Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Safety Rest Areas & Waysides




MnDOT has a significant history of developing and improving rest areas through partnerships with public and private partners. Each partnership has varied significantly based on the objectives of the partners. MnDOT has sought and will continue to seek partnerships that effectively reduce overall costs to MnDOT or partnerships that cost effectively improve the delivery, quality, and extent of motorist services offered at rest areas. 

The way MnDOT participates in partnerships varies depending on the scope of the partnership and on what the other partners contribute. In some cases, MnDOT has restricted participation to a one-time capital improvement contribution toward the partnership project. In other cases, the department participation involves ongoing financial contributions.

Current partnerships

Minnesota Welcome Center - Cass Lake Area

Past partnerships

Orr Travel Information Center

Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center

Floodwood Rest Area

Darwin Winter Park

Gooseberry Falls

Baptism River

Park Rapids Area Welcome Center

Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center

Key attributes of partnership facilities

MnDOT has identified key attributes that partnership facilities must possess in addition to meeting the Safety Rest Area Program mission and objectives. The agency’s interest in participating in partnerships is therefore generally limited to partnerships that involve facilities with the following attributes:

Safe, visible and convenient access from and back to the mainline

Adequate parking and circulation for cars, commercial trucks and recreational vehicles accessible 24 hours per day

ADA compliant facilities

Restrooms, water and vending where present open 6 a.m. to midnight or longer, seven days a week except at seasonal facilities

Adequate utilities including potable water

Safe site and building facilities


MnDOT may use leasing as a mechanism to develop partnerships. The department will propose legislation to permit long-term leasing at rest areas to public, not-for-profit and private entities. The proposed legislation will also permit the operation of rest areas by private entities. As required by federal policy, the department will request approval from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on lease agreements, on a case-by-case basis, for projects located on the Interstate System and for projects that include federal funds. The department will negotiate any future rest area partnership leases so that project partners continue to meet the objectives of Minnesota Statutes,§ 248.07. MnDOT will require project partners to: 

Seriously consider employing needy, elderly persons, or

Procure services from the MnDOT vendor(s) retained under this statute

Commercial activities

Federal laws prohibit commercial activities at Interstate rest areas, except for vending machine sales and public pay phones. Similarly, state law prohibits the construction of commercial establishments for serving motor vehicle users within the rights-of-way or on publicly owned or publicly leased land acquired or used in connection with a controlled access highway. See governance for more information.

MnDOT will propose changes to state law that will permit limited commercial activity at rest areas. If such changes in state law occur, MnDOT will enter into a joint development agreement or lease with parties interested in offering such services at rest areas on the National Highway System (NHS). MnDOT, in accordance with federal policy, must seek approval from FHWA of any such agreements or leases. In addition, where federal funds participate in any phase of a rest area project, the state must use the federal share of any lease income from the commercial activity for Title 23 transportation purposes.