If you spend more time in your hiking boots than dress shoes, you’re already well aware of the 63 National Parks which undoubtedly house some of the best trails in the US. If you’re seeking an alternative to these busy parks, look no further than the extensive network of State Parks across the country, which harbor some of the most enchanting and dazzling landscapes you’ll ever set eyes on.
There are a whopping 6,000 State Parks across the country, protecting a combined 14 million acres of land, and they might not be as well-known as National Parks, but State Parks offer heaps of adventure. There are so many State Parks that it’s difficult to pick the best, but we’ve rounded up some of our favorites for hiking and jaw-dropping scenery to give you some great ideas, and show you just what’s on offer at these precious state institutions.
1. Ecola State Park, Oregon
Just north of iconic Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park protects nine miles of rugged Pacific coastline, wrapping around Tillamook Head. With shoreline walks, lush spruce forest and breathtaking views of the rock stacks from Indian Beach, this park makes a great alternative to the coastal sections of Olympic National Park and is an absolute mecca for hikers as well as surfers. If you’re visiting in winter or spring, keep an eye out for sightings of migrating whales.
2. Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park
The Nāpali coast in Ku’ai is one of the most special and recognizable stretches of coastline in the world. The Na Pali are lush, high cliffs that rise up to 4,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean. Abundant waterfalls and streams continue to carve deep valleys into the Pali as they flow down to the ocean. You can’t access this park by vehicle, but you can access it by sea or hike in. Once here, hiking along the coast is a truly magical experience and a dream for wildlife lovers and bird watchers, so don't forget your binoculars.
3. Makoshika State Park, Montana
Makoshika State Park is in Montana, but the landscape here is a far cry from what’s on display over in Glacier National Park. Here you can explore haunting badlands, magnificent rock formations and fossils from the tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops which once roamed here. You can hike, camp, mountain bike and bird watch here, and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the park’s golden eagles.
4. Baxter State Park, Maine
If you want to explore the pristine wilderness of Maine without the crowds at Acadia, head a little further north to Baxter State Park where you’ll discover Mount Katahdin, the state’s tallest peak where mountaineers can tackle the exhilarating Knife’s Edge trail as well as other smaller peaks crystal clear lakes, waterfalls and abundant wildlife viewing. Get out and enjoy 215 miles of hiking trails plus 337 campsites and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a moose drinking from Russell Pond at dusk.
5. State Forest State Park, Colorado
For quintessential Rocky Mountain scenery, head to State Forest in northern Colorado. This park is north of the far more famous Rocky Mountain National Park and offers comparable views of alpine peaks, dense forest studded with pristine alpine lakes and tons of exciting wildlife viewing. In fact, the park is known as the moose-viewing capital of Colorado with some 600 of the giant beasts grazing here. Needless to say, the park is also crammed with beautiful hiking trails where you can have epic adventures in the west.
6. Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Dead Horse Point State Park is a red sandstone peninsula that sits 2,000 feet high on the rim of the Colorado River Canyon, connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called The Neck. It provides stunning views of the whole Moab area and tends to be quieter than some of the other local parks. One of the best hikes here is Dead Horse Rim Loop Train, sometimes referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Utah, which takes you through high desert landscape and treats you to panoramic views across Canyonlands to the La Sal Mountains and down to the Colorado River.
7. Anza Borrego State Park, California
This State Park is a common getaway for San Diego residents seeking to escape the crowds of tourists at the beach and though it’s merely two hours from the beach, it’s like stepping onto a different planet. California’s largest state park is part of the Colorado Desert and the large bowl is surrounded by rugged mountains but the area is known to come alive in wildflower season. There are about 100 miles of trail here with some memorable highlights including exciting slot canyons and several palm oases such as Borrego Palm Canyon and some bouldering opportunities on the way to Maidenhair Falls, a waterfall in the desert.
8. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California
Humboldt County is well-known for its magnificent redwoods and down in the southern end of the county lies California’s largest redwood state park, Humboldt Redwoods. This park protects 17,000 acres of old-growth coastal redwoods, which are thousands of years old and have never been logged. In Rockefeller Forest, you can visit the 354ft tall Giant Tree and find one of the last remaining drive-thru redwood trees. South of Eureka, this park is about 3.5 hours west of Redding. Reservations are recommended here in the summer, but due to the temperate climate it’s well worth visiting in another season.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.