Best State Park by State
It's the national parks that too often receive the most love from travelers. And that's unfortunate because the country is filled with state parks that are just as beautiful, if not more so!
We wanted to spread the love and give state parks their due. These are the places that hikers, mountain bikers, campers, explorers and all-around outdoor-seekers can find peace, tranquility and breathtaking views — all away from maddening crowds, which is a big plus these days.
Which state parks are the best? Read on to see what we named as the top one in every state.
Alabama: Gulf State Park
Some may call Gulf Shores, Alabama, the Redneck Riviera, but that might only be half right. The beaches that occupy its Gulf State Park are pristine white, fine as sugar and soft as silk — better than the rocky beaches of the French Riviera if we do say so ourselves.
Gulf State Park has 2 miles of beach, kayaking, golf, biking trails and a 496-site campground in which to while away your days.
Runner-up: DeSoto State Park
Alaska: Chugach State Park
Spanning nearly 500,000 acres, Chugach is one of the largest state parks in the United States. Worthy of national park status, you'll find the Iditarod National Historic Trail and more than 60 glaciers in this park that includes the Alaska Range, Chugach Mountains, Wrangell Mountains and Prince William Sound.
It's also easily accessed from Anchorage, which may be why its Flattop Mountain hike is the heaviest hiked mountain in the state.
Runner-up: Kachemak State Park
Arizona: Lost Dutchman State Park
Arizona's fabulous landscape doesn't fail to impress at any of its state or national parks, but the favorite can be found just outside Phoenix.
Lost Dutchman is located in the Superstition Mountains and has all of the components of an Arizona landscape: red rock formations, a desert filled with cacti and hiking trails you'll want to get lost in.
Runner-up: Kartchner Caverns State Park
Arkansas: Devil's Den State Park
Located in the Ozark Valley is Lake Devil, which happened to be created by a dam. Surrounding the lake is this state park, which was established in the 1930s as part of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps.
This beautiful addition to the parks system provides more than 20 miles of horseback riding trails as well as miles upon miles of mountain biking and hiking trails through forests, around caves and past waterfalls.
Runner-up: Petit Jean State Park
California: Big Basin Redwoods State Park
The huge state of California has so many state parks (and national ones, too!) that it's difficult to choose just one best. This is a matter of preference as you could enjoy beaches, mountains, forests, deserts and more.
But when you think of California, it's the redwood forests that are its unique gift. Walking beneath trees so ancient and so tall is a humbling experience that should not be missed.
Runner-up: Salt Point State Park
Colorado: Eldorado Canyon State Park
Colorado is also a state known for having spectacular outdoor parks and spaces to enjoy. Just outside of Denver and Boulder is this state park that gives you a chance to scramble.
Find cliffs standing 700 feet and rock-climbing treks on more than 500 routes — even beginner rock climbers can find this park exciting. (But you could just hike, bike or take a horse along the trails, too.)
Runner-up: State Forest State Park
Connecticut: Dinosaur State Park
Did you know Connecticut is home to dinosaur remains? Find them in Rocky Hill, where you can follow right along the fossilized dinosaur tracks that were uncovered in this New England state.
This is a great park for kids, with its geodesic dome and arboretum housing exhibits that provide an educational component to the park visit.
Runner-up: Gillette Castle State Park
Delaware: Cape Henlopen State Park
Nestled between two of Delaware's popular beach towns is this oceanfront park that lacks the crowds. Find sandy dunes with wide-open beaches and trails through the low-land shrubs that are home to nearly 300 types of birds.
If you look to the water, however, you may spot dolphins just offshore. The park's Seaside Nature Center also houses manta rays and crabs you can touch.
Runner-up: Trap Pond State Park
Florida: Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Florida may be renowned for its beaches — it's a peninsula state, after all — but don't miss the swamps and springs that make up its interior.
In Central Florida, not too far from Disney World, this state park welcomes you to canoe or kayak in the springs and rivers beneath lush green trees. You can even tube along the river for a lazy ride without the paddling.
Runner-up: Fort De Soto Park
Georgia: Amicalola Falls State Park
The North Georgia mountains, where the Appalachian Trail begins, are filled with gorges, waterfalls and hiking trails.
One of the best is Amicalola Falls, the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi River at 700 feet. If you hike to the top, you'll get the views that look upon South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
Runner-up: Tallulah Gorge State Park
Hawaii: Waimea Canyon State Park
Nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Kauai's Waimea Canyon is so legendary it is used as movie backdrops. (Perhaps, you ecognize it as the island from "Jurassic Park?")
At 14 miles in length with depths over 3,600 feet, the park is filled with waterfalls and canyon colors of red, green and brown. There is plenty of hiking through the rainforests of this park, but you can also find the views visible from overlooks on Waimea Canyon Road.
Runner-up: Na Pali Coast State Park
Idaho: Bruneau Dunes State Park
Have you ever tried surfing in the sand? Well, you can do that in Idaho's state park that boasts the tallest free-standing sand dune at 400 feet.
You don't have to surf to enjoy this unique park, though. Its landscape changes colors with the sun and makes for excellent Insta-worthy photo-ops.
Runner-up: Farragut State Park
Illinois: Starved Rock State Park
It's unanimous: In a state known for its flat farmland, Starved Rock State Park is a beloved oddity of canyons, cliffs and waterfalls.
Of the 18 canyons found in this park outside of Chicago, 14 have waterfalls. You'll find them following 13 miles of trails in a place that will make you forget you're in Illinois.
Runner-up: Matthiessen State Park
Indiana: Brown County State Park
Nicknamed the "Little Smokies" for its 16,000 acres of tree-covered hills and ridges, Brown County is the largest park in Indiana. Of course, this is the place to be when fall transforms the park into a colorful landscape.
This park provides campsites and cabins as well as a park lodge that even has an indoor waterpark to entertain when not exploring the wilderness' spoils.
Runner-up: Indiana Dunes State Park
Iowa: Backbone State Park
Dating back to 1920, Backbone is the oldest state park in Iowa, which makes it the "backbone" of outdoor fun. Actually, the name comes from a rocky ridge known as "Devil's Backbone."
Located in Dundee, the park features more than 2,000 acres in which to play, with activities such as swimming, canoeing, biking, climbing and hiking. Fishermen also enjoy Backbone for its trout-stocked streams (April through October).
Runner-up: Maquoketa Caves State Park
Kansas: Lake Scott State Park
If you thought Kansas was flatlands, you may be surprised by the 1,000-plus acres found at Lake Scott State Park. Native Americans called this canyon land home for centuries, and there are more than two-dozen archeological sites found here. Visit El Cuartelejo National Historic Landmark to explore the ruins of an ancient pueblo.
The spring-fed lake — 100 acres in size — is good for boating or swimming, too.
Runner-up: Mushroom Rock State Park
Kentucky: Cumberland Falls State Park
Waterfalls continue to be a lure for outdoor lovers, and you'll find this 68-foot version in the midst of Daniel Boone National Forest.
Nicknamed the "Niagara of the South," Cumberland Falls is actually just one of only two places in the world that creates moonbows by the light of a full moon.
Runner-up: National Bridge State Resort Park
Louisiana: Chicot State Park
Louisiana's bayous are famous, and you'll find them in the 6,400 acres that make up Chicot State Park, encircling a lake of the same name. If you are brave enough, try the 20-mile hike around the entire park.
You could learn a thing or two during your visit when you visit the park's Louisiana State Arboretum. Like the park, the arboretum's big at 600 acres.
Runner-up: Fontainebleau State Park
Maine: Baxter State Park
Did we say big? Well, you'll certainly find Baxter a winner with nearly 210,000 acres to explore. Maine is the endpoint of the Appalachian Trail, which runs through this park filled with hiking trails (over 220!) under dense forests and passing numerous waterfalls.
Up for a climb? Try conquering Mount Katahdin, which is the tallest peak in Maine.
Runner-up: Popham Beach State Park
Maryland: Assateague State Park
Located on a barrier island, people make their way to Assateague to see the famous wild horses that live here. (But don't get near them! Not only are they wild, but they are protected.)
You can camp here as you enjoy the 2-mile beach and kayak through the marshes that make up this quiet retreat.
Runner-up: Swallow Falls State Park
Massachusetts: Bash Bish Falls State Park
Visit Massachusetts' highest single-drop waterfall, which falls 200 feet to end where a rock splits the falls into two 60-foot falls at Bash Bish Falls State Park. Found in the southwestern part of the state, the park is located in the Taconic Mountains.
It's just a short 2.1-mile hike to reach the falls' end, but you can explore the forested land that includes many gorges.
Runner-up: Boston Harbor Islands State Park
Michigan: Porcupine Mountains State Park
There are 60,000 acres to enjoy in the U.P. park. (That's Upper Peninsula for newbies.) As the largest park in Michigan, there are 90 miles of trails to hike through the forests, along creeks and across the Lake Superior shoreline.
Porcupine Mountain transforms into a ski resort in the winter, with a 641-foot drop and groomed skiing, boarding and snowshoeing trails.
Runner-up: Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Minnesota: Itasca State Park
Not far from Porcupine is neighboring Minnesota's 32,000-acre state park, Itasca. The oldest park in the Land of 10,000 Lakes also has more than 100 lakes within its boundaries.
Even cooler? This is where the Mississippi River begins, and there is an educational center to learn more about America's greatest river as well as a monument to it.
Runner-up: Gooseberry Falls State Park
Mississippi: Tishomingo State Park
At the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Tishomingo's past as home to Paleo Indians can be discovered. Archaeological excavations have found evidence of man from 7000 B.C.!
Hike the park's 13 miles of forest trails or drive the Natchez Trace Parkway for a scenic view without the exertion.
Runner-up: Paul B. Johnson State Park
Missouri: Ha Ha Tonka State Park
More than an unusual name, Ha Ha Tonka is a park filled with unusual sites. Within this state park in the Ozarks are caves, sinkholes, natural bridges and other geological wonders.
There is also a 19th-century stone castle (well, the remains of one) to explore before taking a dip in the Lake of the Ozarks.
Runner-up: Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park
Montana: Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park
When explorers Lewis and Clark found the caverns below the ground of Montana, little did they know just how big the caves were. Explorers are still pushing deeper each year!
Tours are available to show you the depths, including one cave that requires you to crawl on your hands and knees to get deep within the underground.
Runner-up: Makoshika State Park
Nebraska: Fort Robinson State Park
The legendary Chief Crazy Horse surrendered to the White Man here in the late 1870s, following an extended battle between the Sioux protecting their land and the expansion of the United States. The fort also held other prisoners here during World War II, where it served as a POW camp.
You can learn the history of the fort and sample life in the olden days with stagecoach rides and chuckwagon dinners.
Runner-up: Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park
You will be hard-pressed to find a state park with scenery as dramatic as what you will see in the Valley of Fire. Red rock formations here stretch across 40,000 acres.
The oldest state park in Nevada, some of its rock formations date back to when dinosaurs walked the earth, with petrified trees and 2,000-year-old petroglyphs also on the scene.
Runner-up: Lake Tahoe State Park
New Hampshire: Franconia Notch State Park
It's a no-brainer as to which park is the best in New Hampshire. The locals will direct you to the White Mountain National Forest, where Franconia Notch awaits. This was where the symbol of the state, the Old Man of the Mountain, once resided. (The mountain rock that looked like a man's profile succumbed to erosion not too long ago.)
While here, enjoy Flume Gorge, aerial trams, the heights of Cannon Mountain and Echo Lake. And, as an ode to the popular winter pastime in the White Mountains, you'll also find the New England Ski Museum.
Runner-up: Hampton Beach State Park
New Jersey: Liberty Park State Park
Quite possibly the most-overlooked park in the New York City area, Liberty Park State Park in Jersey City actually provides the best views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Its location along the Hudson River gives you unobstructed views with rarely any crowds.
The land once was used by trains, but now more than 1,000 acres are preserved with walkways, lookouts and a 9/11 memorial.
Runner-up: Island Beach State Park
New Mexico: City of Rocks State Park
When a volcano erupted here 34 million years ago, it spewed rocks and boulders far across the land. Found within the Chihuahuan Desert, the rock formations make for great climbing treks.
If you stay into the night, the desert sky is unobstructed by light pollution and gives you clear views to the dark sky filled with stars — a stargazer's heaven.
Runner-up: Elephant Butte Lake State Park
New York: Letchworth State Park
As the "Grand Canyon of the East," the more than 14,000 acres of wilderness that make up Letchworth State Park is bisected by the Genesee River. This powerful river runs through a gorge and offers three different waterfalls — all without the crowds of the other popular Niagara Falls State Park found in New York.
The upper, middle and lower falls descend 550 feet in what isn't just the best state park in New York, but what is considered one of the best in the country.
Runner-up: Niagara Falls State Park
North Carolina: Chimney Rock State Park
The 315-foot monolith of granite may have given this Asheville, North Carolina, park its name, but the true reason to visit is its 404-foot waterfall. (Of course!)
Still, a climb to the top of the "chimney" does afford some pretty fantastic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Runner-up: Jockey's Ridge State Park
North Dakota: Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
The oldest state park in North Dakota was the home of a fort paying homage to the former president. During your visit you can tour the fortress remains as well as the former Mandan Indian village that was also found here.
Within this park is also General George Custer's last home. He was based here before his "last stand" with the Sioux, and many claim the house is haunted with his spirit.
Runner-up: Little Missouri State Park
Ohio: Hocking Hills State Park
When the tectonic plates moved millions of years ago and created the Appalachian Mountains, it left behind a series of caves and rock formations that can be enjoyed in Hocking Hills State Park. In fact, the park has seven areas with different looks.
You can enter the Rock House, Old Man's Cave, Whispering Cave, Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Conkle's Hollow or Cedar Falls, with — you guessed it — more stunning waterfalls to take in during your journey.
Runner-up: Punderson State Park and Lodge
Oklahoma: Lake Murray State Park
When you live in the Plains, a lake is definitely a site to be enjoyed. In Oklahoma, the 12,500-acre Lake Murray gives residents and visitors a place to play on the water, from boating to swimming and fishing to paddle boarding.
This state park features camping sites for tents and RVs and provides cabins and a lodge in which to stay while you visit.
Runner-up: Lake Thunderbird State Park
Oregon: Silver Falls State Park
Back to the beauty of falling water in Oregon, where the 177-foot Silver Falls drops within a state park with the same name. You can even walk behind this waterfall on your explorations.
There are 35 miles of trails with canyons, ravines and nine more waterfalls (all over 100 feet).
Runner-up: Ecola State Park
Pennsylvania: Ricketts Glen State Park
Once again, a waterfall-filled park is at the top of the list for the big state of Pennsylvania. Located in the northeastern part of the state, the park features 24 different-named waterfalls (and some without names) and a 7-mile Falls Trail Loop that gives you a chance to see most of them. Of the falls, the tallest is 94 feet!
The park is more than 13,000 acres in size with 26 miles of trails through an old-growth forest dating back more than 300 years.
Runner-up: Presque Isle State Park
Rhode Island: Colt State Park
The Ocean State has wonderful ocean views from many of its southern vantage points but none better than Colt State Park. Situated right along Narragansett Bay — where sailboats are seen by the dozens — the park is manicured and nestled right into Bristol, home of the country's oldest Independence Day parade.
You can even connect to the East Bay Bike Path, which begins at the park. This smooth and flat path will take you all the way to Providence — 14 miles.
Runner-up: Lincoln Woods State Park
South Carolina: Jones Gap State Park
Oh look, it's another waterfall! Jones Gap State Park is filled with them! Nearly 4,000 acres in size, the park is situated where the Middle Saluda River begins at the top of northwest South Carolina. The river was the first in the state to be designated a scenic river.
Renowned for its wildflowers, of which there are 600 different kinds you can find as you explore, Jones Gap rests along the Eastern Continental Divide.
Runner-up: Hunting Island State Park
South Dakota: Custer State Park
Looking for a home where the buffalo roam? You'll find it in Custer State Park within South Dakota's Black Hills. Herds of the American bison can be found across this 71,000-acre park, mainly made up of grassy plains.
An 18-mile Wildlife Loop encircles the park, and you can follow along Needles Highway, where the bison may even approach (and be bigger than) your car. The Black Hills Playhouse is located within the park and puts on shows in the summer that are both entertaining and educational.
Runner-up: Palisades State Park
Tennessee: Fall Creek Falls State Park
Not to be outdone by the other states blowing people away with waterfalls, Tennessee's Fall Creek Falls aims to please. It's the state's largest and most popular due to the 256-foot waterfall, not to mention five others.
The park spans 26,000 acres of the Eastern Cumberland Plateau. Created and conserved in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, we have FDR to thank for giving us the great hiking trails in this state park.
Runner-up: Cumberland Mountain State Park
Texas: Palo Duro Canyon State Park
And here we find another Grand Canyon, this time the "Grand Canyon of Texas." The 120-mile-long and 20-mile-wide Palo Duro Canyon may not be as large as the one in Arizona, but it is the second biggest in the country, without half the crowds.
You'll find 30 miles of trails in this 1,500-acre park, be it for hiking, biking or horseback riding. Plus, there is ample camping and RV space, and even an amphitheater for entertainment while you visit.
Runner-up: Big Bend Ranch State Park
Utah: Dead Horse Point State Park
The name may not be enticing, but this expansive area of canyons, buttes and mesas were once a maze where riders could get lost and never found. Now it's a place you want to be lost, so you can find how the colorful red rocks change color with the sun's movement and how clear the dark sky is at night.
The park is located near Moab and its more famous national parks, Arches and Canyonlands. And if you are worried about getting too lost, take the Dead Horse Scenic Byway to take in the views from its many scenic overlooks, including one that bears the same name. (The best of them, of course!)
Runner-up: Goblin Valley State Park
Vermont: Smugglers Notch State Park
Vermont's Green Mountains certainly are green, and they seem to go on forever when standing atop Sterling Mountain. The land earned its name from traders between Canada and the U.S. continuing to do business by crossing through the narrow gap of northern Vermont. Today, you'll feel like the one being sneaky because views like these are too good to be true.
In the winter, the mountains are covered in white along with hordes of skiers who head for these hills as well as neighboring Stowe.
Runner-up: Emerald Lake State Park
Virginia: Grayson Highlands State Park
The green mountain views are pretty spectacular from Grayson Highlands State Park, too. This stretch of Appalachian Mountains is a hiker's dream, especially when taking in the views from Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain.
But even more special is this park is home to a herd of wild horses. You may spot them along your walks — just steer clear because they are protected.
Runner-up: Natural Bridge State Park
Washington: Deception Pass State Park
One of the prettiest spots along the Pacific Northwest Trail is Deception Pass. Here, you can take in the views of Puget Sound and enjoy both land and water activities in this park in the San Juan Islands that was created in the 1930s.
There are nearly 4,000 acres that make up this northern tip of Whidbey Island, crossing the Sound to Fidalgo Island. To get across, you'll have to take the towering bridge of the same name that has dared risk takers to take flying leaps on bungees.
Runner-up: Cape Disappointment State Park
West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park
Old black water keeps on rolling across these falls of West Virginia. There are a number of different waterfalls in this park with a collection of boardwalks to pass above them, which means this is one popular spot in the state.
The falls aren't the only draw: Head to Lindy Point on foot, and you'll get rewarded with views of Blackwater Canyon.
Runner-up: Canaan Valley
Wisconsin: Devil's Lake State Park
When glaciers ran across the northern states, some left behind clear lakes made from the icy water. One such lake is Devil's Lake, which is surrounded by bluffs and makes up the 360-acre state park.
Of course, like most parks, trees are everywhere to keep your hike, bike ride or horseback ride shaded, but you can keep cool in the lake, where swimming and boating are allowed.
Runner-up: Willow River State Park
Wyoming: Hot Springs State Park
You might have guessed how Hot Springs State Park got its name: It is made up of hot springs — the largest in the world, in fact. There are 8,000 gallons of water flowing over terraces where the Big Horn River flows, and although it smells like sulfur, the 104-degree waters are soothing for all who take a dip.
A Bath House is available for those ready to get wet, but the grounds of this park also feature bison roaming freely. Oh, yes, and you're just minutes from Yellowstone!
Runner-up: Sinks Canyon State Park