Stunning state parks
America’s national parks are famous, but their natural beauty is often matched by the country’s underrated state parks. From mountain preserves to coastal oases, we reveal the 50 most beautiful state parks in the USA. Note that some parks have reduced amenities due to COVID-19 – always check for updates on individual spots and see state advisories before traveling.
Alabama: Gulf State Park, Baldwin County
Protecting a swathe of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, this is a park with sun, sea and oodles of sand. You’ll find more than three miles (5km) of champagne-colored beaches here, plus paved trails for hiking and biking. If you’re looking to overnight in the park, choose between pretty beachside cottages, rustic woodland cabins or a modern campground. There’s a dog park too, so you’ve no need to leave your four-legged family member at home. The pier is currently closed for renovations; check the website for updates.
Alaska: Chugach State Park, near Anchorage
Chugach State Park, located close to the city of Anchorage, rivals big-hitters like Denali National Park when it comes to natural beauty. It’s a huge site, sprawling across some 495,000 acres, and within its limits you’ll find vast glaciers, ice fields, lakes and mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for species such as moose, brown and black bears, and wolves.
Arizona: Red Rock State Park, near Sedona
The rust-red rocks of this state park rise up a stone’s throw from the city of Sedona. Beyond the bluffs, trails lace through the 286-acre preserve, along the wildlife-rich waters of Oak Creek and past native plants and wildflowers. While events including the daily guided nature walk are on hold for now, you can explore this spectacular landscape for yourself. Note that parking may be limited as the Blackhawks and Sentinel Crossing spots are currently closed.
Arkansas: Mount Magazine State Park, Logan County
Mount Magazine State Park is home to the highest point in Arkansas – the namesake Mount Magazine, which soars to 2,753 feet (839m). From such lofty heights, the views are breathtaking, looking out across dense thickets and weathered rock. Unsurprisingly, hang gliding is a popular activity here or, if you’d prefer to keep your feet on the ground, more than 14 miles (23km) of trails criss-cross the park. The Lodge at Mount Magazine will add a little touch of luxury to your state-park adventure – it’s currently open for reservations Monday through Friday.
California: Emerald Bay State Park, Lake Tahoe
The Golden State has beautiful parks aplenty, from stark stretches of desert to windswept coastal boltholes – but there’s something special about Emerald Bay. The eye-popping blue waters, fringed by forest, are interrupted only by Fannette Island, a little islet that houses the ruins of a historic tea house. Campgrounds and visitor centers are currently closed and only limited parking is available, so it’s best to visit at off-peak times if possible. Discover more of America’s most beautiful lakes here.
Colorado: Eleven Mile State Park, Park County
An adventurer’s paradise year-round, this state park is named for the Eleven Mile Reservoir, a calm body of water popular with boaters and fishermen. Elk, bears and diverse birdlife all make their home in the park, whose dark skies also draw in budding astronomers. In winter, the mountains lining the reservoir wear a crown of snow and the water becomes a scenic ice rink. There are more than 300 campsites here too, so you’ll have no trouble pitching up (the showers and laundry room are closed for the foreseeable future, and there’s currently a fire ban so come prepared; check the website for updates).
Connecticut: Devil’s Hopyard State Park, East Haddam
Chapman Falls, a cascade that plunges more than 60 feet (18m), is the principal draw of this New England park. Its name is thought to stem from the potholes around the falls. While they were formed by the movement of water, early settlers thought they could be the work of the devil. The trails reveal quaint covered bridges, strange rock formations, abundant birdlife and, of course, the dramatic falls themselves.
Delaware: Cape Henlopen State Park, Sussex County
If it’s a coastal adventure you’re after, this Delaware park delivers. The pristine beaches are backed by dunes and lapped by the Atlantic Ocean, drawing sunbathers and water-sports enthusiasts, as well as wildlife lovers searching for horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. The park is also home to Fort Miles, a coastal defence built in the 1940s, and the Walking Dunes Trail is a favorite route through the park.
Florida: Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys
This idyllic state park is the Florida Keys at its very best. With crescents of palm tree-peppered sand and ample opportunity for snorkeling, kayaking, swimming and more, this site is every bit the beach-lover’s paradise. The historic Bahia Honda State Bridge, jutting into an ocean of blue, loves the camera too. It’s currently open for day use, but Sandspur beach and campground remain closed for now. Other campground and cabin facilities are available.
Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park, Rabun and Habersham counties
Tallulah Gorge State Park is one of the USA’s finest fall destinations beyond New England – come the golden season, the 1,000-foot (305m) gorge is ablaze with ocher, russet and crimson. The park has plenty to offer the rest of the year too, with its suspension bridge granting views of the rushing river from a height of 80 feet (24m). Currently only 10 hikers are allowed on the stairs to the suspension bridge at any one time and access to the park may be limited further on particularly busy days.
Hawaii: Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Kauai Island
An otherworldly stretch of Hawaiian shoreline, Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is known for its ridged, color-striped cliffs, lapped by wind and waves. It’s cut through by the challenging Kalalau Trail, which stretches out for 11 miles (18km) and sweeps across five valleys. The park is currently open for day use and overnight camping but restrictions are in place. Take a look at more places you won’t believe are in the USA.
Idaho: Farragut State Park, Kootenai County
A beautiful lake and a rich history make Farragut State Park one of Idaho’s greatest wonders. It spans around 4,000 acres and its scenery is almost alpine, with the Coeur d’Alene Mountains and Lake Pend Oreille its greatest assets. This site was also a Second World War naval training center and the Museum At The Brig chronicles the park’s history.
Illinois: Starved Rock State Park, LaSalle County
Starved Rock State Park is an area of incredible natural beauty, worlds away from the skyscrapers of the Windy City which lies less than two hours to the site’s northeast. Eighteen dramatic canyons fill this park, with waterfalls rushing over the rocks and thoughtfully placed viewing platforms dotted throughout. Some facilities including the visitor center and certain trails are currently closed; check the website for updates.
Indiana: Chain O’Lakes State Park, Noble County
Iowa: Backbone State Park, Delaware County
Iowa’s oldest and best-known state park, leafy Backbone is pretty easy on the eye. It’s dominated by Backbone Lake and the Maquoketa River, while its vast forested areas, at their best in fall, make for a relaxing hike. The park is also home to one of the highest points in this part of the state: the “Devil’s Backbone”, accessible via a rocky set of stairs.
Kansas: Lake Scott State Park, Scott County
You’ll find canyons, natural springs and a bounty of birdlife tucked away in this state park in western Kansas. It’s also an area rich in indigenous history, with archaeological sites including the remains of a pueblo, which is protected as a National Historic Landmark. Beyond the history, the park is a great spot for birding and horseback riding, with lots of trails and even a horse camp area. Now take a look at America’s most important National Monuments.
Kentucky: Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Powell & Wolfe counties
Nicknamed “Kentucky’s Land of the Arches”, this park in the state’s northeast is known for its stunning rock formations. Its centerpiece is the aptly named “Natural Bridge”, a striking sandstone arch rising some 65 feet (20m) out of the lush woodland. Ten hiking trails also loop through the preserve, which is a haven for birdlife from woodland warblers to the belted kingfisher.
Louisiana: Chicot State Park, near Ville Platte
Named for Lake Chicot, Louisiana’s largest state park is also its most breathtaking, with green waters dotted with cypress trees and boardwalk trails slicing through the landscape. The park’s 6,400 acres spread out in south-central Louisiana and include the Louisiana State Arboretum, home to native plants and beech-magnolia trees.
Maine: Baxter State Park, Piscataquis County
Considered one of the finest spots for wildlife viewing in New England, this park is located towards the north of Maine, in Piscataquis County, and its leafy expanse is home to species including black bears and bull moose. During fall, the park truly comes to life. Breeding season means it’s a great time to spot moose and all wildlife exists against a backdrop of fiery orange and yellow.
Maryland: Assateague State Park, Worcester County
Protecting a portion of Assateague Island, this oceanfront state park is home to the feral horses that have made the isle famous. The powdery white beaches are beautiful in their own right, but the presence of these elegant creatures makes them all the more breathtaking. Take a hike through the marsh areas, keeping your eyes peeled for the resident wildlife.
Massachusetts: Nickerson State Park, Brewster
A tranquil spot on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, Nickerson State Park protects 1,900 photogenic acres. The expanse is dominated by oak and pine forests, and covered with a sizeable network of trails that reveal the park’s prettiest pockets. In winter, you can also pull on some cross-country skis and discover a snowy wonderland.
Michigan: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties
This park on the shores of Lake Superior encompasses some 60,000 acres of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Waterfalls and woodland characterize the wilderness, which protects species such as wolves, bears and the peregrine falcon. Arguably the most beautiful spot in the whole park is the Lake of the Clouds. This blue body of water is framed by thick forest and can be viewed along the Big Carp River Trail.
Minnesota: Itasca State Park, near Park Rapids
Established in 1891, Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park and the 32,000-acre expanse has natural beauty in spades. The park is home to the headwaters of the great Mississippi River (known as the “Father of Waters”) and scrambling across the rocks at the river’s beginning is a popular pastime here. Beyond this, there are more than 100 lakes, plus peaceful red and white pine forests. Explore by canoe or bike in summer, or rent a snowmobile or some snowshoes come winter.
Mississippi: Roosevelt State Park, near Morton
Not to be confused with Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Roosevelt is a wildlife-filled preserve in central Mississippi, not far from Jackson. The park is centered on forest-fringed Shadow Lake, and coy deer and birdlife skitter around its many nature trails. Find more of America’s most stunning natural wonders here.
Missouri: Elephant Rocks State Park, Iron County
This park gets its name from the mammoth granite boulders that exist within its limits. Thought to have been formed billions of years ago, the massive hunks of rock dwarf human visitors and look their most dramatic when framed against a setting sun. A trail threads its way through the rocky landmarks and visitors can also spot carvings left behind by miners who once had an operation in the area.
Montana: Medicine Rocks State Park, Carter County
Medicine Rocks State Park is characterized by bizarrely weathered sandstone bluffs. The rock formations, often likened to Swiss cheese, are peppered with holes, and a young Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed with the natural landmarks that he said this was “as fantastically beautiful a place” as he had ever seen. The site was also important for indigenous tribes, who considered the rocks sacred and sought medicinal plants in their wake. Today the park is most popular with hikers and photographers.
Nebraska: Fort Robinson State Park, near Crawford
History and nature combine at this state park in northwestern Nebraska. Made up of 22,000 acres of grasslands, the wilderness is rimmed by craggy peaks, laced with trails and inhabited by longhorn sheep and buffalo. It’s also home to Fort Robinson, a former US army base used during the Sioux Wars of the 19th century. The site is known as the place where famed Sioux warrior Crazy Horse was killed too.
Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park, near Overton
The whirling red rocks of this state park could almost be mistaken for Mars. A top way to take in the fiery landscape is with the Rainbow Vista hike, a route of less than one mile that soaks in some of the park’s most striking vistas. The incredible Fire Wave, a jaw-dropping striped rock (pictured), is also reached by a 1.5-mile (2.4km) round-trip hike. The site is only open for day use at present. Take a look at Earth’s most colorful natural wonders here.
New Hampshire: Franconia Notch State Park, White Mountains
This wooded paradise is located in the depths of the White Mountain National Forest and is named for Franconia Notch, a mountain pass that exists high in the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges. The 4,080-foot (1,244m) peak of Cannon Mountain watches over the park, which is also home to Flume Gorge, a stunning natural ravine whose walls reach up to 90 feet (27m).
New Jersey: High Point State Park, Sussex County
Spectacular views are the major drawcard of this state park in the north of New Jersey. It takes its name from High Point Monument, an imposing structure standing 1,803 feet (550m) above sea level that looks over bucolic areas of New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania (the interior is currently closed). The park also boasts plenty of serene hiking trails and the beautiful spring-fed Lake Marcia. Now discover 99 things we love about America.
New Mexico: City of Rocks State Park, Grant County
As its name suggests, this park in the southwest of New Mexico is best-known for its head-turning rock formations. It’s a relatively small park at only one square mile (2.5sqkm), but it still packs a punch when it comes to natural beauty. The park’s striking rocky pinnacles are thought to have been formed by volcanic activity around 34.9 million years ago. There’s also a desert botanical garden protecting cacti and yucca here. The visitor center, camping and overnight use are closed; check the website for updates.
New York: Letchworth State Park, Livingston and Wyoming counties
This beautiful New York state park is often tipped as the “Grand Canyon of the East”. Letchworth’s tree-topped gorge is as high as 600 feet (183m) in certain spots, with the Genesee River rushing through it. The river itself is punctured by waterfalls, the most impressive of which is Middle Falls, with its 107-foot (33m) drop. The park’s 66 miles (106km) of hiking trails reveal epic views too. Parking capacity has been reduced here to help ease congestion and reduce visitor numbers, so try to visit at quieter times if possible.
North Carolina: Hanging Rock State Park, Stokes County
It’s not hard to see how Hanging Rock State Park got its name. The park, in the state’s northern reaches, is home to plenty of rocky outcrops. These include the namesake Hanging Rock, a precarious-looking precipice reached via the 1.3 mile (2km) Hanging Rock Trail. Unsurprisingly, the park’s landscape makes it popular with rock climbers. Beyond the dramatic rock formations and epic views, there are also a handful of pretty waterfalls and a 12-acre lake.
North Dakota: Lake Metigoshe State Park, near Bottineau
In northern North Dakota, right on the border with Canada, lies Lake Metigoshe State Park, a little-known natural preserve in the Turtle Mountains. The park is situated on Lake Metigoshe and its picture-perfect location makes it a year-round destination. In summer, adventurous visitors may take to the water on canoes or kayaks, while in winter the park is the domain of cross-country skiers weaving between snow-dusted trees. Take a look at these jaw-dropping images of America from above.
Ohio: Hocking Hills State Park, Hocking County
Waterfalls and wildflowers are the main draw of Hocking Hills State Park in southeastern Ohio. The park is a hiker’s paradise with surprises including Whispering Cave, a vast cavern with a 105-foot (32m) high waterfall, and the 40-foot (12m) drop of Cedar Falls. Trails, cabins and campgrounds are all currently open.
Oklahoma: Lake Thunderbird State Park, Cleveland County
Everything revolves around the water at Lake Thunderbird State Park, which is located around 30 miles (48km) southeast of Oklahoma City. The park takes its name from Lake Thunderbird, with its pair of marinas and popular swimming beaches. Hiking, biking and horse-riding trails meander along the wooded water’s edge too.
Oregon: Ecola State Park, Clatsop County
Appearing almost like an oil painting, this is the view from one of Ecola State Park’s many scenic overlooks, taking in Cannon Beach and Haystack Rock. The park takes up nine miles (14km) of the Oregon coast and there are plenty more stunning vistas like this one. Aside from the beaches themselves, there’s also the Sitka spruce forest and the brooding Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, perched on a weather-beaten islet out at sea. These are America’s most scenic coastal drives.
Pennsylvania: Ricketts Glen State Park, near Benton
This park in northeastern Pennsylvania is home to one of the most scenic hiking trails in the state. The Falls Trail passes a whopping 21 waterfalls – the highest of all is Ganoga Falls, which crashes down for 94 feet (29m) – while routes also loop through centuries-old forestland and wildlife-rich wetlands. Discover more of America’s most beautiful waterfalls.
Rhode Island: Beavertail State Park, Jamestown
Encompassing a beautiful area of New England’s shoreline, Beavertail State Park is situated at the southern tip of Jamestown. It’s best-known for its landmark lighthouse and fascinating geology, and you can take to one of the windswept coastal trails for a quiet stroll. Parking capacity is currently reduced here to manage visitor numbers, so make sure you visit outside of peak hours. Now discover the most charming county, parish or borough in every state.
South Carolina: Hunting Island State Park, near Beaufort
The unspoiled beauty of this barrier island state park means it’s the most popular in the state of South Carolina. The park’s 130-foot (40m) lighthouse – offering views out to the Atlantic Ocean – is currently open and taking reservations for climbing. Visitors also come to explore miles of forest-backed beaches, to wander along nature trails and to pass afternoons boating or birding.
South Dakota: Custer State Park, Black Hills
A 1,000-plus-strong herd of buffalo roams this rugged state park in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The preserve stretches for some 71,000 acres encompassing sprawling plains, twisting rock formations, vast lakes and bounteous wildlife. To see the park in all its glory, follow one of the scenic driving routes: the 18-mile (29km) Wildlife Loop Road is a must for animal lovers, while the 14-mile (23km) Needles Highway route is best for jaw-dropping mountain views. Make sure to call ahead and check for any road closures.
Tennessee: Fall Creek Falls State Park, Van Buren and Bledsoe counties
One of the USA’s most impressive waterfalls exists within the limits of this state park. The park, in the Cumberland Plateau close to the town of Spencer, is named after Fall Creek Falls, a 256-foot (78m) cascade and the highest in eastern USA. The rest of the 26,000-acre park is made up of more roaring falls, gorges and forestland. You can rent a cabin or pitch a tent to overnight in the wilderness. Check out the world’s most beautiful waterfalls here.
Texas: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, nr. Amarillo
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, located in the Texas Panhandle, is home to the second-largest canyon in the United States (trumped only by the famed Grand Canyon in Arizona). Its rugged red scarps are dotted with shrubs and, when it comes to sunsets, Palo Duro rivals its better-known western counterpart. You can horse ride, bike or hike the park’s 30 miles (48km) of trails.
Utah: Snow Canyon State Park, Washington County
Rivalling Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks, Snow Canyon State Park is situated in the southwest of the state and wows visitors with its burnt-orange sandstone bluffs. Hiking amid the red rocks is the best way to discover the park and top trails include the Johnson Canyon Trail, a seasonal route that culminates with an impressive natural arch. The park’s sand dunes are also popular with big and little kids alike. Look at these images of incredible canyons around the world.
Vermont: Ricker Pond State Park, Groton
Ricker Pond, a 92-acre man-made lake popular with boaters and fishermen, is the focal point of this park in the Groton State Forest. The site is picturesque year-round, with the glassy lake reflecting lush greenery throughout the summer and a forest of gold in the fall. Vermont parks are currently open for day use only.
Virginia: Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County
The scenery of this mountainous park is often compared to that of the Alps. The park is situated close to the Virginia’s loftiest peaks: Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain. It’s a paradise filled with mountain-fringed meadows, woodland and waterways and, best of all, it’s home to wild ponies who graze on the park’s grasses. Grayson Highlands is also well-primed for outdoor adventurers with 13 hiking trails and opportunities for bouldering, biking and canoeing.
Washington: Cape Disappointment State Park, near Ilwaco
Don’t let the name of this Washington park on the Long Beach Peninsula put you off. The park was given its name in reference to navigator and fur trader John Meares’ failure to discover the Columbia River during his 18th-century voyage. Modern visitors are not likely to be disappointed. Cape Disappointment impresses with its dramatic cliffs, lakes, age-old forests and beaches. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is a grand sight too.
West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park, Tucker County
Despite its name, Blackwater Falls, a five-story cascade within this park, is known for its peculiar orange hue, created by the needles of hemlock and red-spruce trees. The unique waterfall is the park’s most popular feature, but Elakala Falls, with its photogenic swirling pool, is equally as beautiful. Hiking is the park’s top activity, with the Pendleton Point Overlook rewarding walkers with stomach-flipping views over the Blackwater Canyon.
Wisconsin: Devil’s Lake State Park, Sauk County
The brilliantly blue Devil’s Lake is the main attraction of this park in southern Wisconsin. If you’ve got a head for heights, you can look down on the lake from imposing quartzite crags that rise up to 500 feet (152m) – or, if you’re after a more laid-back adventure, wander on one of the park’s sandy crescents instead. The 1,000-mile-plus (1,609km) Ice Age Trail, a route known for its fascinating natural history, also beats its way through the park. Camping reservations are required.
Wyoming: Curt Gowdy State Park, Albany and Laramie counties
This pleasingly rugged state park sits around 24 miles (39km) west of the city of Cheyenne, in southeastern Wyoming. The site is particularly celebrated for its excellent biking trails, which range from relaxed routes perfect for beginners to heart-pumping paths with plenty of twists and climbs. For hikers, there’s the promise of hidden waterfalls and a trio of picturesque reservoirs along 35 miles’ (56km) worth of trails. Now find out the best weekend road trip in every state.
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