State Parks


June 28, 2023

Are you interested in learning more about America’s State Parks? Did you know there are over 200 million recreational visits in State Parks all around the country? 

And there are approximately 12 million overnight stays, both recreational and non-recreational.

The United States has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world, and it’s no wonder that there are so many incredible state parks to explore.

Whether you enjoy hiking through forests or fishing on lakes, there’s a state park for every outdoor recreational activity imaginable, like mountain biking, hiking, or even cross-country skiing.

This article explores the different state parks in the United States and which parks are most visited by people. It also lists the states with the best parks and what makes each park unique.

Do you need to find a park in the state you plan to visit? Or maybe you need help navigating state parks in the United States? Check out

This essential online directory provides information on restaurants, hotels, hospitals, recreation areas, and even repair shops in different cities in the U.S. and around the globe.

How Many State Parks Are in the U.S.?

The United States has 6,600 state parks that cover 14 million acres of land. These parks offer a wide range of recreation opportunities within accessible locations.

National parks are areas protected by the government to preserve the natural environment. These areas also include national monuments, seashores, lakeshores, historic parks, and memorials. 

There are also backcountry camping opportunities for backpackers to enjoy under a canopy of trees or stars.

Which State Has the Best State Parks?

The Florida Park Service has won the Gold Medal four times for best state park system and maintains 175 parks and historic sites. The park spans nearly 800,000 acres with 100 miles of white-sand beaches.

There are many things to do in Florida state parks, including swimming and diving in rivers, birding, and fishing or hiking on scenic trails.

What Is the Most Popular State Park in the U.S.?

Tourists from all over the world visit Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee. With its 256-foot-high waterfall and other natural attractions, the area has been called America’s top state park.

Falling Creek is a state park in the central part of Tennessee. The park is one of America’s most popular parks for waterfall chasers who come to see the park’s famous 256-foot free fall.

Besides Fall Creek Falls, the park offers over 26,000 acres of cascades and hardwood forests. Hiking trails also wind up to scenic overlooks where visitors can enjoy breathtaking views.

For overnight stays, the park offers campers 200 campgrounds with different amenities. For day use, the park has an inn with 30 cabins for rent, guest rooms, and banquet facilities.

Spectacular State Parks

Some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes are found in state parks. These places tend to be less well-known and attract fewer visitors than national parks.

The state parks of Ohio‘s Hocking Hills and Utah’s Mars-like Goblin Valley offer travelers endless opportunities to explore nature.

So whether you’re looking to explore your backyard or embark on an epic adventure across the country, buckle up and get ready for a ride through some of America’s most beautiful terrain.

  1. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California

Julia Pfeiffer Burns is one of the most popular parks in Big Sur, California. The area was named after a local who lived there in the 20th Century.

The park spans 3,700 acres and is adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, and its splendid natural beauty makes it one of America’s best state parks.

The park also has redwoods, which are trees that can grow up to 300 feet and are native to California state parks. Another popular site is McWay Falls—an 80-ft waterfall that drops into the ocean.

  1. Garner State Park, Texas

With access to nearly three miles of the Frio River and enough adventure-filled acres to make it Texas‘ most popular state park, Garner State Park is a natural attraction for outdoor enthusiasts. 

You can float along the Frio River on an inner tube, hike 16 miles of scenic trails, fish, or camp in your tent.

  1. Niagara Falls State Park, New York

Niagara Falls State Park is among the oldest and best-known U.S. state parks, attracting millions of visitors annually.

From the park, visitors to Niagara Falls can view three waterfalls—American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe. 

To see these impressive natural wonders in person, check out the boat tours to get a better view of the waterways, especially inside the famous caves below.

  1. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Starved Rock State Park is a gorgeously scenic state park in Illinois that attracts many visitors because of its spectacular canyons and cliffs.

The Illinois River flows through the park and includes a dam and lock. Large varieties of fish also live in this river.

You can hike along 13 miles of trails that pass by rivers and canyons at the park. It’s best to visit during the summer months since the winters in Illinois are cold and snowy.

  1. Akaka Falls State Park, Hawaii

Akaka Falls is the most popular attraction at Akaka Falls State Park in Hawai’i.

The waterfall, named after Chief Akaka, stands more than 400 feet tall. Another waterfall called Kahuna Falls also exists nearby.

You can also hike the Hilo Coast Trail, which is less than a half-mile long and takes hikers through a beautiful rainforest filled with colorful plants and views of the two waterfalls.

  1. Island Beach State Park, New Jersey

Island Beach State Park is located in Southern New Jersey‘s resort town of Seaside Park.

The park is known for its beaches and the many water activities, like swimming, picnicking, boating, surfing, and fishing.

The summer weather is perfect for outdoor fun, and lifeguards are on duty at all the beaches—ensuring your safety during your trip.

The park also has picnic areas for you to relax in. Swimming in winter is too cold, but fishing or walking along sandy shores is allowed.

  1. Mount Tamalpais State Park

Mountain Tamalpais, a mountain that rises high above San Francisco, is beloved by locals as a welcome escape from city life. 

With the park’s redwoods and oak trees and pockets of open grasslands—it’s scenic no matter where you look!

This state park offers many outdoor activities, including hiking trails, mountain biking, horseback riding, and stargazing. The Mountain Theater also hosts performances in May and June each year.

  1. Mount Diablo State Park

A breathtaking 20,000 acres in size with a summit elevation of 3,849 feet above sea level—Mount Diablo State Park is located about an hour east of San Francisco

The view from the mountain’s peak extends for 200 miles in each direction on a clear day.

At the summit of Mt. Diablo, you can drive to the top and enjoy views through telescopes mounted on an observation deck around the visitor center. 

The displays inside the visitor center also include exhibits and fossils.

  1. Tamales Bay State Park

The beaches of Tomales Bay State Park, located in the coastal region of Marin County, are safe for swimming and have gentle waves.

The waters in the bay are calm, perfect for water-based activities like kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. 

Heart’s Desire Beach is the most popular—with a picnic area and hiking trails that lead to other swimming areas like Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, and Shell Bay.

America’s Parks

It’s important to remember that the significant difference between state parks and national parks is their governing bodies. 

State-run parks are overseen by the state government where the parks are located. Meanwhile, federally managed lands fall under the jurisdiction of Washington D.C.’s national parks.

Many government agencies, state park systems, and private parties manage U.S. parks. These institutions also manage national parks and state parks, including, but not limited to, state forests, natural areas, national forests, national grasslands, and historic sites.

As a disclaimer, a pass or fee is required for entry into national parks. People with disabilities can apply for a pass that grants them lifetime access to certain national parks and lands.

State Parks, Forests & Historic Sites

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) ensures that all citizens enjoy outdoor recreation opportunities within a safe environment. 

The NRPA also preserves exceptional examples of America’s natural landscapes and cultural heritage for future generations. 

Parks are essential to safeguarding our environment. These areas help conserve natural resources, promote healthy ecosystems, and provide clean air and water.

Let’s review some examples of these natural, preserved areas: state parks, forests, and historical parks.

  1. Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California

Located in the southern part of California, Anza Borrego Desert State Park is nearly 600,000 acres—one of the largest state parks in that state.

The park area has over 500 miles of roads and 100 miles of hiking trails. The most popular trails are marked for people’s convenience.

During the summer months, average temperatures in the desert can go over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Cacti and other plants thrive in the park. You can also see rock formations.

The park is also home to several types of birds, snakes, and large herds of sheep. 

Visitors to the park are treated to a stunning, star-filled night sky because of its designation as an International Dark Sky Park.

  1. Dead Horse Point State Park, Moab, Utah

The 5,000-acre Dead Horse Point State Park is located in eastern Utah. The park’s name is a reminder of the hardships that early settlers faced in this harsh, unforgiving land.

The park’s rugged terrain is full of desert, rocks, and cliffs towering over the Colorado River

You should visit one of the many outlooks across Grand Canyon National Park for a fantastic view—and a chance to see bright stars in the sky at night.

There are camping and picnic grounds available for guests. Some areas even have yurts, which can be rented for an unforgettable overnight experience.

The yurt is a circular tent made of flexible poles and covered in felt or other fabric. They’re sturdy, reliable structures that are easy to set up and maintain.

A famous 8-mile hiking trail winds around scenic overlooks. There’s also a 17-mile mountain bike trail for people looking for an adventure.

  1. Colonial National Historical Park 

The Colonial National Historical Park is a unit of the United States national park system. This system preserves sites in Virginia related to the founding and early history of America.

The park conserves and interprets the remains of several sites associated with Virginia’s colonial past, like Jamestown and Yorktown. 

On this site, General Washington’s forces won a significant victory during the American Revolutionary War.

  1. Valley Forge National Historical Park

Valley Forge was the site of a military encampment during the winter of 1777-1778, where troops from the Continental Army stayed.

The park has 3,500 acres of monuments and meadows that commemorate the sacrifices made by Revolutionary War-era Americans and honor their perseverance. 

The park also pays tribute to people who band together in times of adversity.

  1. Tongass National Forest, Alaska

The Tongass National Forest is bigger than the state of North Carolina. 

This forest is best known for its extensive stretches of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and cedar trees. The trees are remarkable for their size and longevity—some living up to 800 years. 

One-third of Tongass National Forest has been selected as federal wilderness, containing habitats for wildlife, including brown and black bears, mountain goats, and black-tailed deer.

  1. Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington

This national forest is known for its unusual landscape. The forest has tunnels and caverns formed by eons-old cooling lava.

The Ape Cave is a popular tourist attraction, and the forest’s proximity to the Pacific Crest Trail makes it a favorite hiking destination.

  1. Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park

Pigeon Point Light Station is a 115-foot lighthouse that’s one of the tallest in the United States. The lighthouse is an incredibly picturesque scene during sunrise and sunset when rich colors bathe the sky.

Although the interior of the lighthouse is off-limits to visitors, you can still tour its grounds. The historical structure is currently being restored.

Sea, shore, and marine birds can be viewed from the park grounds. Land birds can also be seen in the scrub, especially during fall. 

You also have a good chance of spotting spectacular marine mammals. Bring binoculars or a bird scope if you want to get close!

Before leaving for your trip, check the park’s website for information on closures and operating hours. Also, take note that state park fees vary from place to place, so it’s important to research your destination. If you’re looking for a cost-effective vacation, a simple road trip could be just the thing. Start planning your next adventure by finding out how to get to the nearest state park near you by visiting