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Can You Park Overnight on the Side of the Interstate?

Travel days can be a mixture of excitement and exhaustion. You may find that you can’t reach your final destination in a single travel day, which means finding a place to park for the night.

There may not be an easily accessible campground or another place to stay. You may feel tempted just to pull over and park for the night. So can you park overnight on the side of the interstate?

Let’s find out.

Can You Park Overnight on the Side of the Interstate?

Interstates prohibit stopping or standing on the side of the road. You’re typically only able to use shoulders on interstates during an emergency. This is to maximize the safety of all drivers. Parking overnight on the side of an interstate would be extremely dangerous, especially in a big RV or camper.

Is It Safe to Park on the Side of the Interstate?

Parking on the side of the interstate is unsafe. Vehicles travel at high speeds, and too many people drive distracted. You can put yourself, your RV, and other drivers in a very dangerous situation by unnecessarily parking on the side of the interstate. 

If you want to park overnight on the side of the interstate, consider Officer Kristopher Sharpe. He’s a Metro Nashville Police Department officer who responded to an accident on I-24. He sat on the side of the interstate with his flashing blue and red lights on when a passing motorist struck his vehicle.

If a driver couldn’t see a vehicle with flashing lights, they won’t see your car sitting in the dark on the side of the road.

RV parked on the side of a tree lined road
Parking overnight on a highway or interstate is a dangerous idea.

Where Can You Park Overnight near Interstates?

While parking overnight on the side of the interstate isn’t safe or legal, you have some alternatives. Here are a few common options travelers use when looking for a place to stop for the night.

Rest Stops

Rest stops are a great spot to pull over and rest. Laws vary from state to state, but most allow drivers to sleep in rest areas. However, some states limit the time travelers can spend there. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations at each rest location. You’ll typically find any restrictions posted.

Some rest stops that allow drivers to park overnight even provide overnight security. Travelers can sleep confidently knowing security is looking for illegal activity or suspicious behavior.

Pro Tip: We uncovered if sleeping at a rest stop is a safe option while on a road trip.

Truck Stops

Truck stops dot the interstates and highways. These large facilities have massive parking lots where big rig drivers pull in at the end of a long shift. You can fill up on fuel, stretch your legs, and even find an out-of-the-way spot to catch some Zs.

However, getting a solid night’s sleep can pose a challenge at truck stops. This is largely because vehicles constantly come and go throughout the night. Those staying the night will often run generators or engines to control the climate inside their rig. They may not be the most luxurious of places to stay, but they offer a convenient place to rest after a long day of traveling.

Retail Stores

In some locations, retail stores like Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and Bass Pro Shops will allow drivers to park for the night. However, local rules and regulations trump a store’s desire to be hospitable. You’ll want to check with the establishment to ensure you won’t have any issues with them or law enforcement if you park for the night.

These are great spots because they typically have huge, empty parking lots at night. Minimal amounts of traffic can mean fewer chances of vehicles disrupting your sleep. You can hit the road in the morning fresh and ready to go. It can also be a great opportunity to stock up on supplies or any gear you might need during your trip.

Woman on laptop sitting in bed in RV parked along the side of the road.
It is not safe to park on an interstate, but there are many great places along the way to spend the night.

How to Stay Safe While Parking Overnight

No matter where you park overnight, you should always consider your safety. You can do some things to protect yourself and your vehicle while parking overnight.

Lock Your Stuff

Secure all storage compartments or gear that could easily walk away at night. Using locks can make it more difficult for thieves to take your stuff, but a determined thief will find a way. 

However, thieves will often look for the easiest target. They want to do as little work and make as little noise as possible to avoid getting caught.

Before retiring for the night, walk around and look for any unlocked storage compartments. Make sure you lock your vehicle and secure all of your belongings. If you have expensive items that could get stolen easily, secure them or bring them inside your RV or car.

Pro Tip: Use these tips on How to Easily Prevent Vehicle Break-Ins when overnight parking in a public spot.

Maximize Visibility Around Vehicle

Park in a way that you can easily see around your vehicle. You want to be able to quickly and easily investigate any strange noises in the middle of the night. If you hear something, avoid using any lights inside your vehicle. This limits your ability to see what’s going on around you. It also allows those outside your vehicle to see what’s happening inside.

Class C Motorhome Recreational Vehicle on the California Highway 101.
From truck stops, rest areas, retail stores and more, there are plenty of safer options than parking on the interstate.

Park Near Lights

People up to no good will often want to conduct their behavior in the dark. Parking under or near security lights can help maximize your safety. They’ll likely not want to take any chances of someone seeing them. Carry a sleeping mask to cover your eyes, especially if you require total darkness for sleeping.

Don’t Stay Too Long

We strongly recommend that you don’t linger too long, no matter where you park for the night. It’s ideal if you can arrive around sunset and leave just after sunrise. This limits the amount of time you spend in the overnight spot but also provides enough light that you can see while driving.

However, you should always ensure you get the proper amount of sleep. Hitting the road already tired can be a recipe for disaster. Driving while drowsy is very dangerous and, each year leads to nearly 100,000 accidents and 1,500 fatalities. We don’t want you to be one of them.

Is It Worth It to Park Overnight on the Side of the Interstate?

Under no circumstances should you park overnight on the side of the interstate. It’s very dangerous and puts you and other drivers in jeopardy of an accident. If you experience an emergency, you should turn on your flashers and pull to the side of the interstate.

However, you should call local authorities and see if they can send an officer to help alert other drivers to the situation. They can also help provide resources or information to get you back on the road quickly.

If you need to stop for the night, take advantage of one of the suggested spots we mentioned. These options are much safer than the side of the interstate. Safety should always be your top priority anytime you’re traveling.

What unique spots have you parked overnight while on a road trip? Tell us in the comments!

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