The 10 Best State Parks in America

These underdogs can hold their own against the national parks any day

America’s 62 national parks may get all the glory and the Ken Burns documentaries but nearly three times as many people visit the country’s 10,234 state parks each year. In total, they span more than 18 million acres across the US—or roughly the size of South Carolina.

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

This summer with so much of the world effectively grounded and many national parks limiting access and services, state parks are poised for a long-overdue place in the spotlight offering a chance to get out, stretch, and explore. Below you’ll find the cream of the state-park crop from picturesque mountainscapes and deserts, lakes and ocean beaches, and expansive hikers’ playgrounds. Time to get outside! Here’s how to do it right.

NOTE: Be sure to double-check each park’s status before making the trip—as with most things right now, their status can change day by day.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

It may be South Carolina‘s most visited state park but that doesn’t stop this secluded barrier island located 15 miles east of Beaufort from being one of the most picturesque destinations in the South thanks to its famous lighthouse, pristine beaches, and popular fishing lagoon. Fun fact: many of the Vietnam scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed here.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adirondack Park, New York

Part state park, part forest preserve, and part privately owned land encompassing 102 towns and villages, Adirondack Park is massive. Totaling 6.1 million acres, America’s biggest state park is larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Nearly half of the land is owned by the State of New York and designed as “forever wild,” encompassing all of the Adirondacks’ famed 46 High Peaks as well as 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of river. So pack up the canoe or kayak, get ready to scale Mount Marcy, or simply meander about its 2,000 miles of hiking trails. You’re gonna be here a while.

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just over an hour north of Las Cruces, bordering the Rio Grande. As New Mexico’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are all commonplace at Elephant Butte Lake. For less water-based activities, you can enjoy the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. Camping is allowed, including along the beach.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in South Dakota‘s fabled Black Hills region, the state’s first and largest state park is most famous for its photogenic herd of 1,500 wild bison that freely roam the land as well as other Wild West creatures like pronghorns, bighorn sheep, burros, and mountain lions. The scenery is everything you think of when you close your eyes and picture the great American West, laid out amidst 71,000 acres of vast open vistas and mountain lakes. There’s biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and swimming. The place is so cool that even President Calvin Coolidge made it his “summer White House,” so that has to count for something, right?

Myakka State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka State Park, Florida

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Sprawling out across a stark expanse of 600,000 acres, California’s largest state park (and second-largest in the lower 48) is a crown jewel of America’s state park system. By day it has 110 miles of hiking trails to explore and 12 designated wildlife areas and by night the huge desertscape delivers some of the best stargazing in America. The park is also a site of great geological importance as it has been found to contain over 500 types of fossils that are up to 6 million years old. If you can’t picture the prehistoric vibes on your own, there are also 130+ giant metal animal sculptures that pop up out of nowhere as you roam the park’s unforgiving terrain.

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

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

You could be forgiven for thinking you drove to Utah and ended up in the Grand Canyon instead. Mountain biking the Intrepid Trail is a must for thrill seekers, but the more relaxed can simply gaze open-mouthed at the deep-red rocks and glorious hues via panoramic vistas of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The park gets its name from horses that died in this unforgiving landscape and with much of the park open with unfenced cliffs and little signage you’re best exercise a bit of common sense if you want to make it out of here alive.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville. One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer, making this a great stop for camping. 

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so emerges with sunshine and air and running water that whole eons might pass in a single afternoon without notice.

—Loren Eisley

4 Best Georgia State & National Parks

From the Chattahoochee National Forest to the still waters of steamy swamps and coastal seashore, there’s so much to explore in Georgia

Several of Georgia’s parks preserve attractions known as the state’s Seven Natural Wonders, including the picturesque Okefenokee Swamp. Excellent fishing opportunities abound throughout the mountain lakes and manmade reservoirs while hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails provide unique vantage points to observe the scenery of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain regions.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore is a spectacular National Park Service-managed national seashore located along Cumberland Island. The seashore is only accessible via boat from the park’s visitor center in the nearby mainland town of St. Mary’s. Stunning sand dune, salt marsh, and freshwater lake habitats are preserved throughout the seashore area which also includes the 9,886-acre Cumberland Island Wilderness and several historic sites related to the Carnegie family.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seashore visitors may bring their own bikes to the island or rent bikes from the Sea Camp Dock for daily exploration. Overnight camping is offered at the park’s public campsites, including a full camping area with restrooms and facilities. Back on the mainland, the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum showcases exhibits on the region’s indigenous history and Antebellum-era plantations.

Laura S. Walker State Park

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

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, an oasis where you can enjoy the serene lake, play rounds on a championship golf course, and stroll along the trails and natural communities in this southeast Georgia haven. Located near the northern edge of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to many fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants.

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

Walking or biking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, numerous oak varieties, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. For years, the lake has remained popular with boaters, skiers and jet skiers, but recently the area has become a hit with bass and crappie anglers. 

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park spans 80 acres anchored around the gorgeous Okefenokee Swamp. The park, which is located within the broader 402,000-acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016 to protect its unique and sensitive swamp ecosystem.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park visitors can canoe, kayak, and boat on the Spanish moss-lined swamp’s waters or embark on guided fishing and boating tours. Wildlife watchers can enjoy chances to catch glimpses of the park’s population of more than 12,000 American alligators along with black bears, deer, herons, wood storks, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Exhibits on the park’s wildlife are showcased at its Suwannee River Visitor Center which also offers interpretive programming.

Vogel State Park

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park is a 233-acre state park that was one of Georgia’s first two state parks at its founding in 1931. The park which is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest at the base of the impressive Blood Mountain is also one of Georgia’s highest-altitude parks sitting at elevations of over 2,500 feet above sea level.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four hiking trails of varying difficulty offer opportunities to observe spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains scenery year-round, most popular during the autumn months as leaf-watching routes. A public visitor center museum focuses on the park’s history and construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps with features detailing the park’s connection to the Great Depression. A 22-acre lake is also open for boaters along with a seasonal swimming beach available to visitors of all ages throughout the summer months.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Vogel State Park on My Mind

Vogel State Park is one of Georgia’s most beloved state parks and one visit there will show you why

Sharing the same name I knew that fate would one day find us within driving distance of Vogel State Park and when that day arrived, the park did not disappoint.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we entered Vogel State Park from US Highways 19/129, 22-acre Lake Trahlyta opened to the right, a fitting memorial to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that both dammed the lake and built the park. Georgia’s poet laureate, Bryon Herbert Reece, was born in a cabin on the land where Lake Trahlyta now sits. 

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1929, Augustus Vogel and Fred Vogel Jr. donated nearly 259 acres to the state, much of it still encompassed within the 233-acres within Vogel State Park. At the start of the 20th century the Vogels set up a lumber mill on the site of present-day state park to harvest oak trees, a major source of tannic acid for their leather company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park has been an escape of families for generations. Returning soldiers following World War II found Vogel an ideal vacation spot to renew family relationships. Grandchildren of these early visitors have continued the tradition. Vogel offers a slower pace in these fast-paced times.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer, making this a great stop for camping. The park provide a range of overnight accommodations including 56 campsites with electric service suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length, 22 tent/pop-up campsites, 14 tent-only walk-in campsites, and 34 cottages. All accommodations are available for reservation.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lake for swimming and boating, and miles of hiking trails adjacent to the famous Appalachian Trail offer something for everyone. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats, and during summer, visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach. 

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 17 miles of hiking trails from easy to strenuous. 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 is 20 miles west of the Bavarian town of Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An annual wildflower pilgrimage is a favorite time for those who want to see a variety of spring wildflowers. This mid-April event provides an ideal opportunity for wildflower lovers to enjoy a casual walk with a naturalist and search for the hidden beauty of the forest floor.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Constructed by the CCC during the depression years of the 1930s, Vogel’s park rustic architecture harkens back to a simpler time. The CCC history runs deep through the park. A museum recognizing the efforts of the greatest generation of natural resource workers.

Vogel State Park is 13 miles southwest of Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park hosts an annual CCC reunion of men who actually worked as President Roosevelt’s Tree Army soldiers. They have tales to tell of planting trees, fighting fire, building dams and parks, and other experiences that some say were the best days of their lives. This program is held in May. Everyone is welcome to attend this fascinating event.

Vogel State Park is 20 miles west of the Bavarian town of Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife viewing at Vogel is a favorite pastime. There are deer, black bear, birds, and smaller creatures, but fishing is one of the more popular activities. The park hosts an annual Kids Fishing Rodeo the second Saturday of June. Youngsters 12 and under have the opportunity to fish for rainbow trout in Wolf Creek. Wildlife Resources Fisheries stock Wolf Creek with hundreds of trout which pretty much guarantees a catch for each child present.

Every Saturday evening during the summer, musicians and groups play on the theater over the lake. What better way to experience a summer evening than with a cool breeze on your face and beautiful music.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appalachian Mountains wouldn’t have the character they do, were it not for the music that has emanated from the hollows. September 12 (2015) is when Vogel hosts its 12th annual Mountain Music Festival. This all-day event has bluegrass, country, gospel, and mountain musicians playing on the lake shore. Crafters will also display their handmade wares in much the same way they would have done in an earlier time. Concessions will be provided by Vogel volunteers.

Vogel State Park is 13 miles southwest of Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel is fun year round but particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves.

Vogel State Park is 20 miles west of the Bavarian town of Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

6 State Parks to Explore Following the Government Shutdown

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history is over―at least for now.

The shutdown has affected national parks in many ways, including piled-up garbage, unusable toilets, vandalism, closed roads, and closure of some parks. And don’t expect conditions to return to normal in the short term. It will take time.

But if you’re a fan of the great outdoors, there are numerous state and county parks to explore instead. With this in mind, we put together a list of wonderful state parks based on our RV travel experiences. 

These parks are particularly great due to their hidden historical aspects, proximity to cities and towns, and they’re often filled with unexpected flora and fauna, intriguing natural environments, scenic beauty, and campgrounds.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

The Texas coast is on an hourglass-shaped migratory path called the Central Flyway that extends from Alaska to Latin America. This makes Galveston Island State Park a must-see birding spot, especially with its combination of beach, prairie, and marsh.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

Meet manatees face-to-face without getting wet at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish that they swim with—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife. In a natural setting of wetlands and woods, the park hosts daily educational programs on alligators, snakes and alligators, and more.

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville. At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer. The park provide a range of overnight accommodations including 56 campsites with electric service suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length. A lake for swimming and boating and miles of hiking trails adjacent to the famous Appalachian Trail offer something for everyone. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats, and during summer, visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill was the home of Judge John Rowan. Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from England. Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Planning a trip to Arches or Canyonlands National Park? Dead Horse Point State Park is just up the road, and offers some of the best scenic views you can find anywhere. Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs about 6,000 feet above sea level. Two thousand feet below, the Colorado River winds its way from the continental divide in Colorado to the Gulf of California, a distance of 1,400 miles. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck.

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. A great alternative to Saguaro National Park, Catalina is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Worth Pondering…

Happy is the man who can enjoy scenery when he has to take a detour.