State parks are among the most underappreciated public offerings in the U.S. Many offer spectacular scenery and opportunities for hiking, camping and other outdoor adventures, and they’re often free. As the summer travel season heats up, here are 10 great parks around the U.S. well worth a visit.
10. Camden Hills State Park (Maine)
The scenery here is much like that in Acadia National Park — which is a little further north along the Maine coast — without the enormous crowds. There are more than 30 miles of hiking trails, many suitable for children. For a more strenuous hike, there’s a two-hour route to the top of Mount Battle, which overlooks Penobscot Bay, a real top-of-the-world type view. Or you can drive to the summit … but where’s the fun in that?
9. Dismal Swamp State Park (North Carolina)
Despite the ominous-sounding name, the Dismal Swamp is a place of sublime beauty. North Carolina designated this as a state park in 2007, opening it to the public for the first time. The Dismal Swamp canal is the oldest continually operating, man-made canal in the U.S. This is a bird-watchers paradise; in fact, each April the park hosts the Great Dismal Swamp Migration Celebration.
8. Roxborough State Park (Colorado)
Colorado operates more than 40 state parks, many of them featuring what you’d expect in terms of Rocky Mountains scenery and atmosphere. Roxborough State Park, along the front range of the Rockies just outside Denver, features enormous and strange rock formations, and it’s a great place to take a hike, with well-maintained and marked trails.
7. Indiana Dunes State Park (Indiana)
This park on the Lake Michigan shoreline about 50 miles east of Chicago features dunes up to 200 feet high. It’s surrounded by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and there’s pending legislation that could turn the area into America’s next national park. However, a similar proposal failed a century ago. No matter the park’s ultimate status, it’s a nice place to take a swim, walk, go fishing or camp.
6. Hanging Rock State Park (North Carolina)
Located just north of Winston-Salem in the state’s Piedmont region, Hanging Rock offers far more than just its namesake rock. There are more than 20 miles of hiking trails, most of them easy or moderate in difficulty. The trails lead to waterfalls, rock cliffs and great views. Out of more than 300 reviews on TripAdvisor.com, the park rates a perfect 5 out of 5.
5. Brazos Bend State Park (Texas)
There aren’t too many parks where you can encounter both alligators and astronomers, but this park in Texas fits the bill. An observatory in Brazos Bend is open on Saturdays, and plenty of the scaly reptiles can be found in the park, along with numerous other types of wildlife. The park is located just southwest of the Houston metro area.
4. Tallulah Gorge State Park (Georgia)
The 1,000-foot gorge is the deepest east of the Mississippi River, and is often billed as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” The strenuous round-trip hike to the bottom of the gorge has become so popular that the state limits the number of hikers to 100 per day, and permits are often gone early in the day during peak season. However, trails along the edge of the lead to overlooks with views of the gorge and waterfalls.
3. Red Rock State Park (Arizona)
The name pretty much sums up the scenery here, with stunning red rock formations that have made Sedona a world-famous destination. If you’re in the area and looking for a break from the Sedona crowds, this is a fun place to spend the day.
2. Deception Pass State Park (Washington)
This park in northwest Washington draws more than 2 million visitors a year, an astounding number for a state park. The park includes 10 islands, with all sorts of ecosystems, from shell-covered beaches and tidal pools to old-growth forest. No visit is complete without a walk across the Deception Pass Bridge.
1. Humboldt Redwoods State Park (California)
This park along the Northern California coast can be appreciated just by taking the 31-mile drive along Hwy. 254, the “Avenue of the Giants” through the largest contiguous old-growth redwood forest in the world. If you want to park the car and walk around, Humboldt Redwoods offers more than 100 miles of trails, where you can crane your neck time after time and wonder, “How tall is that tree?”