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Can You Legally Sleep at Rest Stops? It Depends

Can You Legally Sleep at Rest Stops? It Depends

Rest stops were created to keep drivers safe. When you’ve been driving for several hours, especially late at night, it’s where you can pull off and grab a pick-me-up snack or drink. You get out, walk around to get the blood flowing, or even catch a few Zzzs in the parking lot. Wait, can you sleep at rest stops? You can, but what states you can sleep at rest stops in and the length of time you can stay varies from state to state. 

Let’s take a closer look!

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

What Are Rest Stops?

A rest stop is a public area near highways and interstates. Passersby can easily pull off and grab a snack from vending machines, use the restrooms, and gather local tourist information. Some rest areas also have fuel stations and restaurants.

Can You Sleep at Rest Stops?

Although sleeping isn’t encouraged, it’s also not banned. Most rest stops will have posted signs that detail the length of time you can stay. It’s important to obey all posted rules. 

For example, in Pennsylvania, you can only stay up to four hours. However, if you’re tired and need to pull off the road to ensure your safety and other drivers’ safety, grab some shut-eye for a few hours before getting back on the road.

Rest area parking space availability sign
Most rest areas will allow you to spend a few hours sleeping in their parking lot legally.

What States Can You Sleep at Rest Stops?

Although there may be individual rest stops where sleeping isn’t allowed, no states have a blanket rule against sleeping there. In fact, a little less than half of all states even allow parking for over eight hours, indicating that sleeping in your car is permitted. State officials would rather drivers stay safe on the roads. So, if that means pulling off the interstate into a rest stop parking lot for a night to avoid falling asleep at the wheel, that’s fine by them.

Another handful of states allow parking for four to eight hours at a time, and a few allow parking for less than four hours. The latter include Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Tennessee, and Florida. Although some rest stops allow parking for eight hours or longer, several states don’t permit overnight parking or camping. If you want to sleep here, you’ll need to do so for shorter periods or during the day. These states include Wyoming, Colorado, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Is Sleeping at a Rest Stop Safe?

If you need a safe place to stop for a few hours, rest areas are a great location. Many have 24/7 security or employees, and the restroom facilities are usually always open. They’re typically in well-lit areas and have adequate space for large or small vehicles. 

However, just like any overnight RV stop, you want to check your surroundings. If you don’t feel safe, don’t stay. If you feel uncomfortable, drive farther down the road and find a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or truck stop

But don’t avoid rest stops for fear of your safety. These are convenient locations for weary travelers to take a break and get much-needed rest.

Pro Tip: Regardless of where you’re camping, make sure you follow these 20 Golden Camping Rules Every Camper Should Know.

RV  parked in rest stop uncovering what states can you sleep at rest stops in.
It’s important to know what states you can sleep at rest stops in as the rules vary per each state.

Tips for Staying Safe at Rest Stops

Like other overnight RV parking locations, here are a few tips for staying safe. Whether you’re enjoying the free parking at a casino, church, wholesale store, or rest stop, these are important reminders.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Strange people are everywhere. If you don’t feel comfortable because of someone loitering nearby, leave. If the rest stop isn’t well-lit and you don’t feel safe, don’t stay. But don’t only look around to decide if the location is safe. Also, be aware of things going on. It is a public area, so anyone could show up and engage in a lot of activities.

Use Your Locks

Always use your locks when sleeping at a rest stop or other parking lot. This is an easy way to stay safe and protect yourself and your belongings. Don’t forget your outdoor storage compartment locks, outdoor kitchen locks, and tow vehicle locks.

Protect Yourself

Similar to being aware of your surroundings, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. Park in well-lit areas with security cameras if possible. Not every rest stop will have security. Others will have 24/7 security, so park where you feel safe. 

Also, avoid traveling alone when possible. You’re always safer with another individual.

Rest area sign along highway exit
If you start feeling sleepy on your drive, a rest area is the perfect place to get a few hours of shut-eye.

Minimize Your Stay

Only stay as long as you need to grab a few hours of shut-eye. Rest stops aren’t campgrounds. They offer brief periods of rest to keep the roads safer. Observe the posted rules about the stay limit and get back on the road as soon as possible.

Leave When Necessary

Finally, if you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable, get out. You should never get to a point where you can’t drive a few more miles to find a safer location. There are different overnight parking opportunities, including Walmart parking lots, Love’s gas stations, and local church parking lots. Never sleep at a rest stop or any location if you feel unsafe.

Motorhome parked in RV campsite
Use RV camping apps to find rest stops that allow overnight stays.

FAQ: How Do You Find Rest Stops?

Apps like Campendium, iOverlander, Google maps, Apple Maps, and more provide rest stop locations along your route. You can do a search nearby if you realize it’s time to get off the road for a bit. Many GPS units also have rest stops already loaded onto their maps. You can also just watch for them as you drive down the road. There are usually plenty of signs letting you know where they are and how far to the next one.

Rest stops are RV-friendly, which is one reason to take advantage of them. You don’t have to worry about being able to get in or get out easily.

Pro Tip: These Best Boondocking Apps and Websites for Amazing Free Camping can help you find a great place to snooze no matter what state you’re in.

How to Find Safe, Free, LEGAL Overnight RV Parking for Van Life!

Sleep Peacefully and Legally at Rest Stops

Overnight parking may come to an end if people abuse the privilege. Walmart has already started eliminating overnight RV parking in many locations. Whenever you stop somewhere, follow the posted rules and general overnight parking etiquette. 

Leave no trace, don’t set up camp, and stay for only as long as you need to. As long as we all properly take advantage of this free overnight parking, then rest stops will remain one of the safest locations for getting some sleep.

Have you ever parked at a rest stop to catch a few hours of sleep? Tell us about your experience 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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