I will start this post by acknowledging that if you are from the Northeast, it may sound crazy to dedicate an entire blog post to highway service centers. However, for people from the south, like myself, they are an entirely new concept that makes travel, especially with a trailer much easier. So this is for all the southern travelers, to know what expect if you venture to the Northeast. My travel was mainly in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio so they are three states that I know for sure offer these types of travel centers.
For those who have never traveled in these areas let me summarize the service center or areas as rest area, meets Bucee’s, meets shopping mall. Note that they are found on toll roads and not all highways, but the convenience they offer is worth the tolls. Also, compared to the sky high rates tolls are becoming Texas, theirs are cheap, considering the distance you can drive on them. If these types of service centers were what you could expect for tolls in Texas, I wouldn’t be so bitter about them.
While they look like a standard rest area on the surface, they are so much more. Yes, they have parking for trucks, campers and busses; restrooms, picnic tables and benches outside; and areas to walk you dog, like you expect at a rest area. Where they differ is that if you need gas, food or anything else, you don’t have to make multiple stops. Inside the centers are like a mini shopping mall that offers multiple restaurant chains, a convenient store with pharmacy type items, souvenir shops and some even have stands for local farmer’s to sell in their goods in. There are signs miles before arriving, listing what is available at each one and in some cases, if the fast food anchor store offers a drive through.
Once you have taken care of all your needs, rested and are ready to get back on the road, you can gas on your way out. One of the things I appreciated the most about these service centers was how well they were planned out. When you enter you have a choice of bypassing parking and going straight to gas, if that’s all you need. If you are looking for a break, the parking is first and is well planned, usually offering options for trucks and campers, as well as regular passenger cars, options close to the building. Then when you leave, you go around and merge into the gas station line on the back. It’s a great option to not have to make multiple stops but also addresses the inevitable problem with stops pulling a camper. Let’s be honest, using the bathroom is usually the top priority but at many gas stations it’s hard to park and go in without blocking multiple pumps.
Ohio has taken their service areas one step further and show their love of campers by offering overnight parking, with amenities, at select service areas on the Turnpike. I accidentally discovered these little gems on a previous trip, without the teardrop and made a point to try them out on this trip. Note that it is not free, there is a $20 charge that you pay at a self service kiosk, but you get a lot for that and is a better value than a campground for just an overnight stay. For that money you get power hookup, a dump station, potable water access, showers located in individually locked bathrooms and 24 hours of parking. Yes a full 24 hours, means that if you get in late, there is not a set check out time you have to get up and leave by. You also have the food, convenient store and other amenities of the service center, within walking distance. Some also have laundry facilities, but the one I stopped at, did not.
The night I stayed there I knew I would be making a late evening stop and leaving early in the day. Not worth paying for a full service campsite, but I was also at a point where I was running low on water and needed a shower. It was also cold and raining, so power would be nice, especially since I wouldn’t be setting up during daylight hours to use the solar panel. I was the only person there when I stopped around sunset, but a couple other campers stopped during the night. Some have pull through spots, but the one I stopped at was back in. You can find out more information about each service center at https://www.ohioturnpike.org/travelers/service-plazas/overnight-parking-for-rvs-and-travel-trailers.
I know there is a lot debate about how safe rest stops are, but one thing I appreciated here was that there was a regular patrol of state troopers driving through the parking lot. I also appreciated that they have the camper parking segregated from the big rig parking, mainly just because of the noise. Honestly, the view from the spot was just as nice as any campground and I would definitely stay at these again.