When on a long road trip, RVers sometimes take advantage of free overnight parking. It saves some money and is usually convenient. It’s easier to pull off the highway into a Bass Pro Shops parking lot for the night instead of driving another four miles to the nearest campground.
Several stores permit free overnight RV parking. But do welcome centers? Let’s dive in and see if these locations fit weary travelers.
What Is a Welcome Center?
Welcome centers, which some know as visitor centers, provide passersby with tourist information about the area. Usually, there are welcome centers near state borders along highways and interstates.
Visitors can pull off the interstate, grab a snack, visit the restroom, and check out the local attractions and activities. Some welcome centers have staff while others aren’t. If someone is working at a counter, it’s an excellent opportunity to ask questions about the area.
Do All States Have Welcome Centers?
According to Wikipedia, all lower 48 states have welcome centers. Alaska and Hawaii don’t have the same rest areas, so they aren’t on the list. However, each state varies in how many welcome centers they offer. For example, Wyoming has four locations, while Virginia has twelve.
Can You Sleep Overnight at Local Welcome Centers?
You may or may not be able to park overnight at a welcome center. Call ahead or check the state’s website for individual welcome center rules. For example, Tennessee only allows 2-hour parking. There is no overnight parking. In Minnesota, commercial vehicles can park for up to ten hours, but other motorists can only park for four hours. Along the Ohio Turnpike, RVers can park overnight and even have access to hookups.
Is It Safe to Sleep at a Welcome Center?
There won’t be many people in the parking lot at a welcome center since they only operate during daytime hours. If you feel safe sleeping in an empty parking lot, you’ll feel safe here. If you’d rather be around other cars and people, a Walmart or casino parking lot may suit you better. They also tend to have security.
Can You Sleep Overnight in Rest Stops in Every State?
Rest stops and welcome centers are distinct. Welcome centers usually have tourist information, free brochures, restrooms, and vending machines. Rest stops focus more on accessible restrooms and snacks for travelers passing through. Not all rest stops are welcome centers, but most welcome centers are rest stops.
Individual states have rules regarding overnight parking at welcome centers and rest stops. Even within the same state, there may be different regulations. One city may permit overnight parking while the next rest stop 20 miles down the road doesn’t. It’s up to travelers to call ahead to find out each location’s restrictions.
Where Else Can You Sleep Overnight for Free?
Free overnight parking is available in many locations. If you’re driving down the interstate and start to feel tired, you can probably find something within a few miles. Walmart, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Costco, and Cracker Barrel are widespread overnight parking locations. Each has its own rules, so like the welcome centers and rest areas, you’ll want to call ahead.
Casinos are another favorite location for RVers because of the constant security. Plus, it’s fun to go in and play a few rounds. Fitness centers sometimes allow overnight parking, especially locations that operate 24 hours like Planet Fitness. Truck stops are usually low on the list because of the constant roar of engines. However, they’re still an option for overnight parking.
If you’re willing to pay a yearly membership fee, Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome offer locations country-wide where RVers can park overnight for free. Some places even have hookups. For less than $100, members can access thousands of sites, from wineries to museums and personal properties.
Is It Worth Sleeping Overnight in a Parking Lot?
There are a few reasons why sleeping overnight in a parking lot is worth it. First, you may be on a tight budget. You don’t want to pay a campground fee for only one night. Another reason is fatigue. There’s nothing more dangerous on a travel day than tired driving. When you feel drowsy, it’s time to pull over for the night.
Finally, it’s convenient to pull off the road into a parking lot for the night. You can go into a Cracker Barrel for a delicious dinner and then return to your RV for a good night’s sleep. Whether it’s a welcome center or a fitness center, always call ahead to ask permission. Follow the rules, so you don’t ruin the free parking privilege for all RVers. Leave no trace, pick up after your dogs, and don’t set up camp. Etiquette is essential when taking advantage of free overnight parking.
Would you ever park overnight at a welcome center, rest stop, or Walmart?
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