The Getaway
The Best State Parks in America You Absolutely Must Visit

There are more than 10,000 state parks across the U.S. Whether you're into hiking, camping, fishing, or just relaxing, there is more than likely a state park not far away. Many provide a wide range of amenities like campsites with water and electricity hookups, hot showers, laundry facilities, lodging, and boat rentals. State parks usually have lower admission fees than national parks, with free or reduced rates for veterans and seniors. Whether travelers are seeking panoramic views or wide open spaces, there's a lot of state parks to explore.


01 Pearl Lake State Park, Colorado

The Reflection of Mountain on the Pearl Lake

This 167-acre lakeside mountain reservoir is 25 miles from Steamboat Springs. Locals consider the park to be one of the hidden gems of Colorado outdoor experiences. The park offers stunning landscapes for picnickers, hikers, and campers alike.

If you're looking to unwind in serene natural surroundings, you'll love what this natural utopia has to explore. The wakeless Pearl Lake offers peaceful sporting experiences such as fly and lure fishing, with ice fishing in the winter months. The park's 38 campsites close to visitors once the snow arrives, but there are two yurts available for rent year round.


02 Waianapanapa State Park, Hawaii

You don't have to be able to pronounce the name to enjoy the spectacular views at Maui's Waianapanapa State Park. The park's name means “glistening water.” A rugged volcanic lava coastline borders its green jungles. Hike the Ke Ala Loa O Maui trail, a 3-mile hiking trail on the western end of the park to see ancient ruins and a breathtaking overlook of the turquoise-blue coastline.

Waianapanapa's native hala tree forest is shaded by coconut and guava trees where you'll be serenaded by local bird species. Visit the black sands of Pa'iloa beach at dawn for a true Instagrammable moment. Or, take in an awe-inspiring sunset at Pa'iloa Bay.

Early morning at Maui's only volcanic black sand beach, in Wai‘anapanapa State Park, located off the Hana Highway. GlowingEarth / Getty Images

03 Baxter State Park, Maine

Imagine more than 200,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness to explore. Baxter State Park in north-central Maine offers camping cabins, lean-to, tent sites, and bunkhouses for those who love outdoor living. In the winter, enjoy cross-country snow-shoeing or skiing in the Togue Pond or Matagamon area.

Alpinists will love the ice or snow climbing opportunities here. In the warmer months, rent a kayak. Bike or plan a day-hike on the 5-mile Dwelley Pond Trail to reach the remote trout pond in the northwest part of the park. You'll find a beautiful picnic area on the edge of a wooded stream not far from Dwelley Pond.

Beautiful view of a calm Lake with Boardwalk in Baxter State Park located in Maine. Photo taken during a serene tranquil morning during the autumn foliage season. Maine fall foliage ranks with the best in New England bringing out some of the most beautiful foliage in the United States DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

04 Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

Most people drive past this historical canyon and never realize it's there. But Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle is the second largest canyon in the U.S. People first inhabited the area about 14,000 years ago.

Once you enter the park, you'll drive down a winding, paved road, descending more than 800 feet before reaching the canyon floor. This is a wildlife area, so don't be surprised if you see coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, or wild turkeys. Experience the geological wonders of the canyon on horseback, just as the early explorers did. There are 1500 acres of trails that park rangers set aside just for equestrian trail riding.

The second largest canyon in the country lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle Palo Duro Canyon is a canyon system of the Caprock Escarpment. DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

05 Manatee Springs State Park, Florida

Famous for its popular 800-foot boardwalk and its natural springs, Manatee Springs State Park in northwestern Florida is one of Mother Nature's marvels and a National Natural Landmark. In the fall and winter months, you'll likely catch sight of the park's namesake, its Manatees, who seek out the warm waters in the park.

Snorkeling is a popular sport at the park, but others enjoy an extended trek on the 8-mile North End Trail system. Amenities include a boat ramp, shower stations, restroom facilities, playgrounds, campsites, RV hookups, and an amphitheater.

Manatee Springs State Park is a natural hot spring. During the winter months Manatee migrate close the the hot springs to keep in warm bodies of water. Lora Benz / Getty Images

06 Medicine Rocks State Park, Montana

Montana is famous for its rugged mountain terrain and its untamed wilderness areas. It's also sparsely populated, with vast areas of scenic terrain to explore. Medicine Rocks State Park in the southeastern corner of the state is one of those rare places where visitors can still experience the West as our ancestors did. Sandstone rock formations cover the park, some over 80-feet tall, creating an unusual and mystical appearance.

You can explore the caves for petroglyphs that early inhabitants of the area carved into the walls or climb the rocks and check out the landscape. Native Americans consider the park to be a sacred site. Camping is available year round.

The gravel road through Medicine Rocks in Montana USA ChrisBoswell / Getty Images

07 Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin

Devil's Lake State Park, Baraboo area, Wisconsin

Travel to Baraboo to visit this 9000-acre state park, Wisconsin's largest. Devil's Lake State Park is famous for its swimming beaches and picnic areas, an ideal solution for travelers seeking fun day trips. Don't miss out on seeing the 500-foot Quartzite bluffs, the premier attraction at the park.

Paddle a kayak around the lake, or rent a standup paddleboard for a unique water-sport experience. Around 6400 acres of the park are open for hunting and trapping in November and December. Camping is available, but in limited areas during the winter months.


08 Natural Bridges State Park, Kentucky

Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky

The massive Daniel Boone National Forest surrounds Natural Bridges State Park in Slade, Kentucky near the Red River Gorge. The park's name comes from the 65-foot high natural sandstone arch near the gorge. The park features more than 200 natural rock arches throughout its landscape, so bring your camera.

Each summer, the park hosts regular events, including the Natural Bridge Artisan Festival, a celebration of Appalachian heritage, skills, and cuisine. Ride the skylift to the natural bridge or hike there on one of the well-marked trails. Enjoy miniature golf or swim at the park's pool complex.


09 Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina

Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina

Locals will tell you that the best time to see Chimney Rock State Park is during the fall when the leaves erupt into colors of crimson and gold. You'll find hiking trails that are more family friendly, with learning stations along the way. Other trails are more challenging, such as the Fours Seasons Trail that requires a climb of more than 400 feet. Experienced guides offer rock-climbing lessons for beginners up to advanced rock climbers.

Travel up to Chimney Rock in 32 seconds flat in the park's one-of-a-kind elevator, built inside the mountain. Once you've reached the 535-million-year-old monolith, the 75-mile panoramic view of Hickory Nut Gorge will mesmerize you.


10 Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Adjacent to Canyonlands National Park, this state park sits about 2000 feet above the Colorado River. It's dramatic; colorful canyons are popular with photographers. In fact, the area was the filming site for the final climactic scene in the movie Thelma & Louise. Explore a variety of mountain biking trails on the 16-mile Intrepid Trail System. In addition to camping and hiking, the park also participates in geocaching, offering two official geocaches along the trails or in day-use areas.

Dead Horse Point is an International Dark Sky Park thanks to its spectacular 360-degree views of the night sky. The park hosts regular dark-skies programming for its visitors.

Looking at Deadhorse Point State Park near Canyonlands National Park from BLM land right after a big storm, Utah Ron and Patty Thomas / Getty Images

11 Ecola State Park, Oregon

Some of the best beach views in Oregon are available in Ecola State Park in the city of Cannon Beach. The road to the park is paved but narrow, so park officials warn against motorhomes and trucks pulling trailers from making the trip. The nine-mile coastline offers more than amazing sightseeing opportunities, including tidepooling, a popular activity for locals.

There are no campgrounds at Ecola, but there is a small hiker's camp. Most visitors come here for short outings, photos, hiking, or a day on Indian Beach. Don't leave without seeing the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, which sits on a big rock not too far from the shore.

Sunrise on Sea stack formations off the town of Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast Don White / Getty Images

12 Chugach State Park, Alaska

The Last Frontier, the state of Alaska, offers some of the most spectacular views in the world. Chugach State Park is the fourth largest park in the U.S. There are a variety of landscapes to explore, from ice fields to glacial lakes. The park is also teeming with 45 different species of wildlife, which is interesting because it is so close to the city of Anchorage. It isn't unusual for bears or moose who live in the park to wander into the neighborhoods.

Chugach offers an entire array of activities, including gold-panning, berry picking, ATV riding, glacier-viewing, and much more. The lakes and extensive ocean shoreline make the park a favorite spot for boaters and kayakers alike.

Turnagain Arm with mountain range in the Chugach State Park near Anchorage, Alaska. A&J Fotos / Getty Images

13 Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Lasalle Falls at Starved Rock State Park in central Illinois

Canyons tower around this park as glistening waterfalls break up their stone faces. The park has something to offer everyone, regardless of whether they're looking to hike for miles or just take a peaceful stroll through one of the park's many forests. Wildflowers line the forest paths, and it's common to see a rabbit or squirrel dash through the brush. In addition to the small animals and vegetation, wild turkeys strut through the park as bald eagles soar overhead.

Adults may enjoy relaxing after a day in the park with wine and beer from one of the local wineries and breweries. Families can enroll their kids in the Junior Ranger or Starved Rock Scout Programs as they experience all that Starved Rock has to offer.


14 Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware

World War II Observation Tower at Cape Henlopen State Park in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

When most people think of state parks, they imagine huge mountains, sweeping forests, and flowing rivers. Cape Henlopen is a little bit different from a traditional state park. It offers all the regular activities, such as hiking, biking, and camping, but it also offers so much more. Herring Point sits on the edge of the water and has one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world.

Fans of sea-life can visit the various aquariums and the popular Touch Tank and interact with whelks, horseshoe crabs, and other sea creatures. At one point in time, the park was home to a WW II Fire Control Tower. In the years since it has become an observation tower that allows visitors to stand above the treetops and take in the world around them.


15 Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

South Falls At Silver Falls State Park

One of Tennessee's largest and most impressive state parks, Fall Creek Falls spans across 26,000 acres of misty forests, babbling streams, and many other majestic natural structures. The park's namesake, Fall Creek Falls, is a 256-foot tall marvel of a waterfall and is only one of many other incredible cascades and waterfalls.

One of the most popular activities is the Canopy Challenge Course that consists of dozens of rope swings, cargo nets, zip lines, balance beams, and bridges. There are a variety of difficulties that allow beginners and experienced participants alike to enjoy the course. The park's Nature center gives visitors a hands-on environmental education experience while also offering arts and crafts, games, live music, and movies. Another famous attraction in the park is its 18-hole golf course. The pro shop provides supplies, carts, and lessons.


16 Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia

There's a giant two-mile-long gorge in northern Georgia with a 1000-foot, near-vertical drop to the canyon floor below. This is the Tallulah Gorge, and it is just one of the amazing natural wonders of Tallulah Gorge State Park. A suspension bridge connects the two sides of the gorge, and you can reach it by hiking about 2 ¼ miles on the Hurricane Falls Trail. The view from the bridge is one of the most popular attractions in the park.

Georgians know one of the best activities to observe at any state park is the water releases. On these special days, kayakers like to test their skills against the increased water flow through the gorge. You'll find opportunities for whitewater paddling, as well as a no-fee archery range, or you can plan a day of waterfall viewing. If you have more of an adventurous spirit, check out the challenging rock climbing opportunities.

Tallulah Gorge in Georgia, USA. SeanPavonePhoto / Getty Images

17 Itasca State Park, Minnesota

Dock in Itasca State Park

Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Itasca State Park to take in its beauty. The park stretches across over 30,000 acres and has 2,000 acres of wilderness sanctuary. Itasca State Park is perhaps most famous as the site where the 2,552-mile long Mississippi River begins its journey. The headwaters of the river are so important to the site that park employees maintain a 24-hour webcam so everyone can observe the waters from anywhere in the world.

Of course, beyond the bubbling waters of the park, there are the magnificent pine trees that spread across the entire landscape. Each year, the park opens up its wilderness drive. This narrow road twists and turns through the thousands of acres of pine trees, providing a perfect opportunity for a relaxing drive. Other popular recreational activities include fishing, swimming, hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing.


18 Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Coastal redwood hiking tunnel, Prairie Creek Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California,

Most people are familiar with California's amazing redwoods, but many haven't experienced a true redwood forest. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is not only home to the giant coast redwood, but it is also a World Heritage Site with sandy beaches, open meadows, and nature trails. Whether you have an hour to spend or plan to camp out for an extended stay, you'll find something to pique your interest.

Take a relaxing drive along the ten-mile Newton B. Drury Parkway, and you'll find yourself in the heart of Prairie Creek's redwood forest. For a short hike, experience the Revelation Trail, which was originally created for the visually impaired, but all are welcome to touch, smell, and listen to the sounds of the forest.


19 Letchworth State Park, New York

Autumn scene of waterfalls and gorge at Letchworth State Park

Though it is one of the smaller parks, Letchworth is famous nationwide as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Slicing through the park is the roaring Genesee River that eventually opens into three major waterfalls, each reaching heights of 600-feet in some places. This river is a popular whitewater rafting site, and the park offers 66 miles of hiking trails. Some trails are also open to biking and horseback riding.

When in season, visitors can hunt both wild turkey and deer. Perhaps one of the most popular and original activities that the park offers is hot air ballooning. Whenever the weather permits, you can take to the skies and peer over the majesty of the park. Though the river is too strong to swim safely, the park does feature an Olympic swimming pool, and a smaller swimming pool on their north and south ends.


20 Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

The biggest draw for this state park is its cave-like rocks created through geologic processes dating back millions of years. Visiting the Cathedral Gorge State Park, surrounded by giant bentonite clay formations reminds you of movie depictions of alien planets. Photographers will be inspired to capture the shadows on the rocks and the light peeking around the canyon walls.

The Miller Point Trail is a 2-mile round-trip hike. Follow it, and you'll end up at a staircase leading you to an overlook of the canyon. History buffs will love the picnic area, built as a CCC project in the 1930s and still in use today. There are 22 campsites to choose from, as well as sites with electrical hookups.

Man in Cathedral Gorge State Park zodebala / Getty Images

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