Can You Sleep at Rest Stops? All About Overnighting in Rest Areas.
We’ve all been there—those long-haul days when you’re putting as many miles under your camper tires as possible to get from one destination to the next. When it comes time to get a little shut-eye before hitting the road again in the morning, you want somewhere to stay that is easy, fast, safe, and already on your route.
Enter rest stops. Rest stops are parking lots located along major routes or highways, designed to give travelers a place to get out of their vehicles, stretch, and use the bathroom. Some have visitor centers, mowed lawns, public wifi, and heated facilities, while others have outhouses and a little patch of roadside brush for vegetation. No matter what they look like, they all have one goal in mind—giving you a place to take a break.
Around the United States, some (but not all) states allow overnight parking in their rest stops. Here is your ultimate guide to overnight parking at rest areas, including what overnight parking is, where to find it, and what you need to know before you go.
What Overnight Parking Is and Isn’t
Most rest areas that allow overnight parking specifically say “no camping.” To those of us who travel in our RVs, this feels like a mixed message. How can I park overnight but not camp?
While the definition of this isn’t set in stone, here’s our take: overnight parking is pulling your RV into a rest stop parking lot, shutting down your engine, taking your dog (on a leash) for a quick potty break, and then crawling into bed. In the morning, you brew your coffee, toast a bagel, and hit the road.
Camping, in contrast, is making yourself at home—putting out your slides and jacks, unhooking your travel trailer, grilling a tasty dinner on the barbecue, and setting up camp chairs outside to watch the traffic go by. It’s a leisure pursuit as opposed to the necessity of taking a break from travel to sleep. With overnight parking, the goal to get back on the road as soon as you’re rested.
How to Overnight Park
Wait…don’t skip this section! I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “If I can’t put out my slides and unhook my camper, how complicated could it possibly be?” But there are a few best practices you’ll want to follow for a peaceful, restful night’s sleep in a rest area.
First, do your best not to park in spaces used by truckers. Commercial truckers have to follow a stringent set of rules and regulations about how long they can drive and how long they need to rest. If they violate these rules, they face steep fines and career-damaging marks on their driving records.
Unlike campers, truckers are also restricted in where they can stay (when’s the last time you saw a semi at an RV park?). If you pull into a crowded rest stop and take the last semi spot, there’s a good chance that you’re going to hear about it, and not in an amicable way. Besides, who wants to camp sandwiched between two semis that run their engines all night? Leave trucker spots for the truckers.
Second, trust your gut. In addition to poring over reviews of rest stops here on Campendium, take stock of a rest area when you pull in. Is it well-lit? Are there any other RVs or trucks in the lot? Does it feel safe, or is your spidey sense going off? Your safety is in your hands when staying at a rest stop, and often, the nearest town is miles away. If anything about it makes you uncomfortable, move on.
Third, get comfortable (inside). You definitely don’t want to make yourself at home in a rest stop, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to be your worst night’s sleep. Park as far away from the road (and semis) as you can to reduce the nighttime noise, and place Reflectix in your windows to help block the light. A white noise machine or earplugs can help drown out even more noise, though you don’t want to eliminate all sounds—if someone pulls off the highway and wants to snag the bikes off your bike rack, you’ll want to hear it.
Lastly, we have yet to find a rest area that allows people to sleep outside of their vehicles. That means no tents and no hammocks.
States that Allow Overnight Parking in Rest Areas
As we mentioned above, not all states allow overnight parking at their rest areas, and most rest areas are patrolled frequently enough that you’ll likely get busted if you try. So, stick to the legal ones, which are:
Arizona: Arizona does not allow camping at their rest stops, but they allow people to park and rest. If you use an Arizona rest stop overnight, be sure to keep your slides in, your trailer is hooked up, and all of your gear is inside.
Arkansas: If you need to sleep to continue to drive safely, Arkansas allows you to do that within the confines of your vehicle in their rest areas. No camping, though.
Idaho: In Idaho, you can park in an interstate highway rest area for 10 hours, and you can park in a rest area on other state highways for up to 16 hours. The rules state that it is prohibited to camp or occupy a rest area “for any purpose other than rest and relaxation from the fatigue of travel.”
Kansas: Overnight parking is allowed in Kansas rest areas for one night only. No camping.
Montana: Montana’s wide-open spaces can make concentrating on the road a challenge, so they welcome travelers to stop at one of their rest areas for a snooze.
Nebraska: Catch a few winks at any of Nebraska’s rests areas along Interstate 80, which allow vehicles to be parked for up to 10 hours. No camping allowed.
New Mexico: The Land of Enchantment wants you to stay rested and relaxed while on your journey. They allow vehicles to park in rest stops for up to 24 hours in any three-day period.
Ohio: Ohio does not allow overnight camping at their rest areas, with the exception of eight service plazas on the Ohio Turnpike. These eight service plazas welcome RVs up to 40 feet long to overnight (and plug in) for a fee. The sites are all first-come-first-served.
Oklahoma: Rest overnight in any Oklahoma rest area without any restrictions on the number of hours you can stay.
Oregon: Oregon allows travelers to rest up to 12 hours in their highway safety rest areas. No camping allowed.
Rhode Island: While no camping is allowed in any Ocean State rest area, overnight parking for safety and rest is permitted.
Texas: Texas knows that its highways are long, flat, and can get a little snoozy. They allow overnight parking for up to 24 hours at all their rest stops; no camping allowed.
Utah: Utah says that “All rest areas are posted for no overnight camping. However, extended stays are permitted and are monitored by the on-site staff and the Highway Patrol.” So, get that rest, and then get moving.
Wyoming: Wyoming does not allow overnight parking or camping at their rest areas but permits longer naps if you need one. Just be sure to stay inside your vehicle and keep your slides in.