Whether you’re a new or experienced RVer, one thing is clear: sometimes it’s tough to know which states allow overnight parking at rest areas. We all know that some RV driving days can turn into grueling jaunts. So when you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B as fast and safely as possible, a quick overnight stop at a rest area is a hassle-free way to get some shut-eye.
Skipping the time it takes to locate and hook up at a campground helps you get on the road bright and early the next day. The only problem? Knowing where you can legally park your RV overnight.
The debate about rest area stays
Free overnight parking is one of the biggest gray areas for budget-minded RVers. Many people feel that RVers who participate in this practice are giving the entire community a bad name. As a result, RVer discussion forums are full of hot debates about the ethics and safety of free overnight parking.
While many RVers say they will only stay in campgrounds, it seems an equal amount will opt for an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to overnight parking in public places like rest stops.
Retail store parking lots often make it clear about the legality of parking on their property. When “No Overnight Parking” signs are posted there’s no doubt that you’ll need to move on and find another place to spend the night.
But what happens when there are no signs posted about overnight parking? That’s when things get questionable. Whether it’s a big box retail store parking lot or a highway rest area, everyone has to decide how far they’re willing to test the limits of the law when they choose to park overnight outside of a designated campground.
Which states allow overnight parking at rest areas?
One could assume that highway rest areas are safe harbors for weary RVers, but that’s not a given. Just because a rest area can accommodate your RV that doesn’t mean you can enjoy overnight parking at rest areas without any hassles. The only way to know for sure is to do your research.
If you look online you’ll find handy RVer websites about overnight parking at rest areas and some featuring Rest Area Usage Policies. Unfortunately, the authors of those websites don’t tell you how current the information is or cite their sources for accuracy. Chances are it’s accurate information, but we did some sleuthing around state transportation websites and based on the information provided, these are the only six states that we could find which clearly indicate how long you can park at their respective rest areas. If you know of others please let us know and comment below.
“Stay up to 8 hours in any 24 hour period.”
“Time Limits. Remaining in a rest area for a period of time longer than that established by the Idaho Transportation Department. Occupancy of the rest areas on interstate highways is limited to eight (8) consecutive hours. Occupancy of rest areas on other routes of the State Highway System is limited to sixteen (16) consecutive hours.”
“All other motorists are permitted to stop at rest areas for up to six hours at a time. See Commissioner’s Memorandum No. 108 (PDF).”
“Q: Can I sleep at an Oregon rest area?
A: You are welcome to sleep, take a power or cat nap, and otherwise relax. In fact, we encourage road-weary drivers to do so before continuing a long journey. Data indicates that weary drivers have a far greater chance of falling asleep at the wheel or being involved in a vehicular accident. You can slumber in your camper, snore to beat the band in your RV, or dream about Oregon blueberries in your van, as long as it doesn’t exceed the 12-hour rule.”
In an unusually welcoming approach to travelers, the state of Oregon encourages rest areas to explore nearby walking paths and historical sites, even going as far as to welcome picnicking.
“Q: Can I BBQ my hot dogs or veggie burgers over a campfire?
A: We’re sorry, but building fires is not allowed. However, if you use propane or gas filled camp stoves or BBQ units, go right ahead, and be sure to make a few smores on your grill!”
“Customers can enjoy the convenience of overnight parking with hook-ups for travel trailers or RV’s at eight (8) select service plazas on the Ohio Turnpike.” (Thanks to Marc Rodstein for providing this information, post-publication)
“Park only in designated parking areas for a maximum of 8 hours, unless otherwise posted.”
Know your rest area etiquette
Whether you park in a state that clearly allows overnight parking at rest areas, or stay in one where no obvious rules are posted, being courteous is key to maintaining the privilege of overnight stays.
Since nobody wants a knock on the door at 3 AM, always remember: there’s a huge difference between overnight parking and overnight camping. This downloadable Good Neighbor policy flier spells it out.
How do you pick where to stay overnight when you’re on the road? Comment below, we’d love to hear about your experience.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.