The 26 Best State Parks In America You Absolutely Must Visit

The 26 Best State Parks in America You Absolutely Must Visit

State parks are smaller than national parks – America's "best idea" – but what they lack in size they make up with in sheer beauty, opportunities for active adventures, and quality relaxation retreats. They are not as well-known as the country's 59 national parks – something many outdoor fans will consider a bonus. From odd rocky outcrops, green pastures, otherworldly landscapes, playgrounds at high elevations to the oldest goldmines in the country, and oceanfront parks, these bucket list destinations also offer a tremendous variety of breathtaking views.

Baxter State Park, Maine

Baxter State Park is home to the state's highest mountain, Mt. Katahdin, at 5,270 feet. Most of the visitors are hikers and campers who traverse the more than 200 miles of hiking trails to witness stunning views of New England and sleep under the stars at the park's ten campgrounds. This park of colossal splendor is one of the absolute best places to go whitewater rafting in the East. Hunting, wildlife watching, swimming, and boating are also popular activities.

‘Iao Valley State Park, Hawaii

ʻIao Valley State Monument is where you go if you want to see the stunning tropical flora of Hawaii. Prime locations for visitors are the ʻIao Needle Lookout Trail and Ethnobotanical Loop where people learn about the plants that Hawaiians brought, according to Hawaii State Parks. You get to reach Kuka'emoku (ʻIao Needle), an erosional feature which abruptly rises 1,200 feet from the valley floor. The park is currently closed due to heavy damages from flooding in late 2016.

Devil’s Den State Park, Arkansas

Devil's Den State Park – located in in the beautiful Ozarks, which are renowned for their natural beauty and lush oak-hickory forest – is a state's icon. Visitors can't get enough of the park's striking vegetation and captivating waterfalls. For some of the best views around, hike along the stunning Yellow Rock Trail. If you want to stay the night, there are about 20 cabins and more than 140 campsites to choose from. Backpacking and mountain bike trails are also popular, as they lead to the surrounding Ozark National Forest.

Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida

You will find many stunning beaches in Florida but some of the absolute best—and quietest—are, as you can probably guess by the name, in the Honeymoon Island State Park. Nature lovers will find osprey nests, a wide variety of shorebirds and one of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in South Florida. There are many nature trails and bird observation areas. Swimming, fishing, snorkeling, and picnicking, while relishing gorgeous scenery are what most visitors enjoy doing. Summer cycling and kayaking are other active adventures people like there, proving there's more to Florida than just Disney or the beach.

Kachemak Bay State Park, Alaska

This is Alaska's first state and only wilderness park, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. It comprises roughly 400,000 acres of mountains, glaciers, forests, and ocean. The bay's twisted rock formations are evidence of the movement of the earth's crust. The constantly changing weather patterns make the park's outstanding scenery a backdrop for high-quality recreation – fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking, camping, and mountain sports.

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Franconia Notch is a remarkable mountain pass crossed by a unique parkway which extends from the Flume Gorge at the south to Echo Lake at the north. You will hike one of the most picturesque trails in the U.S. – the Franconia Ridge Loop. The 9-mile fairly easy Franconia Ridge Traverse, which gains about 3,850 feet in elevation in just a few miles, is one of the most popular higher summit loops in the White Mountains. Stay a few days at the Cannon Mountain RV Park for an authentic outback camping experience.

Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota

Sightseers are attracted to this rugged North Dakota park for a glimpse of awe-inspiring scenery made up of unusual land formations – called "Mako Shika" or "where the land breaks" by the Sioux – that were sculpted by wind, water and sand long ago. Most of the park is only accessible by foot or horseback, but with more than 47 miles of trails hikers and riders can accomplish plenty of exploration. Aside from electrical hookups for campers, all of the park's additional facilities are primitive.

Bogue Chitto State Park, Louisiana

Showcasing some of southern Louisiana's most remarkable landscapes, Bogue Chitto State Park is a perfect campground for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Accommodations for tents, cabins and RV camping are available and as home to streams, rivers, swamps, forests, and rolling hills, the 1,786-acre park offers opportunities for everything from kayaking to horseback riding, fresh water fishing and perfectly picturesque picnicking.

Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Hocking Hills State Park is treasured for its variety of recreational opportunities in superb natural scenery. The 2,356-acre park has towering cliffs, waterfalls and deep hemlock-shaded valleys to appeal to hikers and naturalists. Primitive camping and staying at cottages is available. Hiking is by far the most popular adventure, but archery and hunting rank very high as well.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Eldorado Canyon State Park, Colorado

Head to Eldorado Canyon for plenty of hiking and outdoor recreation in the famous Boulder area. Biking along the Rattlesnake Gulch​Trail offers a stunning three-mile ride. It is a steady uphill climb for 1.4 miles, gaining 800 feet in elevation. The park is a good place to see exotic wildlife – mule deer, elk, black bear, bobcat, red fox, coyote, and mountain lion inhabit the foothills in and around Eldorado Canyon. Over 80 species of migratory and resident birds have been recorded in the park, according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

Chugach State Park, Alaska

Chugach State Park has 495,000 acres of land and is one of the four largest state parks in the country. There are many recreational opportunities available to suit the most adventurous visitorshorseback riding, boating, off-road tours, hiking. Don't miss the Crow Pass trail to the Raven, one of the most scenic day hikes in the U.S. These 21 miles out and back are considered the best hike in all of the Chugach Mountains. Crow Pass follows a portion of the original Iditarod Trail, including its highest point, according to The first 4-5 miles are enough to get a true feeling of the spectacular scenery along the route – glaciers, waterfalls, wildflowers, wildlife, mine ruins, and berries.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

Nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of Texas," this huge red-rock canyon outside of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle has similar scenery to the actual Grand Canyon, if not quite at the same scale. (It's sometimes called the second-largest canyon in America.) Palo Duro State Park has approximately 30 miles of trails, the most iconic of which is the 6-mile round-trip Lighthouse Trail, taking hikers to the base of a 300-foot rock formation resembling a lighthouse.

Lime Kiln Point State Park, Washington

This 41-acre day-use park, with its rugged beauty and spectacular sea life, is a destination in its own right. Set on a rocky bluff at the west end of San Juan Island, Lime Kiln Point is considered one of the best whale-watching spots on earth, according to Washington State Parks. Visitors can see the action from a 1919-vintage lighthouse or from a nearby sea cliff. Other adventures include hiking, kayaking and diving. The park is easily accessed by car or by bike from Friday Harbor.

Cathedral Caverns State Park, Alabama

The Cathedral Caverns State Park was originally called Bat Cave. It was renamed because of its cathedral-like appearance. The huge Caverns – 126 feet wide and 25 feet high – are its massive entrance. Once you go in, you'll pass by some of the most gorgeous formations you may ever see, including "Goliath," which is one of the largest stalagmites in the world measuring 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference. Other popular sites are a "caveman" perched atop a flowstone wall and a "frozen" waterfall of stone. Go on a 90-minute cave tour or stay overnight at a campsite with primitive tent camping areas.

Bahia Honda State Park, Florida

Located in Bahia Honda Key, Florida, is this incredible state park. It is home to three camping areas, which provide campsites for both RV and tent campers. Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, boating, and tons of wildlife viewing. Vacation cabins are also available within the park, all of which are equipped with kitchen appliances, utensils and linens, while others have central heating and cooling, a full bath and a kitchen/dining room, according to Florida State Parks.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan

Located in Upper Michigan is the 60,000 acres of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. It is one of the few remaining large wilderness areas in the Midwest, according to "Towering virgin timber, secluded lakes, and miles of wild rivers and streams make a visit to the "Porkies" a trip to remember."

Hampton Beach State Park, New Hampshire

Go swimming, fishing and camping at Hampton Beach State Park. According to the NRDC, it has met the national water quality benchmarks 98 percent of the time over the past five years. Hampton Beach State Park has a "Carry-In/Carry-Out" program; rangers encourage everyone to keep the park clean by carrying out whatever they brought in.

Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Head to the gorgeous Blackwater Canyon. The trail has a total length of 10.2 miles, four parking lots, and lets you choose the distance you'll hike and the scenery you'll see. Depending on the section you choose, you may pass under the Big Run Archway—a landmark built by Italian stonemasons in the 1880s—or the 35-foot Douglas Falls.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Valley of Fire State Park is a must-see spot for any outdoor enthusiast visiting Vegas and there's arguably no better way to take it all in than from 150 feet up on the side of Lone Rock, while you're rappelling down. Those with experience and equipment can do it alone after notifying park officials, but guide services are also available.

Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania

Cherry Springs State Park is frequently visited by night sky enthusiasts; it is surprisingly one of the best places to view the Northern Lights in the world. The park is classified as a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park (the highest designation given by the International Dark-Sky Association, according to Travel + Leisure. Over the year, Northern Lights occurrences, usually in purple, red and dark pink hues, have been documented.

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

Fall Creek Falls State Park, the largest and most visited state park in Tennessee, offers visitors an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. The waterfall which the park is named after is one of the tallest in the eastern United States, standing at 256 feet. Hikers will enjoy more than 34 miles of trails. Other things to do there include exploring the interactive nature center and playing golf at the 18-hole golf course.

Indiana Dunes State Park, Indiana

These 15 miles of state park coast, set on the shores of Lake Michigan, are known for having some of the best lakefront beaches in the country. If the sun and sand aren't your thing, hiking and biking options are also available. A review on TripAdvisor says: "Sandy beaches, great hiking trails and a beautiful sunset over the city of Chicago. A wonderful place to enjoy nature."

Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, located in Castile, is known as one of the coolest places to ride a hot air balloon in the fall. The park is renowned as the "Grand Canyon of the East." It is one of the most scenic areas on the East Coast. Visitors will enjoy hiking on 66 miles of trails, seeing gorgeous waterfalls, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling.

Assateague State Park, Maryland

Located on Assateague Island is Maryland's only oceanfront park. Its two miles of ocean beaches offer swimming, beachcombing, sunbathing, surfing, and fishing. The bayside offers visitors the chance to explore secluded coves by canoe or kayak. The marsh areas have a variety of wildlife, including deer, waterfowl and feral horses, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Belle Isle Park, Michigan

Located in Detroit is this historical and beautiful park. It's Michigan's 102nd state park and arguably the best. Belle Isle Park is comprised of 987-acres. It features a maritime museum, nature zoo and conservatory. Visitors will enjoy admiring its three lakes and gorgeous views of the Detroit and Windsor skyline.