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


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.

AlaskaKachemak Bay State Park

ArizonaCatalina State Park

CaliforniaMontaña de Oro State Park

ColoradoState Forest State Park

HawaiiKōkeʻe State Park

IdahoBruneau Dunes State Park

MontanaMakoshika State Park

NevadaCathedral Gorge State Park

New MexicoCerrillos Hills State Park

OregonSitka Sedge State Natural Area

UtahGoblin Valley State Park

WashingtonBogachiel State Park

WyomingHot Springs State Park

>> Explore the list


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.

IllinoisStarved Rock State Park

IndianaTurkey Run State Park

Iowa Backbone State Park

KansasMushroom Rock State Park

MichiganMackinac Island State Park

MinnesotaGrand Portage State Park

MissouriElephant Rocks State Park

NebraskaPlatte River State Park

North DakotaFort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Ohio Hocking Hills State Park

South DakotaCuster State Park

WisconsinDevil’s Lake State Park

>> Explore the list


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

ArkansasLake Ouachita State Park

FloridaJohn Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

GeorgiaRed Top Mountain State Park

KentuckyDale Hollow Lake State Resort Park

Louisiana Chicot State Park

MississippiTishomingo State Park

North CarolinaHanging Rock State Park

OklahomaBlack Mesa State Park

South CarolinaParis Mountain State Park

TennesseeFall Creek Falls State Park

TexasBig Bend Ranch State Park

VirginiaNatural Bridge State Park

West VirginiaBabcock State Park

>> Explore the list


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?

ConnecticutHarkness Memorial State Park

DelawareCape Henlopen State Park

MaineCamden Hills State Park

MarylandAssateague State Park

MassachusettsNickerson State Park

New HampshireFranconia Notch State Park

New JerseyBarnegat Lighthouse State Park

New YorkWatkins Glen State Park

PennsylvaniaLeonard Harrison State Park

Rhode IslandBrenton Point State Park

VermontSmugglers’ Notch State Park

>> Explore the list