The Top 15 State Parks in the US

Bison grazing, Custer State Park, South Dakota
Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images

Everyone raves about America’s National Park system—as they should. Many of the natural wonders and beauty that awaits visitors are more than worthy of the praise. However, when trying to see bucket list-worthy national parks, many travelers ignore the state park system. The country's state parks offer just as much beauty as national parks and are often less crowded than national parks.

Keep in mind that visiting State Parks will often require more driving and planning ahead of time to make the trip everything it could be. Many State Parks are located away from central cities, which make great travel hubs. This is a blessing and a curse. You’ll find fewer people at these destinations than National Parks, but you’ll still run into seasonal traffic along the way and some parks can be difficult to reach.

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Custer State Park (South Dakota)

Buffalo in Custer State Park

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

13438 US Highway 16A, Custer, SD 57730, USA
Phone +1 605-255-4515

The Black Hills region of South Dakota gives herds of buffalo the space they need to roam free. Custer is South Dakota’s first, and most famous, state park. Wild bison, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep graze freely year-round. The best time to visit is in the spring and fall months. The park is open year-round but be warned, winter in South Dakota is frigid. Flying into a nearby city, renting a car, then driving to Custer State Park is the most efficient method to get there. If you live in a neighboring state, road tripping, or RVing is also an option.

02 of 15

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (California)

Trail at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Darrell Gulin / Getty Images
127011 Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy, Orick, CA 95555, USA
Phone +1 707-465-7354

Redwoods are some of the oldest and most majestic trees in the world. While you can visit any number of national parks in California, visiting Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park will get you away from the crowds. This hidden gem, located north of Eureka, is the perfect spot exploring sights throughout the Golden State. You can stay at the state park, so RVing is a great choice if you want to travel along the 101 highway. Visiting from spring to fall is ideal for this one. While winter temperatures won’t be as cold as other parks you’ll still want to bundle up.

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Niagara Falls State Park (New York)

Niagara State Falls Park, New York

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332 Prospect St, Niagara Falls, NY 14303, USA
Phone +1 716-278-1794

Niagara Falls should be on everyone’s travel bucket list and Niagara Falls State Park brings you up close and personal with the waterfall. Nestled near Seneca Resort and Casino and right next to Canada, this is a great destination to see a lot in a short amount of time. While there’s an airport nearby, it may be cheaper to fly elsewhere in New York and rent a car to venture to Niagara Falls State Park. The falls are open year-round, seeing them in the height of summer and depths of winter are two vastly different experiences. To save the most money on lodging, find a room away from Niagara Falls.

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Chimney Rock State Park (North Carolina)

Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina

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431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC 28720, USA
Phone +1 828-625-9611

The Carolinas are some of the best places to visit during the fall months and the same goes for Chimney Rock State Park. The best way to get there is to start in Charlotte then drive west. While you can visit throughout the year, the drive from Charlotte to the park will bring you face-to-face with some of the most gorgeous leaf-peeping you’ll find in America. Some of the best hiking east of the Rockies awaits adventurers looking for heights, views, and wildlife to watch. This is also a great area to camp during summer.

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Crater of Diamonds State Park (Arkansas)

Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas

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209 State Park Rd, Murfreesboro, AR 71958, USA
Phone +1 870-285-3113

Crater of Diamonds State Park is a one-of-a-kind state park to visit that offers visitors the chance to hunt for diamonds. If you find one, you can keep it—no strings attached. Established in 1972, it’s attracted diamond hunters from across the globe with 37 acres of land to explore. The largest diamond ever found in the U.S., Uncle Sam, was discovered here. What might you discover? You can camp here seasonally. Your best bet to get there is flying into Little Rock and driving your way to Crater of Diamonds. RVing will bring adventure on the road, too and the surrounding areas are perfect for RVing adventures.

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Hot Spring State Park (Wyoming)

Hot Spring State Park, Wyoming

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220 Park St, Thermopolis, WY 82443, USA
Phone +1 307-864-2176

Everyone goes to Wyoming for Yellowstone National Park, and while we encourage everyone to check out Yellowstone, take a detour first and visit Hot Spring State Park. Just hours away from Casper, you’ll find hot springs galore—more than 8,000 gallons worth. Bison also roam freely, as they do in most areas of The Cowboy State. Visiting should be done at the end of spring, during summer, or the beginning of fall before the temps drop below freezing for winter. If you still want to see Yellowstone, you can drive west to make your way through the national park that captures everyone’s imagination.

07 of 15

Natural Bridges State Resort Park (Kentucky)

Natural Bridges State Resort Park, Kentucky

Kirkikis / iStock / Getty Images

2135 Natural Bridge Rd, Slade, KY 40376, USA
Phone +1 606-663-2214

Natural Bridges State Resort Park, located adjacent to the Red River Gorge Geologic Area, features a natural bridge as its centerpiece. Natural bridges are a sight to see worldwide and this one is no exception. This sandstone arch is 78 feet long and 65 feet high. With more than 2,300 acres of land to explore, the park offers hiking, hunting, and wildlife watching. Plan a trip during fall to watch the colors change, and the temperatures stay mild. Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, are your central travel hubs if you’re coming in from out of town for this trip.

08 of 15

Kanopolis State Park (Kansas)

sandstone bluff in kanopolis state park

Vincent Parsons / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0 

Marquette, KS 67464, USA

Wichita is going to be your starting point for visiting Kanopolis State Park, one that's overlooked even by those who call Kansas home. With a reservoir, desert plants dotting the landscape, and the Smoky Hills region dominating the landscape, this is a unique place to stop. Fishing, hunting, hiking, and more await those looking for a place away from it all and it's great to visit year-round. Camping is a great option in Kanopolis, but this is also the type of park you could see in a single day.

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09 of 15

Tallulah Gorge State Park (Georgia)

Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia

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338 Jane Hurt Yarn Rd, Tallulah Falls, GA 30573, USA
Phone +1 706-754-7981

Tallulah Gorge State Park surrounds the famous Tallulah Gorge—the main sight visitors look for when venturing this way. With six waterfalls, one which drops over 500 feet, and beautiful fall foliage this park is breathtaking. RVing sites and campgrounds are available for out of town visitors who want to stay close, which we recommend. Visit in summer or during the shoulder seasons for perfect temperatures on your journey. If you'll be camping, book spots well in advance.

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California)

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Kevin Key / Slworking / Moment / Getty Images 

200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004, USA
Phone +1 760-767-4205

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park with more than 600,000 acres to explore. With 110 miles of hiking trails, 12 wildlife areas, and desert-scape stargazing you won’t find anywhere else, there’s something for everyone in your group when visiting here. Located northeast of San Diego, flying into the surrounding areas and driving into the park is the way to go year-round. While it gets cold in this part of California during winter, it won’t be a winter wonderland like colder parts of the states.

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Ha Ha Tonka State Park (Missouri)

Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Missouri

Eddie Brady / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

1491 Missouri D, Camdenton, MO 65020, USA
Phone +1 573-346-2986

Springfield, Missouri will be your starting point when visiting Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Renting a car from there or RVing directly to the park is the easiest route. This area encompasses 3,700 acres on the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. Ha Ha Tonka is an early 20th-century stone mansion modeled after European castles during the 16th century, that seems completely out of place in the middle of Missouri. Caves, sinkholes, bluffs, and other geological oddities dot the surrounding landscape.

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Makoshika State Park (Montana)

Makoshika State Park, Montana

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1301 Snyder St, Glendive, MT 59330, USA
Phone +1 406-377-6256

Glacier National Park may be the top destination in Montana, but you’re missing out on the beauty of Makoshika State Park. Dinosaur fossils have been found far and wide and you’ll be standing on some of the oldest lands on the planet. The park is open year-round, but it's best to visit on shoulder seasons or during summer for warmer temperatures. Bring a frisbee to play a few rounds of disc golf at all hours of the night in the heart of the wilderness. Bismarck, Idaho or Billings, Montana are going to be the central points of travel getting to and from this park.

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Boston Harbor Islands State Park (Massachusetts)

Boston Harbor Islands State Park, Massachusetts

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Hull, MA 02045, USA
Phone +1 617-223-8666

Boston Harbor Islands State Park might be the best-known state park in the United States. as it doubles as a National Park, too. With 34 islands and peninsulas intermingled between 50 miles of rivers, bays, and harbors, this is a unique stop right outside Boston—your central hub for this trip. You can book a hotel in town or on the outskirts, then use public transportation or a rental car to get anywhere you need to go. Make this a week-long trip during summer to see Boston in its prime.

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Iao Valley State Park (Hawaii)

Iao Valley State Park, Hawaii

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54 S High St, Wailuku, HI 96793, USA

Since this park is in Hawaii, it will be a costly trip but worth it. Iao Valley State Park features the Iao Needle—a 1,200-foot vegetation-covered lava remnant. It rises from the valley to a height that rivals the Eiffel Tower. Covering only 10 square miles, this is a small park but it’s worth every epic photo op that comes with visiting. Hawaii is gorgeous year-round, so visit during winter for the least amount of tourists in the area.

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Kachemak Bay State Park (Alaska)

Kachemak Bay State Park, Alaska

D. Robert Franz / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Homer, AK 99603, USA
Phone +1 907-269-8700

Alaska is a wilderness of its own and Kachemak Bay State Park offers more than 400,000 acres of pristine wilderness to explore. You can only get here by flying in or boating from Homer, so this trip will take some planning on your end. Whales, seals, moose, and seabirds are yours to peep. The ecological diversity of this state park is something you won't find many other places on earth. Visting in summer will bring the warmest temperatures possible.

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The Top 15 State Parks in the US