that depend on the outdoor lifestyle for their bottom line are more likely to be lenient on such matters as “lot docking,” the term given for positioning your camper in a company’s parking area. But is it really permissible to park your RV overnight at Cabelas or Bass Pro Shop? As always, it’s better to know the answer before you hit the road.
A Brief History Of Cabela’s
Cabela’s has been around since 1961, when Dick Cabela and his wife Mary began selling fishing flies via a mail-order catalog from their home in Nebraska. Although the company didn’t go public until 2004, the brand gained a steady following over the decades.
Once the IPO was finalized, things really began to take off. Today, thanks to a keen marketing department and the continued success of their mail-order services, Cabela’s provides camping gear and supplies to all 50 US states and ships to over 100 different countries worldwide.
In 2017, Cabela’s was acquired by Bass Pro Shops, a larger conglomerate. While all Cabela’s are owned by Bass Pro Shops, the two chains maintain their own distinct identities (more on that later).
All told, there are more than 50 Cabela’s scattered throughout the United States. While they aren’t quite as ubiquitous as REI, you’ll have a good chance at coming across a few of them if you take your RV or travel trailer across state lines.
Cabela’s website runs a blog that offers tips on the camping experience in general and RVs in particular. As such, you can expect the management and staff to be well-versed and understanding when it comes to RV parking.
Not All Locations Are Created Equal
You can tell whether or not a Cabela’s welcomes RV parking by checking the sign posted near the lot’s entrance. The sign should give clear instructions that divide the lot into two sections: One for regular customers, the other for oversized trucks and RvVs. Even if this is the case, however, it’s a good idea to head into the store after parking to make sure you’re allowed to stay overnight.
Why, you might ask, would a store have a sign that welcomes RV travelers and not allow them to spend the night? First of all, remember that not every RV that pulls into a Cabela’s will be staying for more than an hour or two. Plenty of RVers might be stopping by just to grab some supplies, or even a quick nap.
Second, although the brand is geared toward the outdoor lifestyle, the decision to allow RVs and travel trailers is ultimately at the manager’s discretion. If you should learn that the store doesn’t allow overnight camping, accept the situation gracefully. You can also ask the staff or other customers if they can recommend any nearby RV parks or campgrounds.
Finding Your Way
If you’re worried that you might not recognize a Cabela’s after a long day behind the wheel, fear not. With their rustic exteriors (modeled after log cabins and hunting lodges) and brightly colored logo, these stores can be spotted from a good distance away and are unlikely to be mistaken for any other. To get a better idea of what you’re looking for, take a look at this video, taken at a Cabela’s in Glendale, Arizona.
Are Cabela’s And Bass Pro Shops The Same?
While Cabela’s is indeed owned by Bass Pro Shops, the two aren’t interchangeable, especially for these purposes. Bass Pro Shops typically have much smaller parking lots, and therefore aren’t as accommodating to RVs and travel trailers. You might occasionally find a Bass Pro Shops location that’s willing to let you park overnight, but we wouldn’t count on it. You’ll have better luck trying to find the Cabela’s logo instead.
What If I Already Know I Want To Try Lot Docking At Cabela’s?
We can’t blame you for keeping an eye out for a good bargain. Since parking overnight at Cabela’s is free, it’s a great way to save a few bucks on campground fees. Although you won’t have access to certain amenities (see Other Considerations, below), if you’re comfortable with boondocking, this represents a decent alternative.
To make sure your trip goes according to plan, take a look at Cabela’s store locator map. Look for the blue markers to determine which locations are Cabela’s–the green markers denote Bass Pro Shops, which probably won’t be able to accommodate you (see Are Cabela’s And Bass Pro Shops The Same?, above).
Once you’ve found a suitable location, you can call ahead to find out what their policies are on overnight stays. Even if you’re given the green light, however, be sure to stop in and check again with management upon your arrival. If we’ve learned one thing about overnight RV policies, it’s that you can never tell whether the person you’re talking to is sure about the answer to your question.
Where To Park
Let’s say that you’ve found a Cabela’s that does welcome overnight guests. What will the parking situation be like?
Most Cabela’s lots will have their RV sections located at the rear of the building. This configuration is helpful to both you and the establishment. Not only will you be located off the beaten path (thereby affording you more privacy), the view of the store won’t be obstructed by a row of tall campers. In addition, keeping the RVs out of view will help prevent the lot from becoming overrun with curious passersby.
Finally, be aware that just because you’re allowed to park there doesn’t mean there will be a parking space available. If you’re driving an oversized RV or travel trailer, there might be as few as four or five spots that are large enough to accommodate you.
If you’re camping overnight, there’s a good chance you’ll be looking for hookups. On this front, we have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that there’s no electricity available, nor will you find freshwater hookups. If you know you’ll be staying overnight at a Cabela’s in advance, it’s in your best interests to shower and charge all your electronic devices beforehand.
The lack of electricity also means that it might get mighty chilly in your RV overnight. If you’re a frequent boondocker, you’re probably used to this. In any case, stock up on warm clothing and blankets, especially if you’re traveling through cooler regions.
The good news? Many Cabela’s locations will have dump stations that allow you to dispose of your graywater or blackwater via a drain hose, as long as you’re careful. If the water spills outside the sewer, the management won’t be eager to have you back.
There may also be a water station available where you can flush out your graywater or blackwater tanks. As we mentioned, however, this water isn’t potable. Again, if this trip to Cabela’s was a planned event, you should make sure you have enough cooking and drinking water to get you through the night.
What About Wi-Fi?
Most stores these days will offer Wi-Fi access to their customers, and overnight Cabela’s guests are no exception. When you’re checking in to find out their policy, ask the staff if you’ll need a password to gain access to their signal. In any case, be aware that you won’t be able to recharge your devices while you’re staying here.
Can I Use My Generator?
In a word, no. You’re being given a place to camp overnight for free; don’t push it. Not only will the loud noise stick in the management’s craw, it will be annoying to the other overnight guests. Be a gracious guest and a kind neighbor, and stay off the grid until morning.
How Long Can I Stay?
One night is generally acceptable, but we wouldn’t recommend a longer stay. The staff knows you’re basically squatting, and it would be in bad form to stretch your good fortune into a multi-day excursion. Besides, you didn’t invest in an RV just so you could spend the night in a parking lot. Try to make it an occasional stopgap solution, rather than a regular occurrence.
So, can you park your RV overnight at Cabelas or Bass Pro Shop? The short answer is yes for Cabelas, probably not for Bass Pro Shop.
That said, you’ll have to do some recon work before simply parking and popping out your slides. If you follow our advice, you should be able to pull of a night of lot docking at Cabela’s with no issues.
Best of luck, and happy camping!