9 Unique State Parks to Add to Your Bucket List

9 Unique State Parks to Add to Your Bucket List

America's national parks are designated as such for a reason. They protect and preserve some of our most unique, spectacular, and rare natural features, landmarks, wildlife, and more. 

That doesn't necessarily make other areas any less spectacular, though. In fact, we'd argue that many unique state parks are just as (or even more!) epic than some national parks.  

Each of these unique state parks packs a tremendous punch  and you likely won't have to deal with crazy traffic or compete with tour buses full of visitors. 

9 Unique State Parks

1. Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer has long been regarded as one of the most underrated places in the country. When you think about it, that fits right in with South Dakota as a whole!

As you might expect, wildlife — namely bison — are stars of the show here. In fact, one of the best things to do in Custer State Park is take a buffalo safari Jeep tour!

Beyond its wildlife, Custer is famous for the incredibly scenic Needles Highway and 7,242-foot-tall Black Elk Peak, the tallest peak east of the Rockies!

Bison grazing in a grass field in Custer State Park, one of the most underrated state parks in the U.S.

2. Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia

Home to the 1,000-foot-deep, two-mile-long Tallulah Gorge, this unique state park is nothing short of jaw-dropping. 

Visitors can easily access numerous overlooks along the upper rim trail, or obtain permits to hike to the gorge floor. The namesake Tallulah Falls flow through the gorge, as well as Hurricane Falls, one of the park's most popular hikes.

Don't miss walking across the suspension bridge or stopping by the interpretive center, which is much more like a proper museum!

An aerial view of Tallulah Gorge State Park, one of the most unique state parks in America, during the fall

3. Chugach State Park, Alaska

Just 20 minutes from Anchorage, you'll find Chugach, one of the largest state parks in the U.S. (495,000 acres, if you're wondering). 

The park offers every type of outdoor recreation imaginable, from hiking and biking to fishing and snowmobiling. Chugach is also home to spectacular wildlife including moose, brown and black bears, and Dall sheep. 

True, it's not the remote Alaskan wilderness shown in countless documentaries — but that's largely the point. Chugach is almost shockingly accessible but still breathtaking, which is why it's one of the most unique state parks. 

A pond with a mountain reflection and the snow-capped mountain in the distance at Chugach State Park in Alaska

4. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

There are only a handful of places on Earth where you can see Redwoods, the planet's tallest and largest trees. Humboldt Redwoods happens to be one of them. 

If this unique state park's name seems familiar, it may be because you've heard of its Avenue of the Giants. This spectacular 31-mile stretch of Highway 101 has three trees so large you can actually drive through them!

In addition to the scenic drive, you can hike, bike, ride horseback, and camp.

A huge cut Redwood tree along Avenue of the Giants in one of the most unique state parks, Humboldt Redwoods

5. Baxter State Park, Maine

On the opposite coast, Baxter State Park is home to Maine's highest peak, 5,269-foot Mount Katahdin.

That alone makes it a unique state park, but Baxter has other unusual characteristics, too. It's been intentionally undeveloped, so there are no services in the park whatsoever (there are, thankfully, pit toilets). Likely because of that, wildlife including moose and bear are prolific here.

Fun fact: In 1931, former Governor Percival P. Baxter donated Baxter State Park on the condition it always remain "forever wild." In other words, it's always FREE!

A still lake and Mount Katahdin in the background at Baxter State Park in Maine

6. Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas

Crater of Diamonds is one of only a few places in the entire world where the public can mine for diamonds. That definitely earns it the title of one of the most unique state parks!

An hour from Hot Springs, Crater of Diamonds has a large field visitors can search. The park even offers tools for rent, though you're welcome to bring your own. 

Beyond diamonds, you may find amethyst, jasper, agate, quartz, garnet, and other gems. Best of all, you get to keep what you find! Camping is also available onsite.

A structure and people mining at Crater of Diamonds, one of the most unique state parks
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

7. Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida

Sandy beaches and palm trees probably come to mind when you think of Florida. While there are plenty of those, the Sunshine State also has a totally different side: natural, impossibly clear lazy rivers and springs. 

A fantastic example is Ichetucknee Springs, one of the most unique state parks anywhere. Year-round, you can paddle the river, snorkel (certified Cavern Divers, don't miss diving at Blue Hole!), and hike. 

During the summer, tubing is the main event. If you don't have your own tube, rentals are available onsite.

Kayakers in the crystal clear water at Ichetucknee Springs State Park

8. Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park's geothermal features are world-famous, but they're not the only ones in Wyoming. 

On the contrary, there's an entire state park dedicated to them. Located in the appropriately-named city of Thermopolis, Hot Springs State Park is home to — of course — numerous hot springs, plus the state's bison herd and a swinging bridge.

To enjoy the hot springs, visitors can choose from three soaking pools. Head out to the Wyoming State Bath House for a FREE 20-minute soak indoors or out!

Mineral hot springs and the grassy shore in Hot Springs State Park

9. Letchworth State Park, New York

When you hear "Grand Canyon of the East," what comes to mind? Probably not New York, right? 

Yet, this scenic slice of heaven is just 45 minutes south of Rochester and one hour from Buffalo. Home to a 550-foot-tall gorge the Genesee River runs through, the park offers year-round recreation. 

During the summer, go hiking, cycling, whitewater rafting, swimming, or horseback riding. All three waterfalls are also typically flowing in summer. In the winter, enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even snowmobiling. 

 

A bridge over waterfalls and fall color at Letchworth, one of the more unique state parks in America

 

Wow, the U.S. has some incredibly unique state parks! Have you been to any on this list? 

As you plan your trip (or reminisce on one you've taken!), don't overlook getting a special souvenir or two. Travel Tokens from The Wander Club are perfect, with options including states, landmarks, and more. There are even customizable tokens!