In today’s post, I shine the spotlight on state parks—thousands of facilities across the United States established and operated at the state level. They’ve been preserved for their natural beauty, historic interest, or recreational features—often all three in one location. In contrast to many iconic U.S. national parks, state parks just might be the unsung heroes of outdoor recreation.
State-operated facilities have much to offer. For working folks with minimal travel time, a nearby state park can make a great weekend destination.
Many RVers have a national park bucket list. If you’re one of them, have you also considered state parks, some of which could be in your backyard? State parks are great places to get outside and explore, and they typically are less crowded than national parks. Even if state parks are usually smaller, you still can find stunning views, great camping options, and fun activities. You also can learn more about local history while supporting the surrounding community.
State parks are not operated by the federal government as national parks are, so they rely on entrance and camping fees to maintain the land and facilities. By RVing to a state park, or even purchasing a day pass, you are helping to preserve the park for other visitors to continue to enjoy. These camping and entrance fees also may be less expensive than national park fees or those charged at a private RV park.
Whether you’re looking for a scenic area to visit for a day, a relaxing spot to spend a weekend, or a place to stay for a week or more, consider a state park. In Canada, the equivalent would be a provincial park of which there are many great options. For inspiration, peruse the info below.
Find a State Park
There’s nothing better than being out in nature enjoying its beauty; many would even say it is healing to the soul. Depending on where you live, this can be a beautiful time of year to take in the scenery, hike, fish, camp, leaf peep, or simply enjoy the sounds of nature. And what better place to do it than in a state park?
According to stateparks.org, there are 10,366 state park areas across the United States. They include 241,255 campsites and 9,457 cabins with over 40,000 miles of trails as well as countless waterways and rivers—all covering 18.6 million acres of land. That means RV travelers and others have numerous opportunities to explore a variety of places.
So, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I even begin to start exploring over 10,000 park areas?” For starters, here are articles on specific state parks you might find useful:
- Magical, Mystical, Enchanted: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
- Catalina State Park: Sky Island Gem
- Sand Surfer: Ride the Dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park
- Edisto Beach State Park: Unspoiled Paradise
- Palmetto State Park: Nature-filled Getaway in Central Texas
- Desert Solitude: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
- Grab Some Fresh Air and Commune with Nature at McKinney Falls State Park
And let’s not forget Canada, also brimming with natural beauty and a vast number of provincial parks—nearly 1,200. Provincial parks in Canada are protected areas of land and water designated and managed by each province to encourage recreation and sustainable tourism and promote science and education. They range from ecological reserves with no facilities to day-use and overnight-stay parks with unserviced and serviced campgrounds including RV waste dumping, and toilet and shower facilities. Features include hiking trails, waterways, and beaches, and outdoor equipment rentals.
The province of Alberta ranges from fossil-filled flatlands to the jaw-dropping Rocky Mountains. The province currently manages more than 470 parks which provide cozy walk-in tenting options and roomy RV campsites.
Recommended Provincial Park: Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park
Beachcombing, bird watching, or sunbathing—there is plenty to do in the 600-plus provincial parks of British Columbia. The park system boasts more than 10,700 vehicle accessible campsites and approximately 2,000 walk-in or backcountry ones. Of the parks, 230 have accessible facilities for those with disabilities. Winter activities and basic camping are popular in BC’s provincial parks.
Recommended Provincial Park: Wells Gray Provincial Park
To find more information on Canada’s provincial parks, check the individual website for each province.
Here are seven of the most enchanting state parks in America.
Lost Dutchman State Park – Apache Junction, Arizona
The Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, about 40 miles east of Phoenix. RV camping is available at 138 sites, with 68 of them providing water and electric hookup services; restrooms and showers are located nearby. Hiking, mountain biking and year-round wildlife viewing opportunities are available for guests.
Custer State Park – Custer, South Dakota
Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison – one of the largest publicly owned herds on the planet – who are known to stop traffic along the park’s Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. The park has nine campgrounds to choose from, including the popular Sylvan Lake Campground. Many sites include electric hookups and dump stations.
Vogel State Park – Blairsville, Georgia
Vogel, one of Georgia’s oldest state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain inside Chattahoochee National Forest. The park is particularly popular during the autumn months when the Blue Ridge Mountains put on a colorful display of fall foliage. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.
Gulf State Park – Gulf Shores, Alabama
This Alabama state park promises that you’ll never be bored if your family brings their RV here to camp. Almost 500 improved RV sites are available at Gulf State Park, with pull-thru, back-in, waterfront, and ADA accessibility. All RV sites provide full hookups plus Wi-Fi. Eleven modern bathhouses are scattered throughout the park, and some sites are located near the pool, playground, tennis courts, and hiking trails.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park – Elephant Butte, New Mexico
The largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park provides a setting for every imaginable water sport. The campground offers developed sites with electric and water hookups for RVs. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination. If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.
Myakka State Park – Sarasota, Florida
At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.
McKinney Falls State Park – Austin, Texas
Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). 12 sites offer 50-amp electricity while the remaining 69 sites offer 30-amp electric service.
Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.