Find the best U.S. state parks near you
If you’re considering staying closer to home and finding adventures in your own backyard, visit your local state park. You’ll find that many state parks throughout the United States offer fun adventures such as hiking, biking, boating, fishing, camping, history, picnicking, birdwatching and more. And many times only a tankful of gas away from your front door – making a state park a perfect staycation. In fact, in Minnesota (where I live) you can find at least one state park within 50 miles of every Minnesota resident.
I recently collaborated with more than 30 travel bloggers to share their favorite state parks – most in their own backyards – and I’ve added a few from our family’s past travels. This state park travel guide makes it easy when searching “find a state park near me.” Note: This post was originally posted in July 2020; updated November 2020.
So pack up the car, the kids, the dogs and hit the road to the best state park near you. It’s the perfect time to find a state park near you for a scenic fall foliage drive for leaf peeping, camping, hiking and more.
Many state parks are open year-round making them the perfect destination for winter outdoor activities like snowshoeing, ice fishing, ice climbing and chasing frozen waterfalls. See my related post on 90 things to do in the winter – for those brrrr-low zero winter states.
Note: As the pandemic is a fluid situation, please always check the state park website for the latest updates regarding operational hours, amenities and social-distancing guidelines. Additionally, always check for any other park closures due to scheduled deer hunts or environment-related conditions such as as wildfires or floods.
So how do you make money as a blogger? That’s a common question I receive. The answer: This post contains links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may – as a marketing affiliate – receive compensation if you link to or purchase products and services from places such as Amazon, Bluehost, Constant Contact, It’s a Lovely Life, HotelsCombined, etc.
Note that all contributors of this top U.S. state parks post submitted their own content and images are owned by them.
Alabama: 21 state parks
Alabama is home to 21 state parks that cover 48,000 acres of land and water. And the Alabama state parks are pretty diverse – from the Gulf of Mexico coastline to the Appalachian Mountains – offering fun things to do for everyone in the family.
DeSota Falls State Park in Alabama – contributed by Family Journeys
Alabama isn’t usually thought of as a mountainous state, but the northeast region is a beautiful part of Lookout Mountain. DeSoto Falls State Park is located here near winding valleys, mountainous peaks and quaint small towns.
On our recent visit to DeSota Falls State Park, we found this to be a really nice park, perfect for families with kids and teenagers, group or generational travel, and anyone looking to enjoy an outdoor getaway. The park offers a wide variety of lodging to suit any preference: RV and tent camping, cabins, motel rooms, group tent sites and more.
Campers at DeSota Falls State Park will enjoy the spaced-out sites with full hook-ups. Families can all enjoy hiking together on 30+ miles of trails right in the park. One extra thoughtful touch is a handicap-accessible boardwalk trail. Everybody will also enjoy the onsite restaurant in DeSota Falls State Park, which serves three hot meals a day.
In normal (non-COVID) operating times, there are more activities here to do than we have usually found in a state park. Desota Falls State Park offers an onsite zipline and ropes course, nature center with programs for kids, Civilian Conversation Corps Museum, general store and more.
Nearby are plenty more outdoor activities, parks and waterfalls. Both Fort Payne and Mentone, which are nearby, provide quaint downtowns with shopping, eating and museums; and Rome, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tenn. aren’t too far away either.
DeSota Falls State Park is an excellent place to bring the whole family for an outdoor getaway; it has something for all ages, interests and capabilities. And is a very beautiful area that’s less crowded than your major cities.
Alaska: 4 state parks
Alaska is home to only four state parks. Only? Those four parks in The Last Frontier state include the largest state park in the U.S.: Wood-Tikchik State Park with 1.6 million acres. In total, the four Alaska state parks cover more than 2,825,240 acres. Perspective: If all four state parks in Alaska were a state, it would rank in size between Delaware (1.6m acres) and Connecticut (3.5m acres).
Chugach State Park in Alaska – contributed by Wanderus Living
One of the largest state parks in the United States lies in the heart of Alaska, right next to Anchorage. Chugach State Park is over 490,000 acres and offers so many different outdoor activities.
Where to stay at Chugach State Park
One of the most popular places to stay inside Chugach State Park is the Alyeska Resort & Hotel. Alaska is one of the most expensive places to stay in the United States, so don’t expect to find any cheap hotels inside the park. The resort is located right on a lake and even has an indoor pool for those cold Alaskan nights.
Best hiking trails at Chugach State Park
Chugach State Park is one of the best places to experience the outdoors near Anchorage. Two of the best hikes in the park are Rabbit Lake Trail and Twin Peaks Trail. Both hikes are around 8.5 miles long, but lead to the most spectacular views of the park.
If you are looking for an easier trail at Chugach State Park, Byron Glacier trail is only 3.2 miles and is even dog friendly. No matter what hike or walking trail you end up taking in the park, you will be amazed at how beautiful it is.
Other top things to do at Chugach State Park
Chugach State Park is also home to Eklutna Lake, which is an amazing place to kayak or paddleboard. The lake is around 7 miles long and 1 mile wide, so you will have a full day’s adventure ahead of exploring. You can even rent a kayak at the lake if you don’t have your own.
There is so much to see and do in Chugach State Park that it can be overwhelming. You can join a gold mine tour, hike, kayak or go for a helicopter ride. Whatever outdoor activity you love, Chugach State Park is sure to have it – making it one of the most adventurous state parks in the U.S.
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California: Nearly 300 state parks, beaches, nature reserves
You’ll find nearly 300 state parks, beaches and other protected areas in California. As of this publication date, a number of those state parks and beaches are impacted due to the California wildfires. Please check the California Department of Parks and Recreation website for the latest updates on state park closures.
Humboldt Redwoods – contributed by Chef Travel Guide
Located about a four-hour drive from San Francisco, Humboldt Redwoods State Park boasts of the world’s densest and most impressive stands of big trees. Spanning more than 53,000 acres, about twice the size of San Francisco, this state park is home to 17,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest, which is the largest remaining stand of ancient redwoods in the world.
One of the main highlights of the park is the Avenue of the Giants, which is a 32-mile long stretch of towering redwood trees. Visited by millions each year, this scenic drive is the most impressive display of giant trees in the entire 500-mile redwood belt in California. Imagine driving through narrow roads between massive redwood trees which can be as tall as a 30-story building!
To get a better experience of what the park has to offer, it is best to spend at least two nights to give yourself enough time without rushing. Camping in one of the three drive-in campgrounds in the park is highly encouraged if you want to truly immerse yourself in nature. You can wake up to the smell of pine from the trees, the sound of rushing creeks and rivers, and the majestic canopy formed by the towering redwoods.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the hundred miles of trails waiting to be explored. The popular trails include the Founders’ Grove, Gould Grove Nature trail and the Homestead and Big Trees loop. For some old-growth redwood hikes, make sure to stop by the plush Grieg-French Bell and Drury-Chaney groves to see extraordinary lush carpets of redwood sorrel. If you’re looking for a longer hike, head over to Bull Creek flats where you can get a glimpse of the Rockefeller Forest, home to the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th tallest trees in the world.
Point Lobos State Park in California – contributed by Roadtripping California
Known as one of the most scenic parks in the Golden State, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, California is a must-visit if you enjoy the outdoors and beautiful views. Located along the Pacific Ocean, Point Lobos is a popular stop along the Pacific Coast Highway or Big Sur Coast drive.
Things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve: Hiking
Hiking is the most popular activity in Point Lobos, which contains a network of trails, many of them ocean-view trails. While all the waterfront trails at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve are scenic, Bird Island Trail offers views of hundreds of nesting seabirds in the spring and summer. Cypress Grove Trail protects a stand of very old native Monterey cypresses, which only grow in Point Lobos and one other spot nearby.
Other top things to do at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Other than hiking, you can look for sea and shore birds and marine life: harbor seals pup in China Cove and you may see whales on their migratory path. Dolphins, sea otters and sea lions may also be visible from shore.
Gibson Beach in the park is a good place to swim and the park also offers spots for scuba diving and snorkeling. Visit in the spring for wildflowers. Painters and photographers love Point Lobos for its scenery.
With so much to see and do, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a must-visit park when you travel through or to the Monterey Peninsula in California!
Florida: 175 state parks, trails and historic sites
Florida is home to 175 state parks, trails and historic sites. Here are three of them.
Amelia Island State Park in Florida – contributed by kmfiswriting
Our good friends live on Amelia Island in Florida and we love visiting their favorite beaches. The beaches of Amelia Island are never crowded; feels like our own private beach. And while I’m content to simply sit on the beach and watch the ocean do its thing, I’ve learned that Amelia Island State Park is the only state park in Florida that allows horseback riding on its beaches. May need to check that out the next time we visit.
Located near Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island State Park protects more than 200 acres of natural habitats like marshes and its white-sand beaches. What I especially love about their beaches is that you don’t get sandy. The sand is packed hard so it’s easy to walk and run on – and even drive on. And Amelia Island State Park white-sand beaches are wide making it a perfect social-distancing destination.
Top things to do at Amelia Island State Park
Top things to do at Amelia Island State Park other than watch the waves roll in and out.
- Horseback riding
- Biking along the coast on the Timucuan Trail
- Run with the seagulls (yes, it’s a thing – popular with the kids and my husband)
If you’re planning a couple’s getaway to Amelia Island, see Endless Family Travels’ recommendations on the top romantic things to do.
Please check the Florida state parks website for the latest updates during the pandemic such as limited hours, capacity and amenities.
Delnor-Wiggins State Park in Naples, Florida – contributed by Travlinmad
Few state parks in the U.S. offer a prime waterfront seat to the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico like Delnor-Wiggins State Park in Naples, Florida. Located on one of the most pristine stretches of coastline in southwest Florida, the beach itself is one of the best beaches in Naples. But Delnor-Wiggins is so much more than just a beach.
Named for both the region’s first homesteader who ran a trading post here in the late 1800s, as well as the philanthropic couple who donated the land for the state park in 1976, Delnor-Wiggins State Park still retains the raw, natural feel of Florida as it used to be.
Today, Delnor-Wiggins State Park offers one of the most natural stretches of dunes, hiking trails and protected beach you will find in south Florida. Visitors have several beaches and picnic areas to choose from, a beach concession renting kayaks and watercraft, and even a small watchtower to climb for a beautiful view over the north end of the Park.
Delnor-Wiggins State Park is also a great spot for saltwater fishing, allowed only at the northernmost beach. Be on the lookout for resident wildlife like deer, iguanas, and the gopher tortoises slowly walking through the scrub.
If you’re looking for one of Florida’s most beautiful state parks, head to Delnor-Wiggins and enjoy the natural beauty of southwest Florida.
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and Beach in Key West, Florida – contributed by kmfiswriting
Visiting Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and Beach (or Fort Taylor as the locals call it) is one of my top things to do in Key West, Florida.
Fort Taylor, a national historic monument that predates the Civil War, is the most southern state park in the continental U.S. Interpretive signs and tour guides provide details on the fort’s role in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. We spent most of our day on Fort Taylor’s beach so did not get an opportunity to tour the historic fort itself so definitely want to check it out when we return.
Things to know before you visit Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach
Bring water shoes or sandals as the Fort Zachary beach is a little rocky with pebbles; also note there is no lifeguard on duty. You’ll find a kiosk on the beach where you can rent beach chairs, an umbrella and snorkeling gear. You can also fish and paddle at Fort Taylor.
While you can picnic at Fort Taylor, alcohol is not allowed on the beach. However, you can order drinks as well as food at the Cayo Hueso Café, where they offer outdoor seating and a small gift store in case you need an extra beach towel or sunscreen. The cafe is typically open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, please check the Florida state parks website for the latest updates during the pandemic such as limited hours, capacity and amenities.
John Pennekamp State Park in Florida – contributed by Family Road Trip Guru
One of my most favorite state parks in Florida is John Pennekamp in Key Largo. It is a very unique park, but you cannot hike there. Now, why would I want to go to a state park if I cannot hike there, you may ask. Well, you cannot walk in this park because John Pennekamp is completely under water.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world situated about a 40-minute boat ride off Key Largo, Florida. Even though it is under water, both kids and adults can enjoy it. If you cannot swim and/or don’t want to get wet, you can take a glass bottom tour, which we did and it was splendid. If you are good in the water, you can either do a snorkeling or diving tour depending on your level of abilities.
The underwater world of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is amazing. We saw tons of tropical fish, rays, small sharks and even barracudas! That is in addition to whimsical coral formations. And the color of the water around it is a stunning turquoise blue.
The excitement of going to this state park is not just about the destination itself, it is also about the ride there, a cool speedy boat ride accompanied by dolphins. I promise you will have a great time!
When you visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, don’t miss other interesting things to do in Key Largo – there are plenty of fantastic attractions to enjoy.
Georgia: 63 state parks and historic sites
The Peach State of Georgia is home to 63 diverse state parks and historic sites with landscapes ranging from the largest blackwater swamp in North America to mountains and everything in between.
FDR State Park in Georgia – contributed by Family Journeys
FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, one of Georgia’s most famous and prettiest parks, was made famous, of course, by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He visited this area so frequently to bathe in the mineral springs (for his polio) that he even built a home in Pine Mountain, Georgia, which was nicknamed Little White House.
You can tour the Little White House and find many other fun things to do nearby including the historic towns of Warm Springs and Pine Mountain; however, FDR State Park itself is enough reason for a visit. It’s a surprisingly mountainous area with a lot of scenic overlooks. FDR especially loved Dowdell’s Knob and frequently visited for picnicking and contemplation.
FDR State Park also features more than 40 miles of wooded hiking trails, horseback riding stables and a pretty lake right in the campground. We recently hiked a portion of the Pine Mountain Trail and our whole family enjoyed all the beauty and waterfalls we saw along the way.
The campground at FDR State Park is pretty too with a beautiful rock-facade visitor’s center and several stone cottages for rent. You can also relax and sit on the visitor’s center’s porch overlooking a beautiful valley. Other things to do and see at FDR State Park include plenty of tent and RV camping sites, a playground and a swimming pool called the Liberty Bell, which is fed by the local springs.
You can easily find plenty of fun things to do at FDR State Park, with nearby dining, shopping and the Little White House, as well as visit the 14,000-acre Callaway Gardens or a wild animal safari experience. One of the best places to eat near FDR State Park is Bulloch House in Warm Springs – famous for its southern fried chicken and vegetables, desserts and other delicious menu items.
FDR State Park, located just an hour south of Atlanta, is a great place to visit for family fun, nature, and history! And if you’re visiting Atlanta or anywhere else in Georgia, here’s how to get free tickets to 12 of the state’s major attractions.
Hawaii: 50 state parks
You can find 50 state parks throughout all the Hawaiian islands. Here are two of the top state parks in Hawaii on the island of Kauai.
Napali Coast State Wilderness Park in Kauai, Hawaii – contributed by kmfiswriting
So you know those beautiful tropical scenes in the Jurassic Park series? Most were shot on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. This island is also home to the stunning Napali Coast.
You can only reach the secluded Napali Coast (legally) by hiking or boating (or take a helicopter tour for some breathtaking aerial views). We chose a whale-watching cruise along the Napali Coast. While we saw a few whales in the distance and an entertaining pod of spinner dolphins, Napali Coast was the headliner for this show.
You’ll enjoy a colorful and rugged shoreline of cliffs with countless waterfalls (Kauai is one of the rainiest places on earth with up to 400 inches of rain a year).
If planning to backpack and camp at Napali Coast State Wilderness Park in Kauai, you’ll need a special permit and they do sell out quickly so plan ahead. You’ll especially want to check out their social-distancing, camping and day-use guidelines, as the Napali Coast State Wilderness is more restrictive than usual. For example, only two hikers are allowed to hike together on the trails unless in the same household, and you must maintain 20 feet from any other hiker when hiking the Hawaii trails.
Waimea Canyon State Park in Kauai, Hawii – contributed by kmfiswriting
While Hawaii is well-known for its beaches and palm trees, you can find so much more variety especially on the island of Kauai. One of the favorite things to do on spring break vacation in Kauai is visiting Waimea Canyon State Park. Also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is 14 miles long, a mile wide and 3,600 feet deep.
Top things to do at Waimea Canyon State Park
- Enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of waterfalls, colorful cliffs and valleys and lush tropical rainforests.
- Take an easy 0.3-mile nature walk on the Iliau Nature Loop.
- Hike the Kukai Trail – a more strenuous 2.5-mile path (one way) that takes you down the west side of Waimea Canyon – a 2,000-ft. elevation drop.
- Seasonal trout fishing.
- Seasonal goat and pig hunting (yes, you may see a wild boar).
As of this publishing date, all Hawaiian state park trails are open if visitors abide by the specific social-distancing guidelines (e.g., 20 feet between hikers).
Idaho: 30 state parks
Idaho is home to 30 state parks, each offering something for everyone. The state parks in Idaho are perfect for a vast number of outdoor activities such as camping in RVs, cabins, yurts, tents and even a historic ranch house, hiking, biking, ATVing, fishing, snowmobiling, horseback riding, boating, rock climbing and more.
Castle Rocks State Park in Idaho – contributed by Mod Fam Global
Hike, climb, bike and camp your way through Idaho State Parks, starting with Castle Rocks State Park. From world-class rock climbing to rugged hiking trails and abundant wildlife, this national reserve has something for everyone. Castle Rocks State Park sits just South of the Snake River Plain in southern Idaho, a short drive from Boise and Salt Lake City. It forms part of the large City of Rocks National Reserve.
Best things to do at Castle Rocks State Park
Here are the top things to do at Castle Rocks State Park in Idaho – and why it earned a spot in the best of the best state parks in the U.S.
- Visit the nearby City of Rocks National Reserve for rock climbing, hiking and wildlife.
- Hike easy-to-moderate trails around ancient geological formations.
- Stay at Castle Rocks State Park’s historical ranch house or a group-sized yurt.
- Camp nearby at the state park campground.
- Photograph the region’s native wildlife and high desert foliage.
- Rock climb.
- Soak at Durfee Hot Springs overlooking the scenic valley near Almo, Idaho.
Hiking Trails at Castle Rocks State Park
Several hiking trails wind throughout Castle Rocks. The relatively easy, two-mile Backyard Boulders loop offers some of the best views of ancient geology in Castle Rocks State Park. The hiking loop takes you around Castle Rock, past an ancient rock shelter to the Three-Pool and Backyard Boulders. The hiking trail continues on to the Castle Rocks Geological Area Overlook and prehistoric pictographs underneath a large boulder shelf. The Backyard Boulders loop offers a hands-on experience for all skill levels and ages.
Indiana: 25 state parks and recreation areas
You’ll find 25 state parks and recreation area in Indiana. Indiana State Parks system has 24 state parks and eight reservoir properties. Here are two of them: Cataract Falls at Lieber State Recreation Area and McCormick’s Creek State Park.
Cataract Falls at Lieber State Recreation Area in Indiana – contributed by Traveling Tanya
If you are looking for a perfect summer day trip, consider visiting some local waterfalls. Cataract Falls is part of Lieber State Recreation Area, and it is the largest waterfall, by volume, in Indiana.
Things to do at Cataract Falls
There is plenty to explore at Cataract Falls! The Upper Falls will captivate you with its sheer beauty and the calming sounds of the rushing water. View the falls from several vantage points, and don’t forget to venture across the historic covered bridge. Enjoy the slightly less than one-mile hike through the woods running alongside Mill Creek.
You will then be delighted with a second waterfall, the Lower Falls, with expansive views from several levels. If you aren’t up for hiking or have mobility issues, you can drive between the two sets of falls and there is ample parking at each. The next time you are looking for a staycation in Indiana, just pack a picnic and enjoy the natural beauty of Cataract Falls.
While Cataract Falls is amazing in the summer, I can’t wait to return and see the falls when autumn’s color palette is on full display!
Check the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website for the latest updates on state park hours, operations and protocols.
Indiana Dunes State Park in Indiana – contributed by Perhaps This Is
Our family has enjoyed SO many outings and camping trips at the Indiana Dunes State Park, and we always look forward to returning! It is one of our favorite places to camp, and for good reason! With more than three miles of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan, sand dunes that climb almost 200 feet high, miles of hiking trails and surrounded by the newly named Indiana Dunes National Park, this campground is the perfect spot to explore this unique coastline.
Family-friendly activities at Indiana Dunes State Park
Here are some of the top family-friendly activities you can find at Indiana Dunes State Park.
- Swimming, hiking, camping or climbing the towering sand dunes, this park offers many outdoor activities for the whole family. If you’re up for it, try the “3 Dunes Challenge” (ask any park ranger for information on how to get started)!
- Visit the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center for hands-on learning, nature classes and presentations.
- Explore the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center to learn more about this unique Duneland community.
- Borrow a “Backpack for Birders” at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center. The Indiana Dunes is a migratory path for more than 350 different species of birds!
- Volunteer with the “Trash Trekkers” program, a drop-in volunteering opportunity to help beautify the park. Supplies are available at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center.
- Participate in a beach clean-up hosted by Mermaid Straw, a local business that organizes monthly clean-ups from April through September (view Facebook calendar).
McCormick’s Creek State Park in Indiana – contributed by Adventure is Everywhere
Just a little over an hour from Indianapolis, McCormick’s Creek State Park is a perfect day trip. The park is considered the first of Indiana’s state parks. The land for the park was dedicated on July 4th, 1916, so it’s over 100 years old! In addition to the lovely land, McCormick’s Creek State Park houses the Canyon Inn, a historic building built on and around an 1880s sanitarium, so book a room to turn your day trip into a staycation!
Top things to do at McCormick’s Creek State Park
Here are the top things to do at McCormick’s Creek State Park in Indiana.
- Stay at the Canyon Inn
- Hike the trails
- Enjoy the nature center
- Swim in the pool
- Play shuffleboard, basketball, or racquetball
- Explore Wolf Cave
- Horseback riding
McCormick’s Creek State Park features multiple trails of different levels of difficulty and length. On a recent visit, we began our hiking on trail 3, which leads to a waterfall. It is a short and easy walk, and you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of this small waterfall. You can enjoy the waterfall at McCormick’s Creek State Park from above and then walk down a set of stairs to the creekbed to wade in the water.
Another unique trail within McCormick’s Creek State Park can be found by taking trail 5 about 15 minutes into the woods. There you’ll discover Wolf Cave. The story behind the cave is that an early settler was returning home after selling butter and eggs and as she passed the cave, wolves emerged. She threw down her hat and bonnet and was able to run away to safety. The cave has not been altered and you are welcome to explore it as much as you’d like.
So, if you love history, hiking, and beautiful views, McCormick’s Creek State Park is a must-visit the next time you are in Indiana.
Pam at Adventures Are Everywhere also shares some travel tips when you visit the best state parks in the U.S.
Maine: 48 state parks and historic sites
Maine is home to 48 state parks and historic sites. Here is one of them.
Bradbury Mountain State Park in Maine – contributed by Trip to Tale Travels
We set out this summer, during COVID-19, to visit all of the state parks in Maine.
Bradbury Mountain State Park is located in Pownal, Maine on Route 9. It is convenient to both Portland and Freeport (popular tourist destinations in Maine).
Top things to do at Bradbury Mountain State Park
Here are the top things to do at Bradbury Mountain State Park.
- Hike the trails
- Relax or picnic at the summit/bird watching
- Play at the playground (currently closed due to the pandemic)
- Picnic in their picnic area
- Check out the group area
Hiking and biking trails at Bradbury Mountain State Park
Hiking and biking are the most popular things to do at Bradbury Mountain State Park. They are known for their summit view and the bird watching from the summit.
There is a direct trail to the top of Bradbury Mountain that is about 0.2 miles, but it is quite steep. If you are looking for something less strenuous, consider one of the other trails. The boundary trail is more meandering, but is two miles long.
Massachusetts: 24 state parks, 38 state forests, 1 state wildlife management area
If you’re an outdoors adventurer, you’ll find lots of places to explore at any of the 24 Massachusetts state parks. They are perfect for those who love to camp, hike, fish, walk the beaches, explore wildlife reservations and boat on reservoirs.
Halibut Point State Park in Massachusetts – contributed by Life at My Own Pace
Halibut Point State Park is considered one of the top 10 state parks to visit in Massachusetts. Located on Cape Ann in the town of Rockport, Halibut Point State Park was once the Babson Farm Granite Quarry. The granite was quarried at the beginning of the 20th century and built thousands of buildings, warehouses, bridges, street monuments and tunnels. Unfortunately, in 1929, operations ended with the collapse of the Cape Ann granite industry. In 1934, The Trustees of the Reservations acquired a piece of land next to the quarry. Here the Halibut Point Reservation was created. Then, in 1981, the state purchased 56 acres of land, resulting in Halibut Point State Park’s creation. Together, they make up this beautiful area.
Halibut Point State Park is 67 acres and overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Before heading out, make sure to download a trail map. Not only does it show the Halibut Point State Park trails, but it also provides the history of the quarry and marks the points of interest. I highly recommend spending some time at the scenic outlook. You can see islands off the coast of New Hampshire and Mount Agamenticus, located 81 miles away in Maine on a clear day. Also, be sure to hike down to Halibut Point State Park’s rocky shoreline and explore the amazing tide pools.
Michigan: 103 state parks and recreational areas
Michigan offers 103 state parks and recreational areas. Here’s just one of the top state parks in Michigan located right in Detroit.
Belle Isle Park Detroit in Michigan – contributed by How We Find Happy
Although many Michigan State Parks are known for their abundant forests, trails and lakes, Belle Isle Park Detroit is an island located on the Detroit River, between the United States and Canada. In 2014, Belle Isle Park became the 102nd Michigan State Park.
Things to do at Belle Isle Park Detroit
Among the 982 acres at Belle Isle Park Detroit, you will find one of the most wide ranges of activities available in a state park. For the nature lover, check out the nature center, wooded area with trails, the Belle Isle Aquarium or the conservatory. The educational or history buff will enjoy the Great Lakes Museum, and the aquarium, because it happens to be the oldest in America.
Adventurists can rent a canoe/kayak, bring a bike, take a walk or swim on the beach. There truly is something for everyone, which makes Belle Isle Park Detroit one of the most unique state parks in America.
See the Michigan DNR website for the latest state park operations, hours and protocols.
Minnesota: 66 state parks and 9 recreation areas
I’m thoroughly enjoying my Minnesota State Park Staycation Challenge. And am happy Adventuring Woman shared her experience at Cascade River State Park (which is located on the North Shore of Minnesota – one of my favorite places in the world). You can find the latest updates about Minnesota state parks on the Minnesota DNR website.
Cascade River State Park in Minnesota – contributed by Adventuring Woman
Cascade River State Park is located on the Minnesota North Shore of Lake Superior, an area that abounds with magnificent state parks. Their fairly new facilities make it my favorite for camping. I also like the Cascade River State Park’s proximity to Grand Marais. If you end up with a rainy day, it’s no hardship to explore the nearby town.
The park is known for its rushing river, grand waterfalls and beautiful views of Lake Superior, including a hiking trail and picnic spots right on the shoreline. Other trails meander through a boreal hardwood-conifer forest of aspen, birch, fir, spruce and cedar. Cascade River State Park trails connect with both the Superior Hiking Trail and the North Shore State Trail.
The Cascade River
Named for a spectacular series of cascades, the Cascade River is one of the largest of the North Shore rivers. A half-mile hike showcases the Cascades (a series of five small waterfalls) and the Cascade Falls. The river cascades down a series of volcanic slopes, dropping 900 feet during the last three miles. Enjoy wonderful views from the footbridge spanning the river and from several other viewing platforms.
Water like root beer
The water’s remarkable resemblance to root beer has nothing to do with pollution. The brown color comes from humid acid in the swamps and bogs that drain into the river. Vigorous tumbling over rocks and waterfalls causes it to foam, creating that delightful root beer effect.
My Minnesota State Park Challenge – contributed by kmfiswriting
I’m currently on a mission to visit all 66 Minnesota State Parks before next summer (2021). I started the summer of 2020 with six. As of Nov. 20, 2020, I have visited the following 33 Minnesota state parks – and, honestly, I’m having a hard time deciding which are the best state parks in MN (I love them all!).
The following list links to full Minnesota state park reviews or Instagram posts. Will update when I create posts for the remaining MN state parks.
- Afton State Park | Hastings, MN (26 miles)
- Banning State Park | Sandstone, MN (97 miles)
- Bear Head Lake State Park | Ely, MN (240 miles)
- Beaver Creek Valley State Park | Caledonia, MN (148 miles)
- Big Stone Lake State Park | Ortonville, MN (186 miles)
- Blue Mounds State Park | Luverne, MN (208 miles)
- Buffalo River State Park | Glyndon, MN (240 miles)
- Camden State Park | Lynd, MN (161 miles)
- Carley State Park | Altura, MN (88 miles)
- Cascade River State Park | Lutsen, MN (257 miles)
- Charles A. Lindbergh | Little Falls, MN (112 miles)
- Crow Wing State Park | Brainerd, MN (134 miles)
- Father Hennepin State Park | Isle, MN (113 miles)
- Flandrau State Park | New Ulm, MN (93 miles)
- Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park | Preston, MN (115 miles)
- Fort Ridgely State Park | Fairfax, MN (99 miles)
- Fort Snelling State Park | Bloomington / St. Paul, MN (2 miles)
- Franz Jeven State Park | Baudette, MN (335 miles)
- Frontenac State Park | Frontenac, MN (62 miles)
- George H. Crosby Manitou State Park | Silver Bay, MN (231 miles)
- Glacial Lakes State Park | Starbuck, MN (156 miles)
- Glendalough State Park | Battle Lake, MN (194 miles)
- Gooseberry Falls State Park | Two Harbors, MN (197 miles)
- Grand Portage State Park | Grand Portage, MN (308 miles)
- Great River Bluffs State Park | Winona, MN (136 miles)
- Hayes Lake State Park | Roseau, MN (343 miles)
- Hill Annex Mine State Park | Calumet, MN (197 miles)
- Interstate State Park / Taylors Falls State Park | Taylors Falls, MN (56 miles)
- Itasca State Park | Park Rapids, MN (219 miles)
- Jay Cooke State Park | Thomson, MN (146 miles)
- John A. Latsch State Park | Winona, MN (99 miles)
- Judge C.R. Magney State Park | Grand Marais, MN (282 miles)
- Kilen Woods State Park | Lakefield, MN (153 miles)
- Lac qui Parle State Park | Watson, MN (141 miles)
- Lake Bemidji State Park | Bemidji, MN (230 miles)
- Lake Bronson State Park | Karlstad, MN (409 miles)
- Lake Carlos State Park | Alexandria, MN (152 miles)
- Lake Louise State Park | Le Roy, MN (113 miles)
- Lake Maria State Park | Monticello, MN (60 miles)
- Lake Shetek State Park | Currie, MN (168 miles)
- Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park | Soudan, MN (229 miles)
- Maplewood State Park | Pelican Rapids, MN (217 miles)
- McCarthy Beach State Park | Side Lake, MN (227 miles)
- Mille Lacs Kathio State Park | Onamia, MN (108 miles)
- Minneopa State Park | Mankato, MN (82 miles)
- Monson Lake State Park |Sunburg, MN (141 miles)
- Moose Lake State Park | Moose Lake, MN (116 miles)
- Myre-Big Island State Park | Albert Lea, MN (93 miles)
- Nerstrand Big Woods State Park | Nerstrand, MN (52 miles)
- Old Mill State Park | Argyle, MN (350 miles)
- Rice Lake State Park | Owatonna, MN (70 miles)
- St. Croix State Park | Hinckley, MN (105 miles)
- Sakatah Lake State Park | Waterville, MN (60 miles)
- Savanna Portage State Park | Northeast Aitkin, MN (149 miles)
- Scenic State Park | Bigfork, MN (232 miles)
- Schoolcraft State Park | Deer River, MN (198 miles)
- Sibley State Park | New London, MN (128 miles)
- Split Rock Creek State Park | Jasper, MN (202 miles)
- Split Rock Lighthouse State Park | Two Harbors, MN (204 miles)
- Temperance River State Park | Schroeder, MN (239 miles)
- Tettegouche State Park | Silver Bay, MN (217 miles)
- Upper Sioux Agency State Park | Granite Falls, MN (122 miles)
- Whitewater State Park | Altura, MN (99 miles)
- Wild River State Park | Center City, MN (58 miles)
- William O’Brien State Park | Scandia / Marine on the St. Croix, MN (43 miles)
- Zippel Bay State Park | Williams, MN (345 miles)
New Hampshire: 93 state parks
While New Hampshire is one of the smaller U.S. states, it’s practically covered in forests – 83% to be exact. That makes it the perfect backdrop for 93 state parks. Here’s one of New Hampshire’s top state parks.
Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire – contributed by Nichole The Nomad
New Hampshire is known for its incredible mountain views and beautiful lakes, and Franconia Notch State Park is no different. Nestled in the beautiful White Mountains, Franconia Notch State Park offers something for everyone in every season, including waterfalls, hiking, rock climbing, skiing, ice climbing and vibrant fall foliage.
Top things to do and see in Franconia Notch State Park
Here are a few of the best things to do and see in Franconia Notch State Park:
- Echo Lake – surrounded by mountains
- Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway – 360° summit views
- Kancamagus Highway – one of the most beautiful foliage drives in the world
- Cloudland Falls and Swiftwater Falls – easy 3-mile hike
- Flume Gorge – easy 2-mile hike
- Artist’s Bluff and Bald Mountain – easy 1.5-mile hike
- Cannon Mountain and Lonesome Lake – moderate 5.5-mile hike
- Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette – strenuous 9-mile hike
- Explore an Ice Castle
- Ski or snowboard at Cannon Mountain
Although the best time to visit Franconia Notch State Park is in the fall, it is the perfect place for a getaway year-round making it one of the top state parks in the U.S!
Rollins State Park in New Hampshire – contributed by Adventures and Smiles
Rollins State Park in Warner, New Hampshire is a perfect destination for all ages. It includes a beautiful 3.5 mile drive up Mt. Kearsarge that leads to a large parking area. From there, you can find nearby picnic tables from which to enjoy gorgeous views or you can hike one of the two trails to the summit of Mt. Kearsarge.
The Rollins Trail is an old cart path, so it is an easier half-mile hike up, while the Lincoln Trail involves rocks and some scrambling. Both are great trails that lead up to the open summit that provides 360 degree views. You can see as far as New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Vermont’s Green Mountains.
There is also a fire tower to climb if you’d like a little extra perspective. The summit area is huge with lots of space to explore and relax all while soaking in amazing views.
During the off-season, there is no car access up the mountain road, so if you’d like to drive up, make sure to check the website for the operating schedule.
Additionally, New Hampshire state parks are currently requiring advanced day use reservations while in-season, so make sure to book your spot before your head over. It is super easy to do on the NH State Park website.
New York: 180 state parks
There is definitely more to New York than the Big Apple. The state of New York, the Empire State, is home to 180 state parks where you’ll find beautiful outdoor spaces, beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails, campsites, fishing spots, and so much more
Minnewaska State Park Preserve in New York – contributed by Travel Collecting
Minnewaska State Park Preserve is not only incredibly beautiful, it is also home to some of the best hikes in New York’s Hudson Valley. There are 50 miles of hiking trails and 35 miles of old carriage roads you can walk or cycle.
The centerpiece at Minnewaska State Park is Minnewaska Lake, an incredibly picturesque lake high in the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge. An easy trail circles the lake. It’s an easy one-hour walk past a tiny beach that is open for swimming in summer, a short side trail to a lookout with spectacular views over the surrounding woods and the Hudson Valley, and cliffs overlooking the lake. In spring, bushes of mountain laurel at Minnewaska State Park are covered in pale pink flowers. And in the fall, the woods are especially stunning when the trees are ablaze with color.
Nearby is Awosting Falls, a small but lovely waterfall that is a short and easy walk from the lower parking lot. Another fantastic hike at Minnewaska State Park is the High Peterskill Trail. The first half a mile is near the road, but then the trail climbs to several rocky lookouts with views over the surrounding valleys. This is another fall favorite, but is beautiful throughout the year.
Minnewaska State Park is located about two hours north of New York City. You will need a car to get there. Admission is $10 per vehicle. There are two main parking lots. The lower parking lot is best for Awosting Falls, while the upper parking lot is best for Minnewaska Lake. There is a separate parking area for the High Peters Kill Trail, just down the road.
North Carolina: 34 state parks, 4 recreational areas, 3 natural areas
North Carolina’s state park system offers diverse and beautiful outdoor experiences for all ages and all interests. Chimney Rock State Park is just one of the top state parks in North Carolina.
Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina – contributed by Travels with Bibi
Located just 25 miles from Asheville, North Carolina, Chimney Rock State Park offers the best of the western North Carolina mountains all in one fun, family-friendly destination.
Things to do at Chimney Rock State Park
There is so much to see and do at Chimney Rock State Park. Hike to the top of the 315-ft. granite monolith with 75-mile views, visit waterfalls, explore any of the six hiking trails, or even give supervised rock climbing a try!
Chimney Rock State Park adventures
Chimney Rock is truly a nature lover’s paradise. Kids have plenty to experience too, with adventures designed specifically to engage and challenge the young and young at heart with an adventure trail, Animal Discovery Den, and a climbing rock tower.
Chimney Rock birdwatching
While visiting Chimney Rock, birdwatchers can look to the skies for the opportunity to see the incredible flight of a Peregrine Falcon soaring high above the Hickory Nut Gorge area. As the birds of prey cut through the air at more than 60 mph, they often swoop down on small birds at the astonishing diving speed of 200 mph. On clear days, Peregrine Falcons can put on a spectacular air show in the skies in the North Carolina mountains.
Pet-friendly Chimney Rock
As a family-friendly park, pets are welcome at Chimney Rock (except for the elevator and lounge area); just make sure Fido stays on a six-foot leash at all times.
Day trips from Chimney Rock
After a day well-spent at Chimney Rock State Park, be sure to enjoy the rest of the surrounding Western North Carolina area. Asheville is just a short drive away and Maggie Valley, a laid-back mountain town, can be reached in under two hours by car.
Ohio: 75 state parks
Ohio features 75 parks as well as several recreation areas. Here are more details about one of the top state parks in Ohio.
Punderson State Park in Ohio – contributed by FischTayls
Most of us have never heard of Newbury Township before. Centrally located in Geauga County, roughly 45 minutes east of Cleveland, Newbury is a small town that is home to one of Ohio’s 75 state parks – a little gem called Punderson.
As one of the Great Ohio Lodges, Punderson State Park is open year-round and is the perfect place for couples and families alike to get away. Stay for the day, the weekend or even a week because there is no shortage of accommodations or activities to choose from.
Recently, we took our daughter and her friends to spend a couple of days in one of the onsite cabins. We spent our days exploring the 740-acre property. Between the freshwater lake, trails, golf course and manor, we had a fantastic time. Unfortunately, the marina is closed right now due to the pandemic, but we found so many other ways to spend our days.
Oregon: 256 state parks
Wow! With more than 250 state parks in Oregon, how do you decide which one to visit? You will never run out of recreational opportunities to hike, camp, fish, boat, chase waterfalls, etc. To help you navigate through all the possibilities, here’s one of the top state parks in Oregon.
Silver Falls State Park in Oregon – contributed by The Hangry Backpacker
Silver Falls State Park is absolutely the best state park in Oregon. Despite being one of the most popular parks in the state, Silver Falls is well worth a visit.
The Trail of Ten Falls is the highlight of the park. This hiking trail ranges from easy to moderate in difficulty (easy if you take it slow), and it winds for a few miles touring visitors through the spectacle of waterfalls and old-growth forest. Depending how you count the falls, there are more than 10, too. The coolest part about the trail is that it leads hikers behind a few of these beautiful, massive waterfalls.
Located about 90 minutes south of Portland and 45 minutes east of Salem, Silver Falls State Park has the added bonus of being nearby to most tourists visiting Oregon. Though Silver Falls is one of Oregon’s most popular state parks, it is just far enough from city life that it isn’t overwhelmed with people. Parking is limited, so arrive early!
The best time to visit Silver Falls State Park is, surprisingly, in Oregon’s least attractive seasons – late fall to spring. Weather in the Pacific Northwest is well-known for being wet and dreary for about half of the year. And it rarely snows in northwest Oregon, so all of that rain makes for roaring waterfalls. Summertime, on the other hand, can see some of the falls dwindle to a trickle.
Silver Falls State Park in Oregon is popular and well-known for a reason. This beautiful state park is a dazzling display of nature that is fairly easy to reach. Arrive early in the morning, pack a rain jacket and enjoy one of the most beautiful hikes in Oregon at one of the top state parks in the U.S.
Pennsylvania: 121 state parks
Pennsylvania’s state park system manages more than 300,000 acres at its 121 state parks.
Cherry Springs State Park – contributed by The Directionally Challenged Traveler
Cherry Springs Dark Sky State Park is the darkest park in America east of the Mississippi, making it an incredible destination for a staycation. Located in north-central Pennsylvania, you can see the Milky Way with your naked eye throughout most of the year. However, the best time to visit is in late fall through winter. Since the sun sets earlier, you have a longer duration of time to see the stars.
There are two observation areas within Cherry Springs State Park. A public viewing park that is free to use and bit more relaxed when it comes to white light (such as back of cameras and cell phones) is available on one side of the street. On the other is an overnight site, which does not allow any white light – and you’re not allowed to leave this section of the park either. There is a $15 fee and sites are on a first-come basis. Campfires are not allowed at either viewing area.
There are a number of campgrounds near Cherry Springs State Park for accommodation that allow for campfires. We also stayed at an adorable cabin that can be rented via VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) or Airbnb. This cabin was a great staycation with a full kitchen, couch, tv (bring your own DVD’s), picnic bench and fire pit. The cabin near Cherry Springs State Park was very remote, allowing for some fun hikes during the day before stargazing at night! The only cell service in the area is in the viewing parks – this allows you to disconnect from technology while you connect with nature at Cherry Springs State Park.
Ricketts Glen State Park in Pennsylvania – contributed by Robe Trotting
Pennsylvania is a beautiful state with some amazing natural attractions and state parks. One of the biggest and best state parks to visit is the 13,000 acre gem, Ricketts Glen State Park.
The park itself stretches across parts of three counties, but is mostly in Luzerne County Pennsylvania in the Pocono Mountains. Ricketts Glen State Park is one of the best places to see fall foliage in the Poconos and popular all year long with visitors. It’s about two and a half hours and 140 miles to drive there from Philadelphia, so it’s perfect for a day trip or weekend away from the city.
You can get up close to the beauty of nature inside of Ricketts Glen and see the 22 named waterfalls. Ganoga Falls is the tallest of the water features with a 94-foot drop down the rock cleft sharing its name. The best way to see the waterfalls is by hiking the Falls Trail system. It takes about two hours to hike the 3.2 mile loop, but you should take some extra time for photos and enjoying the nature around you. There is no entry fee for Ricketts Glen State Park and parking is available at several access roads throughout. To hike the Falls Trail, use the parking access off of PA Route 118 and follow the signs to the trail.
Rhode Island: 15 state parks
Rhode Island is home to 15 state parks and seven state beaches that offer history, scenic coastlines, lighthouses, hiking trails, camping and much more.
Beavertail State Park in Rhode Island – contributed by The Migrant Yogi
Beavertail State Park is located on the tiny island of Jamestown in the state of Rhode Island. A popular destination, Beavertail State Park offers stunning views, hiking, swimming, climbing and more. It’s a great place to take a family or to take some friends to enjoy a few drinks at one of its many secluded beaches.
Other top things to do at Beavertail State Park
Explore the tide pools of the rocky coastline, saltwater fishing, or its very own naturalist program, where you can learn about local ecology and the geology of the park.
Upon arriving at Beavertail State Park, you can follow one of its many hiking trails. Looking closely, on the shore side of the trail, you can find many steep paths to wander down to your own private beach cove. The water is more mild than most state beaches since the coves are situated between the island and Rhode Island’s mainland.
Beavertail State Park also has a (very small) aquarium with locally found sea creatures! Take the kids or geek out on your own to learn about local sea animals surrounding the island.
How to get to Beavertail State Park
To get to Beavertail by car, follow 95S from Providence to Route 4, which turns into Route 1. Take the first exit toward Newport. Go over one bridge (this will bring you to the island of Jamestown). If you go over two bridges, you’ve missed the island and are now in Newport – turn around! Follow the signs for Beavertail State Park. The park is free and parking is abundant. Enjoy beautiful Beavertail!
On a semi-related note, check out some underrated U.S. cities that may be near a top state park.
South Dakota: 56 state parks and recreation areas
South Dakota is a popular travel destination as it is home to six national parks. However, you’ll also find some beautiful state parks and recreation areas – 56 in total – perfect for hiking, camping, fishing, boating and more.
Custer State Park in South Dakota – contributed by Red Around the World
Custer State Park is hands-down one of the best state parks in the country. It’s even argued that it should become a national park, it’s that great. Custer State Park encompasses a good portion of the Black Hills in South Dakota, which is home to bison, Mount Rushmore, and some of the best views and scenic drives in the state, maybe even region. There are so many amazing things to do in Custer State Park, you could easily stay busy for weeks, if not months.
While you’re visiting Custer State Park, make sure to drive the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, visit Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, and hike to the Cathedral Spires and Sylvan Lake. If you’re into rock climbing, you can try that out at the Cathedral Spires as well. You can also visit nearby Jewel Cave National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Spearfish Canyon, and the mammoth site in Hot Springs.
Keystone is the best place to stay as a base for exploring Custer State Park. This is a great area to explore for avid hikers as there are tons of awesome trails like the two mentioned above, Sunday Gulch, Poets Table, Black Elk Peak, and Lovers Leap just to name a few more.
The best times to visit Custer State Park and other great attractions in South Dakota are summer and fall. A lot of the area is closed or inaccessible in the winter and that may go into the spring as well.
Tennessee: 56 state parks
With 1,300 miles of hiking trails, 36 campgrounds and more than 80 waterfalls, you’ll find endless outdoor adventures at Tennessee’s 56 state parks.
Rocky Fork State Park in Tennessee – contributed by Red Around the World
Rocky Fork State Park is a hidden gem on the western side of Tennessee just a short drive from Asheville, North Carolina. It’s one of the newest state parks in Tennessee and is popular for hiking, biking and fishing. If it’s warm enough, you can even swim in Rocky Fork Creek.
There is no bad time to visit Rocky Fork State Park, but each season will have its perks. Summer will be great for swimming and everything will be green. Fall will be a little cooler, but you’ll get to see the leaves changing, which is always great. Winter will be colder and there is a possibility of snow, but it’s not busy then. Finally, spring will be a little warmer and hopefully turning green.
Rocky Fork State Park is the perfect state park to visit if you’re looking for a day trip from Asheville, NC or Gatlinburg, Tenn. It’s also a great choice for getting away from some of the crowds in nearby areas like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rocky Fork State Park is easy to get to and still feels pretty rustic since it has no facilities, just the trails, which are awesome. There is some elevation gain hiking around Rocky Fork, but nothing crazy. There are also log bridges crossing the creek all over which are always fun to come across. Rocky Fork State Park is such a fun state park to visit if you’re in the area, and one of my personal favorites so far.
Texas: 96 state parks
Texas is home to a diverse variety of 96 state parks that cover more than 630,000 acres.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas – contributed by Yonderlust Ramblings
Where can you find the second largest canyon in the United States? At Palo Duro Canyon State Park in west Texas! For lovers of burnt orange gorges, gold-hued cliffs and blazing red rock formations, you cannot miss out on this state park affectionately known as the Grand Canyon of Texas.
Second only to Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Palo Duro Canyon State Park humbly houses an impressive display of canyon scenery, including a multitude of both scenic and challenging hikes, like the local favorite Lighthouse Trail, as well as secluded and peaceful camping opportunities.
Palo Duro Canyon has more than 30 miles of accessible trails. Visitors can take their pick from cliffside trails carved by erosion into the canyon walls, gentle and flat riverside trails, trails which wind through the canyon bottom, trails that run parallel with the canyon rim for breathtaking views, and for added challenge, trails that take hikers down into the canyon and then climb back out.
There is a camping opportunity to fit anyone at Palo Duro Canyon, and each one gives a unique perspective on this dynamic canyon environment. Choose from RV, tent, equestrian or primitive campsites or cabin rentals located along the rim of Palo Duro and on the canyon floor. There are even glamping spots in Palo Duro Canyon! While exploring Palo Duro Canyon State Park, don’t forget to keep an eye out for the resident longhorns, a symbolic part of Texas’s Official Longhorn Herd.
Utah: 43 state parks
Utah is high on my list to hike at several of the national state parks. I’m adding a few of the Utah state parks to my list after learning more about these two top state parks in Utah and the U.S.
Goblin Valley State Park in Utah – contributed by Planning Away
Utah is most known for the Mighty 5 National Parks: Zions National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park. But most people do not know there are actually state parks that are just as cool as the national parks. One of these is Goblin Valley State Park.
Where Is Goblin Valley?
Goblin Valley is located nearest to Capitol Reef National Park (about an hour away), but can be accessed easily from Moab (an hour and a half drive). Moab is where Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are located.
Things to Do at Goblin Valley
Goblin Valley is full of hoodoos (rock formations that look like mushrooms). When you park at the observation point parking lot, you can hike down and climb all over these rock formations. This isn’t a normal hike. The formations are spread out over a vast amount of land.
Goblin Valley is a kid’s dream. Kids tend to use their imaginations and come up with so many fun adventures. This park will entertain them for hours.
There are also caves and hiking trails at different locations within the park. You can even camp in a yurt! Goblin Valley State Park is a must-see on your Utah National Park itinerary.
Jordanelle State Park in Utah – contributed by Serendipity on Purpose
High up in the mountains of Utah, rainwater begins to flow downhill, carving small channels in the earth. These channels of flowing water become larger the farther the water travels, and the small stream soon becomes a roaring river. Water is a precious resource in Utah’s desert climate and must be collected and saved for the use of our citizens. Therefore, the government of Utah has approved the construction of many reservoirs to hold our water.
More than a third of Utah state parks located on reservoirs and lakes
Over a third of Utah state parks are located on the beaches of reservoirs and lakes. This offers a great opportunity for recreation throughout the state. Staycations are a way of life for us, as we can easily drive to many reservoirs for a fun-filled day of boating, swimming or fishing.
Reservoir state parks within an hour of Salt Lake City
Some of the state parks that include reservoirs within an hour’s drive of Salt Lake City are Jordanelle, Willard Bay, Deer Creek, Rockport and East Canyon. They are each a little different, but they all provide great fun for a day trip, as well as campgrounds if you decide to stay overnight.
If you are waterskiing, Willard Bay offers smooth, glassy water. It is also quite warm. But beware, it does have lots of tiny bugs that fly in your face. East Canyon is my favorite for skiing. It’s a small reservoir, and a bit cold, but the water is generally smooth.
Jordanelle State Park perfect for family reunions
One of our many staycations was a family reunion at Jordanelle State Park. There are lots of covered picnic tables surrounded by grass to play on, and even a small playground. There is (rocky) sand to play in at the water’s edge and a lot of space for games.
Most Utah state parks charge a small entrance fee per day or there is an annual pass available as well. Come play in the reservoirs that are Utah’s state parks.
For the latest operational updates about Utah’s state parks, check their website.
Vermont: 56 state parks
Vermont boasts 56 state parks in the Green Mountain State. Here is one of the top state parks in Vermont.
Vermont’s Bomoseen State Park – contributed by In the Olive Groves
If you’re looking to hike, swim, fish or go boating in the state of Vermont, look no further than Bomoseen State Park. This 3,500-acre park boasts the largest lake entirely within Vermont’s borders. Opened in 1960 after a donation of land from the owners of the abandoned slate mill, the state of Vermont opened this park. The park also encompasses the land between Lake Bomoseen and Glen Lake, the ruins of the West Castleton Slate Company and Half-Moon State Park.
Hike the Slate History Trail at Bomoseen State Park
This area is rich in the state’s slate history. To get a sense of the area and see the ruins as well as some beautifully preserved slate homes, take the Slate History Trail. This self-guided walking tour at Bomoseen State Park shouldn’t be missed.
Bomoseen State Park amenities
Extend your stay by camping at one of their 55 tent/RV sites. The camping area offers grassy, wooded or beachfront locations – along with flush toilets, a must according to my kids, as well as coin-operated hot showers and an RV sanitary station.
Know before you go: check the latest updates on all Vermont state parks.
Virginia: 39 state parks
Virginia is home to 39 state parks that feature thousands of campsites, 600 miles of hiking trails and access to a number of scenic waterways.
Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia – contributed by Go Hike Virginia
You’ll find plenty of forests, lakes, beaches and bike trails at Virginia’s 39 state parks, but only one wows with wild ponies that freely wander the park. At Grayson Highlands State Park, dozens of wild ponies have been roaming across this mountainous state park since the 1940s.
It’s not clear how they arrived or why they decided to stay, but for now this state park in Southwest Virginia is home. In 1974, the U.S. Forest Service added to the wild pony population to control reforestation. The majestic wild ponies are often seen along a 2.5-mile stretch of the famed Appalachian Trail that crosses the north section of this park.
Where to find wild ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park
Here’s where you can find the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park. From the Massie Gap parking area, take the Rhododendron Trail to the northbound Appalachian Trail. The majestic brown and white ponies live year-round in southwest Virginia at elevations above 4,000 feet. You’re very likely to round a corner and see a half-dozen ponies at a time, happily grazing in the park’s hills and valleys.
Continue on the Appalachian Trail to Mount Rogers. From the Massie Gap parking area, it’s an 8.6-mile out-and-back hike. For some, this is a bucket list hike since Mount Rogers is the highest natural point in Virginia (elevation 5,728 feet).
Other top things to do at Grayson Highlands State Park
Beyond wild ponies, Grayson Highlands State Park is considered one of the best bouldering sites in Virginia. It’s a also a must-go for fishing along 10 miles of wild trout streams, and, of course, Grayson Highlands hikes that lead to cascading waterfalls and dramatic vistas – that combined with the wild ponies – make it one of the top state parks in the United States.
Washington: More than 150 state parks and recreation areas
You’ll find more than 150 state parks and recreation areas in Washington state. Please check the Washington state parks website for the latest updates regarding park closings due to wildfires.
Palouse Falls State Park in Washington – contributed by The Van Escape
Palouse Falls State Park, located in eastern Washington, is unique. You can admire the 200-foot (60 m) Palouse Falls, on the Palouse River in the park’s heart. The views are breathtaking. The water hits the basalt columns with great force and thunder to a churning bowl at the bottom. Moreover, Palouse Falls, created more than 13,000 years ago, is among the last active waterfalls on the Ice Age floods path. Any time of the year is worth seeing this natural wonder known as Washington’s state waterfall.
Things to do at Palouse Falls State Park
You’ll find a 0.1 mile ADA walking path with a great overlook at Palouse Falls State Park. The park also offers many recreational opportunities, including bird watching, picnicking, and viewing area. You have three views of the falls. The lower viewpoint provides a direct view; it is reached by a set of steps from the day-use area. The second is at the end of a paved interpretive path. Finally, the third and highest viewpoint is the Fryxell Overlook, offers panoramic views of the falls and Palouse River Canyon.
Palouse Falls State Park camping
Camping at Palouse Falls State Park is on a first-come, first-served basis. There are only 11 primitive tent campsites and one campsite accessible to people with disabilities. The maximum vehicle parking length is 20 feet. Moreover, there is no electricity. Drinking water is available from April to October. They are only toilets nearby the picnic and camping areas. Palouse Falls State Park is generally open 6:30 a.m. to dusk during summer, and from 8 a.m. in winter. The Discover Pass is required for day visits. A one-day pass is $10, the annual pass is $30. Campsite fees at Palouse Falls State Park are payable onsite with cash or check only.
How to get to Palouse Falls State Park The address of Palouse State Park is Starbuck, WA 99143. This state park is located 202 miles east of Mount Rainier National Park and 103 miles southwest from Spokane. If you’re planning a Washington state road trip, check the best hiking trails and things to do in Mount Rainier National Park.
Wisconsin: 66 state parks and recreation areas
The Wisconsin state parks system offers 66 state parks, recreation areas, forests and trails – attracting 17 million visits a year.
Big Bay State Park in Wisconsin – contributed by Paulina on the Road
Big Bay State Park, situated on the eastern side of Madeline Island in Wisconsin, features a quaint sandstone cliff along four miles of Lake Superior. It is the largest of the Apostle Islands archipelago. The park offers a 1.5-mile boardwalk, a large family campground, a sandy swimming beach, hiking trails and two group camps with the view of Lake Superior. You can reach Big Bay State Park by taking a short ferry ride from Bayfield to Madeline.
Big Bay State Park offers staycation ideas like picnics with tables, grills, water and toilets. Tourists like to visit Big Bay during the fall season of the year because they can experience beautiful fall colors during this time. The combination of lakeshore views, secluded forest paths and a well-designed boardwalk surrounded by the fall colors make Big Bay State Park a worthy visit.
There are a lot of things to do in Wisconsin in October because it is the fall season when you can experience the most breathtaking picturesque sites. You can do things like camping for a closer experience with nature or can go on a short hiking trail along the shoreline and can watch pink-blue sunsets on the lake. After a long day at the park, you can soak in a hot-tub that many accommodations near Big Bay State Park offer to visitors.
Big Bay State Park offers adaptive equipment available for people with a mobility impairment such as beach wheelchairs. Pets are also welcomed at Wisconsin State Park on a leash and under control excluding certain areas that restrict pets.
You can obtain passes for the Big Bay State Park by contacting Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources Customer Service Centre. You must have a vehicle admission sticker or trail pass to visit Big Bay State Park and the trail.
Wyoming: 11 state parks, 1 state recreation area and 1 archeological site
If you’re looking for a state park to get away from it all, then Wyoming is the best place. It’s the 10th largest state by area, but the least populous. Here’s one of the state parks you can find in Wyoming.
Curt Gowdy State Park in Wyoming – contributed by Seek Discover Learn
When you think of Wyoming you probably think of Yellowstone National Park. Am I right? Well, Wyoming has some pretty amazing state parks as well. One of these often overlooked parks is Curt Gowdy State Park. Curt Gowdy State Park is located halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie along the scenic Wyoming Highway 210, which is nicknamed “Happy Jack Road.”
Things to do at Curt Gowdy State Park
The park has three beautiful reservoirs that are perfect for fishing and boating. There are also lots of great opportunities for wildlife viewing and bird watching throughout the park. Some of the animals that you might encounter are native ground squirrels, elk, yellow-bellied marmots, chipmunks and mule deer.
If you’re looking for recreational activities for you and your family, look no further. Over 35 miles of hiking trails are accessible and designed for all skill levels. At Curt Gowdy State Park, you will also find mountain biking play areas and an archery trail. There is a horse corral for public use as well as a large pasture area. If you’re looking to hunt, archery hunting is allowed.
Camping at Curt Gowdy State Park
There are 159 various campsites throughout Curt Gowdy State Park and there is a coin-operated shower facility located in the Visitor’s Center. The cost is $0.50 for 3 minutes. If camping’s not your thing, you can make a reservation for the Hynds Lodge (located at Curt Gowdy State Park).
On your next visit to Wyoming, don’t forget about the amazing state parks and make sure you plan to stop at Curt Gowdy to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the abundance of wildlife.
For the latest updates on state parks in Wyoming, check their website.
Other top U.S. state parks
Are you a travel blogger and have a favorite state park? I would love to collaborate with you. Simply contact me and we’ll add your featured state park to this list of the best state parks in the United States (U.S.). I would also love to hear from non-bloggers about your favorite state park. Please leave the state park name and location in the comments and share why you love it.
Staycation state park travel budget tip
Invest in an annual state park pass. Even if you only visit a handful of state parks within a year, it’ll save you money. For example, here’s how to save money at Minnesota state parks: a daily vehicle pass to Minnesota state parks is $7. An annual state park vehicle permit is only $35 for the first vehicle and a discounted $26 for multiple vehicles in the same household. Motorcycles are $30. And this annual pass gives you entrance to all 66 Minnesota state parks as well as 9 Minnesota state recreational areas. The fine for not having a state park pass is about $175.
Currently, most Minnesota state park visitor centers are closed and permits must be purchased ahead of time. You can purchase your Minnesota state park vehicle pass online.
My favorite day hike apps
Here are a few recommended apps I use while day hiking.
AllTrails Pro app
Ask any of my friends or family members and they will tell you never to trust me with directions. I get lost frequently even with gps sometimes. So the AllTrails Pro is potentially a literal lifesaver especially when I’m a solo traveler hiking by myself.
I upgraded to the paid version – only $30 a year (and no ads). It’s so awesome. You can download maps on your phone ahead of time and see your exact GPS location even when you don’t have a signal. And in some of the Minnesota state park trails that does happen frequently. Here are the AllTrails Pro features and benefits.
- Download maps to stay on track without service.
- Off-route notifications – you’ll get an alert if you wander off the trail.
- Keep your family informed with Lifeline – shares your start/finish time, map route and will notify your safety contacts if you’re overdue as well as send your last known location.
- Map overlays provides additional information such as nearby trails, landmarks, trailheads, weather conditions, air quality, pollution, pollen and even user heat maps – which tells you which trails are more popular and the less-traveled trails if you want to practice even more social distancing in the great outdoors.
- While I love the gps functionality, I also like the old-school map so you can print out your customized route – always good to have a backup (especially if your phone goes dead – remember to bring a charged charger!).
- Love this! .AllTrails is a member of 1% for the planet – they give 1% of their annual sales to nonprofits focused on protecting our environment to ensure a healthier planet.
PictureThis app – plant identifier
I use the Picture This plant identifier app a lot even at home in my garden because I don’t know the difference between a flower or a weed. It comes with a lot of free functions, but I upgraded to the paid version for only $30.
I was a little nervous last week hiking on an overgrown trail in shorts. Even though I was a Girl Scout I think everything is poison ivy. So I open the PictureThis app, snap a pick and it tells me that it’s wild geraniums or some kind of grapevine or something I’ve never heard of before. And with a 98% accuracy on more than 1 million plants, PictureThis is pretty much spot on.
Here are some of the PictureThis plant identifier cool functionalities. Currently, this app is only available to download from the App Store for iPhones and iPads.
- Identify flower, leaf, tree, herb with just a simple snapshot.
- After snapping the photo, you’ll receive the name, genus, botanical name, description and care guide.
- Ask experts anything through the app.
iBird Pro – birds identifier app
I haven’t used the iBird Pro app yet, but have read good reviews so am thinking about downloading it for the field guide especially. Have you tried it?
iBird Pro (currently only for iPhone) functionality includes:
- Guided by the most recent American Ornithological Union standards (so that’s a credible resource).
- iBird’s search engine features more than 35 characteristics that you can search, such as body color, GPS location, habitat, bill shape, song type, etc.
- This app’s database features more than 900 species of North American birds – as well as four other regions from around the world, including the UK, Ireland, Hawaii and Palau.
- After snapping or uploading a photo, the iBird Pro Photo Sleuth will provide the bird name within seconds.
- In addition to a database of photographs, iBird Pro includes illustrations for all species. In fact, it has more than 1,000 composite illustrations. And includes images for male, female, juvenile and subspecies.
- We have a lot of birds just in our backyard so would love to use the iBird function that contains more than 4,000 bird songs and bird calls. I mean I can identify the haunting loon call and the frog-croaking egret, but an unable to identify most of the backyard birds.
- And just like AllTrails, iBird does not require an internet connection – so you can use the functionality when hiking without service.
iNaturalist – an app for the community for naturalists
Special thank you to Leeanne with In the Olive Groves for informing me about this app, iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
This app is an opportunity to record and share your flora and fauna observations with different scientific collection organizations to help scientists throughout the world. The iNaturalist app works with all mobile phones.