US national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon tend to get all the love and attention, but state parks in the United States can be just as incredible! From desert landscapes to mountainous terrain to waterfront destinations, these state parks are all unforgettable places to visit in the US.
The following are 17 of the absolute best state parks in the United States that you must visit.
Goblin Valley State Park is one of the most delightful and unique state parks on this list, simply because you can go off-trail and explore just about anywhere you see.
So what makes Goblin Valley so unique? Well, the hundreds of goblins—short and squat stone structures that dot the valley in a variety of interesting shapes. These goblins are in a flat valley surrounded by a ridge of earth, stone, and taller goblins. Sometimes single goblins stand by themselves, but often there’s several clustered together, creating mounds you can climb on and little tunnels to explore.
There are also a couple of hikes on the outskirts of the park, such as the 3 Sisters Trail, the trail to the Goblin’s Lair (a cave on the backside of the valley), or the nearby Little Wildhorse Canyon—a fun slot canyon. This area is also home to one of the darkest night skies in the country for amazing star gazing opportunities.
While anyone can and will enjoy Goblin Valley State Park, this is an exceptionally fun park for kids. This park is located in the middle of Southern Utah, about 1.5 hours from Arches National Park.
Gooseberry Falls State Park is located in northern Minnesota, just north of Duluth, near the Boundary Waters, and right on the north shore of Lake Superior. This area—the North Shore—is known for its stunning views and landscapes, and Gooseberry Falls is no exception.
At this park, you can of course admire Gooseberry Falls, which is actually made up of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls (plus the extra “Fifth” Falls). These falls are made up of dark basalt (volcanic) rock.
The waterfalls are at their fullest in springtime, but in summer you can actually climb and play on parts of the waterfalls. Then, head to the trails to get great views over Lake Superior and Gooseberry River!
Beyond these shorter trails, Gooseberry Falls also connects to the Superior Hiking Trail, a long, rugged trail that takes you along Lake Superior and offers stunning views of the region.
You can also go for a cold swim at Agate Beach (keep your eyes peeled for agates!), or go biking in summer or cross country skiing in winter.
A very, very small section of the gulf coast falls in Alabama’s borders, yet it’s often overlooked in favor of the more well-known Florida beaches to the east.
Alabama’s gulf coast is still absolutely breathtaking, and Gulf State Park showcases this oceanside beauty. This truly is one of the best state parks in the United States for beautiful beaches.
This park offers camping, miles and miles of bike trails (including bike rentals), and access to the nearby beach. The beaches in this area are filled with soft, fine white sand, and the water is incredibly warm in spring, summer, and fall. Gulf State Park is a peaceful area to enjoy the beach. This is one of the most gorgeous places to visit in the entire US.
DuPont State Park is located about an hour south of the charming mountain city of Asheville, NC and offers some of the most beautiful waterfall hikes in the state. The best waterfall hike here is Triple Falls, where the trail takes you to see three different waterfalls cascading down the river.
There’s also a little jut-off section of the trail where you can walk on the smooth rock right along the shoreline. Hooker Falls, High Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls are also beautiful waterfalls you can see in DuPont State Park.
This State Park has also been made famous for its appearances in movies like The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans.
The Tallulah Gorge State Park is a great place to visit in North Georgia, as it features a river and several waterfalls cutting through a 1000 foot deep gorge, and is one of the most dramatic landscapes in the state. It’s easy to feel like you’re in the heart of the mountains when you’re at the base of the gorge.
This state park offers several trails, including a north and south rim trail, a trail to the base of the gorge, and the gorge floor trail. There are 5-6 official viewpoints on each of the rim trails, showcasing the natural beauty and the waterfalls in the gorge.
The trail to the base of the gorge takes you down over 500 stairs and across a suspension bridge over the river. But the coolest part of Tallulah Gorge is the Floor Trail. You need a permit to do this hike, but to start, you’ll have to scramble across boulders in the river, and then continue scrambling across boulders on the shoreline to see some waterfalls and a swimming pool—there isn’t really a “trail,” it’s just a lot of scrambling, which makes it very fun!
Besides its gorgeous beaches and the everglades, Florida is also known for her natural springs; there’s actually over 700 in the state! These springs feature gorgeous and refreshingly crisp turquoise water.
At Ichetucknee Springs State Park, you can float down the springs in a canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle-board, or even scuba diving while admiring the clear water lined with cyprus and oak trees. You may even see manatees as you float down the river (this is most common in winter time).
This popular state park in Tennessee features Fall Creek Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state (256 feet tall) and one of the tallest in the eastern United States. This waterfall drops dramatically off of a curved cliff edge and falls directly down into a small pool, where visitors can wade.
There are 3 other waterfalls to explore, too (Piney, Cane Creek, and Cane Creek Cascades). This park has gorges, canyons, streams, waterfalls, swimming holes, and hiking trails. It’s simply a lovely place to spend some time.
That said, if you’re visiting this state and want a more active adventure, go on some of the best hikes in Tennessee.
On the coast of South Carolina (about 1.5 hours north of Charleston) is Huntington Beach State Park. This park features wild coastline and 2 wide, pretty beaches on the Atlantic coast, where you can swim, relax, or do some surf fishing.
There are several short and easy paved, dirt, and boardwalk trails where you can walk through the marshes and lagoons and observe wildlife. Alligators, turtles, blue herons, and all sorts of birds live here.
This state park is also unique in that it includes a castle! Atalaya Castle was the home of the original owners of the land that Huntington Beach now sits on, and you can tour through the property and house.
It’s really surprising that this spot hadn’t been designated a National Park—the landscape is absolutely drop dead gorgeous. The park is filled with deep red and orange sandstone rocks that look like they were molded and shaped before being set in intricate structures.
While there are many fun hikes and rock formations in Valley of Fire, undoubtedly the most incredible spot in the park is the Fire Wave. The Fire Wave is a large area of sandstone rock, with the most vibrant and colorful striations in the rock. White and red bands swirl around each other, making you feel like you’re on a different planet.
Other great spots include Pastel Canyon, which features softer, pastel striations in the rocks as you hike through, and White Domes trail, which takes you through a slot canyon.
Rangeley Lake State Park is set in the Western Mountains of Maine. This state park encompasses over 800 acres of land surrounding a beautiful 9 acre lake. This lake is world famous for its quality and quantity of trout and salmon, and is a popular area for fishing (though catch and release is strongly encouraged).
Most people come for the camping, fishing, and swimming, but there are many beautiful hikes in the park as well.
If you want an alternative to the more well-known Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Catalina State Park is an under-appreciated gem. Catalina is nestled in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains and is home to over 5000 saguaro cacti and beautiful desert landscapes.
There are many hiking trails in the park, but the most popular is the Romero Canyon Trail. Here, you’ll hike through canyons, passing cacti and other desert plants, to get to mountain lookout points.
This park is located between Denver and Colorado Springs and is filled with impressive red rock formations. This park has been called the little Garden of the Gods, and these red sandstone rocks look like they come out of the earth slanted.
This park is off the beaten path and sees less visitors than other, more popular hiking destinations in Colorado, but it shouldn’t be missed! There are a lot of hiking trails of varying length and difficulty that give you many opportunities to admire the red rocks and wildlife.
Willow Creek Trail is an especially great, easy trail with stunning views of the slanted and pointy rock formations.
Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, not far from Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore. This area is characterized by the rugged, pointed mountains and spires (called needles), forests, grasslands, and lakes. You can see animals like bison, pronghorn, and elk in the park.
Driving the Needles Highway is a great thing to do in Custer. This highway takes you through twists and turns and narrow tunnels as you drive past gorgeous, craggy, pointed rock formations.
One of the most beautiful and popular areas in the park is Sylvan Lake, a placid lake surrounded by giant boulders, where you can go swimming, fishing, kayaking, hiking around the lake or deeper into the forest, or camp. This is one of our favorite state parks in the Midwest United States.
Missouri is known for having a ton of caves, (there are around 7000 in the state, and Missouri is often referred to as the Cave State) so it makes sense that some of them are state parks. The Onondaga Cave is truly spectacular, as it’s filled with high quality stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave rock formations.
You can take a 1 hr 15 minute guided tour of the cave, where a knowledgeable guide will take you through the paved trails and give information about the history and geology of the cave. Visitors regularly say this is the best cave tour they’ve ever done.
The redwood trees in California are among the largest and oldest trees in the world, and luckily for all of us, there are many state and national parks where you can see them. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is a great choice because there are 17,000 acres of ancient redwoods, and some of the most dense redwood coverage in California.
You can drive Avenue of the Giants, an incredibly scenic drive through the massive redwoods and then visit Shrine Drive-Through Tree. Marvel at the Rockefeller Tree, which is 362 feet high and 13.6 feet wide. A few great hikes in the park are the Nature Trail by the Visitor’s Center, and the Founders Grove trail.
Nestled in the panhandle of north Texas and less than an hour from Armadillo is the second largest canyon in the US—Palo Duro Canyon. This state park offers stunning views and rock formations. The most famous and photographed rock formation in the park is The Lighthouse, which requires a fairly long, but totally worth it hike.
You can also view the famous Texas Longhorns grazing out in pasture in the park, or go explore the Big Cave.
At a mere 94 acres, Palouse Falls State Park is undoubtedly the smallest state park on this list. It’s fairly isolated in eastern Washington, about 2 hours south of Spokane. While small, it definitely makes an impact, as the heavy cascades from the Palouse River thunders over the edge of a cliff, plummeting 200 feet to the base.
The river continues meandering through a deep canyon after the falls, creating a beautiful vista. There are two viewpoints to visit: one in front and one to the side of the falls.
Final Thoughts on the Best State Parks in the United States
The United States has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and there are many incredible places outside of the National Parks. You won’t regret visiting any of these amazing US state parks, or exploring your own state and finding hidden gems of your own!
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