The United States is a complex landscape that stretches from coast to coast and offers steep mountains, dense forests of deciduous trees, towering pine trees, open plains, and harsh deserts.
Among the 50 states are an abundance of parks both great in size like Alaska’s 400,000 acres or a scattering of connected islands in Massachusetts.
What they all have in common is the passion to conserve these wondrous worlds filled with wildlife, history, and adventure.
Exploring the world around us gives us a greater appreciation of the natural beauty we find and reconnects us to the simple pleasure of enjoying life.
1. Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky
Natural Bridge State Resort Park is the ideal spot for bird watching enthusiasts with the best viewings in May, June, and September.
The Kentucky park has two campgrounds with 87 utility sites and a number of tent sites. The park’s lake is engulfed in a majestic forest and mammoth sandstone cliffs.
Fishing, canoeing, and kayaking are all popular activities at Mill Creek Lake. Hiking trails around the park range from a one-half mile in length to seven-and-one-half miles of scenic woodlands.
Families enjoy playing a round of 18-hole miniature golf or taking a dip at the pool complex featuring a zero-entry pool with a river theme.
2135 Natural Bridge Rd, Slade, KY 40376, Phone: 606-663-2214
2. Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
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Big Bend Ranch State Park follows a stretch of the Rio Grande in west Texas along the US/Mexico border.
The park is a rugged landscape of desert, mountains, and steep canyons.
Outdoor adventurists can choose between hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding on over 230 miles of trails.
Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can explore over 70 miles of rough dirt road terrain and the park features a spot on the river ideal for fishing or floating in the cool waters.
Campers will find a vast selection of primitive sites for overnight stays that have a picnic table and fire pit with the exception of the backcountry spots. Don't miss the nearby Chinati Hot Springs
1900 South Saucedo, Presidio, TX 79845
3. Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
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Blackwater Falls State Park features an amber-colored cascading waterfall tinted by the acidic hemlock and red spruce needles surrounding the waters.
Covering 446-acres of protected land, visitors can explore 20 different hiking trails ranging in distance and difficulty.
The park offers cabins, tent camping, and a lodge for overnight accommodations. Warm summers provide the perfect conditions for swimming in Pendleton Lake or the outdoor pool at nearby Canaan Valley Resort.
Snowy winters make way to the longest sled run on the East Coast and 10-miles of cross-country skiing.
The lodge has an indoor pool and a restaurant, The Smokehouse, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or you can stay at the nearby Canaan Valley Resort on your weekend trip.
1584 Blackwater Lodge Rd, Davis, WV 26260, Phone: 304-259-5216
4. Boston Harbor Islands State Park, Massachusetts
Boston Harbor Islands State Park in the Boston area consists of 34 islands and peninsulas that visitors can hop from one to another aboard seasonal ferries, or year-round by car or on foot.
The park features historic forts and is home to the oldest continuously manned lighthouse in the country.
Each of the accessible islands has something different to explore giving families a variety of adventures to enjoy.
History buffs love the guided tour of Civil War-era Fort Warren on Georges Island that served as a training camp for Union soldiers.
Spectacle Island features 114-acres of outdoor activities including hiking and swimming and offers resort hotels for overnight accommodations.
191w Atlantic Ave, Boston, MA 02109, Phone: 617-223-8666
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5. Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina
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Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina combines the love of nature with learning through its scenic hiking trails and endurance test of rock climbing.
Reaching the top of the 535 million-year-old rock formation can be attained by hiking the steps of the Outcropping Trail with its picturesque views of the gorge below.
The NC park offers varying levels of difficulty among its 6 different hiking trails.
Animal Discovery Den teaches visitors about the wildlife living in the park including an opossum, a groundhog, and a vibrant butterfly and moth garden. Most days, guests can enjoy the hammered dulcimer music of John Mason during the spring, summer, and fall.
431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720, Phone: 800-277-9611
6. Custer State Park, South Dakota
Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota.
This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite mountains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming.
The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a Visitor Center that highlights the iconic prairie bison.
The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobscured views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road. Visitors can book a room at Creekside Lodge on their romantic weekend getaway.
13329 US Highway 16A, Custer, SD 57730, Phone: 605-255-4515
7. Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin
Devil’s Lake State Park is one of nine areas in Wisconsin’s Ice Age National Scientific Reserve that preserves the features of the land that was carved by the glaciers. Established in 1911, it is the oldest, biggest, and most popular park in the state. Visitors are mesmerized by the views of the 360-acre lake from the 500-foot quartzite bluffs. The lake offers plenty of picnic spots, two sand-covered swimming beaches, boating rentals, and is a popular location for scuba diving. Devil’s Lake State Park has nearly 30 miles of hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy paved walkways to rocky climbs up the East Bluff.
S5975 Park Rd., Baraboo, WI 53913, Phone: 608-356-8301
8. Ecola State Park, Oregon
Ecola State Park is nine miles of coastline offering sightseeing and outdoor recreation from the moment guests enter the park. The road entering the park winds through a dense Sitka spruce forest before emerging onto a grassy bluff with astonishing views of the Pacific Ocean. The park’s web of hiking trails opens up to views of hidden coves, tree-covered bluffs, and an old abandoned lighthouse. Indian Beach at Ecola State Park is an ideal spot for surfing, tide-pooling, and enjoying the picturesque seascape. Wildlife in and around the park include deer, elk, eagles, and the occasional gray whale passing through during its migration in the winter and spring months.
84318 Ecola Park Road, Seaside, Cannon Beach, OR 97110, Phone: 800-551-6949
9. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico
Elephant Butte State Park is the quintessential place for outdoor excursions like camping, boating, and fishing. The expansive campground offers a wide range of campsite set-ups including several full-hookup spots for RVs. Popular water sports and activities include swimming, scuba diving and an array of boating and personal watercraft endeavors. The park features 15 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The Elephant Butte Reservoir was created in 1916 from the Rio Grande and required an enormous engineering accomplishment to construct the damn needed for such a large lake. Visitors can learn all about its construction at the park’s visitor center.
101 Hwy 195, Elephant Butte, NM 87935, Phone: 575-744-5923
10. Fort De Soto Park, Florida
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Fort De Soto Park stretches more than 1,100 acres across five interconnected islands known as keys. This enormous complex of ecosystems contains a tropical paradise of palms, flowering plants, mangroves, wetlands, and beaches. Bird watchers will be amazed by over 325 species that have been documented on the islands. The park offers camping, picnicking, a playground, and seven miles of paved walking paths. The park was used as a gunnery and bombing range during WWII and visitors can learn more about the history of the islands at the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum. The park features a 12-inch mortar battery and two British breech-loading rifles from 1890.
3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL 33715, Phone: 727-582-2100
11. Fort Yargo, Georgia
Fort Yargo gives visitors a glimpse at settler life of the late 1700s with its log fort built for protection from the Creek and Cherokee tribes of the area. Campers who stay at the park can pick either fully equipped cottages, furnished cabins, or primitive campsites. In addition, lakeside camping is available in the permanent wooden and canvas structures called yurts with electricity and furnishings inside and a picnic table, grill, and fire pit outside. The parks 260-acre lake provides activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. Visitors can test their endurance on the 20 miles of trails or play disc golf on the challenging wooded course.
210 South Broad Street, Winder, GA 30680, Phone: 770-867-3489
12. Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
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Franconia Notch State Park is located in White Mountain National Forest and features Flume Gorge, an 800 foot long gorge at the bottom of Mount Liberty. The walls of granite extend upwards as high as ninety feet on either side at a distance apart ranging from 12 to 20 feet. The walk requires some endurance and includes an abundance of stairs and inclines. Visitors can take to the skies in the scenic aerial tram or plunge into the cool waters of Echo Lake Beach where canoes and paddleboats are available for rent. Bike rentals provided by Cannon Mountain are available to ride the special path constructed alongside the Franconia Notch Parkway.
260 Tramway Drive, Franconia/Lincoln, NH 03580, Phone: 603-823-8800
13. Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
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Hocking Hills State Park located in southeastern Ohio’s is the top-rated park to visit any time of the year. Hikers will encounter monumental cliffs, gorgeous waterfalls, and gorges filled with the shade of hemlock. The forest floor is carpeted with wildflowers in the spring and the leaves of the trees burst into brights colors of red and orange in the fall. The park offers a variety of outdoor activities including an archery range, disc golf, hunting, and fishing. Visitors enjoy picnics, hiking trails, and exploring the areas second-largest cage, Whispering Cave, featuring a 105-foot waterfall. Mountain bikers can choose one of two challenging trail loops one moderate and one difficult.
19852 State Route 664 S, Logan, Ohio 43138, Phone: 740-385-6842
14. Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri
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Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park can be found at the center of Mark Twain National Forest, surrounded by the St Francois Mountains. The highlight of the park is the natural water park, or shut-in, that forms when the river spills over and around the smoothly-worn igneous rocks. In 2005, the nearby reservoir breached, sending 1.3 billion gallons of water down the mountain and through the nearly unoccupied park destroying the campground and scouring the landscape and leaving behind a field of boulders from the mountains. Today visitors can enjoy all of the outdoor amenities like picnicking, camping, and hiking the rugged terrain of southeast Missouri.
148 Taum Sauk Trail, Lesterville, MO 63656, Phone: 573-546-2450
15. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California
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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is named for the famous pioneer woman and features an 80-foot waterfall that plunges down from cliffs of granite into the Pacific Ocean. The Overlook Trail provides hikers with panoramic views of rugged coastline and serene views of the ocean. Whale watching during December and January’s migrations can be viewed from the Overlook Trail as well. The park offers educational exhibits and programs, wildlife viewing areas, and picnic locations. Two hike-in environmental campsites can be reserved for overnight stays seven days a week. Experienced scuba divers can explore the north section of Partington Cove’s underwater area.
52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, Phone: 831-667-2315
16. Kachemak Bay State Park, Alaska
Kachemak Bay State Park is Alaska’s only wilderness park and encompasses approximately 400,000 acres of rugged mountain terrain, frozen glaciers, dense pine forests, and miles of coastline. The bay is home to sea otters, whales, seals, and porpoise offering natural see=ttings to study the marine life. The park’s wilderness provides shelter for moose, bears, wolves, coyotes, and mountain goats. Hiking and camping along the shoreline or anywhere among the forests and mountains offer nature lovers a rugged unencumbered emersion into the wilderness. Cabins are available in several areas of the park and Habitat Cove Lagoon Dock is open to the public.
Homer, AK 99603, Phone: 907-262-5581
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17. Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona
Kartchner Caverns State Park has been a state treasure in Arizona since 1988 when efforts were made to preserve the explorability of these two massive living caverns. The Rotunda Throne Room features a bell canopy that forms when water flows over the bumpy wall before dripping to create the formation. The caverns house the biggest soda straw stalactite, Arizona’s tallest, most massive column, and multiple one-of-a-kind cave formations and features. The park also provides guests with loads of information at the Discovery Center with a theater presentation, a museum, and a gift shop. Kids love the scavenger hunt created for inquisitive explorers.
2980 S Hwy 90, Benson, AZ 85602, Phone: 520-586-4100
18. Lake Tahoe State Park, Nevada
Lake Tahoe State Park has several different areas of recreational activity starting with the highly visited beaches of Sand Harbor where swimmers, boaters, and picnic groups gather. The more secluded beaches of Memorial Point and Hidden Beach provide breathtaking views of the lake. A popular spot for picnicking, rugged hiking and mountain biking or cross-country skiing is Spooner Lake that also offers catch-and-release fishing. Overnight accommodations for guests of the park include cabins for rent and primitive campsites in the backcountry accessible only on foot. In July and August, visitors can enjoy performances by the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival at Sand Harbor.
NV-28, Incline Village, NV 89451, Phone: 775-831-0494
19. Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park, Michigan
Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park features Michigan’s tallest waterfall that slides down the face of the sloping rock formation. Visitors can climb down a set of well-constructed stairs with three observation decks for capturing stunning photos and catching one’s breath. Water levels fluctuate throughout the year thinning the falls to near invisibility at times. The waterfall cascades off a bluff of limestone dropping 100 feet into the deep ravine below. This Upper Peninsula waterfall park offers guests a picnic area as well as two-and-a-half miles of nature walk trails. In the snowy winter months, snowshoes are required by guests visiting the park.
Sundell MI, 49885, Phone: 906-341-2355
20. Makoshika State Park, Montana
Makoshika State Park is the largest state park in Montana and wows guests with its impressive Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops skeletal remains on display. As part of the state’s Montana Dinosaur Trail, this park offers exhibits about paleontology, guided tours, educational programs, and field digs. The park offers recreational activities like archery, numerous hiking trails, campsites, and an amphitheater. Special events are held at the park every year such as Montana Shakespeare in the Park, Friday night campfires, and summer youth programs. The second Saturday in June is the annual Buzzard Day Festival, host of a 10k and 5k run, music and songs performed by Native Americans.
1301 Snyder Avenue, Glendive, MT 59330, Phone: 406-377-6256
21. Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
‘Akaka Falls State Park, located on the Hilo Coast of the island of Hawai’i, offers visitors breathtaking views of Kahuna and ‘Akaka Waterfalls. The hiking path is just under a half-mile loop through the flourishing tropical flora. The trail is an easy-to-follow paved footpath with inclines and stairs in some locations. Guests will first encounter the cascading 100 ft Kahuna Falls before coming to the 442 ft high ‘Akaka Falls that free-falls down into the gorge below. The brief hike lasts roughly an hour from start to finish and takes visitors through a rainforest of wild orchids, groves of bamboo, and hanging ferns.
Akaka Falls Rd, Honomu, HI 96728
22. Niagara Falls State Park, New York
Niagara Falls State Park is packed with family entertainment, awe-inspiring scenery, and miles of hiking trails. Cave of Winds tour takes visitors down 175 feet into Niagara Gorge to experience the magnum force of the waterfall on Hurricane Deck. The Discovery Center teaches guests about the natural history of the area through interactive exhibits. The Niagara Scenic Tour provides a guided tour of the park with fun facts and tales of history. Adventure Theatre features an enthralling tale of early explorers and risk-takers of Niagara Falls. Maid of the Mist boat tour puts visitors in the basin of Horseshoe Falls providing an up-close experience of the powerful falls.
332 Prospect St, Niagara Falls, NY 14303, Phone: 716-278-1794
23. Reid State Park, Maine
Reid State Park came to be in 1948 when successful businessman Walter E. Reid donated the long, wide stretch of beaches to the state to ensure their preservation for future generations to enjoy. The park is an important and rare geological landscape on Maine’s Atlantic coast with even rarer sand dunes. Beyond the recreational opportunities like surfing and swimming, the park’s beaches serve as nesting grounds for endangered birds and a feeding stop for many shorebirds. Atop the rocky promontory, Griffith Head, visitors will marvel at the expanse of seascape where they’ll see the two lighthouses of Seguin Island, The Cuckolds and Hendricks Head.
375 Seguinland Road, Georgetown, ME 04548, Phone: 207-371-2303
24. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Starved Rock State Park begins with a winding drive among a forest of magnificent trees whose branches reach high into the sky. Hikers can explore thirteen miles of woodland trails, developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, with eighteen canyons full of discovery. The Visitor Center provides guided seasonal hikes and holiday events throughout the year. Day visitors can enjoy picnics or special gatherings at one of eight shelter houses available. The premium campground offers spacious grassy lots great for tent camping and all 133 campsites are equipped with electricity. Guests can also choose from the lavish Starved Rock Lodge or rustic log cabins, both built by the Corps in the 1930s.
2688 E. 873rd Road. Oglesby, IL 61348, Phone: 815-667-4211
25. State Forest State Park, Colorado
State Forest State Park is a rugged mountainous landscape of jagged peaks, pristine lakes in the clouds, and miles of wilderness trails filled with wildlife. The 71.000 acres provide ample room for all the outdoor favorites like hiking or exploring the terrain on horseback and four-wheelers. Winter snows give visitors additional adventures with skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobile riding. The Moose Visitor Center has maps, exhibits, and informative books about the park and its 600-plus moose population. Guests can book lodging at the park year-round in one of the cabins overlooking the reservoir or choose one of the seven yurts or two huts located in the park.
56750 CO-14, Walden, CO 80480, Phone: 970-723-8366
What are the 25 Best State Parks in the United States?
The 25 Best State Parks in the United States according to local experts are:
- Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky
- Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
- Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
- Boston Harbor Islands State Park, Massachusetts
- Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina
- Custer State Park, South Dakota
- Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin
- Ecola State Park, Oregon
- Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico
- Fort De Soto Park, Florida
- Fort Yargo, Georgia
- Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
- Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
- Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California
- Kachemak Bay State Park, Alaska
- Kartchner Caverns State Park, Arizona
- Lake Tahoe State Park, Nevada
- Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park, Michigan
- Makoshika State Park, Montana
- Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii
- Niagara Falls State Park, New York
- Reid State Park, Maine
- Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
- State Forest State Park, Colorado