See America One State Park at a Time

No, not national parks. We’re touring 50 great state parks, from sea to shining sea.


For the Love of State Parks

National Parks get all the love—and for good reason. But the 10,234 state parks in this country also have rugged good looks and outdoor adventure in spades—and they’re often less crowded. That’s what we’re all about these days, right? So we talked amongst ourselves. We talked to a handful of outdoor experts. And we pulled together a mix of totally off-the-grid parks, green spaces within a quick drive of major urban cities, and dozens that are perfect for a late-season fall getaway. So whether you’re looking to zoom-school on the road or dreaming about 2021, here’s a slightly biased, but always impassioned, guide to 50 of our favorite state parks. —AFAR editors


Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Photo by Mark Higgins/Shutterstock

From Washington to New Mexico, 13 Great Parks in the West

There are so many reasons to go park-hunting out West. Under-the-radar rock formations in Utah. Moss-draped rain forest in Washington. Soft sand dunes, not along the coast, but deep in Idaho—perfect for late-season exploring. Read on to learn more about the best state parks in the western states of California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Hawaii, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona, and New Mexico. And then book a campsite—or maybe a yurt! or a cabin!—whether for a late-fall getaway or as a reason to dream about spring 2021.

Kachemak Bay State Park

Catalina State Park

Montaña de Oro State Park

State Forest State Park

Kōkeʻe State Park

Bruneau Dunes State Park

Makoshika State Park

Cathedral Gorge State Park

New Mexico
Cerrillos Hills State Park

Sitka Sedge State Natural Area

Goblin Valley State Park

Bogachiel State Park

Hot Springs State Park

>> Explore the list


Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Photo by Seth Passfield/Shutterstock

From North Dakota to Ohio, 12 Great Parks in the Midwest

The states between the East and West Coasts have long been dubbed “flyover country”—places many only see by air and don’t bother to explore on the ground. But ask anyone familiar with the Midwest, and most will tell you that this designation has its pros: It means fewer people in some of the country’s most scenic state parks. Comprising 12 states—Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, and Missouri—the region has old-growth forests, million-year-old sandstone gorges, ambling bison, and an abundance of water in the form of rivers, waterfalls, and lakes galore.

Starved Rock State Park

Turkey Run State Park

Backbone State Park

Mushroom Rock State Park

Mackinac Island State Park

Grand Portage State Park

Elephant Rocks State Park

Platte River State Park

North Dakota
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Hocking Hills State Park

South Dakota
Custer State Park

Devil’s Lake State Park

>> Explore the list


Chicot State Park, Louisiana

Chicot State Park, Louisiana

Photo by Jay L/Shutterstock

From Texas to Florida, 14 Great Parks in the South

The parks here may be bundled beneath one geographic designation—the South—but they couldn’t be more different from one another, encompassing some of the most mind-boggling features of this country. Just try to compare the bayou-like waterways of Louisiana’s Chicot State Park with the otherworldly desert landscapes of Big Bend Ranch in Texas, or the dark lava rock moonscape of Oklahoma’s Black Mesa with the waterfall splendor that is Tennessee’s Fall Creek Falls. The best way to understand them, of course, is to visit. So consider this list of the best parks in the South—Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Texas—your starting line.

Gulf State Park

Lake Ouachita State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Red Top Mountain State Park

Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park

Chicot State Park

Tishomingo State Park

North Carolina
Hanging Rock State Park

Black Mesa State Park

South Carolina
Paris Mountain State Park

TennesseeFall Creek Falls State Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Natural Bridge State Park

West Virginia
Babcock State Park

>> Explore the list


Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Watkins Glen State Park, New York

Photo by Kenneth Keifer/Shutterstock

From Maryland to Maine, 11 Great Parks in the Northeast

Wild waterfalls. Wilder horses. The Grand Canyon of the East Coast—sorta. All that and more can be found in the state parks that span the 11 states of the Northeast, which includes New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. A majority of them are less than two hours from a big city, which means a weekend getaway is not only feasible but also recommended. So what are you waiting for?

Harkness Memorial State Park

Cape Henlopen State Park

Camden Hills State Park

Assateague State Park

Nickerson State Park

New Hampshire
Franconia Notch State Park

New Jersey
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park

New York
Watkins Glen State Park

Leonard Harrison State Park

Rhode Island
Brenton Point State Park

Smugglers’ Notch State Park

>> Explore the list

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