Seven States with the Best State Parks

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.

california big surCal­i­for­nia
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.

Letchworth State Park New YorkNew York
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.

oregon Smith Rock State ParkOre­gon
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.

Crawford Notch New HampshireNew Hamp­shire
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.

washington Palouse Falls State ParkWash­ing­ton
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.

michigan Porcupine Mountains State ParkMichi­gan
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.

alaska DenaliAlas­ka
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.