From the Editors

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

West

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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.

Alaska
Kachemak Bay State Park

Arizona
Catalina State Park

California
Montaña de Oro State Park

Colorado
State Forest State Park

Hawaii
Kōkeʻe State Park

Idaho
Bruneau Dunes State Park 

Montana
Makoshika State Park

Nevada
Cathedral Gorge State Park

New Mexico
Cerrillos Hills State Park

Oregon
Sitka Sedge State Natural Area

Utah
Goblin Valley State Park

Washington
Bogachiel State Park

Wyoming
Hot Springs State Park


>> Explore the list 

Midwest

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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.

Illinois
Starved Rock State Park

Indiana
Turkey Run State Park

Iowa 
Backbone State Park

Kansas
Mushroom Rock State Park

Michigan
Mackinac Island State Park

Minnesota
Grand Portage State Park

Missouri
Elephant Rocks State Park

Nebraska
Platte River State Park

North Dakota
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Ohio 
Hocking Hills State Park

South Dakota
Custer State Park

Wisconsin
Devil’s Lake State Park

>> Explore the list

South

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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.

Alabama
Gulf State Park

Arkansas
Lake Ouachita State Park

Florida
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Georgia
Red Top Mountain State Park

Kentucky
Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park

Louisiana 
Chicot State Park

Mississippi
Tishomingo State Park

North Carolina
Hanging Rock State Park

Oklahoma
Black Mesa State Park

South Carolina
Paris Mountain State Park

Tennessee
Fall Creek Falls State Park

Texas
Big Bend Ranch State Park

Virginia
Natural Bridge State Park

West Virginia
Babcock State Park

>> Explore the list

Northeast

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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?  

Connecticut
Harkness Memorial State Park

Delaware
Cape Henlopen State Park

Maine
Camden Hills State Park

Maryland
Assateague State Park

Massachusetts
Nickerson State Park

New Hampshire
Franconia Notch State Park

New Jersey
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park

New York
Watkins Glen State Park

Pennsylvania
Leonard Harrison State Park

Rhode Island
Brenton Point State Park

Vermont
Smugglers’ Notch State Park

>> Explore the list