10 state parks that are just as awesome as national parks

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10 state parks that are just as awesome as national parks

State parks in the US offer just as much, if not more, than dedicated national parks — often with fewer people and for less money. Don’t miss out on amazing hiking opportunities at these fifteen state parks just because they’re not classified as national parks.

1. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California

Humboldt Redwoods State ParkPhoto: EyeLights West/Shutterstock

More than 100 trees over 350-feet tall can be found in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and you’ll drive right through the base of three of these stately trees along the 32-mile Avenue of Giants.

The tallest in the park, and the fourth tallest living redwood on earth, the Stratosphere Giant is 370.5-feet tall. The tallest redwood on record was also located in the park. It was the 372-foot-tall Dyerville Giant, which fell in 1991 at the ripe age of 1,600 years old. Beyond its massive array of redwoods, Humboldt Redwoods also has excellent campgrounds with hot showers, beaches, hiking trails, a horse camp, and equestrian trails. The South Fork Eel River also provides opportunities for fishing, boating, and swimming.

Highlights: redwood trees
Hours: 9:00 AM-5:00 PM from April to October, 10:00 AM-4:00 PM from November to March
Entrance fee: $8 per vehicle for day use
Restrictions: none
Best time of year to visit: summer — rain is extremely common during all other seasons.

2. Napali Coast State Park, Hawaii

Napali Coast State ParkPhoto: Jo Ann Snover/Shutterstock

Kaua’i is called the Garden Island because it’s the greenest of the Hawaiian islands. It’s stunning throughout, but its most beautiful asset is the Napali Coast, an 11-mile stretch of extremely sheer cliffs, hidden lava-rock caves, and beaches. Na Pali translates from Hawaiian to “high cliffs,” and the escarpments rise up to 4,000 feet above sea level in some places. There are no roads, vehicles, hotels, or cell-phone signals here.

Kayaking tours can either be done as a day trip to one beach or a multi-day excursion along the entire coast. These tours allow you to view the coastline in all its magnificence and enter sea caves not accessible by land. Hiking in via the 11-mile Kalalau Trail allows you to experience the flora and fauna, gives you access to all the campsites and beaches, and brings you past waterfalls. Viewing the park from above instantly reminds you that this is where the movie “Jurassic Park” begins and gives you a unique birds-eye view of this beautiful coastline.

Highlights: dramatic scenery, remote access
Hours: daylight hours, every day
Entrance fee: none
Restrictions: permits required for campgrounds, maximum 5-night stay, no motorized vehicles/road access
Best time of year to visit: summer, as camping is only permitted between May 15 and September 7 for anyone wishing to reach the park via hike or kayak.

3. Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park, UtahPhoto: Elisaveta Ivanova/Shutterstock

Dead Horse Point is a beautiful lookout point that allows you to see 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and out towards the surrounding Canyonlands National Park. Millions of years of geologic activity, which formed the rust-colored canyons and spires, have created a masterpiece of natural art.

The park offers 16 miles of hiking and biking trails that wind around the edge of the mesa, giving fantastic lookout points and views into the canyons below. Beyond hiking, Dead Horse Point is recognized as an International Dark Sky Park and is one of the best places for stargazing in Utah because of its high-plateau location and distance from light pollution.

Highlights: vista points, stargazing
Hours: 6:00 AM-10:00 PM every day
Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle for day use
Restrictions: none
Best time of year to visit: all year long, but winter and the off-season allow for lower temperatures and fewer crowds.

4. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park/Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park/Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, CaliforniaPhoto: Shane Myers Photography/Shutterstock

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is located in the Big Sur Valley along scenic Highway 1, the roadway that runs from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific coast. The peaks of Pfeiffer Big Sur loom above Big Sur River Gorge, where Big Sur River runs through the park. This park is famous for its trees, among them redwoods, oaks, and willows. Wildlife includes bobcats, deer, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and dozens of birds species.

The 3,7000-acre Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, named after an early-20th-century pioneer, is home to many redwoods that are over 300-feet tall and over 2,500-years old. The main feature of the park is McWay Falls, which drops 80 feet from granite cliffs into the ocean below and can be seen from the half-mile Waterfall Overlook Trail.

Highlights: vista point, whale watching, scuba diving, redwood trees
Hours: a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset
Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle for day use — the fee covers entrance to both Pfeiffer Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer Burns in the same day.
Restrictions: drone use not permitted
Best time of year to visit: spring for the whale migration.

5. Baxter State Park, Maine

Baxter State Park, MainePhoto: Brittany Courville/Shutterstock

Baxter State Park, encompassing 209,644 acres of wilderness in inland Maine, is New England’s grandest state park. Percival Baxter personally acquired and donated all 200,000 acres of Baxter State Park between 1931 and 1962. Percival wanted to keep his beloved home of Maine “forever wild” and dedicated the state park to “those who love nature and are willing to walk and make an effort to get close to nature.”

Because of this, the park was designed to be explored entirely on foot or via kayak, and there is almost no vehicular access to its 46 peaks and 215 miles of hiking trails. The limited road system really just allows people to reach the starting points for their hiking or kayaking treks. There is no WiFi, running water, food, gas, or electricity in the entire park. You’ll need to bring your own water or filter the natural water if staying at one of the park’s many campsites or cabins.

Highlights: whitewater rapids, kayaking, backcountry hiking
Hours: 6:00 AM-8:30 PM every day
Entrance fee: $15 USD per vehicle for day use
Restrictions: limited road access
Best time of year to visit: fall, when the foliage is changing colors.

6. Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, OregonPhoto: Marisa Estivill/Shutterstock

Smith Rock State Park is a 652-acre park in the semi-arid high desert of Central Oregon. Smith Rock is known for its rock-climbing routes and is called the birthplace of modern sport climbing. Despite its small size, it has over 1,800 different rock climbing routes, and 1,000 of them are already bolted.

Even if you don’t come to the park to climb, Smith Rock offers hiking and biking trails, scenic views of canyons, and opportunities to spot wildlife like golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otters, and beavers.

Highlights: rock climbing
Hours: open 24 hours, every day
Entrance fee: $5 USD per vehicle for day use
Restrictions: none
Best time of year to visit: summer, when all climbing routes are open.

7. Lake Tahoe State Park, Nevada

Lake Tahoe State Park, NevadaPhoto: BGS_Image/Shutterstock

The most-visited site in the park is Sand Harbor, a pristine, three-mile stretch of beach known for its white granite boulders, which dot the coastline and provide a stark contrast to the bright blue of the water. Sand Harbor has a boat launch, picnicking areas, Harbor House Bistro, and Lake Tahoe informational center. The Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park is also an access point for reaching the 13,000 acres of Marlette/Hobart Backcountry, which features hiking trails, equestrian trails, and mountain biking trails.

Highlights: Sand Harbor beach, kayaking/canoeing/SUPing
Hours: 8:00 AM to one hour after sunset, every day
Entrance fee: $10 USD per vehicle for day use
Restrictions: none
Best time of year to visit: all year long, with different recreation opportunities in summer and winter.

8. Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CaliforniaPhoto: MetasZBABLU/Shutterstock

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a 600,000-acre park in Southern California, is the second largest state park in the country. Its name comes from Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the word borrego, Spanish for bighorn sheep. The park includes 110 miles of hiking trails and 12 wilderness areas, which span an immense area of different ecosystems, including desert badlands, foothills, mountain peaks, and canyons.

With its remoteness and dry air, Anza-Borrego is excellent for stargazing and was ranked the second-best International Dark Sky Community in the world. Another unique feature is Ricardo Breceda’s sculpture-art installations, which are placed randomly throughout the state park and the town of Borrego Springs. Breceda has created 130 red, giant-sized, scrap-metal sculptures that depict real-life creatures that once roamed the land. The most famous of these is a 350-foot-long dragon that seems to emerge from the dry ground.

Highlights: stargazing, free backcountry camping
Hours: dawn until dusk, every day
Entrance fee: popular areas have day-use fees between $5 and $10, but most of the park is free.
Restrictions: dogs are allowed in the park but not on hiking trails, no ground fires permitted, no drones permitted.
Best time of year to visit: either spring or fall, with spring being best for wildflower bloom and viewing hawk migrations.

9. Manatee Springs State Park, Florida

Manatee Springs State Park, FloridaPhoto: Robert Whitlach/Shutterstock

The most prominent feature in 2,000-acre Manatee Springs State Park is the Manatee Springs itself. It produces 81,000 gallons of crystal-clear spring water every minute, or 117 million gallons daily. The water comes from rain that falls within 40 miles of the spring. The surrounding land acts as a sponge, and the sand and limestone allow the rainwater to seep into underground caverns that feed the water to the spring.

The spring is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit and serves as a haven for manatees, especially during winter and spring when they calve. Beyond admiring the manatees while diving, snorkeling, and swimming, you can also kayak and canoe. On land, there are hiking and biking trails, as well as boardwalks and floating docks that allow you to get closer to the swamps, swamp vegetation, and up close and personal to the spring.

Highlights: scuba diving, manatee viewing
Hours: 8:00 AM to sundown, every day
Entrance fee: $6 per vehicle for day use
Restrictions: dogs are prohibited on boardwalks but OK in other areas of park.
Best time of year to visit: winter, when water clarity levels are best and manatees are nesting in the springs.

10. Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

Fall Creek Falls State Park, TennesseePhoto: Jim Vallee/Shutterstock

Spanning more than 26,000 acres across eastern Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau, Fall Creek Falls State Park is the biggest and most visited park in Tennessee. This park is home to Fall Creek Falls, the waterfall that gave the park its name, as well as several other falls, including Piney Falls, Cane Creek Falls, and Cane Creek Cascades. At 256-feet tall, Fall Creek Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi.

Fall Creek Falls State Park also has a diversity of trail options, ranging from short, moderate hikes on paved trails to overnight hikes on natural hiking trails. Most trails in the 56-mile trail system lead to overlooks with stunning views of the area’s tallest waterfall and surrounding landscape. Add in great rock climbing and fishing, and Falls Creek Falls has myriad activities to engage you.

Highlights: the tallest waterfall in the East, rock climbing
Hours: open 24 hours, every day
Entrance fee: none
Restrictions: none
Best time of year to visit: the year-round temperature is relatively mild in Tennessee.

A big thanks to the Matador Network for the great information!


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