The 50 Coolest U.S. State Parks in Every State

The Napali Coastline in Hawaii, with a yellow rectangle in front of it and the words

We all know that America's national parks are incredible. They're home to jaw-dropping natural landmarks, endless adventure, and unique wildlife. 

National parks have become so popular, however, that many have started requiring reservations just to enter. Being that there are just 63 of them, it's no surprise they quickly get crowded.

Fortunately, we have a wonderful alternative: U.S. state parks. With over 10,000 across the country, it's easy to find one nearby that has many of the same features as famous national parks — without the crowds. 

A Wanderchain and several Travel Tokens on a wooden surface, all great ways to document visits to U.S. state parks

Best U.S. State Parks in Every State

From beaches to mountains, historic sites and still-largely-undiscovered destinations, here are some of the coolest U.S. state parks in every state. 

Alabama - Gulf State Park

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach top just about every imaginable list of "Best Beaches in Alabama," and for good reason. This state park, directly on the Gulf of Mexico, boasts world-renowned fishing and beaches seemingly made of powdered sugar.

Alaska - Denali State Park

No, that's not a typo — this little-known U.S. state park is adjacent to (and often overshadowed by) Denali National Park. Because it's so big, the views of 20,310-foot Denali are actually even better in the state park, just a bit further away. 

Arizona - Slide Rock State Park

There's no shortage of incredible state parks or adventure in Arizona, but Slide Rock stands out. The 80-foot natural slide and surrounding swimming holes are not only fun and beautiful, but they're also convenient to Sedona, Flagstaff, Phoenix, and the Grand Canyon.

Water flowing through the natural water slide at Slide Rock State Park, one of the best state parks in every state

Arkansas - Devil's Den State Park

Tucked into Ozark National Forest, Devil's Den has four-season recreation opportunities for every interest. Hike, bike, camp, fish, and explore the waterfalls, caves, and small lake. It's also one of the best-preserved Civilian Conservation Corps sites in the country!

California - Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Most people are familiar with the Redwoods waaaay up in northern California. You can also see the enormous, majestic trees just outside of San Jose, though, at this state park in Santa Cruz County. Big Basin is also California's oldest state park!

Colorado - Cheyenne Mountain State Park

In a state that's essentially one giant natural playground, it's difficult to choose the best state park. However, Cheyenne Mountain wins because it was established to protect the important space near iconic Pikes Peak from development. Nearby, visit quirky Manitou Springs and the renowned Royal Gorge

Connecticut - Kent Falls State Park

This U.S. state park in the incredibly scenic Litchfield region has all the ingredients necessary for an adventurous getaway, New England-style: waterfalls, gorgeous foliage come autumn, and even a historic covered bridge. 

Delaware - Cape Henlopen State Park

Delaware was the first official state established in the country, so it makes perfect sense that it's home to some of the first swaths of land designated for public use. Enjoy pristine beaches, unforgettable sunsets, and a historic lighthouse. 

Florida - Ichetucknee Springs State Park

There are several places throughout the Sunshine State you can paddle and swim alongside manatees, but few are as well-protected and tranquil as Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Tube or kayak down the river from Memorial Day through Labor Day or if you're a certified diver, check out the renowned Blue Hole. 

Georgia - Tallulah Gorge State Park

With the spectacular eponymously-named 1,000-foot-deep gorge at its center, Tallulah Gorge State Park is one of the best U.S. state parks. Cross the suspension bridge or get a permit to hike to the gorge floor and if at all possible, visit in the fall

Tallulah Gorge with fall colors, one of the best state parks in the US

Hawaii - Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, Kauai

On Kauai's northwestern coast, the landscape here is so beautiful it almost seems otherworldly. Dramatic and rugged lush green sea cliffs cover the coastline, begging to be explored. The only way to do so, though, is via helicopter, boat, or the grueling 11-mile Kalalau Trail. 

Idaho - Thousand Springs State Park

Nestled in the very appropriately-named Magic Valley in south-central Idaho, Thousand Springs comprises six separate units, each with unique offerings. Enjoy a bit of history, hike in a box canyon, and chase waterfalls, all in the same park. 

Illinois - Starved Rock State Park

This beautiful state park will completely turn everything you thought you knew about Illinois, upside down. Less than two hours from Chicago, Starved Rock features dramatic bluffs and canyons (yes, canyons), many with waterfalls. 

Indiana - Brown County State Park

Nicknamed the "Little Smokies," Indiana's biggest state park really does resemble the famous national park in Tennessee. Explore 16,000 acres of wilderness, including epic mountain biking trails and a fire tower hike with 360-degree views.

Iowa - Pike's Peak State Park

This U.S. state park gets its name from the very same "Pike" (Zebulon) who pioneered much of Colorado. This slice of paradise proves Iowa isn't quite as flat as most of us think, with dramatic bluffs and waterfalls. The impressive Effigy Mounds National Monument is also nearby. 

Kansas - Kanopolis State Park

Defy the stereotypes about Kansas at this lovely state park, where you can explore the soaring Dakota sandstone bluffs and caves in popular Horsethief Canyon. This is a true outdoorsman's paradise, with over 30 multi-use trails and excellent fishing and hunting. 

Kentucky - Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Nestled in the spectacular outdoor lovers' paradise known as Red River Gorge Geologic Area, Natural Bridge State Resort Park features the namesake behemoth rock formation. It spans over 75 feet long and towers 65 feet high. 

The giant natural arch at Natural Bridge Resort State Park in Kentucky, one of the best U.S. state parks

Louisiana - Chemin-A-Haut State Park

Louisiana has countless waterways and plenty of state parks centered around them. Only one, however, has a cypress tree so large you can actually kayak right through its base! After checking out the Castle Tree, you can fish, hike, and camp. 

Maine - Baxter State Park

Widely considered one of the most pristine swaths of land in the Lower 48, Baxter State Park is bucket list-worthy. It's one of the best places to spot wildlife like moose, and is also home to 5,629-foot Mount Katahdin, the state's highest peak and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. 

Maryland - Assateague State Park

Situated on Assateague Island, the big draw here is the large population of native wild horses. There's also interesting marshland, wispy sand dunes, and pristine beaches with sugarfine sand, making it one of the best U.S. state parks. 

Massachusetts - Walden Pond State Park

Renowned author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau once lived at Walden Pond, and it's widely believed that environmental conservation started right here. Ponder the meaning of life as you hike, enjoy the beach, or paddle around the pond. 

Michigan - Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

The Mitten State's iconic shorelines are stunning, don't get us wrong. But most people don't realize that Michigan actually has proper mountains, too. This U.S. state park, way up north in the U.P., is one of the finest examples, with waterfalls, rivers, hiking, and biking in one of the country's least-known places. 

Minnesota - Tettegouche State Park

On the rugged northern shore of Lake Superior, this U.S. state park feature sea caves, volcanic cliffs, beaches, and even year-round camping, for those willing to brave winter in northern Minnesota. 

Mississippi - Tishomingo State Park

Did you know that the Appalachian Mountains actually dip all the way down into Mississippi? At this state park, tucked into their base, you can explore unique rock formations, caves, and the famed Natchez Trace Parkway. 

A swinging bridge at Tishomingo State Park, one of the best state parks in the US

Missouri - Ha Ha Tonka State Park

The remnants of a 1905-era stone castle sit on a bluff, overlooking Lake of the Ozarks at this unique state park. Wander around and explore hiking trails, the impressive natural stone bridge, or the impossibly blue Ha Ha Tonka spring (no swimming though!). 

Montana - Makoshika State Park

In a state renowned for its epic mountains and alpine waterways, Makoshika is a unique standout. Montana's largest and most rugged state park features badlands to explore and campsites, and has been the home of major paleontology discoveries, including t-rex and triceratops fossils. 

Nebraska - Fort Robinson State Park

When you truly want to "unplug," there are few better places in the country than this state park. Simply slow down and enjoy the western scenery, complete with roaming bison and historic military barracks. 

Nevada - Valley of Fire State Park

Not even an hour from the shimmering lights of Las Vegas, aptly-named Valley of Fire is one of the best U.S. state parks. Don't miss Fire Wave, one of the park's most iconic features, which can be reached via a 1.5-mile hike. 

New Hampshire - Franconia Notch State Park

Set in the infamous White Mountains, Franconia Notch is a veritable haven for nature enthusiasts. Hike through the narrow canyons of Flume Gorge, ride the aerial tram and ski at Cannon Mountain, bike, rock climb...do it all!

New Jersey - Island Beach State Park

This is not the Jersey Shore you've heard so much about. Tranquil, wide-open, and most importantly, uncrowded, beach awaits you here, far from any fist-pumping or nightclubs, yet within a two-hour drive of New York City. 

New Mexico - Bottomless Lakes State Park

Fittingly located near quirky Roswell, this U.S. state park is home to a series of sinkholes that look to be bottomless. While they're not technically lakes, you can still explore them via non-motorized boats or by swimming or even scuba diving!

New York - Watkins Glen State Park

Nestled into the renowned Finger Lakes region, Watkins Glen is an outdoor lover's paradise. Don't miss the Gorge Trail, which takes you past a whopping 19 waterfalls and up 800-plus steps in just under two miles. 

Waterfalls and a swimming hole at Watkins Glen, one of the best US state parks in every state

North Carolina - Chimney Rock State Park

Just outside of Asheville, this state park highlights the best of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Hike up the ancient 315-foot tall namesake mountain, topped with an American flag, for incredible views. Nearby, climbing and waterfall-chasing opportunities abound. 

North Dakota - Little Missouri State Park

This ultra-rugged U.S. state park features spectacular badlands and some of the darkest skies in the Lower 48. Most of the park is accessible only via hiking or horseback trails, so bring your sense of adventure!

Ohio - Hocking Hills State Park

The Buckeye State is full of some seriously impressive hidden gems, and this state park is one of the best. Hocking Hills is full of caves, beautiful waterfalls, and forested hiking trails, and even has rental cabins. 

Oklahoma - Salt Plains State Park

There's truly no place in the U.S. quite like this literal hidden gem on the Oklahoma/Kansas border. Explore the vast salt-covered plains, play in the salt lake, and dig for selenite crystals between April and October (keep what you find!). 

Oregon - Silver Falls State Park

Home to dozens of waterfalls and excellent campsites, this Oregon state park is well away from the busy coast and Columbia River Gorge. Hike the Trail of Ten Falls to pass by (you guessed it) a whopping 10 waterfalls. 

Pennsylvania - Cherry Springs State Park

While Pennsylvania has several beautiful parks and many historical landmarks, this state park is truly unique. Designated an official International Dark Sky Park, the exceptionally dark, clear skies are the "star" of the show here (pun very much intended!). There are even campsites specifically intended for stargazing. 

Rhode Island - Lincoln Woods State Park

Easily accessible from Providence, this picturesque state park is home to Olney Lake. Popular in every season, you can fish, paddle, or swim in the lake, plus go ice-skating on it in the winter. Nearby trails offer countless miles of hiking, biking, snowmobiling, and horseback riding. 

South Carolina - Hunting Island State Park

This secluded barrier island 15 miles from Beaufort offers up the best of South Carolina's Lowcountry: picture-perfect marshland and beaches, recreation opportunities including fishing and camping, and a historic lighthouse. Hunting Island is so lush and scenic, much of Forrest Gump was actually filmed here!

A dock on the water at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina, one of the best US state parksSouth Dakota - Custer State Park

This enormous state park could easily pass for a national park, with its size, postcard-worthy natural landmarks, the incredible Needles Highway, and the herd of 1,000-plus resident bison. Mount Rushmore is nearby, too!

Tennessee - Fall Creek Falls State Park

There's a reason Fall Creek Falls tops just about every "best state parks" list — it's spectacular. The main attraction, of course, is 256-foot Fall Creek Falls, but there are several others in the park, as well as hiking, paddling, and camping. 

Texas - Palo Duro Canyon State Park

A quick and easy detour off of Route 66, this surprising Texas state park is home to the second-largest canyon in America (behind, of course, the Grand Canyon). Hike, bike, or camp, and definitely catch a sunrise or sunset. 

Utah - Dead Horse Point State Park

Just outside Moab near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dead Horse Point gives Arizona's iconic Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend a serious run for their money. Don't miss renting a yurt overnight!

Vermont - Quechee Gorge State Park

Vermont's "Little Grand Canyon" features a one-mile long gorge on the Ottauquechee River. Several viewpoints give you a birds' eye view, but the best one is the visitor center itself, perched on a wooden platform above the gorge. 

Virginia - Natural Tunnel State Park

Once dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World, the namesake feature at this U.S. state park is 10 stories high and over 850 feet long! Book a cave tour or ride the chair lift all the way to the bottom. 

Washington - Cape Disappointment State Park

Don't let its ominous name fool you — Cape Disappointment is anything but! Waves crash dramatically onto the single lighthouse, and you can also explore hiking trails in old-growth forest, a Civil War-era fort, and rugged beaches. 

The lighthouse and bluff at Cape Disappointment State Park, one of the best state parks in every state

West Virginia - Blackwater Falls State Park

Named for the amber-tinted waters that cascade 57 feet, Blackwater Falls is one of the most photographed sites on the eastern seaboard. The falls are accessible year-round, and there are several other falls to view and over 20 miles of hiking trails. 

Wisconsin - Devil's Lake State Park

Wisconsin's Devil's Lake is one of the best U.S. state parks, with something for literally everyone. Hike, mountain bike, camp, paddle and fish the freshwater lake, and enjoy the beach. Don't miss exploring the sacred effigy mounds, also.

Wyoming - Hot Springs State Park

As an alternative to busy national parks like Yellowstone and crowded hot springs destinations, head to Wyoming's Hot Springs State Park, located in approximately the middle of nowhere. Enjoy the largest natural mineral hot spring in the world plus several others, as well as hiking, fishing, and boating. 

 

2 comments

Chimney Rock is 2,280 feet above sea level, the last “315” is on a granite monolith. I would not want anyone reading this article to think we have 315 ft. tall “mountains” here in NC. 90 Minutes away is Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Rockies at 6,684′.

NC has several “best” in the state, state parks. If you like the beach, try Hammocks Beach SP. The aforementioned Chimney Rock SP, Pilot Mountain SP, Hanging Rock SP, Stone Mountain, New River, Grandfather Mountain (Which BTW, has an awesome festival in early July) are all top notch state parks.

Wayne Miracle July 17, 2022

Great to see that Palo Duro Canyon is listed. Be sure to come during the summer when the play TEXAS is being performed in the bottom of the Canyon. Be do beware of the heat. It might be in the 90’s at the top of the canyon or in Amarillo or Canyon, but in the bottom of the Canyon, you need to add 10 to 20 degrees. Take lots of water and enjoy the 2nd biggest canyon in the US. Beautiful.

Debbie McDougal July 17, 2022

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