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 with respect to 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, sleeping is allowed. TDOT 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.
If after two-hours you still find yourself too tired to continue driving, then sleep some more. Rest area staff and law enforcement officers will not force you to drive away if you cannot do so safely. But, if you plan to stay longer than two-hours, we strongly advise you remain in your vehicle and act like someone who is too tired to do much of anything.
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.
Interestingly, many of Tennessee’s rest areas have facilities that are consistent with recreational camping. They include picnic tables, children’s play areas, pet areas, scenic walkways, scenic viewing areas, tourist information centers, and art displays. Some rest areas actually offer fishing, going so far as to give rules and guidelines for fishing. Thus, it appears that TDOT welcomes its visitors to enjoy certain camping activities.
However, they want you to do so all within two-hours time.
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