America’s national parks get lots of attention. And we love them, too! But why not share some love with the 10,234 state parks across the U.S.? Explore the countless state parks scattered throughout each state that are lesser-known and often overlooked, and marvel at acres of natural beauty. Walk in the footsteps of historical figures, and understand their role in protecting some of America's most delicate landscapes. We chose some of our favorite state parks ready for exploration to share with you for their uniqueness in opportunities, beauty and history. Get your hiking boots on, grab your binoculars and get ready to explore!
Tall redwood trees line the hiking trails as lush greenery climbs up the trunks and covers the rich soil below. Established as a state park in 1921, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the popular Shrine Drive Thru Trees and 32-mile-long Avenue of the Giants. Fishermen prefer the calmer South Fork of the Eel River in the early morning, and the sun's rays shine through the walls of Rockefeller Forest at sunset. California's third-largest state park would not be what it is today if it weren't for the Save the Redwoods League in 1918, rescuing these majestic trees from lumber companies. Get an inside look of the Stratosphere Giant and the tallest Hyperion tree with Road Scholar.
Road Scholar Recommends: Sequoias to Redwoods: California National Park Medley
Walk among the granite stepping stones and gaze out at the expanse of thick forestry reflecting in the deep blue water at Custer State Park. South Dakota's first state park is home to unique rock formations like Needles Highway and Pigtail Bridges. Though there was no wildlife living here when the park opened in 1919, it’s now populated by 1,300 grazing and curious bison. Watch for them on Wildlife Loop Road. Walk in the footsteps of past U.S. presidents, and keep a close look out for the big horn sheep, "begging burros" and prairie dogs as you explore this beautiful park.
Road Scholar Recommends: On the Road: Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
Drive through the bright red expanse in search of the elusive Elephant Rock at sunset in the Valley of Fire State Park. Wake up early to watch the yellow sun rays reflect off limestone in Fire Canyon and Silica Dome, just as the Paiute natives did over 150 years ago; or take a leisurely walk down Rainbow Vista Trail, breathtakingly color-streaked at sunset. The Valley of Fire boasts tremendous views of varying arch formations dropping into deep canyons that end in trickling rivers of light blue water. Join Road Scholar in the Valley of Fire and try to decipher the meaning of the Basketmakers' petroglyphs decorating the rocks.
Road Scholar Recommends: Hiking Death Valley National Park and the Valley of Fire
Snow Canyon State Park starred in 10 Hollywood movies since the 1950s. Its red and white canyons are decorated with spots of lava rock and have been walked on by Anasazi and Paiute natives since A.D. 200. The moon's beams shine down the canyon, making Johnson Canyon Trail and Big West Canyon Road light enough to enjoy a nighttime hike. Leopard lizards hide in the rolling sand dunes, and desert willows are home to prideful peregrine falcons. Visit Snow Canyon State Park to search for Utah's elusive waterfalls.
Road Scholar Recommends: Rafting, Hiking & Horses: Zion National Park With Your Family
Florida's underwater "Grand Canyon" boasts brightly colored yellow and purple coral in iridescent waters. Established in 1972, John Pennekamp State Park protects and preserves the only living coral reefs remaining in the United States. Get a rare opportunity to look at barracuda and yellowtail snappers through a glass-bottom boat, or snorkel among nurse sharks in search of the famous Christ of the Abyss. Join Road Scholar's voyage into this underwater world.
Road Scholar Recommends: Florida's Fragile Coastal Treasure: Snorkel the Coral Reefs
Arizona's red and orange sandstone towers frame the setting sun and the rising moon in Red Rock State Park. Explore the twists and turns of inner canyons or ride horses on the 15-mile Lime Kiln Trail. Escape the heat in cool Oak Creek or in the shade of juniper trees scattered throughout flower-filled green meadows. Keep a lookout for coyotes blending in the cliffs or guess what types of birds soar in the sky, looking for prey burrowing in the clay rock. Learn with Road Scholar how Gov. Bruce Babbitt established Red Rock in 1991.
Road Scholar Recommends: Red Rock Golf and Exploring the Splendor Of Sedona
The mysterious waters of Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park come alive as manatees break the surface for air. Escape the heat in 70-degree sapphire waters, and look out at the ancient cypress swamps with hanging Spanish moss and purple flowers budding above the greenery. This 6,000-acre wildlife sanctuary is home to the world's largest and deepest freshwater springs and preserves the footsteps of the first European explorers to ever walk the land. Take advantage of leisurely riverboat rides, and learn how Edward Ball turned an ordinary swamp into a Florida treasure.
Road Scholar Recommends: Florida’s Forgotten Coast: From Tallahassee to Pensacola
Known as the Niagara of the South, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park boasts extravagant views of roaring waters falling on beige colored stones. Hike up and gaze down on emerald water and multi-colored trees and take the day to kayak on smooth waters before finding the 125-foot wide curtain of Cumberland Falls and Eagle Falls. Ride horses through Daniel Boone National Forest while butterflies glide through the air or dig emeralds and sapphires in the old mines. Enjoy a nighttime hike with Road Scholar under the only "moonbow" in the western hemisphere.
Road Scholar Recommends: Cumberland Falls and Traditions, Legends and Music of Appalachia
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park boasts giant trees right to the edge of the cliff that drops to the roaring waves below. Once the home of gold mines, this state park is covered in yellow fields and is home to large expanses of desert. Emerald ferns cascade down canyon rocks as mist rises from early morning rains throughout Fern Canyon. Keep a lookout for Roosevelt elks' peaking antlers among the tall grass along the 19-mile bike loop, or see the hunting birds soaring through the air on Revelation Trail. Redwoods trees have been a staple of this park since 1923, but Prairie Creek has many other beauties that must be explored.
The winding Colorado River cuts into the canyons and continuously changes the scenery of Dead Horse Point State Park. Walk the same paths as mustang herds as you climb up to the plateaus to see the orange stepping stones that ice, water and wind have carved over hundreds of years. Bike up and down the canyons of the 17-mile Intrepid Trail System, and swim in the calming parts of the river after a day in the sun. Gaze up at star-studded skies, and learn about the legends of the cowboys with Road Scholar.
Road Scholar Recommends: The Best of Utah's Grand Circle of Parks and Monuments
Walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark through the North Dakota of today. Paddle above the sparkling waters of Lake Sakakawea. This state park offers unique viewings of great blue heron, sharp-eyed eagles and invisible snow egrets that hide in plain sight. North Dakota's largest mixed-grass prairie is perfect for afternoon picnics backed by yellow and green hills hiding the blazing sun. Spend a little time learning about Lewis and Clark’s epic journey before you visit, so you can fully appreciate what it might have been like to pass through these lands over 200 years ago.
Amelia Island State Park is most known for being the only U.S. site to be under the flags of eight different nations. Hundreds of acres of Sea Island cotton, sugarcane, citrus and indigo grew here year after year throughout the 16th century. Known historically for its strategic military location, Amelia Island is now a sanctuary for hatching sea turtle eggs and the endangered piping plover. Visit Amelia Island to ride horses along the wide curve of white sandy beaches and keep a look out for the surfing dolphins and black skimmers gliding through the sky.
Road Scholar Recommends: Amelia and Cumberland Islands and the Okefenokee Swamp
Have any of these state parks sparked your interest? Visit Road Scholar’s State Parks Collection and immerse yourself in these wonders.
About the Author Hailing from London, England, Alexander Morris studied at The School of Oriental and African Studies in his home city. He began his Road Scholar journey 13 years ago designing small programs in the Midwest, learning a great deal about North America in the course of managing and developing unique programming. In his current position as the Director of Strategy and Program Development, his broader International perspective and knowledge is invaluable as he oversees new Road Scholar programming across the globe. Alex espouses the value of an occasional sabbatical to recharge creative batteries, spending four months sailing the Greek Islands prior to joining Road Scholar and more recently spending a year in Costa Rica.
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