National parks are some of the very best attractions America has to offer. These beautiful spots are especially wonderful for RVers and outdoorsy people because they provide opportunities to park your rig in gorgeous places, spend time outdoors, and connect with nature.
The problem? The most popular national parks are often extremely crowded, especially during the busy summer travel season.
For some people, these crowds are a real buzzkill and they will simply avoid the parks altogether. Others will choose to spend less time in the more crowded parks or they’ll simply visit during the off-season. No matter which of these options you choose, you will likely be looking for ways to fill those days when the crowds are too heavy to visit a national park but you still want to get out into nature.
This is where state parks come into play. There are hundreds of amazing state parks all over the country and these are often completely overlooked as they are overshadowed by the national parks that everyone knows and loves. Why not avoid the crowds at national parks and take the time to visit some of these amazing state parks instead?
Below I’ve listed some of the most crowded national parks and the best state parks I could find to replace them. In some of these cases I’d even go so far as to say the state park alternative is as good as, or better than, the national park itself, and that’s saying something!
Instead of Zion National Park, try Sand Hollow State Park
Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Quail Creek, Sand Hollow, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.
Zion is an amazing place. Unfortunately, it is also extremely crowded. More than a few individuals were frustrated when they discovered that timed entry tickets were required to enter this past summer and I fully expect this to happen again when the busy season rolls back around.
These parks are great alternatives to the busier national park particularly on weekends and during Zion’s high season. Expect low entrance fees, uncrowded trails, plenty of wet and wild water sports, starlit campgrounds, and breathtaking scenery.
Instead of Badlands National Park, try Custer State Park
Even the wide-open Badlands National Park can get overly crowded during peak season. Fortunately, the crowds don’t feel quite so bad here, but if you’re looking for a way to avoid crowds altogether, you can always choose to go to the fabulous Custer State Park instead.
This is easily one of the best state parks in the country and seeing as it’s just a short drive from Badlands, it should be woven into any trip to the area. This is one of the best places for seeing bison, pronghorns, and other local wildlife, and the granite peaks, rolling hills, and clear waters make for some fantastic photos.
Instead of Arches National Park, try Dead Horse Point State Park
Therefore, if you ever find Arches too crowded for your taste, you can just leave and head to this incredible park. Dead Horse Point State Park is stunning. This is one of those unique state parks just as awesome as a national park. Incredible red canyons and high desert woodlands beg to be explored and the vast trail system makes it easy to do just that. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time in this amazing place.
Instead of Saguaro National Park, try Catalina State Park
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.
The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.
Instead of Shenandoah National Park, try Shenandoah River State Park
Shenandoah River State Park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists.
With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure. Twelve riverfront tent campsites, a developed campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. The developed campground has 32 sites with water and electric hookups suitable for RVs with sites up to 60 feet. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers.
Instead of Joshua Tree National Park, try Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Like Custer and Dead Horse Point mentioned above, Anza-Borrego is one of the best state parks in America. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California Desert.
The park is named for Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word borrego, or bighorn sheep. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas. Visitors may also have the chance to see roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer, and bighorn sheep as well as iguanas, chuckwallas, and the red diamond rattlesnake.
Instead of New River Gorge National Park, try Babcock State Park
The New River Gorge National Park provides incredible outdoor recreation opportunities and stunning landscapes but there are also several nearby West Virginia State Parks waiting to be discovered and explored. These state parks offer accommodations, mountain adventures, and unparalleled scenic views. One such state park is Babcock, home to 4,127 acres of iconic scenery and stunning views.
Babcock State Park is best known for the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a fully functional replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that once ground grain on Glade Creek long before Babcock became a state park. Other attractions include recreational activities like hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. Babcock is home to 28 cozy cabins tucked away in the woods. Babcock also includes a 52-unit campground, and 28 sites with electric hookups.
Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.