Escape the crowds by exploring America’s hidden gems: the breathtaking state parks. Swap the hustle and bustle of crowded national parks and theme parks for tranquil hiking trails, pristine lakes, and awe-inspiring vistas. Trade chaos for tranquility and find your slice of paradise this summer.
Lory State Park, Colorado
Lory State Park, located near Fort Collins, Colorado, offers a stunning natural retreat with scenic trails, picturesque picnic spots, and six coves bordering Horsetooth Reservoir for boating and fishing. In addition, visitors can enjoy hiking, mountain biking, wildlife spotting, horseback riding, and breathtaking views of the Colorado Front Range. You will also find a bike park within the park, which offers dirt mounds for jumping and a pump track.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Jonathan Dickinson State Park is the perfect destination for nature and history lovers in Martin County, Florida. This expansive park offers diverse ecosystems, including pine flatwoods, mangrove swamps, and the Loxahatchee River. Educational programs for kids and adults are available, featuring a historic World War II training camp and the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center. Activities like hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, and wildlife observation are also popular.
Hunting Island State Park
Hunting Island State Park, located near Beaufort, South Carolina, is a coastal gem. With its pristine beaches, lush maritime forest, and historic lighthouse, it offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage. Visitors can enjoy swimming, camping, hiking, birdwatching, pier fishing, and exploring the iconic 1859 Hunting Island Lighthouse. The park also features water and electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, and a children’s playground.
Chattahoochee Bend State Park
Chattahoochee Bend State Park, nestled in Newnan, Georgia, is one of the largest parks in the state. This park boasts breathtaking views of the Chattahoochee River. It features over 6 miles of wooded hiking trails, fishing opportunities, kayak rentals, and campsites. An observation platform, boat ramp, playground, and paddle boat rentals make for the perfect outdoor adventure for the whole family.
Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment State Park, located near Ilwaco, Washington, offers a captivating coastal experience in contrast to its name. This park boasts stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, a historic lighthouse, and rugged cliffs. Visitors can explore hiking trails, go beachcombing, try their hand at fishing, and even tour military forts. In addition, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center features a museum with interactive exhibits focusing on the “Corps of Discovery’s journey.”
Franconia Notch State Park
Located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Franconia Notch State Park is famous for its “Great Stone Face,” where granite rock shelves take the shape of a man’s profile, which has gained global recognition. The park offers breathtaking hiking trails, the picturesque Echo Beach, and exciting attractions like the Flume Gorge waterfall and Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. Additionally, visitors can indulge in fly fishing, explore the New England Ski Museum, and take advantage of on-site RV camping.
Green Lakes State Park
Green Lakes State Park, located in Fayetteville, New York, is a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. The park is known for its two glacial lakes with stunning emerald-green waters, surrounded by upland forest and an impressive 18-hole Green Lakes Golf Course. Swimming, hiking, hunting, boat rentals, and snowshoeing are also available for those not interested in golf.
Ludington State Park
Ludington State Park, situated in Ludington, Michigan, occupies an impressive 5,300 acres of land. Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, it offers sandy beaches, towering freshwater sand dunes, and natural woodlands. Visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, hiking, camping, fishing, and daily educational programs at the Lake Michigan Beach House during the summer. The park is also home to one of Michigan’s oldest lighthouses, Big Sable Point Lighthouse.
Bruneau Dunes State Park
Bruneau Dunes State Park, located near Bruneau, Idaho, is home to North America’s tallest single-structured sand dunes. Reaching heights of up to 470 feet, visitors can explore these impressive natural formations via the local hiking trails or sandboarding. Other fun activities include picnicking, stargazing at the Bruneau Dunes Observatory, and camping. Fishing enthusiasts also have the opportunity to catch bluegill at the nearby lakes.
Mount Mitchell State Park
Mount Mitchell State Park, situated near Burnsville, North Carolina, is home to the highest peak in the eastern United States. At 6,684 feet, visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views from the observation deck and explore nearby hiking trails. A Campground, restaurant, lounge, and concession stand are open seasonally. While avid bird watchers can enjoy observing, over 91 different species of birds, have been recorded and seen in the park.
Montaña de Oro State Park
Montaña de Oro State Park is located near Los Osos, California, and is one of California’s largest parks. This breathtaking coastal park offers 7 miles of shoreline, rugged cliffs, sand dunes, and diverse wildlife. Located along the coast, Spooners Cove is a crowd favorite. Offering unique rock formations and tide pools teeming with sea life. Visitors can also enjoy the many hiking and mountain bike trails, with horseback riding available upon request.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
The remains of a previously active volcano, Crater of Diamonds State Park, is in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. This unique park is famous for being the only diamond mine open to the public. Since 1972, visitors have enjoyed locating over 35,000 diamonds in this state park! Today, visitors can search for diamonds, amethysts, and other gems, go on guided tours, and enjoy camping, picnicking, and a seasonal waterpark.
Niagara Falls State Park
Niagara Falls State Park is located in Niagara Falls, New York, and is open to visitors year-round. Offering breathtaking views of the iconic Niagara waterfalls, visitors can explore the falls by boat tour, hiking trails, observation towers, or via the Cave of the Winds. If the views don’t impress you, the roar and mist emanating from the falls might. The Top of the Falls restaurant is available for folks looking for a more luxurious experience, offering panoramic views of the falls and serving local fare.
Beacon Rock State Park
Beacon Rock State Park is located in Skamania County, Washington. Nestled along the Columbia River Gorge, it features the prominent Beacon Rock, a volcanic core remnant. Visitors can hike the Beacon Rock Trail and enjoy picnicking, fishing, boating, and camping while soaking in stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
Giant City State Park
Giant City State Park is located in Makanda, Illinois, on 4,000 acres of countryside. The park, formed over 12,000 years ago, is famous for its distinctive sandstone rock formations, more than 100 species of wildflowers, and 75 distinct types of trees. Visitors can explore the many hiking and equestrian trails or try their hand at rock climbing, rappelling, or archery. Camping retreats, metal detecting, and picnicking are also available.
Big Talbot Island State Park
Big Talbot Island State Park is located in Jacksonville, Florida. Situated along the Atlantic coast, the park offers a serene escape with its unspoiled beaches, salt marshes, and maritime forests. Visitors can hike scenic trails, go fishing and birdwatching, and explore the unique “Boneyard Beach” with its striking skeletal trees. A boat launch is available at the park’s north end, perfect for fishing, salt marsh tours, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
Peninsula State Park
Peninsula State Park is located in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Nestled on the Door County peninsula, this park boasts scenic beauty with its shoreline along Green Bay. Visitors can enjoy activities such as hiking, biking, swimming, boating, fishing, camping, and golfing while immersing themselves in the park’s natural splendor and stunning vistas.
Ohiopyle State Park
Ohiopyle State Park is located in Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. Situated in the Laurel Highlands region, this park offers a scenic natural escape with waterfalls, rugged trails, and access to the Youghiogheny River. Visitors can enjoy hiking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, fishing, yurt camping, and stand-up paddle boarding. Take advantage of the jaw-dropping panoramic views from the Baughman Rock Overlook on your visit.
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park is in North Palm Beach, Florida. This coastal oasis offers pristine beachfront, coastal hammocks, and mangrove swamps. Visitors can engage in activities like swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking nature trails, birdwatching, and exploring the park’s diverse ecosystems, while relishing the area’s natural beauty. Kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and Picnic Pavilions are available for rent. While special events occur year-round, including the Citizen Science and Junior Friends program and the popular Sea Turtle Walk.
Fort Mose Historic State Park
Fort Mose Historic State Park is located in St. Augustine, Florida. As the site of the first legally sanctioned African American settlement in the United States, it offers a glimpse into history. Visitors can explore the interactive exhibits, learn about the Underground Railroad, and enjoy nature trails. Bird watchers are also welcome, with sightings of the great blue heron, bald eagle, and white ibis quite common.
Break free from the ordinary this summer and visit America’s state parks. Leave behind the crowded tourist hotspots and embrace the untamed beauty that awaits.
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Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.