It was 1956 when the first rest safety areas were opened in America. They were not elaborate, well lit, and were often the focal point of many horror movies that produced a lot of nightmares. The good news is that since that beginning, states have taken the pains to upgrade their rest stops so they are safer and cleaner.
Can RVs park overnight at rest stops? This will depend on the state that you are traveling through. Even though the rest stops are mainly on federal interstates, the individual state is responsible for their upkeep, rules, and enforcement of those rules.
Doing good research will help you avoid embarrassing situations.
To learn more about whether RVs can park overnight at rest stops throughout the country, just continue to read our article. It has the information you want to know about as well as links to the different states’ rules.
The answer to this question will also apply to many of the other sections in this article. We will provide a comprehensive table in a few sections from now so you can do a quick check on which states allow sleeping and so on.
Every state has the freedom to make its own rules so the answer will be yes and no. You will have to do some research on the issue as there is a gray area that influences the authorities on whether to ask you to move on or let you remain for the night.
The gray area is the boundary between the safety issue of sleeping all night in a rest area and keep tired drivers off the road. The rest areas were designed for the latter but many people found these spots convenient and a way to save on hotel or campground costs.
So you will see people in RVs, and big trucks, stopping at rest areas and spending the night. The semi-truck drivers have to comply with federal driving laws so they opt to use the rest area because it is easier to maneuver their rig. Many motel and hotels do not have parking lots that will accommodate those rigs.
These are examples of why there is what may seem a lack of enforcement of the rules.
This is only illegal if the state has created and implemented a law stating that it is illegal to sleep in your car at a rest stop. Many cities have such rules, possibly counties and states as well. They also have rules on where you can and can’t sleep in your car.
One state makes it illegal to sleep in your car even when it is on private property. That means you have to check the laws of those states you hope to visit when driving your car or RV.
When it comes to rest stops, some states have time limits on how long you can spend there and those time limits prohibit sleeping. They have caretakers help you record your arrival time and they may ask you to move on when your time is over.
You may take short naps but those states that say no overnight parking are telling you that you cannot sleep in your car at their rest stops. Just be careful what other internet bloggers say on this issue as they are not the final word on the issue.
One of the problems that come with this phraseology is that it can be seen as very vague. People interpret the meaning differently and that is the source of many of their problems.
One group of people may think that that wording means that the car cannot stay all night in one spot. It is okay to park for a 5 to 20-minute errand and then they can drive off. However, this group of people has found out the hard way that may not be the case.
Another group takes that wording to mean that you cannot park in those spots at any time during the night. Whether you are there for 5 minutes or an hour doesn’t matter. The sign states that you cannot park there during any overnight hour.
The third group of people who interpret those signs, and whose interpretation really matters, are the authorities. What they have been instructed to do will be the prevailing interpretation. It will be up to the policeman’s good nature if you get to park your car in that spot at all.
What you have to be careful about are towing companies. Some can be quite aggressive and hook up your vehicle and tow it away as soon as they see it. They have a sort of no tolerance attitude towards those people who park in those zones.
The best thing that can be said is they can be. 99% of the time rest stops are one of the safest places to stop at and get a little sleep. However, there is that 1% chance that you picked the wrong night to sleep there.
Rest stops are often patrolled by state troopers, have other RVs and cars there but state troopers are not usually there 24 7, nor are the other RVs and cars. So you are taking a bit of a risk when you decide to sleep at a rest stop.
If you are a single woman it is best to go find a good hotel in a safe neighborhood and spend the money for a room. Even some of the safest places to be are not always safe for single women or unaccompanied ladies.
Right now only about 14 states allow overnight sleeping so this is not going to be an issue for 36 states. Make sure you understand the difference between sleeping overnight and taking a short nap. As the latter is usually okay.
Usually, every rest stop has a sign stating that no overnight parking is allowed. But that restriction often interferes with the stated allowed periods you are allowed to stay in a rest stop. Some states have an extended amount of time which if you arrive at the right moment, can last all night.
This is the gray area raising its head again as those periods state you can stay 6, 8, and even 12 hours in a given 24 hour period. What that translates into is that if you arrive at midnight, you can stay till 6 a.m., 8 a.m., or noon depending on the state you are in.
The other aspect about overnight RV parking is that all state officials would rather see you violate their rest stop rules than have you driving on the roads when you are tired and can’t keep your eyes open.
This is the main factor why you see so many RVers parking for the night at rest stops that do not allow it. They are simply too tired to continue. If they do and they cause an accident, well you know the rest.
This is the section where you will find the quick comparison chart giving you a brief and fast look at the regulations of different states. A link to those state’s rules is also included so you can read them all BEFORE you travel to the state.
Keep in mind that the rules of one state DO NOT apply in any other state. Many people forget that fact. Also, make sure to park in the right spots for RVs.
|State||Camping||Overnight Sleep||Stay limit||Links to rules|
|Arkansas||No||Yes (for safety reasons only)||None||http://www.arkansashighways.com/|
|Iowa||No||yes (extenuating circumstances only and only 1 night)||None||http://www.iowadot.gov/index.html#/services|
|Kansas||No||One night||One night||http://www.ksdot.org/|
|Nebraska||No||No (Gray area)||10 hours||https://dot.nebraska.gov/|
|New Hampshire||No||No||4 hours (emergencies exempted)||https://www.nh.gov/dot/|
|New Mexico||No||Yes||24 hours||http://dot.state.nm.us/content/nmdot/en.html|
|New York||No||No||3 hours with one extra for rest stops on Thruway||https://www.dot.ny.gov/index|
|North Carolina||No||No||4 hours||https://www.ncdot.gov/|
|North Dakota||No||Yes||Not stated||http://www.dot.nd.gov/|
|Ohio||No||No||3 hours (RVs can stay overnight on the Turnpike)||http://www.dot.state.oh.us/pages/home.aspx|
|Pennsylvania||No||No||2 hours (unless otherwise posted)||http://www.penndot.gov/Pages/default.aspx|
|Rhode Island||No||Yes||Not stated||http://www.dot.ri.gov/|
|South Dakota||No||No||4 hours||http://www.sddot.com/|
|Utah||NO||Yes (extended stays allowed and are monitored by on site staff and Highway patrol)||Check their rules or with their staff||https://www.udot.utah.gov/main/f?p=100:6:0::::V,T:,1|
|West Virginia||No||Yes||Not Stated||http://www.transportation.wv.gov/|
|Wyoming||No||See rules||See rules||http://www.dot.state.wy.us/home.html|
** Alaska has rest stops but they have not created any rules about their use. We suggest you contact the DOT of that state to verify and find out if there are any rules or not.
*** Hawaii was left off for obvious reasons. If you find a way to drive there, let us know. The state does have a DOT and if you want to fly there and rent an RV, we suggest you contact them to see what rules apply and if there are rest stops in that state.
The basic rules are generally the same. Except for overnight camping, every state prohibits camping, sleeping in a tent, or outside of your vehicle. If you do stay the night make sure to leave your awnings retracted, lawn chairs stashed and the bbq grill stored.
You would have to check with each individual state as to the rules of each interstate rest stop under their jurisdiction. It is impossible to place them all here as there will be differences in all the rules. There is no one-size-fits-all here.
Check with the state DOT you are traveling to get all their locations. Most DOTs have a map on the internet for you to look at.
If you lost something, use the links in the chart above to contact the DOT office in the state where your wallet, etc., may have been lost or stolen. This also applies to those RVers who want to send a shout-out to staff or maintenance or caretakers of those rest stops.
While it is nice to hear praise for these hard workers, the people who really need to hear that praise are their bosses at the DOT.
That will depend on the state you are traveling through. Each one has its own time limit and almost all of them ban overnight stays, with some exceptions. If you have an emergency, exceptions will be made but that is up to the governing authorities.
Also, during our research, we came across a mention of overlooks and scenic views. You would have to check with the DOTs of each state you are visiting to see what rules apply to those attractions and picnic spots.
Some will have signs posted but if they are not there, they may have been vandalized so do not think the rules do not apply. It is always best to ask first instead of assuming, that way you will avoid embarrassing moments and maybe a fine.
There will always be exceptions to the rule, just do not abuse them or misapply them as that will ruin it for the next person. The same goes for the kindhearted state trooper who bent the rules for you.
Be respectful of the rules and people in charge as the person you hurt is your fellow traveler or RVer who arrives after you leave. That may be you at one point.
Some of those websites and databases may charge a fee for access. That fee is well worth the money if the information keeps you out of trouble and helps you find some great places to spend the night for free.
However, many rest stops provide picnic areas for lunch and some even have bbq grills. That activity is not camping
The signs at each rest stop will provide the information you need to know for that particular spot.
Or travel with a good guard dog or at least one that barks when strangers approach your vehicle.
Some of these advantages will apply to hotels, motels, and campgrounds as well as staying a night at a rest stop.
They usually have picnic tables, grills, or some other picnic option so you can take a break, stretch your legs and eat all at the same time. You will save money as well by not going to a restaurant, etc.
Knowing what you can or cannot do at rest stops around the country will enhance your vacation or exploration. Just do some good research and check out all the rules before you arrive at the rest stop you want to spend the night at.
Not every state is friendly to those who want to spend a night at their rest stops.