How long can you stay at a rest area in Tennessee? Is overnight parking allowed at Tennessee rest areas? Is camping allowed? Can you sleep in your vehicle at a rest area? What are the full Tennessee rest area rules?
Tennessee Rest Area Rules
The State of Tennessee has not adopted any laws or administrative rules specific to the use of its highway rest areas. However, the Tennessee Department Transportation (TDOT) has adopted some policies concerning overnight parking, camping, and how many hours you are allowed to stay. Moreover, many of these rest areas have posted signs with the same policies. Below are the policies adopted by TDOT…
- Facilities are open and staffed 24/7, except for Welcome Center #23 on I-40 East at Riverside Drive in Shelby County, which closes each evening.
- Public restrooms and vending machines are available at all times.
- No dump stations are located at any Welcome Center or Rest Area location.
- No overnight parking is allowed. There is a two-hour parking limit.
- No grilling or open flames allowed at any location.
- No solicitation and no unloading of livestock.
How Long Can You Stay at a Tennessee Rest Area?
There is a two (2) hour maximum. Tennessee has the shortest maximum stay of all 50 states. Many rest areas have posted signs at the entrance stating, “Two Hour Maximum”.
Is Overnight Parking Allowed at Tennessee Rest Areas?
No, overnight parking is not allowed. However, because these rest areas are open 24 hours a day, you are permitted to arrive during night time hours and remain there for up to two hours. That still constitutes overnight parking to some degree. If you need to stay longer than two hours, keep in the mind that most drivers do just that. Rarely does anyone get cited for it. You can read reviews on Google Maps of rest areas in Tennessee and find that people often claim to sleep overnight there, and do so peacefully.
Is Sleeping In Your Vehicle Allowed at Tennessee Rest Areas?
Yes, but not overnight.
TDOT itself has not adopted any policies against sleeping in your vehicle while at a rest area. However, because TDOT’s rest areas have a stingy two-hour time limit, you may have to cut your sleep short.
Moreover, the State of Tennessee passed a law back in 2012 entitled, “Equal Access to Public Places Act of 2012” that makes it illegal to sleep at state owned properties between the hours of 10:00pm and 7:00am. In addition, this law was amended effective July 1, 2022 by broadening the scope to all public places, not just state owned. Read more about that here.
Is Camping Permitted at Tennessee Rest Areas?
No, camping is not permitted. Even though TDOT has not specifically addressed the issue of camping, they seem to consider it synonymous with overnight parking.
In addition, the Equal Access to Public Places Act of 2012 (see above section on sleeping your vehicle), bans all camping on state owned, and other publicly owned properties.
Where Can I Get List of Tennessee Rest Areas?
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has published a list of their rest areas online… https://www.tn.gov/tdot/ engineering-operations-division/ welcome-center-rest-areas.html
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