For Your Next Road Trip, a Guide to Highway Rest Areas

By Rachel Puryear

If you’re planning a road trip of more than a few hours, you might need to stop and rest somewhere along the way that’s safe, and preferably free. In that spirit, here’s your guide to the do’s and dont’s of highway rest stops.

Rest areas are found every so often all along U.S. Highway systems (this post focuses on rest stop areas in the U.S.). These rest areas are available to the public at no cost, and they exist for the purpose of giving drivers a place to stop and rest so that they don’t continue to drive while they are too tired to do so.

Vista points also exist along highways all over the country. These places feature spots with particularly scenic views, historical significance, or other interesting features. Most of the same rules apply to vista points as with rest areas, as specified below.

Typically, a rest area has parking spaces for cars, RV’s and trailers, and semi trucks; as well as restrooms. Some might have food and drink machines, picnic tables, visitor centers, maps, information about the local area, and lawns and gardens. Some are bigger and offer more amenities than others.

Highway rest area, with a sign saying “Rest Area”, and an arrow pointing to it.

Do’s and Don’t of Rest Areas:

Do: Use the area to rest, nap in your vehicle, use the facilities, get out and stretch, have a meal, get information from maps and visitor centers, and then move on. States vary (see more below) on how long people may stay at rest areas, and on overnight policies. Many states allow visitors to stay overnight during a 24-hour period, except where overnight parking is specifically prohibited by signage (see state-by-state guides below). Some vista points prohibit overnight parking, but you can park there overnight if there is no signage prohibiting such.

Don’t: Rest areas are not campgrounds, and should not be treated as such. Sleeping outside of vehicles (including in tents), cooking food outdoors, and playing or lounging outside for extended periods of time is not welcomed in rest areas. Many states prohibit pulling out slides in RV’s, or unhooking trailers from vehicles. Don’t stay longer than posted time limits, or state-allowed time limits.

Do: Park in spaces designated for your type of vehicle.

Don’t: Don’t park cars or RV’s in spaces designated for semi trucks. Truck drivers by law need to stop and rest periodically, for safety reasons. They cannot park in parking spaces designated for cars or RV’s, nor can they stay at campgrounds, so they need the semi truck spaces. Be considerate of truck drivers, and reserve the truck spaces for them. Besides, semi trucks need to stay running when parked, and that will be loud. Many rest areas have a separate area for semi trucks, which helps.

Do: Park in areas that are away from the road, but also not too far away from everyone else. Parking at rest areas and vista points is usually safe, but as anyone can enter them, it’s best to be cautious. Bring valuables (like bikes on racks) inside with you if possible. Lock your doors. You can use white noise, but don’t make it impossible to hear what’s going on outside. Use blankets or screens to block out bright lights, and give you privacy – but still, make sure you can easily look outside if needed. Always listen to your instincts, and consider moving on if something doesn’t seem right.

Don’t: Don’t solicit money or try to sell stuff at rest areas and vista points. It’s prohibited.

Helpful Resources for Rest Areas:

See here for a quick guide to rest stop area rules in all 48 continental U.S. states. See also here for a more detailed guide to California rest stop area and vista point rules.

See here for an interactive map of rest stop areas across the United States. See also here for an interactive map of all California rest stop areas.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to your having safe travels, with peaceful rest and relaxation along the way. If there is something you would like to see addressed on this blog, please reach out to me here to ask. If you want more content like this and you don’t already subscribe, then please subscribe here.

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