It’s no secret that we are huge fans of visiting US National Parks whenever we can. From Yellowstone to Glacier National Park, we’ll take any opportunity to explore our country’s greatest natural resources. However, while national parks tend to get a lot more attention, state parks often fly below the radar, which is quite a shame. Today’s post, sponsored by Flights.com, highlights seven of the best state parks to visit across the country. Which one is your favorite?
Over 8,000 state parks make up the state park system within the United States, and over 700 million people visit them each and every year. Although national parks tend to get most of the attention, the United States state park system does an impressive job of revealing the vast diversity of land, flora, and fauna this country enjoys, and if your bucket list at all includes experiencing as much of America as you can, do yourself a favor and visit these seven state parks, as each one is worth spending a week or two exploring.
1. Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX
Everyone knows about the Grand Canyon, but few have heard of Texas’s Palo Duro Canyon State Park. 120 miles long, 800 feet deep and 20 miles wide in some places, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the country.
This 20,000-acre park is a stunning example of the Texas wilderness, and it makes for excellent hiking and horseback riding. Driving across the canyon floor is also an option. Stay in a stone cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, drive your RV in, or pitch a tent. The night sky is almost white with stars, and the daytime views are unparalleled.
2. Fall Creek Falls State Park, TN
A 26,000-acre park known for its waterfalls, Fall Creek Falls State Park is a wealth of bird watching, hiking, and fishing amid thick forests teeming with biodiversity. The six waterfalls are all worth a viewing, but make sure you at least hit Fall Creek Falls, a breathtaking 256-foot high waterfall. The park also features an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, playgrounds, shuffleboard, and a fabulous swimming hole where Cane Creek Cascades and Rockhouse Falls meet.
3. Itasca State Park, MN
The second oldest state park in the country, Itasca State Park is famous for housing the source of the mighty Mississippi River. In fact, one of the most popular undertakings by visitors here is to wade across the 30 feet of chilly water that, as it leaves Lake Itasca, becomes the river just beginning its more than 2,500 mile journey toward the Mexican Gulf. Heavy forests and beautiful waters typify this park, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a bald eagle.
4. Chugach State Park, AK
At almost a half-million acres, Chugach State Park is one of the country’s largest state parks, and it highlights Alaska’s haunting wilderness perfectly. Visitors to this park will see inland lakes, glaciers, mountains, and scores of animal species including moose, fox, mountain goat, and bear. Camping is readily had, but day trips are easily enjoyed as well, due to the park’s close proximity to Anchorage.
5. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, MI
If you enjoy hiking and the experience of untamed wilderness, this state park is hard to beat. Over 90 miles of trails make their way through dense forests and rocky coastline, where you’ll find impressive geologic formations, hidden lakes, and astounding views of the Porcupine Mountains. For a meditative and physically challenging retreat, a trip to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is ideal.
6. Custer State Park, SD
This over 70,000-acre state park typifies the stark beauty of South Dakota’s Black Hills. Just driving through this park will leave you speechless at the amount of blue sky and stone spires one can see in an afternoon. Plenty of animals make their home here, too, so you’re likely to see bighorn sheep, elk, and pronghorn antelope. Plan a visit during the yearly Buffalo Roundup when volunteer cowgirls and cowboys herd over 1,000 bison into a corral, so they can be sorted, branded, and tested by the state to keep their numbers stable and healthy.
7. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, FL
One of the most fascinating parks in the entire world, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located on Key Largo and is mostly underwater. Take a tour on a glass-bottom boat to see the teeming life among the reefs, or rent kayaks and canoes. Scuba diving and snorkeling are also welcome ways to explore this unusual park — especially since they have a shipwreck and an underwater replica of Italy’s Christ of the Abyss statue.
Whatever your travel plans contain, make room within them for America’s state parks. From mountains and glaciers to underwater reefs, the riches of the natural world are abundant here.
Disclosure: Flights.com has paid to publish this article at My Itchy Travel Feet.