While our national parks always get the most attention, spread throughout the country is a system of state parks well worth exploring. From vast expanses of the forest to seaside gems, some of the best recreations can be found in state parks, and they can also sometimes be overlooked when deciding on a vacation. While all U.S. states have state park units waiting to be explored, a few have a real top-shelf selection, and to get your expedition focused on the right spot, these seven states and corresponding state parks won’t disappoint when it comes to adventure.
Home to some of the most iconic National Parks in the nation (ie., Joshua Tree, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, and Yosemite), California is also a treasure trove of fantastic state parks worth exploring. Stretching up and down the coast and throughout the Sierras, visitors to California State Parks can watch whales swim, soak in hot springs, admire the redwoods and explore ghost towns, all with the defining feature of an incredible landscape. While the list is long, some not-well-kept secrets of the California State Park system include Pfeiffer Big Sur, Big Basin Redwoods and Bodie State Historical Park.
While initial thoughts of New York might conjure up images of the Big Apple, not far from the city and encompassing the entire state, New York has over 100 state parks waiting to be explored. Ranging from the beaches at Wildwood State Park on Long Island to the rushing water of Niagara Falls State Park and nearby notable Letchworth State Park, the state of New York contains much more than just the city to explore. Visitors to the various New York State Parks enjoy hiking, biking and use of the waterways that define them, plus some of the best fall foliage you’ll find in the country each autumn.
It should come as no surprise that Oregon has a stacked state park system, and between scenic bikeways, trails, and coastal views, the Oregon State Parks & Rec provides more than 190 destinations to explore. Choosing the right state park in Oregon depends on your adventure appetite. If you’re looking for a coastal experience worthy of a postcard, Ecola State Park delivers on the seaside trails. For vertical action and some of the best rock climbing in the nation, Smith Rock State Park astounds with every visit, and for a retreat into a unique environment, the Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park provides plenty of sand dunes to climb and admire.
Filled with rugged outcroppings, scenic lakes, and enough fall foliage to inspire a lifetime of painting, the state of New Hampshire provides endless adventure opportunities. From the popular Monadnock State Park and Monadnock Mountain in the southern part of the state to the quintessential New Hampshire scenery found at Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch State Park in the White Mountain National Forest up north, New Hampshire exhibits its own special kind of beauty throughout the year. Whether you’re a cross-country skier, photographer, hiker or general outdoor admirer, New Hampshire sets a beautiful scene.
While a lifetime could be spent exploring the three different national parks in Washington (Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades), an additional lifetime or two could be spent just in the state park system. Ranging from waterfalls to alpine lakes, and including the coast and the Puget Sound, plus the high desert action on the eastern side of the state, Washington state parks hit every angle of adventure there’s in the book. A few of the many popular state parks in Washington include Deception Pass State Park, Lake Wenatchee State Park, and Palouse Falls State Park.
Consisting of four distinct regions plus the entirety of the adventure-endowed Upper Peninsula, Michigan has over 100 state parks and forests to explore, each offering their own unique appeal. For a chance to glance the Northern Lights, popular state parks in the Upper Peninsula include Straits State Park and the Porcupine Wilderness State Park. For other all-around adventure including mountain biking, sand dune exploring, kayaking and overnight camping, all throughout the mitten of Michigan, including places like Mackinac Island State Park and Warren Dunes State Park, you’ll find something new to do from dawn to dusk.
Alongside many National Park System units, a mere four state parks don’t seem significant for a stacked state park system, but the size of Alaska’s state parks account for a large chunk of the total state park acreage in the entire country. All of Alaska’s state parks are located in the southern region of the state, and combined account for nearly three million acres of potential adventure. From Denali National Park’s little brother, Denali State Park, to the accessible only by boat or seaplane Kachemak Bay State Park, and including the massive 1.6‑million acre Wood-Tikchik State Park, which accounts for 15 percent of the country’s state park land, there’s a lot to explore in Alaska.