12 of the Best State Parks for Fall Camping

Parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.

National Parks are a treasure and definitely 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 is 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 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. Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky © 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.

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia © 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.

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © 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.

Meahler 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 State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona

As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience.

For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake offers a variety of camping experiences in five camping loops. Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 42 mixed-amenity sites. Campground F has 15 full-hookup sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site have a picnic table and fire ring. There are convenient vault and chemical toilets located throughout the campgrounds. 

Get more tips for visiting Alamo Lake State Park

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout.

The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

105 developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Sites tend to fill up in the evening from May until November. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. – 8 a.m. There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long for camper/trailers.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman, an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp. This park is home to fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow-shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 44 electric campsites suitable for RVs, six cottages, and one group camping area. Sites are back-ins and pull-through and range from 25 to 40 feet in length.

Get more tips for visiting Laura S. Walker State Park

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

90 camping sites with electricity, 34 cottages, and primitive 18 backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. Campground sites 42–65 were recently renovated.

Get more tips for visiting Vogel State Park

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235 acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station. A grocery store and a laundry are nearby across the street from the park. The maximum reservation window is 12 months in advance of the date.

Get more tips for visiting My Old Kentucky Home State Park

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance. In addition, the park offers three camping cottages, two yurts, and three group camping areas. The maximum reservation window is 12 months in advance of the date.

Monohans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Mona­hans westward and north into New Mexico. Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. The park does not have marked trails; you are free to ex­plore at will. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 25 campsites with water and electricity and a shade shelter. Other amenities offered include a picnic table, fire ring, and waist-high grill. Restrooms with showers are located nearby.

Get more tips for visiting Monahans Sandhills State Park

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco State Park, Texas

This small park hugs a one-mile stretch of the Blanco River. On the water, you can swim, fish, paddle, or boat. On land, you can picnic, hike, camp, watch for wildlife, and geocache. A CCC-built picnic area and pavilion is available for a group gathering. Anglers fish for largemouth and Guadalupe bass, channel catfish, sunfish, and rainbow trout. Swim anywhere along the river. Small children will enjoy the shallow wading pool next to Falls Dam. Rent tubes at the park store.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from full hookup sites or sites with water and electricity. Eight full hookup campsites with 30/50-amp electric service are available. Nine full hookup sites with 30-amp electric are available. 12 sites with 30 amp electric and water hookups are also available. Amenities include picnic table, shade shelter, fire ring with grill, and lantern post.

Or reserve a screened shelter overlooking the river.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, 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. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. 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. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Other amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, lantern post, tent pad, and restrooms with showers located nearby. A dump station is available.

Get more tips for visiting McKinney Falls State Park

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. There is also a pleasant picnic area. 

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

The park includes a developed campground with RV sites, six with partial hookups.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This 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.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, recreational yurts, six-bedroom lodge, and a group campground are available. Camping is year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and electric hookups suitable for RVs up to 60 feet long. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers. Sites have fire-rings, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in and five are pull-through. All sites are specifically reserved.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

10 Amazing Places to RV in June 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in June

Mankind was not made to suffer. Bliss is our nature.

—David Lynch

Throughout his long career as a filmmaker and artist, David Lynch has recognized the tension between suffering and happiness that is essential to great storytelling. Despite the dark themes and difficult challenges his characters often face, the Twin Peaks creator feels that humans were not created to endure constant sorrow. Instead, we have an innate desire—and capacity—to experience pure happiness and joy.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consult a dictionary and the answer to one of life’s most pressing questions—what is happiness?—can be summed up quite succinctly: a state of well being and contentment. But ask 10 different people what happiness is on a given day and it’s unlikely you’ll get the same response twice, much less in just six words.

While happiness can be universally characterized by feelings of joy, gratitude, and contentment, the roadmaps we use to arrive there are entirely unique. 

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I look at the past, today, and my hopes for tomorrow. All of this is enhanced by the RV lifestyle.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in April and May. Also check out my recommendations from June 2021 and July 2021.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens Eruption and Legacy

The tranquility of the Mount St. Helens region was shattered in the spring of 1980 when the volcano stirred from its long repose, shook, and exploded back to life. The eruption caused the largest landslide in recorded history sending enormous amounts of rock, snow, and ice down the mountain’s north flank at speeds greater than 200 miles an hour. Within hours, an ash cloud rose 15 miles above the summit and spread northeast turning daylight into the night for at least 125 linear miles.

Mount St. Helens, located in southwestern Washington, is one of several lofty volcanic peaks that dominate the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest.

Johnson Ridge Observatory Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the main roads into Mount St. Helens, State Route 504 provides spectacular views of the landscape including the crater, blast zone, and Toutle River Valley. At the end of the road is Johnston Ridge Observatory, a popular visitor center that is open daily mid-May through October.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. Forest Service has recently approved a plan to develop what would be the first overnight tourist facilities within Washington State’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument including a campground. The existing Coldwater Ridge visitor center will be remodeled and a trio of 10-room lodge buildings, a cluster of cabins, and a 40-space campground will be added, all arrayed on and around Coldwater’s vast parking lot.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoodoos and more hoodoos

Hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) exist on every continent but Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth. Situated along a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase, the park’s high elevations include numerous life communities, fantastic dark skies, and geological wonders.

Bryce Canyon National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is not a single canyon but a series of natural amphitheaters or bowls carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater which is filled with irregularly eroded spires of rocks. Perhaps every visitor to the park will spend at least some time marveling at its four main viewpoints, all found within the first few miles of the park: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, North and Sunset Campgrounds, located in close proximity to the Visitor Center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, and the Bryce Amphitheater.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get your Kicks: Route 66 Turns 96

The inspiration for numerous songs and countless road trips, Route 66 turns 96. The cross country route proposal from Chicago to Santa Monica was made to Congress on April 30, 1926. While parts of the route have been replaced by interstates, the older areas of the road have been named a national scenic byway.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell Incident

Do you remember the Roswell incident that took place in June 1947? For those of you who do not know or remember it, let’s refresh your memory. Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history came on June 14, 1947. That night, a farmer named Mac Brazel was driving about 80 miles outside Roswell and came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who ultimately came to the site and issued a public statement that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The government changed its tune and deemed the UFO a “weather balloon” but many suspect the object was a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. To this date, the incident is still a subject of controversy and the town of Roswell celebrates this incident with a UFO Festival run by the City of Roswell.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien theme town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center and has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.” Whether you’re a believer or not, the town is a goofy, cheezy place, a fantastic slice of Americana.

This is a special year for the Roswell UFO Festival! In 2022, the town marks the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. UFO Festival takes place on July 1–3.

Highway 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome-Clarkdale-Cottonwood Historic Road

From the intersection of state routes 260 and 89A in Cottonwood (Arizona), do NOT follow the signs to Jerome. That leads you out of town via the bypass. Follow Historic 89A which will pass Dead Horse Ranch State Park with hiking trails, fishing lagoons, horseback rides, and RV camping before proceeding through Old Town Cottonwood. Here you’ll find galleries, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms housed in Prohibition-era buildings. Outside of town Tuzigoot National Monument, an ancient Pueblo ruin, perches atop a limestone ridge overlooking the Verde River.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then you drive through quaint Clarkdale, Arizona’s first company town. Built by the owner of Jerome’s largest mine, Clarkdale was designed with precision planning and technological advancements far from the norm in the early 1900s. Don’t miss the Copper Art Museum featuring 5,000 objects, copper art, and collections dating to the 16th century.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Clarkdale behind, the road merges with the bypass (see all you would have missed?) and begins a short ascent into the foothills of the Black Mountains. Soon you’re climbing the shoulder of a hogback ridge with houses above you hanging off the edge. You sweep around the old high school now a collection of art galleries and follow the final twists and turns into Jerome.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park

Enjoy the best of nature and city life at this beautiful urban park located on the edge of Austin. McKinney Falls sits along rocky Onion Creek and is a local hotspot for hiking, mountain biking, road biking, bouldering, geocaching, and picnicking. So hot, in fact, that the park frequently experiences capacity closures on nice weather weekends. McKinney has 81 campsites, all with water and electric (12 with 50-amp connections). The campground is located away from most of the park’s attractions so there’s plenty of peace and quiet even when the park is busy.

McKinney Falls State Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, hey, if the park does get too crowded for your taste, escape to downtown Austin and explore the city’s vibrant culture including its top-notch restaurants, art museums, and legendary music scene.

If you’re looking to stay in the Austin area with quick access to the city without feeling like you’re in the city, this is the spot. While it’s only a few miles off of a main highway, once you enter the park, you feel like you’re nowhere near an urban area.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest Road

Petrified Forest National Park features trees dating back more than 200 million years that have turned to stone by absorbing minerals from the water that once surrounded them. The park also includes fossilized flora and fauna, petroglyphs, wildflowers, colorful rock formations, and wildlife.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trip from one end of the park to the other is about 28 miles. There’s so much to see from the Painted Desert in the north to the southern half of the drive where most of the petrified wood lies. Hiking trails along the way take visitors close to the sights. Starting in the north at Exit 311 off I-40, stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to see an 18-minute film, hands-on exhibits, and a short walking trail.

Crystal Forest Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive passes through a variety of environments, colorful rock formations, and scenic pullouts with spectacular views. At the Crystal Forest Trail, petrified logs can easily be seen within steps of the parking area. It’s possible to spot wildlife along the drive as well.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

California is filled with some of the most iconic—and crowded—national parks in the nation including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Joshua Tree. One park that miraculously flies under-the-radar though is Lassen Volcanic National Park, the least visited in the state with only 359,635 visitors in 2021. (for reference, Yosemite saw 3,287,595 in 2021).

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in central Northern California, this sleeper hit has a lot of elements similar to Yellowstone: your bubbling mud pots, hot springs, and freezing royal-blue lakes. Another thing the two share? The potential for volcanic eruption at any moment! Lassen Peak is an active volcano, though the most recent eruptions took place back in 1917, so there’s (probably) nothing to fear as you trek up the mountain and drink in the views of the Cascade Range. If you’d rather keep things closer to sea level, try paddling on pristine and peaceful Manzanita Lake or exploring the Bumpass Hell area, a hydrothermal hot spot filled with billowing basins and kaleidoscopic springs.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop at the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the ice cream alone is worth the trip, Brenham is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius. Highlights include the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2, 1836, liberating the state from Mexico. Located on the scenic Brazos River, the park includes The Star of the Republic Museum, which details the Texas Republic period, and Barrington Plantation, the home of the last President of the Texas Republic.

Other highlights include feeding the alpacas at Peeka Ranch Alpacas and sipping a glass of wine at the family-owned Saddlehorn Winery.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by Wilson Arch

Wilson’s Arch is a natural sandstone arch. The arch takes its name from a 19th-century pioneer named Joe Wilson. The natural feature is red-tinted, huge, and surrounded by desert—cutting a dramatic picture.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike many attractions, the Wilson Arch is completely free to access. Visitors can pull straight off of Route 191 and park at the Wilson Arch Scenic View Area—making the short hike up to the rock feature if they wish. Wilson Arch is only a half an hour drive from Moab and located just after the turn-off for La Sal. If you visit the mountains, it is worth the detour.

Worth Pondering…

It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, When pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.

—Nathaniel Parker Willis

12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

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 is 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 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. Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

Picacho Peak State Park © 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.

Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © 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.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Laura S. Walker State Park © 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 their 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.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground, and picnic areas. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park’s campground offers 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.

Related Article: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

The story of the park’s name begins with the Ireys family who came to Arizona from Minnesota looking for a ranch to buy in the late 1940s. At one of the ranches they discovered a large dead horse lying by the road. After two days of viewing ranches, Dad Ireys asked the kids which ranch they liked the best. The kids said, “the one with the dead horse, dad!” The Ireys family chose the name Dead Horse Ranch and later, in 1973, when Arizona State Parks acquired the park, the Ireys made retaining the name a condition of sale.

There are three lagoons within the park that offer great fishing and a place to watch the area aquatic wildlife and birds. All three lagoons have trails that navigate their circumference and are full of a variety of sport fish. 

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 100 spacious sites grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. The campground consists of four loops that each have varying numbers of spots available for you to stay. Most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet long. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Clean, accessible restrooms and showers are available at the campgrounds and near the lagoons. A dump station is available. 

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight one-room cabins are available who would rather not do so in the campground. All eight cabins have electricity, lighting, and heating/cooling but there is no water available. These dry cabins are however situated close to a clean restroom with showers. 

Palm Canyon Campground, 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 encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

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

Finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping can be difficult to track down. There are basically 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.

Palm Canyon Campground, 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 which are free but offer few amenities and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities to varying degrees.

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

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.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman, an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp. This park is home to fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates.

Related Article: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

The park offers 44 electric campsites suitable for RVs, six cottages, and one group camping area. Sites are back-ins and pull-through and range from 25 to 40 feet in length.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park. Facilities for use include: visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 109 campsites available for RV camping which features picnic tables and grills. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. Many campsites feature views of Shadow Lake and some feature water front access. Campground roads and RV pads are paved.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of the RV pads are within easy access of a central sewage dumping station and a bathhouse with hot showers. Washers and dryers are located at the bathhouse in each campground.

The park also offers primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

Rich in Native American history, Edisto Beach on Edisto Island is one of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina. Edisto Beach State Park features trails for hiking and biking that provide a wonderful tour of the park. The park’s environmental education center is a “green” building with exhibits that highlight the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A series of short and mostly level trails wind through Edisto Island’s maritime forest of live oak, hanging Spanish moss, and palmetto trees. During your walk you may see white-tailed deer, osprey, or alligators, and may even catch a glimpse of the wary bobcats. Two picnic shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis for family or other group gatherings at no charge.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping with water and electrical hookups is available ocean-side or near the salt marsh. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers.Edisto Beach offers 112 standard campsites with water and 20/30/50 amp electrical service. A dump station is available.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: Please be aware that because of the dynamic location of the park, the water has a high salt content. The water is treated by the Town of Edisto Beach and deemed safe to drink from the Department of Health and Safety. The Town of Edisto Beach does have a water filling station, which allows you to fill up to five gallons per day. Bottled water is also available at the local filling stations and grocery stores.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, 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. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Other amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, lantern post, tent pad, and restrooms with showers located nearby. A dump station is available.

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart State Park, Texas

Spend a relaxing night camping under the stars. Tee off on the historic golf course built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago. Look for geocaches and wildlife while exploring the hiking trails. Stroll the easy Clear Fork Trail for views of the creek, plants, wild­life, and check dams built by the CCC to create fishing holes. Or hike the short but challenging Persimmon Trail. Try your luck fishing in Clear Fork Creek year-round and swim in the pool in summer. Pick up a souvenir at our park store. Drive into Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reserve a campsite with water and electricity or full hookups. Eight full hookup sites with 30/50-am electric are available. These sites can now accommodate RVs up to 40 feet and are in the Fairway View Camping Area. Eight sites with 30-amp electric and water are also available. These sites are in a wooded area with large trees along a creek and are in the Clear Fork Creek Camping Area. Campground amenities include picnic table, fire ring, upright grill, and washroom with showers nearby. Dump station located nearby.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palmetto State Park, Texas

A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps. Hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding, or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos. Canoe the San Marcos River. The river has a steady current but no rapids; check river conditions at the park. Bring your own canoe and arrange your own shuttles.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose one of 19 tent sites or 17 RV sites. The RV sites are long back-ins and offer 30/50 amp electric and water hookup, picnic table, outdoor grill, fire ring, and lantern post. Restrooms with showers are located nearby. The maximum length of vehicle is 65 feet. The tenting sites have enough space for families with multiple tents or families camping together. Or rent the air-conditioned cabin (for up to six people). The cabin is next to the San Marcos River near the small fishing pond and four-acre lake with a pathway down to the river for fishing and swimming.

Related Article: America’s Best State Parks

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Known as Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. Utah Lake State Park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding. 

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newly renovated facilities include four boat launch ramps, marina, boat slips, courtesy docks, modern restrooms, visitor center, showers, campsites, a fishing area for the physically challenged, and sewage disposal and fish cleaning stations.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and power hookups. The campground is located on the east side of the lake. All campsites are available for reservation on a four-month rolling basis.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

The park includes a developed campground with RV sites, six with partial hookups.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This 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.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, recreational yurts, six-bedroom lodge, and a group campground are available. Camping is year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and electric hookups suitable for RVs up to 60 feet long. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers. Sites have fire-rings, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in and five are pull-through. All sites are specifically reserved.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

In the Lone Star State, find natural springs, granite batholiths, and even gypsum sand dunes

Texas is known for big skies, wide-open spaces, and starry nights. Parts of it bristle with cacti. Others glisten with swampy, tea-colored water. Along the coast, endangered sea turtles nest along sandy beaches, towering cypress trees lean over cool green rivers, and fossilized dinosaur bones poke out of dry creek beds.

Every corner of the Lone Star State serves up its own version of Texas terrain, from mountains to beaches and well beyond. And less than five percent of its land is publicly owned. In all, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department oversees nearly 100 parks, historic sites, and natural areas across the state. The National Parks Service operates 16 more public spaces including national parks, monuments, recreation areas, preserves, trails, and memorials. Below, I’ve picked 10 of my favorite state and national parks in Texas to plan a trip around.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale

It’s hard to imagine finding a giant blue-green swimming hole swirling with fish in the middle of a desert but that’s what beckons at Balmorhea State Park where more than 15 million gallons of water flow daily from San Solomon Springs into a 25-foot deep pool with a natural bottom. Native Americans, early explorers, and passing U.S. soldiers have all watered up here and in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, it’s popular with land-locked scuba divers, swimmers, and anyone looking to take a flying leap off a 7-foot 3-inch-high diving board. It’s also home to two small endangered species of fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and Pecos gambusia.

Related: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, far West Texas

At first blush, Big Bend National Park in far West Texas looks desolate and uninviting. But get out and hike its prickly folds, armed with plants that poke, scrape, and stab, and you’ll discover spectacular geologic formations and a diverse range of inhabitants from javelina to tarantulas, black bear, snakes, and mountain lions.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backpack the South Rim high in the Chisos Mountains at the center of the park, raft the café-au-lait-colored water of the Rio Grande or explore the desert floor and the old farming and ranching ruins it holds. The largest of the national parks in Texas, Big Bend sprawls over 801,100 acres, so one thing you won’t find is big crowds. Peak season is November through April—no surprise, as temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees in summer.

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Thicket National Preserve, near Beaumont

Four types of carnivorous plants live in the Big Thicket and chances are you’ll be able to watch one of them turn an unsuspecting insect into a slow-cooked meal if you visit. But first, stop by the preserve’s visitor center to get the lay of the land at this diverse park which is made up of non-contiguous units that cover 113,114 acres of land and water in seven counties.

Related: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find sections of longleaf pine forest, swampy bayous, and wetland savannas, crisscrossed by about 40 miles of hiking trails including a few wooden boardwalks that take you past carnivorous pitcher plants. Paddlers can explore the waterways by kayak or canoe, too. Just remember to bring the bug spray.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Fredericksburg

Enchanted Rock looms like a giant pink onion, half-buried in the Hill Country scrub. It formed a billion years ago when a pool of magma pushed up through the earth’s surface and hardened into a granite batholith. Most visitors make the 30- or 45-minute beeline to the top of the 425-foot dome passing fragile vernal pools where water collects in shallow pits providing a home for freshwater shrimp.

Enchanted Rock State Enchanted Area© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But don’t miss the loop trail that encircles the main attraction. Pitch a tent in the primitive sites alongside Moss Lake and watch the sun cast a rosy glow on the rock—and maybe catch the eerie creaking and groaning that some report hearing at night.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, near Rockport

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier.

Related: Spotlight on Texas: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Johnson City, and Stonewall

If you’re looking for a history lesson during your next park outing, consider Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park a two-in-one immersion into rural Texas life in the 1950s. First, tour the grounds of President Johnson’s boyhood home in Johnson City then drive 14 miles to the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House where you can drive past his birthplace, a show barn, a small schoolhouse, and the Texas White House (which is temporarily closed to indoor tours due to structural issues).

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you make the rounds, imagine the former president known for pulling pranks on his guests—like the time he loaded dignitaries into a vehicle, rolled it down a hill, and into a pond, hollering that the brakes had given out. He didn’t tell them it was an amphibious vehicle designed to drive on roads and float in the water. Time your visit for early spring to coincide with the annual bluebonnet display.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, near Mission

In the Rio Grande Valley, you’ll find wonderful bird-watching opportunities. Approximately 360 species of birds have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande. Butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and more have also been seen at the park.

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will definitely want to bring your binoculars for birding with you. Like many other state parks, nature is the most intriguing part of the journey. Cars are not allowed to park on-site to help preserve nature. You can leave your car at headquarters and explore on bike, foot, or even tram.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi

Grab your swimsuit and aim for Padre Island National Seashore which hugs 70 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast on the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world.

Related: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Splash in the ocean, admire birds (including the Pepto Bismol-colored Roseate spoonbill), sail, fish, and, during the summer, watch Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hatchlings dash across the sand as scientists release them into the wild. Many a Spanish ship met its fate off the coastline here and visitors can park an RV or pitch a tent on the beach.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Austin

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. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Think of the park as Austin’s backyard; we’re just 13 miles from the state capitol. Here 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. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, near Pecos

A mystical place where the wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys, Mon­a­hans Sandhills offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. These natural sand dunes are ever-changing and worth stomping around after a few hours behind the wheel.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop here for a picnic or sled down the swirling dunes on rentable plastic lids if you’re so inclined. Entry is $4. And spend the night at one of the 26 camping sites with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, and shelter. Camping is $15 nightly plus the entry fee.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

16 of the Best State Parks in America

The U.S. has more than 10,000 state park areas covering a total area of more than 18 million acres

The United States is a complex landscape that stretches from coast to coast and offers steep mountains, dense forests of deciduous trees, towering pine trees, open plains, harsh deserts, and amazing RV and tent camping opportunities. Among the 50 states are an abundance of parks. What they all have in common is the passion to conserve these wondrous worlds filled with wildlife, history, and adventure. Exploring the world around us gives us a greater appreciation of the natural beauty we find and reconnects us to the simple pleasure of enjoying life.

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 encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Big Bend Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park follows a stretch of the Rio Grande in West Texas along the US/Mexico border. The park is a rugged landscape of desert, mountains, and steep canyons. Outdoor adventurists can choose between hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on over 230 miles of trails. Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can explore over 70 miles of rough dirt road terrain. Campers will find a vast selection of primitive sites for overnight stays that have a picnic table and fire pit with the exception of the backcountry spots.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte State Park is the quintessential place for outdoor excursions like camping, boating, and fishing. The expansive campground offers a wide range of campsite set-ups including several full-hookup spots for RVs. Popular water sports and activities include swimming, scuba diving, and an array of boating and personal watercraft endeavors. The park features 15 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Elephant Butte Reservoir was created in 1916 when a dam was constructed on the Rio Grande River. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers 173 developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river. The park offers 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, 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. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups).

Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Located half an hour outside of Sarasota this verdant sanctuary is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. A popular destination for outdoor adventure, visitors can rent a kayak and paddle along the park’s waterways in search of alligators or choose from close to forty miles of hiking trails that snake through wetlands, pine forests, and dry prairie. Myakka River State Park is a renowned location for birding and for good reason—some truly fascinating avian species can be spotted searching for food along the river banks with the vibrant pink-colored roseate spoonbill standing out as one of the area’s most coveted sights.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species. Nearby attractions include St George, Red Cliffs BLM Recreation Area, and Zion National Park.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. This sprawling 20,000-acre park offers three campground areas that range from full hookups to standard camping. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This 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. Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Grab Some Fresh Air and Commune with Nature at McKinney Falls State Park

Escape the Austin heat at McKinney Falls State Park

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. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. Think of the park as Austin’s backyard; it’s just 13 miles from the state capitol.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Onion Creek can flood after rainfall. Beware of the creek’s flow; contact the park for current creek conditions. Youngsters can complete the Junior Ranger Activity Journal, which is available at park headquarters and may be downloaded from the website.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls is actually a series of two waterfalls—an upper and lower falls. The Upper McKinney Falls is where Onion Creek is channeled into a chute that is about 15-20 feet tall. The Lower McKinney Falls is where the combined flow of Williamson Creek and Onion Creek drops over a wide 15-foot limestone bench. It would typically have a segmented appearance exposing its underlying limestone bedrock except following periods of persistent rains when it would swell to a wide singular block.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

Go fishing in Onion or Williamson creeks. Bring your fishing poles to catch catfish, Guadalupe bass, white bass, and sunfish. You do not need a license to fish from shore in a Texas state park. Wear a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley), sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect your head, eyes, and skin. Bring plenty of drinking water to prevent dehydration; soft drinks encourage dehydration.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White-tailed deer, raccoons, armadillos, squirrels, and many bird species including the colorful painted bunting live in the park. The flowing waters of Onion and William­son creeks support majestic bald cypress trees and bright wild­flowers like red Turk’s cap.

Many people visit the park to see “Old Baldy,” a 500-year-old bald cypress tree that stands 103 feet tall and whose trunk measures 195 inches around. Bald cypress trees rule the park and are so named because they turn bright orange early in the fall and lose their needle-like leaves.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area was inhabited more than 8,500 years ago as evidenced by artifacts left by American Indian tribes; which groups occupied this area remains a mystery. When Spain ruled this part of the United States in the 1600s major roads were constructed throughout Texas to encourage settlements.

By 1850, Thomas McKinney was living on this property along Onion Creek. The family ranch was located near one of these historic roads, El Camino Real de los Tejas. McKinney, a native Kentuckian, was one of the first colonists to relocate to Texas and he later became a state senator. Park visitors can see remains of the McKinney homestead which include the two-story limestone house, a horse trainer’s cabin, a gristmill, and an assortment of stone walls. After McKinney’s death, his wife, Anna, sold the property to James Woods Smith. Several generations of the Smith family farmed the land eventually donating it to the state of Texas in 1973.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The busiest months in the park are from March to November. Early April may be the best time to visit as the park’s namesake waterfall splashes amongst bluebonnets and cacti—a distinctive native Texan landscape. Graceful great egrets outline the creek beds. But the best reason to visit in spring may be the great blue heron rookery. During the first week in April, newborn chicks pop their fluffy heads from the nest awaiting the arrival of nourishment.

Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). McKinney Falls has 81 campsites with 30-amp or 50-amp electrical hookups, water, picnic tables, and fire rings. Restrooms with showers are nearby. Most weekends, park rangers offer a workshop or presentation at the rock-hewn amphitheater. Or rent one of the six newly remodeled cabins. The park also has a primitive youth camping area for use by nonprofit-sponsored youth groups. A group hall is available for rental.

And, with the park’s location within Texas’ capital city, McKinney Falls makes a great base camp from which to explore the nearby Hill Country.

Fact Box

Location: Travis County within Austin city limits

Busy Season: March through November

Date Established: 1976

Park Entrance Fees: $6/adult or Texas State Park pass; children 12 years and under, free

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campsite Rates: $20 (30 amp)-$24 (50 amp) + daily entrance fee

Directions: 13 miles southeast of the state capitol in Austin off of U.S. Highway 183; take McKinney Falls Parkway from U.S. 183 South straight to the park entrance.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America