50 Incredible State Parks to visit this year!
Franklin Roosevelt once said, "There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people..."
The first state park, Yellowstone, was established by an act of Congress in 1872, with Niagara Falls designated in 1885 and Yosemite, California in 1890.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Parks Service to protect the developing parks and monuments, and preserve something of the nation's rugged beauty as it became more industrialized.
The bulk of America's state parks were developed during the 1930s. Federal programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps were responsible for establishing over 800 parks.
There are well over 7,000 state parks throughout America. And each one of these national treasures is completely unique, offering something for everyone. Whether you want to stroll along a hiking path, do some extreme sporting, photograph wildlife or spend a night under the big sky, you'll have an unforgettable adventure no matter which one you choose. Here are some of our favorites, one for each of the 50 states.
1. GULF STATE PARK, GULF SHORES, AL
Gulf Shores has been named one of the best beach towns in Alabama - but this beautiful park features some undeveloped coastline for when you want to escape the crowds. It's two miles of pristine white sand that has yet to be overtaken by tourists, plus a 500-yard pier that lets you fish in peace and quiet.
2. KACHEMAK STATE PARK, HOMER, AK
Alaska boasts some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in the world, and this park lets you sample a broad cross-section of it over nearly a half million acres. You access it by bush plane, but once there, observe whales and sea otters on the coastline or hike into its mountain wilderness. Cabins are available if you want to spend the night.
3. DEVIL'S DEN STATE PARK, WEST FORK, AR
Nestled in the Ozark Valley, this park was created as part of the New Deal. A little bit off the beaten path, visitors can relax on the shores of Lake Devil, or ride or hike 20 miles of horse trails. There are also some seriously cool caves to explore.
4. RED ROCK STATE PARK, ARIZONA
This magnificent park was once a private ranch before the owners let the state take it over. Located outside the colorful city of Sedona, it features the glorious Oak Creek Canyon. Oak Creek supports various interesting species, including the threatened Sonora mud turtle. There are also important Native American archeological features dating from 1100 to 1425 AD, which can be viewed on special hikes.
5. YOSEMITE, CALIFORNIA
This beauty of a park features an array of natural wonders: from the highest waterfall in North America, to amazing sequoias, to El Capitan, the world's tallest granite monolith. Rock climbers will be in heaven, as will fishermen. There are hiking trails throughout, geared to multiple skill levels. Or you can just sit and drink in the natural splendor from the park's Ahwahnee Hotel, built in 1927.
6. STATE FOREST STATE PARK, WALDEN, CO
It has a pretty generic name, but the scenery is anything but. There's fantastic fishing along the Canadian River and wonderful places to hike or mountain bike. Wildlife is plentiful - especially moose. Maybe some "selfies"? Maybe not. It's called "wildlife" for a reason!
7. DINOSAUR STATE PARK, ROCKY HILL, CT
Who knew that this spot in tony Connecticut would have one of the largest dinosaur track sites in North America? Explore fossils from 200 million years ago or just stroll or picnic along the well-maintained trails. Kids can make their own "dino keepsake" (bring your own materials) and there are some fun exhibits for young children, too.
8. CAPE HENLOPEN STATE PARK, LEWES, DE
Delaware has long been a destination for beach lovers. You can certainly get your "fix" here, but you can also enjoy a full-moon beach hike, a WWII-era lookout tower and bunkers, the lighthouse or the "hawk watch" area that lets you help out in the annual bird count.
9. WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS, FLORIDA
Sure, the underwater "mermaid" show is a tad cheesy, but families have loved it since its introduction in 1947. After taking that in, explore the springs by riverboat cruise, canoe or kayak, or just hang out on the white sandy beaches. The springs stay a cozy 74 degrees, all year round. The park also offers an educational and fun animal show.
10. FORT YARGO STATE PARK, WINDER, GA
It's named for a log fort built in 1792 built as protection from Indian raids (and which still stands). And you can certainly experience that "wilderness" vibe as you canoe or fish along the 260-acre lake or hike over 20 miles of trails. But what's really amazing is that this natural treasure is situated between the urban jungles of Atlanta and Athens.
11. AKAKA FALLS STATE PARK, HONOMU, HI
There's no lack of tropical beauty in Hawaii, but this park will take your breath away. Count on it. Located on the coast of the Big Island, you hike through bamboo stands and tropical rain forests until you encounter a thundering 442-foot waterfall plunging over a gorge. If you want another look from a different vantage point, you can zip line across the park.
12. BACKBONE STATE PARK, DUNDEE, IA
Founded in 1920, this is the oldest state park in Iowa. And residents generally consider it the best. There are fabulous rock formations, a beautiful lake for water sports and a dense forest to hike through. But the trout fishing is what really attracts people; it's a statewide destination.
13. PONDEROSA STATE PARK, MCCALL, ID
It's named for the 150-foot tall Ponderosa Pine that cover the area. But there are so many other natural marvels at this park, including a glorious scenic overlook on Payette Lake. The hiking trails take you through wildly diverse topography, from sagebrush flats to spongy marshland. And the wildlife can't be beat - you'll spot bald eagles, bear, muskrats and more. In the winter, cross-country ski or snowshoe along miles of groomed trails.
14. STARVED ROCK STATE PARK, OGLESBY, IL
Just 100 miles outside of Chicago lies this hidden gem that also happens to be the state's first recreational park. About 2 million people visit every year, to hike the 18 miles of trails winding through forests, canyons and bluffs. There's a riverboat cruise up the Illinois River, and the charming cabins are on the National Register of Historic Places.
15. BROWN COUNTY STATE PARK, NASHVILLE, IN
Just an hour south of Indianapolis, Brown County State Park is the largest of the state's parks and opened in 1929. Besides riding trails, hiking, fishing and mountain biking, this location attracts many artists and photographers who capture the sublime natural beauty of its 16,000 acres.
16. WILSON STATE PARK, SYLVAN GROVE, KS
The International Mountain Bicycling Association has deemed the park's 24-mile Switchgrass bike trail "epic." But if that's a bit much for your fitness level, you can either float on the tranquil Wilson Reservoir or do some swimming or boating. The cliffs along the reservoir will make you forget you're in Kansas!
17. NATURAL BRIDGE STATE RESORT PARK, SLADE, KY
The park's namesake is a sandstone arch that spans 78 feet and stands 65 feet high. As a state nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary, hikers and nature enthusiasts enjoy over 20 miles of trails that lead you to the arch and other popular rock formations with colorful names like "Lover's Leap" and "Fat Man's Squeeze." The lush Daniel Boone National Forest surrounds the park, so there are plenty of chances for wildlife spotting and bird watching.
18. CHICOT STATE PARK, VILLE PLATTE, LA
A 2,000-acre, tree-filled manmade lake is the centerpiece of this park, one of the oldest in the state. Fishing is encouraged, as the lake is kept well stocked with bass, bluegill and other finned types. Over 6,000 acres of rolling landscape surrounds the lake, giving prime opportunities to spot wildlife as you hike or backpack.
19. BOSTON HARBOR ISLANDS STATE PARK, BOSTON, MA
Just a short, scenic ferry ride from Boston Harbor lies this intriguing spot. Explore the oldest lighthouse in the country (on Brewster Island), relax on the beaches or do some camping. You can also tour historic Fort Warren, built during the Civil War (and reputedly, haunted).
20. POINT LOOKOUT STATE PARK, SCOTLAND, MD
Maybe because it was once home to a Civil War hospital and POW camp that visitors to the campground claim all kinds of spooky goings-on. If ghosts aren't your thing, visit the 185-year old lighthouse that looks out on the Chesapeake Bay, or do some serious stargazing. It's been a popular destination for celestial viewing for decades.
21. REID STATE PARK, GEORGETOWN, ME
The rugged Maine coastline puts on a show for locals and tourists alike. Explore the tide pools and lagoons, hike along the trails or do some bird watching. Photographers love this spot as well for the variety of terrain they can capture.
22. PORCUPINE MOUNTAINS WILDERNESS STATE PARK, MICHIGAN
If you want some really unspoiled wilderness, this park, located along Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is just the ticket. Not only can you hike the rugged coastline of the lake, there are over 90 miles of trails winding through gorgeous, dense forests. As you explore the "Porkies" (the local nickname), you'll come across magnificent inland lakes and scenic overlooks. It's like stepping back into a primeval era. But then, you can leave and get Wi-Fi.
23. ITASCA STATE PARK, PARK RAPIDS, MN
This is the oldest state park in the Land of 10,000 Lakes - and one of the most popular, mainly because it's where the mighty Mississippi River begins its 2,552-mile journey southwards. At its start, you can jump across a few rocks and take a selfie in front of the sign marking the start of this major waterway. Fish in any of the100 other lakes, visit the Itasca Indian Cemetery or take in northern Minnesota's breathtaking wild scenery in the park's 32,000 acres.
24. HA HA TONKA STATE PARK, CAMDENTON, MO
Located on the Lake of the Ozarks, you'll get pretty much everything: gorgeous scenery, history, caves with pristine blue waters inside - even the ruins of a castle. The hiking trails are excellent, catering to everyone from kids to experienced hikers. There are incredible natural rock formations and some of Missouri's most diverse woodlands.
25. TISHOMINGO STATE PARK, TISHOMINGO COUNTY, MS
Named for Chief Tishu Miko, a great Chickasaw leader, this park is important to Native American history in many ways, but mainly for the stunning archeological finds that have been discovered over the years. History comes alive as you drive along a portion of the Natchez Trace, which, in the 1800s, was America's main highway. You can sample a little of the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains on the park's rustic hiking trails or take a canoe trip down the Bear River.
26. MAKOSHIKA STATE PARK, GLENDIVE, MT
Located in "the badlands" of Montana, the state's largest park is renowned for its many amazing dinosaur fossils. You can spot the remains of T-Rex and Triceratops and take in many dinosaur-related exhibits. The rugged landscape is a favorite of photographers, as well as birdwatchers who spot turkey vultures, eagles and more.
27. STONE MOUNTAIN STATE PARK, ROARING GAP, NC
Rock climbers flock to the massive 600-foot granite dome that's the main attraction in the park. If that's not your thing, explore 18 miles of trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway, either by foot or on horseback. There are also 20 miles of waters, specially designated for trout fishing.
28. ICELANDIC STATE PARK, CAVALIER, ND
Get a glimpse into the hardy spirit of the pioneers through the park's restored historic buildings and Pioneer Heritage Center. The Gunglogson Nature Preserve gives you a sense of the wildlife and climate conditions the early settlers had to deal with. Hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are all popular activities.
29. FORT ROBINSON, CRAWFORD, NE
You can fish, hunt, hike or ride among its 22,000 acres. But history is the big attraction at this intriguing park. It's the site where Crazy Horse surrendered (and later died) in 1879. It was a German POW camp during WWII. You can explore historic buildings including officer's quarters from 1887, a 1904 blacksmith shop and much more.
30. BARNEGAT LIGHTHOUSE STATE PARK, BARNEGAT LIGHT, NJ
Besides Springsteen and that unfortunate MTV reality show, the Jersey Shore has a rich history of shipwrecks and maritime mayhem. Hence, this historic lighthouse. You're allowed to climb to the top for amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean. Then, come back down to earth for some fishing, bird watching or a few games of skee-ball at the other end of the island.
31. FRANCONIA NOTCH STATE PARK, LINCOLN, NH
It was perhaps most famous for its "Old Man In the Mountain" rock formation immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Sadly, it collapsed in 2003, but there are still many amazing things to see in this gorgeous location. Nestled among the White Mountains, you can take an aerial tram for some spectacular views. Naturally, the skiing is fantastic, as is the trout fishing, hiking and cycling.
32. LAKE TAHOE STATE PARK, INCLINE VILLAGE, NV
Lake Tahoe is one of the wealthiest areas in the country, but in this beautiful park, you'll feel far, far away from "civilization." There's swimming and boating in Sand Harbor, and divers love the interesting rock formations and crystal-clear waters. Trails include a handicap-accessible one that offers amazing views of the lake. Mountain biking is also popular here, allowing you to ride through cool pine forests.
33. THE CITY OF ROCKS STATE PARK, FAYWOOD, NM
Sure, you'll "ooh" and "aah" at the magnificent rock pinnacles that were formed almost 35 million years ago. For years, emigrants heading west stopped to write their names (sometimes in axel grease!) on structures like Camp Rocks. But this park is also home to the state's first astronomical observatory, due to the insanely clear night skies.
34. LETCHWORTH STATE PARK, NY
This one has regularly been voted one of the best parks in the country. It features three stunning large waterfalls, but dozens of smaller ones can be spotted along the excellent network of hiking trails. Letchworth is home to the highest waterfall in New York, known as "Inspiration Falls." Hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and fishing are popular in the summer; snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are available in winter months.
35. MOHICAN STATE PARK, LOUDONVILLE, OH
It was once the hunting ground of the Delaware tribe, and you can hunt down some of the area's natural beauty along the 13 miles of hiking trails in the park, and the 32 miles of trail in the adjacent state forest. The Hemlock Gorge Trail features a covered bridge, two waterfalls and rare trees.
36. NATURAL FALLS STATE PARK, COLCORD, OK
For most of us, "waterfalls" are the last thing that comes to mind when you think of Oklahoma. So this little gem is a real treat. In fact, scenes from the 1974 movie, Where the Red Fern Grows were filmed here. Located in the northeast corner of the state, near the Ozarks, the park features a stunning 77-foot waterfall. There are two ways to get great views, either from a railroad platform at the top of the falls, or an observation deck at the foot.
37. ECOLA STATE PARK, CANNON BEACH, OR
Haystack Rock has been called "America's Gibraltar" - and you'll get the best views of it from this glorious park. Boasting miles of Oregon coastline, it's perfect for biking, whale watching and hiking. Here's some trivia: the movies Point Break (the original) and Goonies were partly filmed here. So there's that.
38. OHIOPYLE STATE PARK, OHIOPYLE, PA
Visitors rave about the multiple waterfalls and rapids. Whitewater rafting is big here (the Lenape Indians named the area, and it roughly translates to "where the water turns white"), but if you're not into that much adrenaline, experience the water via kayak. Hiking and biking also give you sublime views and a relaxing connection to the area's natural beauty.
39. BEAVERTAIL STATE PARK, RHODE ISLAND
The centerpiece of its 153 acres is the functioning Beavertail Lighthouse, which began in 1749 as a wooden tower. The current structure was built in 1856 and still keeps watch over Narragansett Bay. The hiking around the area is amazing, as is the saltwater fishing. Four scenic overlooks give you breathtaking coastal views.
40. HUNTINGTON BEACH STATE PARK, MURRELLS INLET, SC
If you want nothing more than to slow down and capture some of that lazy Southern vibe, head here. It's known for wide, secluded beaches where crowds and hotels are nowhere to be seen. The five-mile stretch also features great marsh and maritime wildlife, and camping is welcome.
41. CUSTER STATE PARK, SOUTH DAKOTA
There's so much wildlife roaming its 71,000 acres - and visitors have amazing access to it -- that this park has been named one of the World's Top Ten Wildlife Destinations. In the fall, expert wranglers round up the park's 1300 buffalo, in one of its most popular (and ground shaking) events. There are fantastic scenic drives and hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty.
42. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, TN
America's most-visited national park boasts mountains soaring up to 6,000 feet. At its highest point (Clingman's Dome), you'll get a vista of seven states. But besides the glorious mountain scenery, enjoy a breathtaking show from over 1,600 species of flowering plants. Things start to pop in early spring and roll on through the fall. The park is also home to a unique firefly "mating ritual" in June that has thousands of the critters blinking in synchrony. '
43. PALO DURO CANYON, TEXAS
Sure, everyone knows the Grand Canyon. But this breathtaking 20,000-acre park features the second largest canyon in America: 120 miles long, 800 feet deep and 20 miles wide (in some places). Hiking, RV'ing and horseback riding are popular, and you'll find plenty of camping facilities. You can also book a stay in any of three stone cabins, constructed during the Depression (and modernized since then) that offer amazing views of the canyon.
44. ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK, SYRACUSE, UT
In 1845, the island was named for the herds of antelope that grazed there. To this day, you're guaranteed to see impressive amounts of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, bird life and one of the oldest bison herds in the US. Because it's surrounded by the Great Salt Lake, photographers find this a prime spot, as do cyclists.
45. MAIDSTONE STATE PARK, MAIDSTONE, VT
Maidstone Lake was created 12,000 years ago when glacial ice carved out a deep basin. This park (the most remote in the state) retains much of that unspoiled beauty. Listen to the loons as you wander among the logging roads now designated for walking, hiking and biking. Naturally, the lake is a perfect place for reeling in salmon or trout.
46. FAIRYSTONE STATE PARK, STUART, VA
It has a charming name - and a charming tradition. Kids search for the legendary "fairy stone" - or staurolite - which takes several interesting shapes and is all over the place. When they get bored with that, there are miles of trails for biking, horseback riding or hiking. Fishing and boating are also popular, and the fall foliage is nothing less than magical.
47. OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, PORT ANGELES, WA
Locals agree that, if you can only see one park in the Evergreen State, this is the one. Over 95% of its one million acres is "designated wilderness," and its one of the largest wilderness areas in America. Whether hiking, backpacking or camping, you'll get a full eco-sampling, from glacier-capped peaks to tide pools, marsh and old-growth forests.
48. AMNICON FALLS STATE PARK, SOUTH RANGE, WI
Along its miles of hiking trails, you'll glimpse some seriously impressive geologic formations, a result of earthquakes from half a billion years ago. Besides those, you'll also see evidence of an ocean that covered the state millions of years ago. For a break from all that mind-blowing stuff, savor the gorgeous cascades, waterfalls and beautiful wildlife.
49. BLACKWATER STATE FALLS, DAVIS, WV
It's one of the most photographed places in the state, because the 60-foot waterfall tumbling into the Blackwater Canyon is simply to die for. But because it's located in a somewhat colder spot on the globe, you can enjoy sledding, snowshoeing trails and other winter fun. Who knew?
50. YELLOWSTONE, WYOMING
Sure, Old Faithful is what everyone thinks of when they hear the name of America's first national park. But there are over 10,000 other fascinating "thermal features" including additional geysers and hot springs. Yellowstone also boasts one of the world's largest petrified forests and a huuuuge concentration of wildlife. You're pretty much guaranteed to spot grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, moose, elk and bison.