Adventure Travel

50 Of The Best State Parks In Each Of The 50 States

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A view of Johnson Pass and Upper Trail Lake on the Kenai Peninsula in Moose Pass, Alaska

Image: Shutterstock/Jeffrey T. Kreulen

50 Of The Best State Parks In Each Of The 50 States

National parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon get a lot of limelight—and for good reason—but state parks deserve some love too. In fact, each year more than 720 million people visit the 7,500-plus state parks that punctuate America’s 50 states. State parks actually get more visitors than their national counterparts! In honor of the gushing waterfalls, the red canyons, the shimmering lakes, the deep forests and the jutting mountains that characterize America’s best state parks, here are the 50 best state parks throughout all 50 states.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

The first of our 50 best state parks is Gulf State Park. Not only does it spread out across two miles of sparkling white beaches, but it also contains a golf course, a fishing pier and a zip line among other amenities. Visitors who want to spend the night can camp at one of the 496 campground sites or book one of the park’s cabins or cottages.

Chugach State Park, Alaska

One of America’s largest and best state parks, Alaska’s Chugach State Park — 13 miles south of Anchorage — sprawls across nearly 500,000 acres. Glaciers, ice fields, lakes, jagged mountain peaks and an oceanfront that seems to go on forever are all part of the landscape in this ruggedly beautiful park.

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Arizona is home to the glorious Grand Canyon National Park, but the state’s lesser-known Red Rock State Park is pretty impressive too. Located outside of Sedona, this flame-colored sandstone canyon is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon but on a smaller scale.

Lake Dardanelle State Park, Arkansas

About 80 miles northwest of Little Rock, Lake Dardanelle State Park attracts visitors with its 34,300-acre reservoir, formed by a dam on the Arkansas River. Fishers enjoy a day out on the water, pulling in bass and catfish, while campers enjoy watching the magnificent sunsets from the waters’ edge.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California

California’s oldest state park also has some its oldest trees. Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which perches in the Santa Cruz Mountains on the state’s central coast, contains redwood trees that are more than 2,500 years old. The park also contains ample hiking trails, punctuated by waterfalls and Pacific Ocean lookouts.

State Forest State Park, Colorado

Spreading out across 71,000 acres near Rocky Mountain National Park, State Forest State Park is the prime place to see moose. In fact, the area is known as Colorado’s moose-viewing capital. But these mammals aren’t the only attraction—the park contains miles of multi-use trails that wind around alpine lakes, mountain peaks and more.

Dusk at a Rocky Beach in Hammonasset State Park located in the county of Madison, Connecticut

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Hammonasset Beach State Park, Connecticut

Hammonasset Beach State Park, which stretches two miles along the Atlantic Ocean, is a popular place to swim and fish. More than 550 campsites mean there’s ample room to spend the night, and visitors also highly recommend stopping by the park’s Meigs Point Nature Center to partake in interesting programs and activities.

Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware

Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park yawns across 5,193 acres on the Atlantic shorefront. The park, which was declared a public land back in the late 17th century, also played an important role in World War II as a military base. Today, however, visitors enjoy the park for its opportunities to swim, fish and hike.

T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Florida

Located off of Florida’s panhandle, the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a ribbon of sand with Saint Joseph Bay to its east and the Gulf of Mexico waters to its west. Along with sunbathing on its nine-some miles of white beaches, visitors can also snorkel, fish and hike.

Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia

About 70 miles north of Atlanta is a waterfall that cascades 729 feet, making it the tallest waterfall of its kind in the Southeast. Visitors to Amicalola Falls State Park can enjoy reaching the breathtaking sight several different ways, which range from a wheelchair-accessible path to a more demanding hike.

Na Pali coast, Kauai island of Hawaii. View from helicopter

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Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii

The Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park fans out across 6,000-some acres of lush valleys, jagged cliffs and rocky coasts on Hawaii’s Kauai island. It’s also home to the strenuous 11-mile Kalalau Trail, which is known for its challenging terrain and magnificent views.

Bruneau Dunes State Park, Idaho

Travelers might not associate Idaho with sand dunes, but sand dunes are the main attraction of Bruneau Dunes State Park, which is located about 70 miles south of Boise. At 470 feet, this park actually contains North America’s tallest single-structure sand dune, which might be best experienced by sand boarding or hiking.

Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Just 90 minutes southwest of Chicago, Starved Rock State Park is a picturesque park filled with 13 miles of trails that wind past moss-draped canyons and spilling waterfalls. Visitors can also camp, fish and boat in this idyllic corner of Illinois.

Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Positioned about 70 miles west of Indianapolis, Turkey Run State Park is webbed with hiking trails that meander through scenic canyons, ravines, hemlock groves and the wide Sugar Creek. Visitors also praise the nature center’s host of activities, such as sunrise eagle viewing.

Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa

A series of 16 caves greets visitors to eastern Iowa’s Maquoketa Caves State Park. This picturesque place contains six miles of trails that connect the caves and twist past marvels like the 50-foot high “Natural Bridge,” which spans Raccoon Creek.

Kanopolis State Park, Kansas

Kanopolis State Park, located 90-some miles north of Wichita, is located in the Smoky Hills region. Undulating hills, craggy bluffs, leafy forests and a 3,500-acre reservoir define the park, which also contains 25 miles of trails, ideal for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking. The Horsethief trail is especially popular for its scenic views.

Eagle Falls in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky

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Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, Kentucky

About 17 miles of trails snake through Kentucky’s Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, including the Moonbow Trail, which connects to backpacking trails inside the Daniel Boone Forest. But hiking isn’t the only activity—visitors can also raft, fish, horseback ride and enjoy the view of the park’s seven-story waterfall.

Bogue Chitto State Park, Louisiana

Established in 2010, Bogue Chitto State Park is a relative newcomer to the country’s list of state parks. Located 60-some miles north of New Orleans, this 1,768-acre park contains a unique setting of streams, swamps, forest groves and sandstone formations. Visitors can explore the park by foot, horseback, canoe or kayak.

Reid State Park, Maine

One of Maine’s natural treasures, Reid State Park, which is about an hour’s drive northeast of Portland, contains two pristine New England beaches with more sand than rocks. Travelers also enjoy its nearby trails, its protected dunes and its tidal pool. The park also gets kudos for its waves—Reid is one of the Northeast’s best places to surf.

Assateague State Park, Maryland

A barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean, Assateague State Park is home to two miles of sandy beaches and a colony of wild horses. Visitors enjoy fishing and swimming off the island’s ocean side and canoeing and kayaking on the bay side, where they can catch glimpses of the feral horses in the marshes.

Boston Harbor Islands State Park, Massachusetts

There are 34 small islands and peninsulas off the coast of Boston, and 17 belong to the Boston Harbor Islands State Park. Visitors can take ferries to islands like Spectacle, Georges, Grape or more to explore their tide pools, hiking trails, beaches and even Fort Warren, a Civil War-era stronghold.

Ludington State Park at Sunrise

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Ludington State Park, Michigan

Sandwiched between the shores of Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, Ludington State Park is an oasis of sand dunes, marshes, ponds and forests. Beaches stretch out alongside both lakefronts, and hiking trails criss-cross the idyllic park.

Gooseberry Falls State Park, Minnesota

Three hour’s north of Minneapolis, Gooseberry Falls State Park is an oasis, located on the north shore of Lake Superior. Visitors to this enclave will enjoy the roar from Gooseberry River’s upper, middle and lower falls, as well as the pristine view of Lake Superior from the perch of an early lava flow, called the Picnic Flow.

Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi

Huddled nearby the Mississippi-Alabama line, the 1,530-acre Tishomingo State Park gets its name from a former chief of the Chickasaw Nation. An interesting landscape of rock formations and hilly expanses, unique to the state, make hiking an enjoyable excursion. Visitors also enjoy fishing on the 45-acre Haynes Lake.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park couldn’t be more different from St. Louis, its northern neighbor. Although you can hike the Black River Trail and view 1.4 billion years of geologic history, you should also make time for its main highlight—splashing and swimming in the Black River “shut-in,” an Ozark term for a river teeming with rocks.

Sluice Boxes State Park, Montana

Encompassing 1,450 acres along Montana’s picturesque but powerful Belt Creek, Sluice Boxes State Park is filled with limestone canyons, steep cliffs and relics from its former railroading and mining days. Visitors to the park enjoy fishing for trout, birding, boating and hiking—but hikers should note that when the creek has high waters, it’s dangerous to ford.

Ponca State Park, Nebraska

About a two-hour’s drive north of Omaha, Ponca State Park is located in the Missouri River bluffs, meaning that a rolling landscape of hills, forests and water awaits visitors. Travelers especially enjoy the hiking trails, which offer scenic lookouts.

A cave with an interesting sandstone formation in the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Image: Shutterstock/Darren J. Bradley

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Dedicated in 1935, Valley of Fire State Park is both Nevada’s oldest and its largest state park. And it couldn’t be more different than its neighbor, Las Vegas, located 55 miles to the southwest. The main attraction here is hiking and viewing the prehistoric landscape of petrified wood and red sandstone formations, scribbled with 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs.

Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire

Pawtuckaway State Park, located 30-some miles southeast of Concord, is the perfect place to spend a day at the beach—a lake beach, that is. The tidy beach backs up to a forest creating an idyllic spot for a summer day. Visitors also enjoy hiking its numerous trails and wildlife watching at the park’s marsh.

Allaire State Park, New Jersey

More than 200 species of wildflowers sprout in the floodplain of Allaire State Park, giving credence to New Jersey’s “Garden State” moniker. But the park attracts more than just flower enthusiasts—canoeists and fishermen enjoy the waters of the Manasquan River, while history buffs enjoy a tour through Allaire Village, preserved as a 19th-century iron-making town.

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

You might be wondering just what’s so great about a state park wrought of rocks? Well, a lot. The large rock formations in City of Rocks State Park, some as tall as forty feet, were formed by a long-ago volcanic explosion. The remaining rocks, which spread out across one square mile, look like houses separated by street-looking alleys, hence the name city.

Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Positioned in the idyllic Finger Lakes region of New York, Watkins Glen State Park is one of the area’s most popular parks. And it’s not thought to see why—in the space of two miles, the park’s stream drops 400 feet, creating nineteen distinct waterfalls, which visitors can view along the gorge trail.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park, North Carolina

Jockey’s Ridge State Park, located in North Carolina’s idyllic Outer Banks, is home to the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast. Besides experiencing this impressive sand dune system, visitors enjoy walking its desert-looking sands and watching the area’s breathtaking sunsets.

Sully Creek State Park, North Dakota

Neighboring the expansive Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Sully Creek State Park also gives visitors a taste of the badlands. The immaculate area is popular among mountain bikers, horseback riders and hikers who tour the grasslands via the 120-mile Haah Daah Dey Trail. Canoeists, however, prefer viewing the park from the 274-mile stretch of the Little Missouri River.

Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Sandstone gorges, cliffs and waterfalls characterize Hocking Hills State Park, a 2,356-acre park located an hour’s drive of Columbus. Most visitors enjoy hiking here (watch out for the steep cliffs), but anglers enjoy casting lines into the nearby Lake Logan.

An Interesting Stand of Autumn Trees at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma

Image: Shutterstock/Richard A McMillin

Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma

Southeast Oklahoma’s San Bois Mountains—yes, there are mountains in Oklahoma—were the former stomping grounds of Wild West outlaws Jesse James and Belle Star. The pair hid out in what’s now called Robbers Cave State Park, where visitors today enjoy hiking, fishing, rock climbing and horseback riding. This is one of the best state parks that must make your bucket list.

Valley of the Rogue State Park, Oregon

Salmon fishing is one of the most popular pastimes at Valley of the Rogue State Park, which straddles three miles of Oregon’s Rogue River. Viewing the rugged landscape, which once inspired novelist Zane Grey, while on a riverside hike is also fun.

Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

More than 22 waterfalls cascade over rocks in Pennsylvania’s Ricketts Glen State Park—the tallest one being the 94-foot Ganoga Falls. The 7.2-mile Falls Trail is the best way to see most of the waterfalls, but visitors looking for relaxation can spend summer days by the 245-acre Lake Jean, fishing, sunbathing or swimming.

Beavertail State Park, Rhode Island

Beavertail State Park, located in Jamestown, Rhode Island, gives travelers a taste of the beautiful yet severe rocky coastlines that New England is known for. Visitors can hike the coastline or take in the scenery from their cars. Anglers also enjoy casting their lines for saltwater fish.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

South Carolina’s Hunting Island State Park greets more than one million visitors each year. And with five miles of sandy beaches and opportunities to fish in a saltwater lagoon and watch loggerhead sea turtles nest, it’s not hard to see why. Plus, its Beaufort location sandwiches between the cultural heavyweights of Charleston and Savannah.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

The 71,000-acre Custer State Park, located thirty miles south of Rapid City, contains an almost otherworldly landscape with its jagged granite mountains, its rolling Black Hills and its pine forests. Plus, the park also teems with wildlife from its 1,300-strong bison herd to its collection of bighorn sheep, antelope and more. Visitors also enjoy the park’s scenic drives, summertime trout fishing and hiking trails, some of which were carved out long ago by pioneers.

Cane Creek Falls in Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee

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Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

About a two hour’s drive from Nashville, Fall Creek Falls State Park is Tennessee’s biggest and most-visited park. Sprawling out over 26,000 acres, this park contains a handful of waterfalls, including its namesake—the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls. More than 34 miles of trails wind past the park’s lake, waterfalls, forested hills and rocky outcroppings.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, located about 30 miles south of Amarillo, is the second-largest canyon in America. Hiking, biking or horseback riding on the 30-some miles of trails are the best ways to view the red canyon, which spreads out across 20,000 acres. And during summer’s high season, visitors can enjoy an outdoors performance of Texas, a musical about the difficulties and victories of the area’s early settlers.

Antelope Island State Park, Utah

The backcountry trails at Antelope Island State Park offer hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders epic views of the Great Salt Lake. They might even afford epic views of the wildlife that roams here, including bison, bighorn sheep and antelope, of course. Travelers might also enjoy strolling its beaches and taking a dip into the briny lake waters.

Smugglers’ Notch State Park, Vermont

Smugglers’ Notch State Park gets its name for the people throughout history that have used the slim pass through Vermont’s Green Mountains to smuggle goods. These days, the only things that are smuggled on this meandering footpath, with its 1,000-foot drops, are its excellent views.

High Bridge Trail State Park, Virginia

The High Bridge Trail inside High Bridge Trail State Park is 31 miles long—and the centerpiece is the 2,400-foot bridge, which rises 125-feet above the Appomattox River below. This breathtaking trail, once a rail bed, is favored among cyclists, horseback riders and hikers—and it’s located seventy miles from Richmond.

Lime Kiln Point State Park, Washington

This small state park—just 36 acres—offers big-time attractions. Lime Kiln State Park, located on Washington’s San Juan Island, is one of the country’s prime places to watch orcas and minke whales, especially during the months of May through September.

Fog in the Blackwater Canyon at sunset, seen from Lindy Point, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Image: Shutterstock/Jon Bilous

Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Located on the edge of the Monongahela National Park, Blackwater Falls State Park gets its name from the dark, topaz-colored water that drops five stories into an eight-mile gorge. The water gets its tint from fallen hemlock and red spruce needles. Hiking in the warm months and cross-country skiing and sledding in the winter months are the main attractions in this idyllic spot.

Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

Just north of Madison, Devil’s Lake State Park is the largest and most-visited state park in Wisconsin. And with its 500-foot quartzite bluffs that overlook its 360-acre lake, around which 29 miles of hiking trails weave, it’s pretty easy to see why. Visitors especially recommend coming in the fall when the trees are changing color.

Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

The last of the best state parks is Hot Springs State Park—home to the world’s largest single mineral hot springs. Besides soaking in the 104-degree waters at the free bath house, visitors can also hike 6.2 miles of trails. Travelers also shouldn’t miss “the Swinging Bridge” that spans the Bighorn River.