Tired and dirty, driving practically from daybreak, and it was nearing dark again. This was our first extended road trip, and we did not have our road trip essentials dialed in yet. We did not know about affordable campground clubs, or why having a gym membership would make extended road trips easier. We built a simple camper carpet kit, so we could sleep in the back of the truck. For all our other needs, we winged it. Now we needed a place to park and catch some sleep for the night. We were in Portland, searching for a free urban camping option.
The Husband located a RV resort on the outskirts of Portland. The website listed real hot water showers as part of their amenities. It sounded amazing. As I searched for their exact location to map out directions, I noticed their rules. The website said you must have an RV, and tent or car camping sites were unavailable.
I know, he said, but look at the bottom of the page.
It says, Camp Hosts can make exceptions on a case by case basis. Maybe if we’re really nice, they’ll like us, and at least let us use the shower.
Seemed like a good plan.
No such luck. We were told city ordinances require all overnight campers to be fully self-contained. Then the host recommended we check out the Walmart down the street. (dang) I did not know, but apparently that’s a thing. Most Walmarts allow overnight parking. Will store that knowledge for later.
This Walmart was full of signs stating NO OVERNIGHT PARKING, NO CAMPING, NO, NO, NO. However, the parking lot was also full of RVs, motorhomes, trailers hitched to trucks, and a few unattached Semis. It appeared that the signs were not being enforced.
We drove around, and tried out a few parking spaces like you do when searching for a good camp spot. The vibe wasn’t there. Bright beaming street lights filled the lot, and (most important) there was no where to hide good enough for a quick parking lot shower. I really wanted to get clean.
We continued on to check out the area’s urban camping potential. Shortly down the road we came upon a nice tree filled round-a-bout in front of a closed business. Perfect. I opened the cab door to grab my soaps, stripped down, and let the water bottle empty on my head. Wrapped in just a towel, feeling rejuvenated and amazingly fresh in the quiet night air, I hopped back in the truck. We drove on in search of a free urban camping spot. Somewhere that wouldn’t encourage anyone to stop and inquire why we had parked there.
The nearby neighborhoods held town homes, surrounded by a golf course and mini lakes. Signs on parking restrictions were posted everywhere, and the spaces were small. Any open space we came upon, would leave our truck’s rear end partially in someone’s driveway. It wasn’t looking promising, and we were very tired.
Earlier, we had seen a church sitting on a hill with a large parking lot, that was partly not visible form the road. We toyed with the idea. If someone noticed us, we would look suspicious, but we just may be able to go undetected.
We waited patiently across the street, until no other cars were passing by. Once the roads emptied, we quickly floored it up the driveway. Parking in the furthest corner under the trees, we were now safely tucked behind the church. With a quick look around, we jumped out of the front, quietly shut the doors, and slipped into the back of the camper with the pup. Snuggled in our double sleeping bag, trees lightly blowing above and the sound of a flowing creek just out the window, it couldn’t of been a more perfect campsite. We drifted fast asleep.
Tap! Tap! Tap! Flash lights pounded on our windows.
Rarr Rarr Rarr. Macey dog protectively growled back.
Ssshhhh puppy! We jolted awake. Frozen, not knowing what we should do. With the limo tinted windows on the camper, we knew they couldn’t see in, and contemplated if we should just sit still. Although, they definitely had heard our growling pup.
Red, white, and blue lights lit up the (no longer peaceful) parking lot. Our truck was surrounded by three cop cars. Slowly, The Husband unlocked, and opened the camper’s back window. Shirtless, and with one eye still half closed, he peeked outside.
Seeing the sleeping bag, the officer put his flashlight down, and asked what we were doing here. This was one situation where having Texas plates helped our case.
“Well, we just couldn’t drive anymore and thought this looked like ansafe place to stop.” That was the truth, although we did leave out the details.
The pup got up and started wagging her tail. He reached over to pet her, and she licked his hand. “Anyone else with you?”, he asked.
“Just my wife”. I peeked my face out of the sleeping bag and waived.
Taking it all in, his demeanor softened. “We always have to check out suspicious looking vehicles, but I have no problem with you sleeping here till morning. Have a good night.”
And just like that the lights went off and they cleared out, leaving us to our perfect creek side camping spot.
5 Free Urban Camping Ideas
1. Walmart (not my first choice, but it’s there)
2. Nice Neighborhoods (always good if you’re vehicle doesn’t stand out)
3. Truck Stops
4. Rest Stops
4. Hotel Parking lots
5. Church Parking Lots (safe, but Use at your own risk)