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Exploring America’s State Parks

We are so fortunate to have a great park system in the United States. The natural beauty across our 50 states is amazing, and often times that is exactly where you will find a state park.

Every state is unique and had different characteristics, from the rugged coastline of Maine to the high plains of Wyoming. Wherever you are in America, you are probably just a short distance from one of the thousands of state parks.

In addition to state parks, there are numerous recreation areas to enjoy being outside. Whether you are looking to go bird watching, camping, cycling, or hiking, state parks are a great option for your outdoor activities.

State Parks In The United States

We make it easy for you to discover the state parks in each state. To see the state parks for each state in the United States, click on our interactive map of the U.S. below.

You can also click on the link for the individual states from the table of the U.S. states below. Once on the main page for each state, you will find a list of state parks and the location of the park. You will also be able to click through on individual state parks to learn more.

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC

Visiting State Parks

Our goal at America’s State Parks to help you plan your outdoor adventure to enjoy the natural beauty our state parks provide.  Some people come to our site to see their options for a quick weekend trip to a park that is close by. Others come to our site when planning a cross-country trip in their RV, or they may be looking for the best places to go camping for their summer vacation.

We provide information regarding the different state parks including, activities you can do, camping information, picnic spots, hiking, boating, and more.  There are so many outdoor activities you can do and we want to help get you moving. Make memories of a lifetime with your family and friends during an outing to a state park. You will be glad you did.

garner-state-park-texas
atlanta-state-park
tyler state park
martin dies jr state park

Camping Checklist

Camping is one of the most popular activities at many state parks. No need to worry that you might forget something when planning your camping trip.

Following our camping checklist will help you pack everything you need, and our gear guide page is designed to help you decide what gear is best for you.

Hit the outdoors with confidence for your next trip and be prepared. In addition to the list, we provide insight on gear consideration and why certain items may be important.

There are different things to consider when selecting camping equipment so we provide our recommendations for some items on the list. For your convenience, we have a link to a printable pdf file of the checklist.

State Park Highlight: Peaks-Kenny State Park

Dover-Foxcroft, ME

Sebec Lake in the background of Peaks-Kenny State Park

Northwest of Bangor, Maine, sits Peaks-Kenny State Park, with 839 acres of peaceful land perfect for enjoying the outdoors. The options for activities almost never end with the park by Sebec Lake. The park features beautiful views of Borestone Mountain and more than a mile of beachfront along Sebec Lake, complete with a sandy swimming beach supervised by lifeguards in the summer.

In the warmer months, those who live in Maine and visitors can enjoy hours of sun-filled boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, and picnics. If you want to stay longer, make a reservation for one of the park’s 56 camping sites nestled in the woods for a rustic camping experience right by the lake. Spend your days hiking or biking through ten miles of easy hiking trails and enjoying the views of the Appalachian Trail, Baxter State Park, and Moosehead Lake.

The trails offer inspiring routes through old-growth hardwood woods, hemlock, and pines. Two trails connect the day-use area to the campsite, situated on a forested hill. The locations are divided into two loops, each with an exit road in the middle. There are also four interconnected hiking routes of varying distances total for all levels of adventurers.

view of Peaks-Kenny State Park Beach from Sebec Lake

The campground’s main restroom building may be found in its central location, just next to the exit road. The day-use area features a grassy lawn and sandy beach, as well as picnic areas and shelters right on the water’s edge. A playground and a shelter are perfect for group outings and other special events. In addition, campers will find access to an RV dumping station, showers, and a group picnic shelter.

Sebec Lake’s clear, deep waters attract nature watchers and anglers hunting landlocked salmon and lake trout . Campers can bring or rent canoes or kayaks. A public ramp is located about two miles away from the campsite at Greeley’s Landing, where Route 153 dead-ends at Sebec Lake. Hunters can enjoy the winter seasons for a little game. Bring your ice fishing gear or snowmobiles in the winter for added fun.

Find the gorgeous park on the edge of Sebec Lake on State Park Road in Dover-Foxcroft. The park is open from May 15th until October 1st, with the gate open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. The day-use area is accessible every day from 9:00 a.m. To 6:00 p.m. Visitors may continue to enjoy the park during the off-season by parking outside the gate and walking in during these same hours. It is important to remember that during the off-season, many venues are closed.

rocks in the water by one of the beaches at Peaks-Kenny State Park

Remember to make reservations for camping at least two nights before you plan to stay, and you will need to play for a two night minimum stay. Day prices range from $2 to 6 dollars for adults per day. Children have free entry. You can also purchase an annual pass.

For more pictures and information be sure to check out our full article on Peaks-Kenny State Park.

State Park News

Keep up to date on the latest news articles related to state parks from around the country.

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5 State Parks Near Paducah, Kentucky

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When it comes to state parks, Arizona has 33 that fall within its overall system. Showcasing a wonderful and diverse landscape that includes soaring mountains, gaping chasms, rampaging rivers, beautiful meadows, stunning lakes and vibrant forest, they are also rich [...]

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Tennessee is blessed with 56 incredible state parks that collectively showcase its magnificent , historic, cultural and geological legacy. With a spectacular landscape that includes jaw-dropping mountainsides, stunning waterfalls, dense forests and picturesque gullies, they offer excellent opportunities to explore [...]

So Many Things To Do At State Parks

We encourage people to enjoy the activities and adventures found in and around state parks and other outdoor recreation areas. Every state and each park is in the state is unique to their area. So what are some of the things you can do in a park, and what sets each park apart? Each park is a little different but here are some of the things to look for.

The size of each state park will differ in how many acres associate with it. Day-use parks tend to be smaller, but not always. Some parks are just a couple hundred acres while others may be more than 100,000 acres.

State Parks Activities

Hiking 

hiking-in-state-park

Hiking and walking trails are a core part of almost all state parks. You will find everything from gentle lakeside trails for an easy stroll to very rigorous and challenging trails. The trails are typically well marked and have signs indicating the start of the trail and the length of the hiking trail. If you are going to be hiking or camping in an area with bears make sure you bring the best bear spray with you to help keep you safe. We wrote an article on staying safe around bears to avoid a bear attack. Definitely a good read for anyone heading into the woods.

Picnic Areas and Group Gatherings

While many people go to state parks for camping, they are also great for day-use activities such as a picnic lunch or dinner with your friends and family. Most parks have a picnic area with tables, sometimes a grill, and usually restroom facilities. I have many fond memories of spending time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends, and more.

Camping

Camping is one of my favorite activities. There is something about grabbing my hatchet, splitting some wood to get a fire going. Of course, it is much easier to split the wood after cutting it with a folding saw. I love listening to the crackle of the campfire as the flames dance around. Backpacking lighters are designed to stand up to windy and wet conditions to get your campfire going no matter what.  Camping always provides a great opportunity to clear my mind and forget about the hustle and bustle of life for a while. It just feels adventurous.

If you are bringing your whole family, you’ll definitely want the best family tent that fits everyone.  Your campsite can serve as a home-base as you go hiking, cycling, boating, fishing, and more. When you are done exploring you can sit back in a comfortable camping chair or camping hammock to relax. When your stomach starts grumbling, you can fire up the camping stove and get things cooking. And don’t forget a camping generator to keep those electrical devices powered up.

It is great to have options when you go camping. It’s also really nice to be comfortable when you sleep. One thing that can help make your nights under the stars more comfortable is choosing a camping cot and a great camping pillow. Many people find this much better than sleeping directly on the ground. They work especially well if the ground is hard or is cold and damp. Speaking of being comfortable, it’s always a good idea to bring a rain poncho with you in case an unexpected rain shower sneaks up on you.

What Types of Camp Sites Are Available

rv-state-park-camping

Depending on the park, there are different types of campsites throughout the country. The different types of campsites are:

  • Full RV hookups
  • Water and electricity only
  • Lodges
  • Cabins
  • Cottages
  • Group facilities

Learn more about camping.

Wheelchair Accessibility

Many state parks are wheelchair accessible and have handicapped restrooms to accommodate wheelchairs, especially in group picnic areas with parking lots.

Golf Courses

golf-clubs

Some state parks have golf courses or other recreation facilities. Alabama, for instance, has three state parks with golf courses including The General Golf Course at Joe Wheeler State Park, The Eagle’s Nest Golf Course at Lake Guntersville State Park, and The Oaks Golf Course at Oak Mountain State Park.

Skiing Areas

Many state parks throughout the northern part of the country have cross country skiing trails. It all depends on the climate and geographic location. While you probably won’t find a skiing trail in Florida, Baxter State Park in Maine may be the perfect place for your winter activities.

Bird Watching

kingfisher-bird-watching

Bird watching is a natural activity for state parks. As you can imagine, the habit and environment are perfect for many different species of birds. Grab a bird guide, a set of binoculars, and head out for a pleasant and relaxing day of bird watching. It truly is one of the most enjoyable outdoor activities for everyone. If you are just getting started you may want to check out our budget binoculars for birding review to help you get started bird watching without breaking the bank. Birding is a popular past-time for all to enjoy.

Beaches

Swimming is another great outdoor activity. Or you may just want to set up a beach umbrella, a beach towel, and enjoy the sun. Parks oftentimes have beaches or swimming pools depending on the type of park and the location. Check out our favorite state parks with beaches. Swimming areas are usually roped off. Lifeguards may or may not be available so make sure you check ahead of time. Check out our beach checklist to help plan your trip.

If you have never considered a full face snorkel mask for your swimming adventures when at the beach, we highly recommend them. Another fun activity to spur the sense of adventure is a metal detector for kids. They can spend hours searching for lost treasure which is a lot of fun. Having a little protection from the sun is always a good idea, so having a beach chair with canopy can be a real lifesaver. Don’t forget to stay well hydrated, especially if you have been sprawled out your sand free beach blanket, soaking up the sun.

Boating in the Parks

kayaking-on-lake

Boating is a staple activity when venturing outside. You will find a variety of boating options, including inflatable kayaks that can go anywhere. Some parks have a full marina or ramps, while others are limited to shore launching of small crafts such as a canoe or kayak. You will need to check with the park staff to see what facilities are available for boating and the regulations associated with specific bodies of water. If you are heading out for a full day of fishing on the water, make sure you have a good trolling motor battery to power your adventure.

Horseback Riding And Stable Operations

Riding trails on horseback is an amazing experience that you will love. State Parks like Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama have 25 miles of horseback trails that travel through forests, fields, and shorelines. You can BYOH, bring your own horse, or you can take advantage of the facilities provided by the parks with guided tours and instructors. They even have pony parties for ages 3-13.

Hunting in State Parks

Every state differs regarding its policy on hunting in state parks. Please check with the parks department and applicable laws associated with hunting on state parkland prior to planning any hunting trips.

Cycling

mountain-bike-state-park-trails

Cycling is a great and enjoyable outdoor activity. Many state parks have trails that can be enjoyed by bike. The trails range from easy road riding to more technically challenging mountain biking trails such as the ones at Monte Sano State Park in Alabama or High Cliffs State Park in Wisconsin. You may even want to consider an electric bike as part of your cycling adventures. They are great for assisting with longer trips and conquering the hills. Getting your bikes to the parks or other trails is much easier with a bike rack for your SUV or a car.

Fishing In State Parks

America’s state parks have some of the best fishing, with a wide variety of species for anglers. You will find both freshwater and saltwater fishing depending on the state. Gulf State Park is a great place for saltwater fishing. All fishing requires adherence to state licensing and regulations for the state. Several state parks host fishing tournaments throughout the year. It’s a great way to make memories of a lifetime with your friends and family.

ATV and Off-Highway Vehicle Trails

Some parks do have an ATV trail system that is accessible through the park. Please check with the specific park to see if trials are available for ATVs.

Geocaching

geocache-state-park

Geocaching is a fun family activity, adding extra adventure to your outside journeys. There are many state parks with geocaches just waiting to be discovered. It is like a modern-day treasure hunt. It is best done with a GPS, but with the right app, you can use your smartphone to help locate the geocache.

Exploring Caves

Some state parks have caves and caverns that are open for exploration such as the Florida Caverns State Park or the Onondaga State Park.

State Park Historical Sites

State parks are often used to preserve historical sites throughout the United States. History buffs can enjoy places such as Oil Creek State Park or James Buchannan’s birthplace in Pennsylvania. You will find a point of interest with significant historical value in many state parks.

State Park Rock Climbing Areas

rock-climbing-state-parks

Rock climbing has become increasingly popular over the past two decades. It requires both strength and endurance for rock climbing, especially in your forearms, hand, and fingers. No need to worry though, you don’t need to be superman to get started. There are numerous state parks through the country for rock climbing such as:

  • Thatcher State Park in New York
  • Castle Rocks State Park in Idaho
  • Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania
  • Stauton State Park in Colorado
  • Snow Canyon State Park in Utah
  •  Hanging Rock State Park in North Carolina

Special Events & Special Programs

special-event-chairs-set-up

Various state parks will have special events or special education programs throughout the year. Check each park’s calendar of events to see what programs and events are offered.

Weddings At A State Park

Many state parks allow wedding ceremonies, but these need to be planned ahead of time. The best thing to do is reach out to the individual state park directly to see what is available and if there are any restrictions.

Orienteering Courses

Orienteering is a fun and challenging activity where you use a map and compass to complete a course where you navigate to various checkpoints. Many state parks, such as the Kentucky State Parks system are actively involved in orienteering courses. Check with your local state park to see if they have orienteering courses or events.

Playgrounds

Most state parks have a playground area set up for kids to play and enjoy themselves. You will often find play equipment such as swings, slides, teeter-totters, merry go rounds, monkey bars, and more.

State Park Restaurants And Dining

restaurant-dining-state-park

State parks such as Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park and the Allegheny State Park are just a few of the parks with restaurants and dining facilities. If you are looking to grab a bite to eat while you are out exploring, you may not even need to leave the park. Of course, it’s always a good idea to bring a cooler and snacks with you while out on your adventures.

Winter Activities

In the northern states of the United States, winter activities such as cross country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, winter camping, sledding, and snowmobiling can be enjoyed. Baxter State Park in Maine has a great trail system and is perfect for winter activities. Parks in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Colorado, Wyoming, and more have many winter activities. If you are anything like me you love being outside in the winter but hate the cold. Having a heated jacket can keep you toasty warm and happy all day long, even when the temperatures really start to dip. Ladies, there is no need to worry about having to choose between fashion and function because many heated jackets for women not only keep you warm, but look good too. Not to mention there are vest options as well.

Pet Policy

Humans are not the only ones that enjoy the outdoors, so grab Fido and head outside. Most state parks in the United States allow dogs on a leash, although there are a few that do not allow pets. Please check the policy of the individual parks to see if special restrictions apply.

Special Use Permits

If you have a large group, want to plan a special activity or an event in one of the state parks, you will need to inquire about getting a special use permit.

Check For Firewood Policies

firewood-axe

Many state parks and state-managed forests have policies against bringing outside firewood in for campsites. There are many diseases that can be spread by transporting firewood from one area to another. Please check with your local state park regarding their firewood policy. Don’t forget you are going to need a hatchet or ax for splitting your firewood. You can check out our backpacking hatchet review to help choose the right one. If outside firewood is not allowed, you should be able to purchase bundles of wood from the park itself.

Park Maps

Check the individual park’s web page to see if they have a map to guide your trip to the park. The maps will typically show where you can find restrooms, parking areas, trailheads, and more. The visitor center or park entry gate may have printed copies for you.

Recreational Equipment

Want to rent a boat or other recreational equipment? Check with the park rangers to see what options are available and what equipment they may have for rental. Some equipment is free for use but will need to be signed out.

Educational Programs

Nature makes a great classroom and many state parks offer education programs including field trips, junior ranger programs, museums, and historical site tours. Check with your local park to see what educational programs are available.

What is a State Park

State parks are established to preserve the natural beauty, historic sites, and provide outdoor recreational activities across the United States. State Parks as the name implies, are managed at a State level as opposed to a federal level like the National Park System. In many regards State Parks are very similar to National Parks. The real difference is in who manages and maintains the parks. State Parks tend to be smaller than National Parks, but that is not always the case.

History of State Parks

It all started with Niagara Falls State Park in New York and dates back to 1885. While that is the first official state park, there were several other parks that were maintained at a State level. Many State Park systems were established in the 1930’s. This came about through a federal jobs creation program which resulted in around 800 new state parks.

State Park Facts

According to the National Association of State Park Directors, there were over 807 million visitors who spent time in America’s State Parks. That is a significant number considering it is more than double the entire population of the United States. Our park system is a huge draw for tourism.

Of the visits to state parks, more than 90% of them day time uses. Overnight users of the state parks still represent over 66 million people each year. People are drawn to state parks as outdoor recreation areas. While the parks only represent 2% of the total recreation space in the US, the state park systems claim more than 30% of recreational visitors.

Here are the 2018 Statistics from the State Park Operations AIX:

  • 8,565 state park areas comprising 18,694,570 acres
  • 14,672 trails over 52,603 miles total length
  • 221,367 campsites ranging from those with multiple hookups to primitive sites in remote locations
  • 8,909 family cabins & cottages; plus 856 group facilities
  • 156 lodges in 27 states with 6,483 rooms
  • 122 golf courses
  • 149 ski slopes
  • 304 marinas
  • 285 swimming pools
  • 392 stable operations
  • 807,264,826 annual visitors; 66,769,502 overnight visitors
  • 57.4 million campers
  • 1.7 million lodge guests
  • 4.8 million cabin guests
  • 19.2 million campsites nights rented
  • Operating expenditures totaling $2.636 billion — less than 50% from the general fund of states
  • $755.6 million expended for capital expenditures
  • Average share of the state budget — 0.156%
  • 18,489 full-time personnel and 51,055 total personnel (including part-time and seasonal)
  • Average starting ranger salary — $33,813

What can you do in a state park

So what can you do in a state park? State parks are all about outdoor recreational activities. Here is a quick list of things you can do in state parks: 

Camping, hiking, trekking, boating, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, sailing, skiing, snowshoeing, skating, snowboarding, snowmobiling, caving, water sports, water skiing, water jets, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, paddle boarding, wake board, surfing, windsurfing, spearfishing, running, rock climbing, mountaineering, fishing, RV park camping, resorts, golf courses, biking, ATV, hunting, backpacking, horseback riding, outdoor recreation, picnicking, bird watching, orienteering, and visiting museums.

Why are state parks important

State parks are important for many reasons including economic value to the communities, health benefits to improve the quality of life, environmental protection and preservation of some of America’s most beautiful areas, social connection and the quality of the communities.

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