Reserve a Spot at These Stunning U.S. State Park Campgrounds Before It’s Too Late

These state park campsites rival the beauty of U.S. national parks.

Orange mountain ridge with a cloud in the background.

Like many other state parks, Kōkeʻe State Park has campground spots that can be reserved.

Photo by Kridsada Kamsombat/Shutterstock

If visiting all 63 U.S. national parks doesn’t seem like that much of a lifetime challenge, try visiting the nearly 10,000 state park units across the country. As the name implies, state parks are mainly protected by local and state governments, and they’re often less crowded than nearby national parks.

But that’s not to say camping at a state park is any less of an awe-inspiring experience. As these seven sites demonstrate, travelers can find whimsical rock formations, incredible stargazing, and even wild horses in these designated areas. So whether you’re planning a stop on your next road trip or a chance to get away from the crowds, consider spending the night at these incredible state parks.

Kōkeʻe State Park, Hawai’i

Kōkeʻe State Park in is a 4,345-acre example of the canyon, coastal, and forest beauty found in the island of Kauaʻi, Hawai’i. Located at an elevation of 3,500- to 4,000-feet above sea level, this park is like a different world, according to Chris Faye, director of the Kōkeʻe Natural History Museum. Faye tells AFAR one of the nicest things about Kōkeʻe is that enjoying its otherworldly beauty is up to preference: “You can spend the day there and do nothing but a picnic in the meadow at park headquarters to reset your mind and relax. You don’t have to do anything, or you can do a lot.” And if an action-packed itinerary is what you want: Head to the Kalalau or Pu’u O Kila lookouts for vistas of Kalalau Valley and the Nāpali Coast, or hike along the rim of Waimea Canyon.

There are nine camping sites available at Kōkeʻe State Park.

Two children on water off a beach shore

Harris Beach State Park is great for families and sunsets.

Photo by

Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

You can’t go wrong with Oregon’s almost 300 state parks. Cruising on the 101, you might start to feel one beckon to you every few minutes, but consider pulling over at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings for a night or two. Here, you’ll be within walking distance to scenic sea stacks by the seashore (say that five times fast) and dramatic waves characteristic of the West Coast. In the winter and spring, you can even spot whales as the gray whales migrate. Head three miles north, and you can hike part of the Oregon Coast Trail at the coastline-hugging Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.

There are 65 full-hookup sites, 59 tent sites, and six yurts available at Harris Beach State Park.

Tall trees spread out on a field on a misty morning

Highlands Hammonds State Park has nine nature trails for travelers to explore.

Photo by IrinaK/Shutterstock

Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida

Florida’s swampy wilderness is commonly associated with Everglades National Park, which draws 1 million visitors a year. But head into Highlands Hammock State Park, located about 150 miles north in Florida’s central region, and campers can find themselves in an experience that’s just as untamed. The state park drew about 160,000 visitors in 2022 and has the unique title of being home to more rare and endemic species than any other Florida state park. In the 9,000-acre park, campers can encounter species including the gopher tortoise and the Florida panther—only 120 to 230 adult Florida panthers are estimated to still exist in the wild. Grab your binoculars for a self-guided wildlife search, or opt for a tram tour and get access to public-restricted areas of the park.

There are 159 sites available at Highlands Hammock State Park.

Brown rock formations by a river

At 300,000 acres, Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest state park in Texas.

Photo by jesmo5/Shutterstock

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

While nearly 400,000 visitors hightail it to the Big Bend National Park annually, the adjacent state park averages fewer than 50,000, making Big Bend Ranch State Park a place to explore the same Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem without the crowds. There’s plenty to explore in this 311,000-acre park: River rafting and horseback riding are popular activities, but don’t miss the park’s incredible stargazing—it’s a designated Dark Sky Park.

Depending on where you camp, you can go off the grid at campsites like Guale 2. “Guale 2 has it all—millions of years of volcanic geology to study, views into Mexico, solitude that is deafening, and sunrises and sunsets that will change the way you think about color forever,” park volunteer Gary Nored wrote in his observation of the campsite. But if you’re not looking for something that requires a four-wheel drive, other campgrounds, including Fresno Vista and Grassy Banks, are easily accessible.

There are 138 sites available at Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Orange plateau of curving rocks surrounded by grassland

Marking the entrance to Goblin Valley State Park in Utah are a line of the park’s eponymous main draw: sandstone hoodoos, or “goblins.”

Photo by IrinaK/Shutterstock

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

More than 70 percent of Utah is public land, essentially making the state a playground for adventurers hoping to explore its red-rock landscapes. Though more than 10 million visitors hit its Mighty Five national parks annually, only about 500,000 visit Goblin Valley State Park, located about an hour’s drive northeast of Capitol Reef National Park. This underrated spot in Utah is known for its hoodoos—tall, top-heavy rock formations that resulted from millions of years of erosion. And the park’s status as an International Dark Sky Park means that those hoodoos frame some of the best starry skies in the country, giving more incentive to set up camp.

There are 25 sites available at Goblin Valley State Park, as well as two yurts.

Two horses grazing on grass

The horses at Assateague State Park are “feral,” meaning they are formerly domesticated animals that have reverted to a “wild” state.

Photo by Shutterstock/Mary Swift

Assateague State Park, Maryland

Aside from being Maryland’s only oceanfront park, Assateague State Park gives campers the special opportunity to sleep among wild horses. According to the National Parks Service, horses were first brought to the island in the 17th century by owners hoping to avoid taxes on the mainland. Today Assateague Island is split between Virginia in the south and Maryland in the north—there are about 80 to 100 on Maryland’s part of the island and about 150 on Virginia’s (where the horses are called Chincoteague ponies). Observing the horses is mesmerizing enough for a weekend, but try canoeing or kayaking to experience the park’s secluded coves and marshes. Assateague Outfitters, based in the Assateague National Seashore adjacent to the state park, offers two-and-a-half-hour kayak tours for those interested in learning about the island’s ecosystem.

There are 342 sites available at Assateague State Park.

A view gazing up at looming redwoods covering the sky with green foliage

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is a few miles inland from the ocean and contains many ancient trees.

Photo by Stephen Moehle / Shutterstock

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

The grounding experience of walking among trees that seemingly stretch into the heavens draws more than a million visitors to the Redwood National and State Parks in California. From Humboldt County to Big Sur, groves of Sequoia sempervirens are jointly managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service in a four-park area that comprises Redwood National Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods County Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The 10,000-acre Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is located on the northernmost stretch, about 10 miles from Crescent City. Spend the day here forest bathing, reeling in salmon from the Smith River (the state’s only undammed river system), and taking a well-deserved rest under the majesty of the 300-foot-tall giants.

There are 89 camping sites available at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, as well as four cabins.

Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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