America’s national parks are known worldwide for their dramatic natural beauty. But many of the state parks across the United States are just as spectacular, easier to access, more affordable and conveniently located in practically every corner of every state.
The oldest state park in the nation was established in 1885 (if you can’t guess where it is, it’s included in the list below), although Americans had been enjoying the many outdoor recreation areas near their homes long before that date. Many of the state parks we know today date from the 1930s, when New Deal programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps helped build thousands of parks nationwide.
America’s state parks are as diverse as its population, ranging from tiny to vast, spread out from coast to coast and found near densely populated cities as well as in remote wilderness areas. And you can bet that each person who visits has a favorite park. But if you’re searching for an amazing state park and want to start out with some proven highlights, we’ve rounded up 25 state parks across America that rank among the most popular in the country.
1. Valley of Fire, Nevada
In a region renowned for jaw-dropping scenery, Nevada‘s most visited state park, Valley of Fire, still manages to stand out. This ancient red desert wonderland boasts 40,000 acres of hiking and camping opportunities. For those with less time, a drive or picnic in the park is a good way to immerse yourself in this colorful landscape.
2. Liberty State Park, New Jersey
You’re probably familiar with New Jersey‘s most popular state park even if you’ve never been anywhere near the Garden State. That’s because Liberty State Park is one of the best spots from which to view – and photograph –the Manhattan skyline. But there’s more to this park than a photo op. Visitors also come for the museums, two-mile long promenade and kayak tours.
3. Custer State Park, South Dakota
South Dakota‘s most visited state park is also one of the state’s most popular attractions. Custer State Park, comprising 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, has some of everything:
- Horseback riding
Oh, and an annual Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival.
4. Hammonasset Beach State Park, Connecticut
Connecticut‘s largest waterfront state park, Hammonasset Beach, is also its most popular and it’s easy to see why. This classic New England beach offers something for everyone:
- Over two miles of shoreline for sunbathers and swimmers
- A boardwalk and trails for walkers
- A nature center for kids
- Campsites, picnic areas and concessions for those who want to stay all day or overnight
While some amenities are seasonal, this stretch of shoreline is quietly beautiful year-round.
5. Lake Havasu State Park, Arizona
In this desert state, the most popular state park is centered on blue water. Arizona‘s 928-acre Lake Havasu State Park, has fishing, boating and swimming, of course. But there are also desert trails (good places to spot coyotes and roadrunners), camping and picnic areas. And the park is just two miles from London Bridge (yes, the London Bridge), which was reconstructed and then rededicated here in 1971.
6. Niagara Falls State Park, New York
If you guessed that the country’s oldest state park was New York‘s Niagara Falls, then you’re correct! Established in 1885, the Empire State’s most visited park is famous for its powerful falls, but there’s more to this 400-acre park than viewing platforms and boat tours. Visitors can also explore exhibits and hiking trails or dine at a restaurant with awe-inspiring views.
7. Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, California
It’s no surprise that California has the most visited state park system in America. But it might be surprising to learn that the most popular of those state parks is, well, a house. To be fair, it’s a seriously impressive house: Hearst Castle, built by media magnate William Randolph Hearst and visited by Hollywood stars, literary giants and leading politicians. The opulent estate was later donated to the State of California by the Hearst Corporation and is now known as Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. It offers a selection of guided tours, exhibits, picnic areas and stunning vistas.
8. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
An ominous-sounding name doesn’t stop visitors from flocking to Starved Rock State Park on the Illinois River. With over 2,600 acres of massive rock formations, canyons, waterfalls and forests, Illinois‘ most popular state park is quite a change from the supposedly flat Midwestern landscape. Overnight visitors can stay at the park’s rustic but well-appointed lodge, log cabins or campground. And you won’t starve – there are several dining options.
9. Deception Pass State Park, Washington
Another destination with a scary name is Deception Pass State Park, the most-visited state park in Washington. Spanning Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, Deception Pass covers over 3,800 acres and boasts over 100,000 feet of freshwater and saltwater shoreline on three lakes. Visitors can look for whales or seals and explore the rugged beauty of the park’s cliffs, coves, forests and beaches. The human touches here are dramatic, too. Deception Pass bridge, which carries Route 20 through the park, is an often-photographed landmark.
10. Belle Isle State Park, Michigan
Many state parks are located in rural areas, but Belle Isle, the most visited state park in Michigan, is just minutes from downtown Detroit. This island in the Detroit River only became a state park in 2014, but it has a long history and a surprising variety of attractions, including:
- An aquarium
- A nature center
- A maritime museum
- A greenhouse and botanical garden in a glittering conservatory.
All are situated on 982 acres of green space laced with walking paths and dotted with statues and monuments. Popular events are held here as well.
11. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico
New Mexicans are surrounded by breathtaking scenery, but their most popular state park is not what outsiders might imagine when they picture this Southwestern state. It’s Elephant Butte Lake, which covers 40,000 acres and is situated on New Mexico‘s largest body of water. While this park is a favorite of fishermen and boaters (it has three marinas), it also offers trails, beaches and campsites.
12. Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida
To many, Florida is synonymous with the beach. And of all the state parks in the Sunshine State, Honeymoon Island is the most visited. With over four miles of beach and a trail through old-growth forest, this is a serene spot to watch birds and animals, either in the wild or at the park’s nature center. Visitors can swim, fish, relax or catch the ferry to another unspoiled state park, Caladesi Island.
13. Giant Springs State Park, Montana
When Lewis and Clark passed this freshwater spring 213 years ago, they couldn’t know that it would become Montana‘s most visited state park. Giant Springs State Park comprises 4,500 acres on the shores of the Missouri River. There’s plenty to do here, like hike, bike, hunt or take advantage of special events, children’s programming and guided walks. Giant Springs is also the only state park with its own fish hatchery.
14. First Landing State Park, Virginia
Some state parks celebrate America’s natural beauty and others mark important moments in the nation’s past. Virginia‘s most visited state park, First Landing, does both. Named for the English colonists who arrived here in 1607, this place has also played a role in both Native American and African American history. A 2,888-acre oasis of cypress swamps, sandy beach and trails through maritime forest, the park offers:
- Picnic areas
15. Jockey’s Ridge State Park, North Carolina
Like travel trivia? North Carolina‘s most popular state park, Jockey’s Ridge, is home to the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern U.S. This Outer Banks destination offers adventurous activities like sandboarding and hang-gliding. Visitors with limited mobility can arrange for an ATV ride on the dunes. There are also more sedate options like a museum, a short nature trail or simply enjoying the area’s 426 pristine acres.
16. Brown County State Park, Indiana
Indiana‘s most popular state park, Brown County State Park, covers almost 16,000 acres of rugged, forested hills. Sometimes called the “Little Smokies,” in reference to the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s known as a prime spot for viewing fall foliage. But its vistas, including one from the top of a 90-foot fire tower, are striking year-round. There’s also a lodge, nature center, cabins and dining and meeting facilities.
17. Amicalola Falls State Park, Georgia
Near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is Georgia‘s most visited state park, Amicalola Falls. This park is full of opportunities to be adventurous. There are zip lines, a climbing wall, guided hikes and trail runs and classes in 3-D archery and how to use a GoPro. If that’s not your speed, you can:
- Hike through 829 acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest
- Admire the park’s namesake 729-foot waterfall
- Eat at the lodge’s restaurant
- Stay overnight at the lodge, cabins or campsites
18. Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
At Ohio‘s most popular state park, Hocking Hills, you’ll find the traditional activities like fishing, hunting and hiking, along with disc golf and archery. But the main draw is the landscape: 2,300 acres of lush forests, cliffs, gorges and caves, linked by trails, wooden steps and boardwalks. Whether the season calls for spring flowers or ice fishing, visitors can stay in one of Hocking Hills’s renovated cottages or campgrounds.
19. Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
South Carolina‘s most popular state park is a 5,000-acre undeveloped barrier island with five miles of beaches, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, and trails that wind through marshes, semi-tropical marine forest and lagoons. Humans aren’t the only ones who think that sounds idyllic. Hunting Island State Park is also home to loggerhead turtles, shorebirds and seabirds.
20. Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania
Presque Isle, a 3,200-acre peninsula extending into Lake Erie, is Pennsylvania‘s most visited state park. The park has lighthouses and seasonal activities from ice skating to swimming, but it’s renowned as one of the best bird-watching spots in America. At a state-of-the-art, green-designed facility, visitors can learn about the ecology of the park.
21. Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin
The most popular state park in Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake, is full of features you might not expect:
- Ancient effigy mounds
- A “pygmy forest”
- Towering quartzite rock formations
- Sandy beaches
- A section of the National Ice Age Trail.
But visitors really love this 10,000-acre park for its hiking opportunities. There are over 29 miles of trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging climbs, and the terrain they traverse is stunning in any weather.
22. Chatfield State Park, Colorado
Colorado is known for remote wilderness, but its most visited state park, Chatfield, is located conveniently close to heavily populated metro areas. People flock to this 3,800-acre park, centered on a large reservoir, for sailing, canoeing, water-skiing, hiking, biking, camping and wildlife-spotting. Horseback-riding and hot air ballooning are popular too. But Chatfield is especially beloved by dog owners as a vast playground for their pups.
23. Bayou Segnette State Park, Louisiana
You could probably predict that Louisiana‘s most popular state park would showcase the state’s unique environment. At Bayou Segnette State Park, a 676-acre refuge just south of the Mississippi River, saltwater meets freshwater, swampland meets marshland and visitors can see alligators and other animals and plants that thrive in this watery ecosystem. There’s fishing and boating here, of course, but the highlight might be a stay in a “floating cabin” over the canal beside the Bayou.
24. Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee
Tennessee‘s most visited state park, Fall Creek Falls, boasts 26,000 acres of woods, streams, waterfalls and gorges in the Cumberland Plateau. More than 56 miles of trails crisscross this swath of Appalachia, ranging from a short walk by the lake to a challenging backcountry trek. Visitors can explore the landscape in other ways, too, from the Nature Center to the Canopy Challenge Course above the trees. But it’s not all rugged nature: a golf course and Olympic-size pool are among the amenities.
25. Garner State Park, Texas
The most popular state park in Texas can be found on a winding stretch of the Frio River. Garner State Park sits on 1,774 acres in the Hill Country, which visitors can explore thanks to 11 miles of trails. They also can swim in the blue-green waters of the Frio or get out on the river in inner tubes, kayaks or paddle boats. In the summer, people come here to take part in a tradition dating back to the 1940s: evening dance parties.
Of course, this list represents only a small number of the amazing state parks across America. And many hikers, campers, travelers and nature lovers would say the best part of exploring them is discovering your own favorite.
Have you visited any of these state parks? Do you have a favorite state park to add to this list? Please share it in the comments.
Read more: The 20 Best National Parks to Visit
I like Grand Canyon, yellow stone, Grand Tetons. archers!canyon lands and lastly Lava lands
Honeymoon Island State Park is one of the state parks in Florida I have seen and camped in, in Florida. My husband was a Ranger for the State of Florida and I was lucky to have seen almost all state parks in Florida. How lucky I was!!!!
That’s awesome, Barbara! Thank you for sharing!
Great Smokey Mountain in Gatlinburg, Tennessee! And small area named Greenbrier in the park, Beautiful!
west Virginia was skipped.
Missed a GEM in Tejas! Just south of I-40 and Armadillo you’ll find the “miniature Grand Canyon” Pala Dura State Park! Creeks, big cottonwoods, pines, wildlife, birds, roadrunners catching lizards, deer walking thru your campsite, raccoons, walking on top of your RV at night, big owls talking to each other, and more. Not a huge place, but very pretty.
What about Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park? Redwoods and so much more. OMG! It should be here.
What about Pennsylvania and its historic state parks
Want to yearly visit one or 2 of these state parks….
I am pretty sure that beautiful fall photo is almost identical of the one hanging on my wall of Letchworth State Park stretching through the small towns of Castile, Mt Morris, Perry and Portageville and few other small towns BEAUTIFUL and inviting as always. We have many great memories in the park and time along the Genesee River and beautiful waterfalls there.
I love BELLE ISLE IN MICHIGAN AND BROWN COUNTY IN INDIANA…BOTH ARE SOOOO BEAUTIFUL!
Surprised not to see Goblin Valley Utah on this list. Hundreds of rock hoodoos gathered together like crowds of goblins makes it feel like you’re on another planet.
I conceive you have mentioned some very interesting details , appreciate it for the post.
Hanauma Bay state park at Honolulu, Hawaii. No fishing; fish come right up to snorkelers and waders. And, check out the corals on the protected reef!
Come on, you guys, please don’t suggest national parks. Wastes our time.This is a state park survey, so wait for the nationals and then give it your shot. Aloha- Jim H.
This seems more like a representative group of state parks around the nation , not necessarily the best. Those included are indeed worth the visit, however.
Not one park from West Virginia!!!!!! We have the most beautiful state parks in the USA.
Can’t see the forest because of the trees??
You have missed two of the largest state parks in America, the Catskill and Adirondack Park, located in New York State.
The Catskill Park consists of 700,000 acres of land inside a Blue Line in four counties: Delaware, Greene, Sullivan, and Ulster. As of 2005, 287,500 acres or 41 percent of the land within, is owned by the state as part of the Forest Preserve; it is managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
The Adirondack Park was created in 1892 by the state of New York. Containing six-million acres, the Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States. It covers one-fifth of New York State, is equal in size to neighboring Vermont, and is nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park!
We spent 35 years traveling from our home 25 miles from the Hammonasset Beach State Park, Connecticut campground, (parking lot with noise), to the two Parks in NYS, because dogs are not allowed in Connecticut campgrounds. We enjoyed and have many memories of the camping trips, along with our children and grandchildren. All real camping experiences, in many of the DEC campground that abound in the two areas. The kids still talk about the eagles, bears, loons, and the many campfires and other experiences we shared over the years.
We were able to camp into our mid-seventies, however, who knows maybe there may be a one or two trips left, I have met people in their 90s, still enjoying it.
Bob and Judy Johnson
Promised Land State Park, Greentown PA.
Beautiful area, with a CCC– Masker Museum and nature activity programs of special interest for children.
Yosemite National park in northern California. Beautiful park have been to 42 states in my motor home Lots of beautiful parks Yosemite has to be among the top 5. my opinion of course. Big Bend park in south Texas is pretty nice as well. Enjoyed many of them.
Yosemite is not a state park.
City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. This is one of the most UNIQUE parks anywhere. The rocks are from volcanic ash, called TUFF. The rocks are over 60 feet high. I have hosted New Mexico State parks since 2005, accumulating 16,000 volunteer hours, and have traveled all 48 lower states. this park stands out.
Letchworth State Park NY a beautiful area with 3 waterfalls.
Snow Canyon State Park is totally awesome and should be on the list!
Mt. Rainer St Park
Have traveled all over America. Would put San Juan Islands in my top 5 . Hope we get to go back
I live in Southern Illinois and we have Starved Rocks rival down here. Giant City state park is located in the Shawnee National Forest and has a beautiful lodge for dining and cabins.
not to put down the ones you picked however you left out so much of the west coast ????
Located at the intersection of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin Desert, and Colorado Plateau near St. George and Ivins, UT, Snow Canyon State Park is a 7,400-acres with red sandstone cliffs and lava flows from an ancient volcano. There are 38 miles of hiking trails, a three-mile paved walking/biking trail and over 15 miles of equestrian trails. Wildlife includes coyotes, kit foxes, quail, roadrunners, leopard lizards, gopher snakes, canyon tree frogs, peregrine falcons, desert tortoises, and gila monsters, the Utah State reptile.
Malibu Creek State Park in Calabasas,Ca
Camping, hiking and biking. Beautiful scenery of Santa Monica Mts and one can hike to the Mash Site. A lot of great movies were filmed in the park. Best time to visit is during the week days.
All in Oregon:
Wallowa Lake State Park
Cape Lookout State Park
Detroit Lake State Park
Harris Beach State Park
Smith Rocks State Park
Lake Billy Chinook State Park
Not exactly a “drive” away, but still important scientifically and a place of strange beauty, Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island (aka “Big” Island). Take the kids; see the earth being born; watch red-hot lava flowing into the ocean or over land; learn something your friends don’t know; see something your friends may never see!
Goosenecks State Park, Utah – shows the San Juan river as it loops three times toward the park.
Hell’s Canyon, Snake River, central Idaho, Cuprum, Idaho. the area is only 47 miles northwest of Council, Idaho and borders with Oregon. The park can be reached through Homestead, Oregon also. The Canyon, at its deepest, is 7, 228 feet. The Seven Devils Mountain range borders on the Snake River that gives the viewer and camper untold adventure and scenery of excitement and joy. It is best to hire a guide and plan a seven day trip of relaxation and calm and fishing for lake trout.
Colorado’s Mueller State Park exceeds 5,000 acres of mountain trails and beautiful flowered meadows. It is located on the opposite side of Pikes Peak from Colorado Springs and encourages hiking, wildlife watching, and photographing. Campsites are available. It is seldom crowded and wears its beauty year-round. Once most of an historic cattle ranch, Mueller is an easy and breathtaking hour’s drive from Colorado Springs.
Pipestem State Park in West Virginia offers spectacular scenery, hiking trails and great facilities.
Natural bridge state park Slade Ky.
Natural rock formation bride , hiking and RV camping park and park lodge, Awesome in the fall
Yesterday there was an article in the Honolulu Civil Beat about the growing problem caused by too many Tourists. They compared some of our problems here in Hawaii’s Parks, with those on Mt Everest. I’d think twice about sharing my favorite get-away on-line. These beautiful Parks may be on the list because they haven’t been “Discovered”, Yet!
Jonathan Dickinson SP, Hobe Sound, FL, opportunities in bike courses, canoeing, kayaking, two distinct campgrounds, cabins, and visitor center. Lots of wildlife, even alligators.
Moran State Park, on Orcas Island, in Washington State’s San Juan Islands
My favorite is camping there, then hiking around the beautiful lake or trails—especially to the peak of Mt Washington. Spectacular vistas! There’s also kayaking, bicycling, island hopping on the ferries (which is how I arrived towing my small travel trailer). Plus—much more!
Great suggestion Larry! Thanks for sharing.
Ludington State Park , Michigan Beaches on both Lake Michigan,and Hamlin Lake AuSable River. Big Sable Point Light House. And miles of beautiful hiking trails.
Great suggestions, David!
CITY OF ROCKS STATE PARK
Beatufiul place to visit, thanks for sharing Cynthia.
Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah!!!!!