10 Unforgettable State Parks to See in 2021

Don't Just Go to the National Parks

Image Caption: Denali State Park sits next to the National Park, but it's just as gorgeous. (Image from Getty)

Ask a friend to name a National Park and chances are you’ll hear The Grand Canyon, The Great Smoky Mountains, and, of course, Yellowstone. All are National Parks; all are great tourist destinations that have been photographed, documented, and written about over and over and over. But, with great recognition and notoriety also comes great, big crowds, packed campgrounds, and a little bit less of that whole “getting away from it all” experience.

However, what most people do not know is that for the 62 National Parks in the country, hundreds more state parks exist—with just as much to see and do, often minus the long lines and big crowds. Check out this list of some of the best state parks in the country and discover everything you’re looking for in an outdoor getaway this year.

10. Denali State Park – Alaska

The Last Frontier State is known for its rugged geography and a seemingly endless supply of wilderness. Denali State Park lives up to this reputation. The area of this tremendous mountain includes the National Park as well, but the State Park portion, with more than 300,00 acres, offers a variety of landscapes and terrains.

Go on a guided tour with options ranging from an easy two-hour hike to a multi-day adventure. For a little touch of luxury during your trek, stay at a lodge, and enjoy an outdoor hot tub while taking in the Denali views. Other activities available include horseback riding, jet boating, and rafting.

9. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park – California

The Redwood Forest of California is a defining piece of American geography, so much so that it got a line in the classic folk song “This Land Is Your Land.” Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a 40-acre answer to the question of why this forest is so distinguished. Go on a hike through the forest and marvel at the stature of the trees—some reaching heights of up to 277 feet.

Felton, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, USA.

Some of the tallest and most-beautiful trees can be found in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (Image from Getty)

Some trees, like the famous Fremont, are large enough for an entire family to stand inside, so bring a flashlight and try it out. There’s also plenty of hiking and biking opportunities as well as camping whether it be under the stars, in an RV, or checked into a lodge.

8. Monahans Sandhills State Park – Texas

The Sahara Desert isn’t quite close enough to visit by RV, but if you’re itching for a desert adventure look no further than the Lone Star State’s Monahans Sandhills State Park. Located a half-hour southwest of Odessa, Monahans Sandhills State Park will make you feel like you’re in a completely different part of the world.

The wind-sculpted sand dunes form peaks and valleys that you can surf with rented sand disks. You can also hit up the Dunagan Visitors Center to learn about the park and its history. The park doesn’t have marked trails, leaving you free to explore at your leisure. Just be careful, it is a desert after all so there isn’t much in the way of landmarks to guide you.

7. Silver Falls State Park – Oregon

Known as the crown jewel of Oregon, Silver Falls State Park is anything but locked away and inaccessible. You can hike in, around, and through the densely forested landscape with more than 35 miles of trails available.

This beautiful 177 foot waterfalls is along the canyon rim in Silver Falls Park, Oregon.

This 177-foot waterfall is along the canyon rim in Silver Falls Park, Oregon. (Image from Getty)

The Park also offers guides on horseback and paths for mountain biking. But, no visit to Silver Falls State Park is complete without, of course, exploring the Falls. Make sure to see the famous South Falls, on the Trail of Ten Falls, where you can perch behind the 177-foot fall for a view that’s out of this world. The park has plenty of camping sites when you’re ready to settle in for the night.

6. Florida Caverns State Park – Florida

The Sunshine State has much more to offer than beaches for spring breakers and theme parks for families, especially if you look beyond the state’s main attractions. There you’ll find Florida Caverns State Park, located in the panhandle of Florida in Marianna. The main draw to the Park is obviously the Caverns, the state’s only air-filled caves accessible to the public.

Go on a guided tour and learn how the caves were formed and get a geography lesson on formations like stalactites and stalagmites. The Park also has plenty to do above ground with outdoor activities ranging from kayaking and canoeing, golf and horseback riding, and plenty of fishing holes.

5. Custer State Park – South Dakota

Tuck yourself into the Black Hills of South Dakota for a one-of-a-kind visit to Custer State Park. The park has 71,000 acres of awesome terrain to explore and plenty of ways in which to do it – on a hike, on horseback, or even on an off-road jeep tour.

Beautiful Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park is stunning any time of year. (Image from Getty)

You’ll likely spot one of the nearly 1,300 bison that wander the park as well as other animals including pronghorn antelope, elk, and mountain goats. The park also boasts plenty of scenic drives that will take you past stunning rock formations and through tunnels. You can also relax on the water with swimming, boating, canoeing, and kayaking all available.

4. Assateague State Park – Maryland

When it comes to originality, Assateague State Park delivers in spades, or more accurately, wild ponies on the beach. Descendants of domestic horses brought by European explorers, the wild ponies roam the Park along with deer and a number of waterfowl.

While these ponies aren’t up for a ride, you can bring your own to trot along the beach. If you’re more a spectator, feel free to bring your binoculars for some one-of-a-kind wildlife viewing. The bayside also offers up the opportunity to explore the tucked-away coves by canoe or kayak and there are plenty of opportunities for fishing as well.

3. Starved Rock State Park – Illinois

Despite its name, Starved Rock State Park in Illinois is full of things to do. There are more than 13 miles of hiking trails varying in length and difficulty, with a variety of plant and wildlife on each. Give your feet a rest with some boating and kayaking on the Illinois River, which cuts through the Park.

Starved Rock State Park - Illinois

Starved Rock State Park features some of the best waterfalls in the Midwest. (Image from Getty)

You can also try and reel in some dinner at plenty of great fishing spots with a variety of fish to catch including white bass, sauger, catfish, and carp. Also, don’t forget to tour the canyons—one of the main draws to the park. With more than 18 in total, you’ll have your pick and maybe a reason or two to make a return visit!

2. Dinosaur State Park – Connecticut

They may have been extinct now for 65 million years, but dinosaurs are more popular than ever. And, Dinosaur State Park in Connecticut will let you feed your dinosaur curiosity. The entire Connecticut River valley is flooded with dinosaur tracks (more than 2,000 to be exact).

As a visitor of the park, you can explore them at your leisure and even make a cast of your favorite track as a keepsake from your trip! The Park also offers scenic hiking trails—perfect for stretching your legs and an exhibit center where you can learn about the creatures that once roamed this now seemingly docile land.

1.   Niagara Falls State Park – New York

Name recognition isn’t all bad and sometimes even worth the crowds that come with it. Case in point: Niagara Falls State Park. Often referenced in film and television, Niagara Falls has been a pop culture staple ever since daredevils attempted to survive rides in barrels down them.

Niagra Falls

Niagra Falls is one of the most amazing places in all of the U.S. (Image from Unsplash)

Today, it is one of the most visited natural attractions in the country. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder. Get right up in the action with a ticket on the Maid of the Mist—a boat tour of the falls in operation for more than 150 years. Go on a hike with breathtaking views and stop off at the visitor center to learn about the Falls history and pick up a souvenir or two!

From waterfalls and caverns to horse-trod beaches and forests, state parks have much to offer in the way of exploration, adventure, beautiful vistas, and much more. So, skip some of the more well-known National Parks and visit one or all of these 10 unforgettable state parks for an adventure that can be 100 percent yours.

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