Let’s face it – when it comes to planning camping trips and road trips to parks, national parks get all the glory.
They certainly deserve the attention. There are natural formations and scenery and history there that are unique and those national parks are one of America’s best ideas. However, there’s plenty to explore at state parks as well. In fact, you may even enjoy a state park more than a nearby national park. It’s likely to be less crowded and could still have some of the history, or geographical formations, or scenery as a national park in the same area.
Next time you plan a trip, get off the beaten path a little with one of these excellent state parks!
The Best Parks in Every State
If you’re looking for the best state parks in America, or are simply planning a trip to a certain state and want suggestions for what to do there, check out our list here. These state parks won’t disappoint!
The Best State Park in Alabama
This is Alabama’s largest state park and is only 20 miles from Birmingham. Visit the Alabama Wildlife Center, the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center, or shred on the Oak Mountain BMX Track. There’s also plenty of swimming, camping, fishing, golf, and horseback riding.
The Best State Park in Alaska
This park is almost 500,000 acres large and is one of the biggest state parks in the state. You’ll get amazing views of the Chugach Mountains, Eklutna Lake, and Eagle River along with other beautiful mountains and glaciers. You may see a variety of wildlife including moose, porcupines, and possibly even wolves. Visitors to the park enjoy hiking, and cold weather activities like dog sledding and skijoring.
The Best State Park in Arizona
This park between Flagstaff and Phoenix is home to a breathtaking geological formation that’s definitely worth seeing. The park showstopper is a 183-foot high travertine arch that leads to a tunnel in the rocks, but there are many other beautiful formations and vistas to take in as well. The trek to the arch is short but treacherous, but there are other easier hikes that take you through the Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area and near the 1920’s era lodge in the park.
The Best State Park in Arkansas
Mount Magazine is the highest point in the state and soars 2,753 feet above sea level. The mountain gives sweeping views of the Arkansas River Valley, and visitors can go mountain biking, horseback riding, backpacking, ATVing, and even hang gliding.
The Best State Park in California
It’s rare for a California state park to encompass this much area with this many different ecosystems. Crystal Cove is along the coast in Southern California, south of Los Angeles. Spend the day exploring tidepools, hiking in the backcountry, surfing, or hanging out at the beach.
The Best State Park in Colorado
This park is home to the Eleven Mile Reservoir, one of Colorado’s largest man-made lakes. The park is also home to sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rock in beautiful formations that were created over thousands of years. Visitors can watch for wildlife and birds, or go hiking, fishing, and boating.
The Best State Park in Connecticut
Hammonasset Beach State Park is Connecticut’s largest shoreline park, and many residents consider it the best beach in the state. The two-mile beach has swimming, picnicking, fishing, scuba diving, hiking, and boating. Weather can be chilly, even in summer, so be sure to bring layers.
The Best State Park in Delaware
This park is home to the largest freshwater pond in the state and has fishing and boating. Guests can also hike or cycle, and the park has an exciting ziplining course as well.
The Best State Park in Florida
Silver Springs is one of the largest artesian springs ever discovered, and visitors flock to the crystal clear waters to take a glass-bottom boat tour or to kayak and canoe. There is also plenty of wildlife, birds, fish, and a colorful variety of plants to investigate.
The Best State Park in Georgia
Cloudland Canyon is at the edge of Lookout Mountain and has thousand-foot canyons, sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, and caves. Visitors can hike, fish, cycle, attend a nature program, or play the 18-hole disc golf course.
The Best State Park in Hawaii
Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai is so impressive, it’s often called “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” There are many scenic overlooks where you can take in the views of the canyon and ocean, or you can hike in the area and get a closer look.
The Best State Park in Idaho
Farragut State Park encompasses 4,000 acres along Lake Pend Oreille in the Coeur d’ Alene Mountains. The park has plenty of hiking and cycling, but it was also used as a naval training station during WWII. You can now tour the Museum at the Brig to learn more about boot camp and see the memorabilia.
The Best State Park in Illinois
Starved Rock State Park has been voted the #1 attraction in the state. The park features eighteen sandstone canyons with numerous waterfalls, lush trees, and miles of trails for hiking and cycling. Fishing, boating, and wildlife watching are also popular activities.
The Best State Park in Indiana
Turkey Run State Park was voted the best state park by residents of Indiana. The park features sandstone gorges and canyons, forest trails, and lush ferns and other plants that grow wild throughout the park. Sugar Creek runs through the park and provides canoeing, and an Olympic-size swimming pool means visitors can cool off during the summer.
The Best State Park in Iowa
The state’s oldest state park, Backbone is a 2,000-acre park that gets its name from a steep ridge of bedrock carved out by the Maquoketa River. There is also a lake, hiking, and historic buildings visitors can tour. The “Devil’s Backbone” is a popular hike that takes trekkers to one of the highest points in Iowa.
The Best State Park in Kansas
Kanopolis State Park is along the Prairie Trail Scenic Byway and has rolling hills, bluffs, and woods. The Dakota sandstone cliffs and caves of Horsethief Canyon are features worth seeing.
The Best State Park in Kentucky
This state park offers plenty of outdoor activities, along with music, tours, and other programs. The centerpiece of the park is Federal Hill, a farm with a mansion where local politicians would congregate in the 19th century. There is also a golf course, playgrounds, and hiking trails.
The Best State Park in Louisiana
This 6,400-acre park nestled between the Atchafalaya Basin and the hills of central Louisiana is the state’s largest state park and the Louisiana State Arboretum is also on its grounds. Hike or backpack around the park, or head out fishing or canoeing on Lake Chicot.
The Best State Park in Maine
Camden Hills provides hikers or drivers with one of the most iconic views in all of Maine, from the top of Mount Battie. You can see views of Camden, Penobscot Bay, and the surrounding islands. Visitors can also climb a stone tower built in 1921. Another popular hike is Mount Megunticook, the highest of the Camden Hills.
The Best State Park in Maryland
This park encompasses 32 miles of the Patapsco River, west of Baltimore. Patapsco Valley State Park is Maryland’s first state park, and is also home to some of the earliest mills and factories, along with the country’s first freight railroad and the world’s first submerged hydroelectric plant. Visitors can see these artifacts, or hike through forests and near streams and waterfalls. There is also canoeing, fishing, and swimming in the river.
The Best State Park in Massachusetts
This forest land is tucked in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts and covers 12,000 acres of hardwoods and grassy knolls. It also encompasses the Benedict Pond, which is home to many fish and water birds. Visitors can look for wildlife, which includes elk, deer, bobcats, and yes, bears.
The Best State Park in Michigan
This park sits on the shore of Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The park is one of the largest state parks in the country, with 59,020 acres and preserves 35,000 acres of old-growth forest.
The Best State Park in Minnesota
Banning State Park runs alongside the Kettle River, less than 60 miles from Duluth. The park has 1.5 miles of rapids, along with hiking trails through sandstone rock formations and near waterfalls.
The Best State Park in Mississippi
This state park nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians has scenic views and outdoor activities, and also a rich history to explore. The Natchez Trace Parkway runs through the park, and there are rock formations you won’t see anywhere else in Mississippi.
The Best State Park in Missouri
While Lake of the Ozarks State Park is the most popular in the state by a longshot, the community of Castlewood used to be the party spot for residents of St. Louis, with a hotel, cabins, and clubs. The park now has some great mountain biking, plus hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.
The Best State Park in Montana
Bannack is a ghost town, complete with a Main Street, hotel, church, school, and other buildings from the late 1800s. Bannack operated as a mining town for many years and was once the capital city of Montana territory with over ten thousand residents. Bannack’s Living History Days bring the past to life each September.
Best State Park in Nebraska
Ponca State Park is on the banks of the Missouri River, among the rolling hills of northeastern Nebraska. See the area’s geological diversity and take in landscapes ranging from mountain bluffs to prairies to forested areas.
Best State Park in Nevada
Cathedral Gorge in southeastern Nevada is famous for its fanciful rock formations, made of bentonite clay that has been eroded over millions of years. The spires and cliffs provide unique photography opportunities, and visitors can hike, picnic, and watch for wildlife including rabbits, kangaroo rats, coyotes, and more.
Best State Park in New Hampshire
Mount Washington is the highest peak in the eastern United States, and is home to a weather research station that once recorded a world-record wind speed of 231 miles per hour. You can reach the mountain’s peak by hiking, driving, or via a cog railway.
Best State Park in New Jersey
Allaire State Park has plenty of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking and visitors can also fish or canoe on the Manasquan River. There are also antique steam trains and iron-making equipment from the 1800s that show the park’s history of industry.
Best State Park in New Mexico
This state park in southwestern New Mexico gets its name from the rock formations found in the area, which were formed by volcanoes thirty million years ago. The house-sized rocks almost look like they were intentionally arranged in an orderly fashion like a city. Visitors enjoy hiking, biking, or visiting the desert botanical garden at the park.
Best State Park in New York
Letchworth is sometimes referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and boasts an impressive gorge, towering cliffs, and rushing waterfalls. The park was even rated New York state’s best attraction in 2017 and provides plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts.
Best State Park in North Carolina
This park has a rare ecosystem created by the mixing of coastal pond and Southern swamp forest environments. The cypress trees with their hanging Spanish moss make the park feel like something out of a fairy tale.
Best State Park in North Dakota
Cross Ranch State Park lies along some of the last undeveloped parts of the Missouri River, which means you can see the area as it was hundreds of years ago. The park is also home to a 5,000-acre nature preserve with mixed prairie grass, forests, and bison.
Best State Park in Ohio
Hocking Hills is home to rocky cliffs and waterfalls that make it a nationally known destination for Ohio visitors. The park is an hour southeast of Columbus and has more than 25 miles of hiking trails past rock formations, caves, and rushing waterfalls.
Best State Park in Oklahoma
This is Oklahoma’s largest state park, with the 5,700-acre Lake Murray as the centerpiece. Visitors can fish, boat, or do other water sports. On land, there are hiking trails, swimming areas, horseback riding and hayrides, miniature golf, and more.
The Best State Park in Oregon
Fort Stevens has a variety of fascinating features that visitors can’t find anywhere else. The remains of the Peter Iredale shipwreck can be seen there, along with historic military batteries and the South Jetty where the Columbia River meets the Pacific. Visitors can also look for bald eagles, or spend a day enjoying the beach.
Best State Park in Pennsylvania
It is possible to see all of Trough Creek State Park in one day – be sure to check out the Balanced Rock Trail, which wanders over a suspension bridge and past Rainbow Falls before ending at the Balanced Rock itself. Visitors can also see the ice mine, views of Raystown Lake, and can fish or hike in the park.
Best State Park in Rhode Island
This seaside park on Narragansett Bay has outdoor activities year-round. Bike through fruit orchards, or picnic on the lawn while enjoying the view.
Best State Park in South Carolina
This park was created in the 1930s and mostly built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. A 30-acre lake and manmade waterfalls provide beautiful scenery, as do the many leafy trees throughout the park.
Best State Park in South Dakota
Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota and is the largest state park in the state. The park is famous for its bison, and is also home to antelope, mountain goats, elk, burros, wild turkeys, and more. The park encompasses lakes, streams, granite outcroppings, and a variety of other landscapes and provides just about every outdoor activity you can imagine.
Best State Park in Tennessee
Reelfoot Lake State Park is in northwestern Tennessee and is great for fishing and boating. The lake itself was created in the 1800s by a series of earthquakes. Today, trees still grow out of the water where they were before the quakes, and guests can walk to them on a boardwalk or paddle through the watery forest in a canoe or kayak.
Best State Park in Texas
Palo Duro has miles of hiking trails through the red rock canyons, along with scenic drives and a chance to look for a variety of plants and wildlife.
Best State Park in Utah
Kodachrome Basin has fantastic rock formations that look like stone spires and are known as sedimentary pipes. Those pipes, and the sandstone layers that reveal the history of the rock, provide unique and amazing scenery for hikers, mountain bikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Best State Park in Vermont
Vermont’s Mt. Philo provides sweeping views of the Lake Champlain Valley and the Green Mountains. The park is especially breathtaking in fall, when the leaves begin changing color.
Best State Park in Virginia
This state park, high in the Appalachian Mountains, features mountain meadows, tall peaks, herds of wild ponies, and mountain streams with wildflowers. Visitors can hike, backpack, mountain bike, boulder, and more.
Best State Park in Washington
Washington’s most visited state park features a landmark bridge, high cliffs, seaside coves, and plenty of beaches to wander. Hike in the forest, or head to the beach to hunt for shells and watch the water for whales.
Best State Park in West Virginia
Babcock State Park, along the New River Gorge, has rhododendron-lined trails and rocky streams and creeks. The Glade Creek Grist Mill is one of the most photographed spots in the state.
Best State Park in Wisconsin
This state park is at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, and has plenty of hiking, a canoe trail, Native American burial grounds, and many more activities.
Best State Park in Wyoming
This is the largest state park in Wyoming, and the Boysen Reservoir is considered one of the best places to fish for walleye and trout, and is a great place for swimming, boating, and other water sports.