10 Best State Parks in the United States

State parks are a great way to explore what each state has to offer. Although much smaller than National Parks, state parks are a great way to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Often it is easier to take a trip to your nearby State Park than plan a trip to a large National Park.

All state parks areas are unique and beautiful in their own way. That is why it is important to protect them. If not for the state parks, many of these areas would be developed by private investors or encroached upon by cities. This is why it is important to protect and support state parks.

1: Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Kevin Wood

Located on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee is Fall Creek Falls State Park. This is one of the top most visited Tennessee State Parks. At 256 feet, Fall Creek Falls is one of the highest waterfalls on the east coast. Besides Fall Creek Falls, the park is home to 26,000 acres of cascades, gorges, waterfalls, streams and hardwood forests.

There is plenty of hiking and camping in Fall Creek Falls State Park. You can hike down to the bottom of the falls. Backcountry permits are available for those wishing to backpack in the park.

Address: 2009 Village Camp Rd, Spencer, TN 38585

2: Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Photos By Clark

Located in southern California, Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a desert badland formed by years of erosion to the mountains. As the mountain rose, so did the intensity of the rain, snow, ice and wind on the rock to form canyons, washes, ridges and peaks. Over time the mountain eroded into the rugged desert you see today.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is home to more wildflowers than you could ever see while there. The best time to see wildflowers is late February to early March, before temperatures get too hot and flowers die off. Self-guided nature trails give insight to common plants you can expect to see. Stop by the visitor center and check out the desert garden. The desert garden has species you would expect to see while out hiking in the desert.

Address: 200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004

3: Dead Horse Point State Park, Moab, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park, Moab, Utah

Outside of Moab, Utah on your way to Canyonlands is Dead Horse State Park. This park is one of the most photographed State Parks. Dead Horse State Point looks out over the 180-degree bend in the Colorado River 2,000 feet down. The park got its name from early 1900’s cowboys rounding up horses onto the point and corralling them off for holding. On one occasion the horses were forgotten out on the point where they died from dehydration 2,000 feet above the Colorado River.

There are great opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, photography and camping. All Utah State Parks are pet friendly, so feel free to bring your dog along.

Address: UT-313, Moab, UT 84532

4: Pfeiffer Big Sur California State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur, California

Pfeiffer Big Sur California State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur, California

Located south of Monterey along the coast, Pfeiffer Big Sur California State Park is a popular hiking and camping destination. On a hot summer day cool off in the Big Sur River or beat the heat in the Ernst Ewoldsen Nature Center. Take a hike on one of the numerous hiking trails. On weekends, attend an evening program at the Campfire Center.

Keep in mind that this is a popular state park and camping reservations fill up six months in advance, even in the winter. If you do wish to camp in Pfeiffer Big Sur California State Park, be sure to plan you trip well ahead of time.

Address: Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920

5: Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, Nevada

Located just outside Las Vegas, Nevada is Valley of Fire State Park. The valley gets its name from the bright red Aztec sandstone. The park protects petrified wood and petroglyphs over 2,000 years old found in the park.

Take the time to stop by the visitor center early in your trip to learn about what the park has to offer. Here you can learn about the geology, ecology, prehistory and history of the park. Although it can be scorching hot during the day, the desert cools off at night. Camping in the park is on a first come first serve basis.

Address: 29450 Valley of Fire Hwy, Overton, NV 89040
Website: parks.nv.gov

6: Chugach State Park, Girdwood, Alaska

Chugach State Park, Girdwood, Alaska
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Paxson Woelber
Chugach State Park, Alaska is located just outside Anchorage. With 495,000 acres of land, Chugach State Park is one of the four largest state parks in the United States. The park consists of ocean shoreline, lakes, glaciers and ice fields. In the 1960’s Anchorage was expanding and the surrounding mountains need to be protected. Chugach was established in 1969 to protect the land from the encroaching city. Since the park is so large, there is plenty of hiking and exploring to be had.
Address: 18620 Seward Hwy, Anchorage, AK 99516
Website: dnr.alaska.gov

7: Smith Rock State Park, Terrebonne, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Terrebonne, Oregon
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Amy Meredith

Not far from Bend, Oregon is Smith Rock State Park. Here there is something for all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Originally known for world class climbing in the 80’s, today the park attracts all kinds of adventurers. Park activities include hiking, biking, slacklining, horseback riding and incredible photography opportunities.

You can camp in Smith Rock State Park, but make sure you follow all regulations and permits. No RV’s are allowed in the park, so plan accordingly and bring your tent.

Address: Terrebonne, OR 97760

8: Baxter State Park, Maine

Baxter State Park, Maine
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/daveynin

Baxter State Park is unique in that it is a land trust. The land was purchased by Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter to be preserved. Today, the Park Authority must uphold the conditions to protect the park set by Governor Baxter.

The park is best known for Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine and also the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail. Aside from hiking to the summit of Katahdin, Baxter State Park has over 200 miles of hiking trails to explore. Always remember Governor Baxter’s desire for protecting the wilderness first, recreation second when using the park.

Address: 64 Balsam Dr, Millinocket, ME 04462

9: Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota

Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/dconvertini

Located in the Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota is Custer State Park. This is a beautiful park to hang out and relax with your family. The park is not far from Mount Rushmore National Park, so visiting both can easily be combined into one trip.

There is lots to do, whether it be camping, hiking, biking, swimming or fishing. Excellent granite rock climbing is available in the state park and surrounding national forest. The park has a few different visitor centers and outdoor education centers that are great when the weather is not favorable for outdoor activities.

Address: 13329 US Hwy 16A, Custer, SD 57730
Website: www.gfp.sd.gov

10: Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii

Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii

Located on the Kauai Island of Hawaii is Napali Coast State Wilderness Park. This coastal park offers dramatic steep cliffs and views of the ocean. This is one of the most beautiful and recognizable coast lines.

Due to its status as a wilderness park, the majority of Napali is restricted by permits. The number of visitors allowed into the park per day is limited. Visitors must secure a hiking and camping permit ahead of time to be allowed access into the park. Due to its restrictiveness, Napali is a great way to enjoy the wilderness and get away from the crowds.

Address: Wainiha, Kauai, HI 96746
Website: dlnr.hawaii.gov

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