When traveling long distances in your RV some nights you find yourself looking for a spot to stop and rest for the night - rather than actually camping. You may come across rest areas where people can park your vehicles - but are RVs allowed overnight there?
You may be able to stay overnight with your RV in rest areas, depending on local state and county regulations. The only way to know if a specific location is ok to stay at is watch for posted signs. Take any list of states that allow (or disallow) overnight RV parking with a grain of salt - none are 100% accurate.
Read on to learn more about the contributing factors using rest areas with your RV and how to know for sure whether or not it's legal for you to pull over in the next rest area and stay the night.
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What Are Rest Areas?
If you live in the United States, or even just visit, and travel even a bit along the highways, you probably know what a rest area is.
Rest areas are large-sized areas next to the highway, where you can pull over and find a vast parking area. Most rest areas have trash bins and some offer potable water and restrooms as well.
Rest areas have room for huge semi-trailer trucks, aka 18 wheelers. This is where drivers of huge trucks hauling commercial cargo across the country, can take a break without obstructing the highway.
All drivers are welcome to use rest areas to take a break. When you're driving across the US for hours and days on end, rest areas can literally be lifesavers - for all drivers.
Rest areas are built to accommodate huge semi-trailers, so they can also provide room for a large motorhome, or a pickup truck towing a 5th wheel or a travel trailer.
What Types of Rest Areas Are There?
There is no clear and cut definition of what a rest area actually is. Here's what the Webster-Merriam dictionary says -
An area adjacent to a highway at which restrooms and refreshments are usually available.
Note the word "usually". In my experience across 45 US states and several Canadian provinces, there are two types of rest areas -
1. Commercial Truck Stop or Service Area
This type of rest place may include private commercial businesses such as fuel stations and restaurants.
2. Roadside parking area/rest stop
This type of rest area has limited or no public or private facilities. There may be low-grade restrooms and some trash cans. That's about it. The main point here is getting the big rigs away from the side of the road and into a parking area where they won't obstruct the highway.
For the purpose of this post, we'll focus on the last type. With visitors centers and commercial plazas, the rules differ based on the local owners.
Some of these places offer free overnight stays for customers, while others require a small fee. It's not a bad option - these places often have dumping stations, showers, stores, gas stations, and restaurants. Even if you need to pay - it may be worth it.
And the best part is - if you're not sure whether it's ok to park your RV there - or where exactly to park - you can simply walk inside and ask.
This brings us to the main question at hand - is it legal for an RV to stay overnight in actual rest areas, where there's no local management and no one around to tell you what to do.
For a great list of such truck stops, you can always check AllStays. And if you're on the road often, their app is a great tool to quickly find these places.
Is it legal to stay overnight at a Public Rest Area?
Based on our research, it depends.
That's not an answer we like to give in this blog. We really wanted to come up with a thorough list by state but alas, that's not possible.
Some states address the question in their rules and regulations. Others simply do not. But even then, there's the additional layer of counties and cities to consider. The state may be ok with you parking your RV overnight in a rest area, but the local country sheriff may still quote a local ordinance at you and ask you to move away in the middle of the night.
So, how to tell? Here are the steps you need to take -
1. Look for posted signs
There are often signs that tell you if it's ok to stay the night - or if it's not. Look for the signs near the entrance to the rest area, and next to the restrooms if those are available.
Some rest areas will set a limit on the number of hours you can stay there, others will tell you can't stay overnight.
2. Check online
Before traveling through a state where you might need to stop for the night, look online by Googling "DOT + State name".
Some states will offer a clear message saying overnight parking in rest areas is not allowed. Others won't address it.
Remember, even if the state is ok with it - the county may not be. So watch for those signs either way.
3. Check RV sites and apps
If you have an Apple device, then AllStays has some great apps with all the information you need. Otherwise, you can check their website. If you travel often, it's worth investing in the Pro version of the site but most rest areas will be clearly designated even if you're only using the free version.
Public Rest Areas With RVs - The Etiquette
So, you found a public rest area where the posted signs say you can stay overnight for free. Awesome!
So, does that mean you can start camping away?
In fact, in many states, regulations stipulate that the permission is granted for parking overnight - but not for camping. Even if they don't mention that, keep in mind that rest areas were created for tired busy truckers - not RVs. You're a guest there, and should follow these guidelines -
- If the rest area seems crowded with trucks and it's still early, keep driving and look for another place to stop for the night. Don't take up space a trucker may need later in the night.
- Keep the environment clean and tidy.
- Don't spread out your awning and pull out the picnic table and chairs. You're parking - not camping.
- Keep it quiet. Don't play loud music or otherwise disturb others.
The Pros and Cons of Staying Overnight with an RV in Rest Areas
Staying overnight at a public rest area has - like most things - pros and cons. We've mentioned them throughout this post, but here's a quick recap.
- It's free!
- A sense Adventure - it's often spontaneous and you just never know what the night will be like.
- Noise from the trucks - those diesel engines are going to be loud as truck drivers begin to pull out at 4 AM.
- Crime Risk: with more people in an environment with no stationed law enforcement, crime could be an issue.
Alternatives For Parking Your RV Overnight For Free
Of course, you don’t have to park in rest areas; there are several other options you can stay the night at little or no cost.
We've provided two guides that will help you find alternatives for rest area and truck stops:
And if you're traveling and wondering where you can stop with an RV for a few hours for lunch or some sightseeing, make sure you read this thorough guide -
And remember, the most important thing when RVing - and probably in life! - is to use your common sense. Do your research and plan ahead but remember that this is an adventure and there will be a fair amount of spontaneity. And that's great!
Safety first - so if you're tired and need to pull over while driving the highway, look for a rest area. Pull over safely first. Look for signs to see if you can stay and for how long and you'll be ok. Safe travels!