12 of the Best State Parks for Snowbirds

State parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your own backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Furthermore, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, which bode well for overnight guests.

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases you’ll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in-person. And some parks are first-come, first-served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

White-sand beaches might not be what comes to mind when you think of Alabama but a visit to Gulf State Park might change your perspective. From the Gulf Coast’s sugar-sand shores, you can kayak, bike (28 miles of trails), swim, bike (rentals available), play pickleball or volleyball, or do absolutely nothing.

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full – hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. All full hookup camping pads are large enough for RVs with pullouts and have picnic tables and pedestal grill tops. There are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the Campground.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

>> Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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.

Catalina offers 120 campsites with electric and water hookups. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Located near the Superstition Mountains and about 40 miles east of Phoenix is Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park. As you might suspect, the park is full of towering red rock formations, cacti, and enough hiking trails to keep you occupied for days.

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (20/30/50 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Campsite reservations are available. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee per campsite.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

Finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping can be difficult to track down. There are two ways to camp in Anza Borrego: 1) in established campgrounds which come with varying degrees of amenities and cost, or 2) in dispersed camping areas where you can set up camp where you like in accordance with a few rules set by the state park system.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a dozen established campgrounds in Anza Borrego Desert including eight primitive, first-come, first-served campgrounds that are free but offer few amenities, and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities to varying degrees.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is divided into three sections. Two of the sections offer tent and RV camping with no hookups. The third section offers full hookups.

Tamarisk Grove Campground offers 27 camping sites. The campground’s amenities include coin-operated showers, non-potable water (don’t drink it), flush toilets. Each site has a picnic table with a shade ramada as well as a fire pit with a metal grill.

>> Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

The park offers 76 campsites with water and electric service, most sites have 30 amps. A wastewater dump station is located near Old Prairie campground. All campsites are located within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers. All sites are dirt base; few sites have vegetation buffers. Six primitive campsites are located along 37 miles of trails.

>> Get more tips for visiting Myakka River State Park

Highlands Hammock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida

Supporting a beautiful yet delicate ecosystem, central Florida’s Highlands Hammock possesses a unique collection of plant and animal life. With more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, Highlands Hammock is a place where wilderness and history are preserved. The park features 15 distinct natural communities in its more than 9,000 acres with a diversity of habitats for wading birds, raptors, songbirds, migratory birds, and ducks. 

Eight of the nine trails are located on the loop drive and visitors can easily extend their walks as several connect via a bridge or catwalk. Trails run through the hydric hammock, cypress swamp, hardwood swamp, and pine Flatwoods. Be sure to travel the 3-mile bike loop or take the tram for those who prefer to sit back and leisurely take it all in.  

The family campground offers water and electric hookups, a dump station, access to restrooms with shower facilities, laundry, and dishwashing areas. Campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. Sites vary from being open and sunny to partially or fully shaded and range in length from 20 to 50 feet. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. In addition, primitive tent camping and youth camping areas are available.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (west of Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park.

The park site, also known as Jackson’s Ridge, was used as a base of military operations by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.

Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. Fish from the shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries. In 1969, it was named the State Champion Coastal Live Oak.

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. The park also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.

>> Get more tips for visiting Goose Island State Park

Cerulean Warbler at Falcon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Falcon State Park, Texas

Falcon State Park provides refuge from the cold for both humans and wildlife. But that’s not its only draw. Anglers come here to access one of the best freshwater fishing lakes in South Texas.

At Falcon State Park you can fish, swim, camp, bird watch, water ski, boat, geocache, hike, or just relax and enjoy the mild climate. Anglers mainly catch largemouth bass and channel catfish here. Bird-watch along the lakeshore and in the brushy areas away from shore. Besides the common bird species of the American Southwest, many tropical species also visit the park. Explore 2.8 miles of trails, visit the recreation hall for a snack or domino game, or rent the hall for a family gathering.

Greater roadrunner at Falcon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay at a campsite, shelter, or cabin. Falcon offers pull-through campsites, half with water and electricity, and half with full hookups. The water-only sites are non-reservable.

31 full hookup campsites with 30/50 amp electric (sites # 201-231) are available in the Cactus Loop. 31 sites with 30/50 amp electric and water (sites # 101-131) are available in the Cenizo Loop. 36 sites with water (sites # 43-79) are available in the Javalina. Other amenities vary by loop and may include a covered picnic table, fire ring, barbecue pit, and waist-high grill.

Or choose a screened shelter or cabin.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, Utah’s newer state park is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle. A favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts, Sand Mountain provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

Sand Hollow offers three campground areas ranging from full hookups to standard camping. Camp in the full hookup Westside  Campground or stay close to the action and ride your OHV from your site to the dunes in the new Sandspit Campground. Choose from 43 full hookup sites, 17 standard sites including six with partial hookups, and 60 camp-vehicle primitive sites.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sand Hollow State Park

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.

Two dams form the reservoir. The main dam is an earth-fill embankment dam. The south dam is a roller compacted concrete dam, constructed to replace the original earth-fill dam that failed in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989.

The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet, so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass, which is also stocked, and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Quail Creek offers nine partial hookup sites, 13 standard sites, and one group camping area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome