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Overcrowded Rest Stops Leave Semis and RVs Scrambling for Overnight Parking

Overcrowded Rest Stops Leave Semis and RVs Scrambling for Overnight Parking

Have you ever wondered where truck drivers sleep? They can’t sleep on the shoulder of I-10 in Texas. If you’ve traveled for any significant time, you’ve probably seen overcrowded rest stops and travel centers, particularly in the evenings. Truckers line the road, even parking in the grass, trying to catch a few Zs.

These crowded locations have also impacted RVers. Parking overnight at rest areas or travel centers is becoming almost impossible. So what are the alternatives? Let’s look at this growing problem and identify solutions to help you on your next road trip!

WE PARKED OVERNIGHT IN A REST AREA | WAS IT LEGAL? RV LIVING FULL TIME

Where Can RVers and Semi Truck Drivers Legally Sleep Overnight for Free?

Travelers on long road trips or semi truck drivers driving cross-country often seek out convenient overnight spots directly off the interstate. These locations generally include truck stops or travel plazas, Walmart stores, and rest areas. RVers also use parking lots at Cracker Barrel restaurants, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, and other big box stores.

Truckers can’t simply pull off on the side of the road to grab a few hours of sleep. Officers can ticket them for such action. Truck stops and rest stops are usually the easiest and safest locations for truck drivers. They’re accessible from the highway and provide spacious parking lots for semi-trucks to get in and out without worrying about getting stuck. Sometimes these locations will also offer food, showers, and fuel. They’re a one-stop center for truckers on a tight travel schedule.

Most rest stops separate the truck and RV parking away from the passenger vehicle parking, with the initial hope of leaving more spaces open for those larger vehicles. Now, we often see the large vehicle parking area overflowing while many passenger spots stay largely empty.

RV parked next to truck at rest stop
Trucker drivers, unlike RVer, are required to take mandatory rests while on the road.

Requirements for Truckers to Rest

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states that “Drivers must take a 30-minute break when they have driven for a period of 8 cumulative hours.” In addition, drivers of properties like semi-truck drivers can only drive “a maximum of 14 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.” The third often cited rule that trucking companies use is the 70-8 rule (or 60-7 rule), which says that drivers cannot exceed 70 hours of driving and on-duty time over 8 days.

These hours-of-service regulations are to keep truck drivers from getting fatigued, which can endanger themselves and other drivers. Limits are in place for when, how long, and how far truck drivers can drive to ensure they’re alert while on public roadways. However, recent changes to the regulations have increased the maximum on-duty time from 12 to 14 hours, making many concerned over the repercussions on our roadways.

This is why it’s crucial when non-truck drivers are visiting rest areas or truck stops to leave the truck parking spaces open. These large vehicles can’t slide into any spot like a sedan or minivan. Even RVers should be considerate of truck drivers. Truck drivers must follow the rest/break regulations, and if all the truck parking spaces are full, they must continue driving and find the next available truck stop or rest area.

Pro Tip: Don’t get in the way of truckers getting their required rest. Make sure you know The Ins and Outs of Overnight Truck Stop Parking for RVs

Do All Rest Areas Allow Overnight Parking?

Not all rest areas allow overnight parking. Most will allow several hours of parking so fatigued drivers can nap. You’ll see posted signs providing the rules for that particular rest area. For example, in Pennsylvania, the limit is four hours. This is plenty of time to nap, but they don’t permit overnight parking. Other states allow up to eight hours, indicating that they allow overnight parking.

Officials don’t want drowsy drivers on the road. This is why people created rest areas. You’ll need to pay attention to the number of hours you can park. Truck drivers usually take advantage of the rest areas in states permitting at least eight hours of parking.

RV parked at rest stop
Many rest stops will let RVers spend a few hours snoozing in the parking lot.

Should RVs Be Overnight Parking in Rest Areas?

Free overnight parking is a very nice thing for RVers. Instead of venturing several miles off the highway to pay $40-50 to sleep for a night, weary travelers can stop for free in rest areas and many other overnight parking locations including casinos, Walmart parking lots, churches, and more. Not only does it save money, but it also saves time. As long as they permit overnight parking, it’s convenient to pull off the interstate to catch some shut-eye.

However, unlike truckers, RVers usually aren’t on a career-dependent deadline. Free overnight parking is not necessary for RV travelers. Most travelers are on their own schedules and have the budget for campgrounds. So we need to ask ourselves, are RVers making the problem worse by taking up these rest area spaces? Do truckers need those spots more?

Rest Stops Are Becoming Overcrowded

We’ve seen it with our own eyes: rest stops are more crowded now than they were when we first started RVing. Especially along major trucking routes across the country like I-10, I-75, I-80, and I-40 to name a few. While more people may be choosing RV travel as their preferred mode of vacationing in recent years, there are also more truckers on the road.

The Wall Street Journal explains, “Backlogged supply chains have driven up the number of trucks on the road. Faced with a shortage of parts and equipment, businesses are willing to pay more to get products where they need to go. Instead of shipping goods by train—a less expensive but slower option—companies are now booking trucks on the spot.”

Frequently, semi-truck drivers must park on the shoulders leading in and out of rest areas or on the grass. If there is no space roomy enough for them to park, they have to keep moving. This is problematic when truck drivers must follow specific rules about how many hours they can drive and when to take breaks.

Regardless of what’s causing it or who has more of a need for the spots, both groups are feeling the squeeze. What used to be a non-issue of parking spaces is now a daily concern for many people.

RV parked at rest stop
Rest stops are becoming overcrowded, making it harder for truckers and RVers to find spots to take their required rests.

What Are Other Last-Minute Overnight RV Parking Options?

All of this to say, as an RVer, you will probably strike out on a rest area parking spot at some point if you haven’t already. We have struck out multiple times within the last year ourselves and had to keep driving. When this happens at 9 PM at night, and you’re tired, it’s not fun.

Fortunately, RVers have more last-minute overnight parking options. If you really need to park overnight, it’s best to leave rest area spots and truck stop parking spaces available for truckers as much as possible. They have nowhere else to sleep and rest. Consider these alternatives for overnight RV parking.

Casinos

Casinos are excellent locations because of the security. Usually, there are 24/7 cameras or patrols driving through the parking lot. Operators know the more RVers park overnight at their properties, the more money they’ll bring in that night. Some casinos even offer hookups for a fee. Plus, you can usually grab a bite to eat before turning in for the night.

Pro Tip: Feeling lucky? Here’s how to Hit the Jackpot With Casino RV Parking and Campgrounds.

Big Box Stores

Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Walmart, and other big box stores may allow overnight RV parking. However, not every store permits it. So make sure to call ahead. Some local regulations won’t permit overnight parking. Unfortunately, some RVers have also ruined this free parking option by littering, destroying the concrete, setting up camp, and not picking up after their pets. Managers have taken away this privilege in some locations.

Cracker Barrel

Like big box stores, most Cracker Barrel restaurants will allow RV overnight parking but not all. You’ll even find designated RV parking spots at some locations. These restaurants are easily accessible throughout the country off highways and interstates. Plus, you can enjoy a delicious meal the following day.

Churches

Churches have begun allowing RVs to park overnight at their facilities. If you’re traveling through town on the weekend, it might be best to avoid churches because of weekend services, but some churches generally allow parking during the week. Harvest Hosts is a membership subscription RVers often use to find locations like churches, wineries, breweries, museums, and golf courses for overnight parking.

Pro Tip: Don’t get stuck RVing on a prayer. Find out How to Stay Overnight In Church Parking Lots.

Fitness Centers

Like casinos, fitness centers are often open late or 24 hours. They have security so that you can feel safe parking overnight. While Cracker Barrel and casinos offer meals, fitness centers offer showers. This can be a massive perk to parking overnight in these locations, especially if you’ve been dry camping.

Campgrounds

While we understand you might want to save a buck, truckers don’t usually have the option of an RV park or campground to stay at. If you don’t have any other options, a campground is a safe and low-stress option for travelers who run out of free options.

RVs parked at rest stop
Save spots for truckers at overcrowded rest stops by camping at casinos, churches, or big box stores instead.

How to Find Overnight RV Parking

Although you can pull up Google or Apple Maps and search for the nearest Walmart or Cracker Barrel, there are also apps to help RVers find free overnight parking. These apps are low-cost or free and worth the savings to find free overnight parking, so you don’t pay a campground nightly fee.

Most of these apps and websites operate the same way. You put in your desired location and other details like rig length or pet-friendliness. Then you’ll search for accessible overnight accommodations. They’ll list public land, rest areas, truck stops, dump stations, and many last-minute locations. 

Another consideration is to get off the main interstates.

First Time RV Camping at a Rest Stop Parking Lot! - Electrical Issues And a Horrible Nights Sleep 😭

Keep Your Overnight Parking Options Open During the Crowded Camping Season

The real solution to this problem is probably giving more options for truckers to park. There are many more truckers on the road versus RVers, and they are already overflowing out of the truck stops. Rest stops are a crucial part of our supply chain and economy to provide truckers with an alternative for safe easy parking on the job. However, new rest areas and parking infrastructure solutions will likely take years to respond to the demand.

So in the meantime, you can do your part by planning accordingly. Ideally, you don’t want to hinder a trucker from getting a good night’s sleep. Avoid parking in truck parking spaces at popular rest areas and truck stops and leave them for the weary truckers who have no choice but to stop to comply with mandates. They don’t have many alternatives.

Instead, keep your overnight parking options open as you travel. Use the tools we’ve recommended to find hundreds of accessible overnight parking locations that aren’t available to truck drivers. You can read reviews and check out photos to ensure you feel safe and that it’s a good fit.

What overnight parking apps or websites do you use when you travel? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Monica

Tuesday 11th of April 2023

I think rest area spots should be left for the truckers. We will stop to use the rest room and walk the dogs , but we will leave the spot for truckers to sleep there. We have more options than they have. Our daughter is a flat bed trucker and there have been many times I have been on the phone (she’s hands free) with her trying to help her find somewhere to park up because the rest area is full and she is almost out of drive time. She can be fined or get in trouble with her company for going overtime. And they can get a ticket for parking on the on or off ramps to the rest areas. So it is important to leave the rest area and truck stop spaces for the truckers. This is their lively hood and they don’t have the options we have as RV’ers. So please be courteous and leave the spots to them. Thank you.

Gary

Monday 10th of April 2023

I don't think RV's should be allowed in Truck parking spaces for over 3 or 4 hours. Leave spaces for the trucks. I was recently at a Rest Area in Alabama on I-65. There were only 11 Truck parking spaces. One class A with a Toad was parked in one with his slides out and TV antenna outside. I know he was there at least 12 hours and don't know how long before. I was there 13 hours but I drive a Promaster that fits in a regular parking space. There were probably 40 or 50 regular parking spaces and in the time I was there there were never over 10 occupied. Truckers need the trucking spots.