10 of The Best State Parks in the USA That Rival National Parks

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Did you know that there are over 6,000 state parks across the United States? The waterfalls, mountains, forests, and beaches of many of these state parks rival our national parks.

Most of these state parks are smaller and more accessible to families than the vast areas protected by the National Park Service. As we’ve taken road trips across the United States, Trekaroo has uncovered 10 of the best state parks in the USA.  They offer spectacular scenery as well family-friendly beaches, trails, and lakes.

 Best State Parks in the USA 

1. Custer State Park in South Dakota

Bison at Custer State Park
Bison at Custer State Park | Photo by Liling Pang

South Dakota’s Custer State Park is nearly surrounded by some of the United States’ most recognizable National Park sites, like Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Badlands National Park. Yet, its Wildlife Loop Road, roaming herds of bison, and the granite peaks of the Black Hills easily rival the sights seen in the nearby national parks. 

Custer State Park made our list of the top things to do in the Black Hills. Check out 25 more Things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Trekaroo families, who consistently give Custer State Park a five star rating. They recommend starting early in the day, packing a picnic lunch, and stopping for a swim at Sylvan Lake in between spotting deer, elk, bighorn sheep,prairie dogs, and bison.

Looking to include Custer State Park in An Epic Road Trip from Chicago to Yellowstone? Trekaroo has the perfect itinerary for you.

2. Itasca State Park in Minnesota

itasca state park is one of the best state parks in the USA
headwaters of the Mississippi Rover | Photo by ramendan 10 of The Best State Parks in the USA That Rival National Parks 1

Crossing the Mighty Mississippi River is a true highlight of any cross country road trip. But, did you know that you can actually walk across this natural landmark?

Head north, way north, to Itasca State Park, Minnesota’s oldest state park, home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Here, kids of all ages can hop across the rocks separating Lake Itasca from the beginning of the Mississippi River.

There’s a visitor center with a topographical map of the river reaching from Minnesota to Louisiana and plenty of opportunities to wade in the tiny river when it’s no larger than your neighborhood creek.

In addition to checking “walk across the Mississippi River” off your bucket list, you can also rent boats, enjoy a hike, and visit one of the park’s 100 lakes.

Want to know what else to see while you’re in Minnesota? Check out Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things to do in Minnesota with Kids.

3. Silver Falls State Park in Oregon

Silver Falls State Park is one of the best state parks in the USA
Silver Fall State Park | Photo by: Bigstock/wollertz

The Pacific Northwest is known for its evergreen forests, spectacular waterfalls, and idyllic campgrounds. So when Trekaroo editors and families recommend Oregon’s Silver Falls State Park as one of their favorites for beautiful, accessible waterfalls and camping cabins along a creek, that’s quite an endorsement!

Silver Falls State Park is located just east of the state’s capital, Salem, in the foothills of the Cascades. It is one of the state’s largest and most popular parks.

The park’s biggest highlight is the  7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls.  After all, why take a hike to see one waterfall when you can take a hike and see 10?

Silver Falls State Park is one of Trekaroo’s Top 10 Waterfalls in the USA. It only seems to get crowded on the occasional weekend, making it the perfect stop along your family’s I-5 road trip. If you up for doing the whole trail, there are still multiple overlooks and shorter trails to falls that you can drive to. 

Here are our picks for the 10 Best Things to do in Oregon with Kids

4. Letchworth State Park in New York

letchworth state park is one of the best state parks in the US
Middle Falls at Letchworth State Park | Photo by deerajnagothu 10 of The Best State Parks in the USA That Rival National Parks 1

Driving through the rolling farmland of Western New York between the vineyards of the Finger Lakes and the thundering Niagara Falls, you’d never imagine that you’re only minutes from the gorge that is often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East.”

As the Genesee River flows north towards Rochester and Lake Ontario through the 17 miles of Letchworth State Park, it cascades over three spectacular falls. All of the trails are easily accessible by kid-friendly trails.

While I actually prefer the falls at Letchworth, you really should head up to Niagara if you’re in Western New York. There’s so much to do at Niagara Falls that you’ll definitely want to read Trekaroo’s Guide to Visiting Niagara Falls with Kids before crossing the border.

See more of the Empire State. Here are the Top 10 Things to do in New York State with Kids

5. Goblin Valley State Park in Utah

Goblin Valley State Park in Utah
Hoodoos in Goblin Valley State Park | Photo by: Bigstock/amadeustx

Planning a family vacation through Utah? You’ll quickly discover that Utah has a grand total of five national parks!

Despite all the natural beauty that surrounds it, Goblin Valley State Park is still a favorite for families because children can actually climb on the unique goblin-shaped rock formations.

Kids love the trails that wind in a maze-like fashion through the rocks. If you’re on the road discovering Utah’s other parks, Goblin Valley State Park is conveniently located between Capitol Reef National Park and Arches National Park.

Want to make a road trip out of your visit? Check out Trekaroo’s Utah Road Trip Itinerary

6. Caladesi Island State Park in Florida

caladesi island photo
Caladesi Island State Park in Florida | Photo by PinellasCounty 10 of The Best State Parks in the USA That Rival National Parks 1

A relaxing day at the beach is one of the best ways to spend a day outdoors with the family. The white sands and clear waters of Caladesi Island State Park easily rival those found at any of the the United States National Seashores coast to coast.

This island state park is one of the few completely natural islands along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The island is most easily accessed by a quick ferry ride at the top of the hour from nearby Honeymoon Island State Park.

It’s only a 2-3 hours from Disney World, making a great place to to spend a beach day while visiting Mickey down in Florida. Chairs and umbrella rentals are available for those who don’t have room in their suitcase to pack their own. 

Want more Florida fun? Check out this Florida Road Trip itinerary. 

7. Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California

10 of The Best State Parks in the USA That Rival National Parks 4
Walking Among the Sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park | photo via Bigstock

Being a native Californian, I could easily list my top ten, or even twenty, favorite California state parks. There are a total of 280 parks across the state, from the historic parks of the Gold Country to the beaches along the coast.

Some of the parks are simply spectacular from the cliffs of Julia Pfeiffer Burns overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur to Angel Island sitting in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. However, in my opinion, Calaveras Big Trees State Park has it all — shockingly massive sequoia trees, a good bit of Gold Country history, and most importantly kid-friendly trails and campsites.

Interested in finding ways to make your Gold Country vacation more educational? Trekaroo’s award-winning article, Road School: Take a California History Trip With Kids: Sacramento and Gold Country, is filled with inspirational ideas.

8. Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is one of the best state parks in the USA
Fire Wave at Valley of Fire State Park Near Las Vegas | Photo via Bigstock/ raphoto

Looking for something kid-friendly to do less than an hour from Las Vegas? Trekaroo families recommend exploring one of the many family-friendly hiking trails at Valley of Fire State Park, especially during the cooler months of the year.

The red sandstone formations characteristic of Nevada’s largest state park are the highlight of the .6 mile one-way Fire Wave Trail; like most trails in the park, there is no shade, so don’t forget to pack plenty of water.

Don’t just head back to The Strip! Take more Family Outdoor Adventures in Las Vegas. Here are our picks for the 10 best things to do in Las Vegas with kids. 

9. Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire

Franconia Notch is one of the best state parks in the USA
Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire | Photo by: Bigstock/KennethKeifer

Nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Franconia Notch State Park has it all: waterfalls, an aerial tramway up to the summit of Canon Mountain, winter-time ski slopes, a lake for summer-time swimming, mountain biking trails, and more.

The Flume Gorge, this park’s popular headline attraction, is a short hike through a natural gorge past flowers, ferns, and cascades. Within a few hours’ drive of most of New England’s cities, New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park is a favorite weekend getaway, especially during the fall when the leaves turn brilliant red, orange, and yellow.

Here are 10 more Things to do in New Hampshire with Kids

10. Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware

cape henlopen photo
Cape Henlopen State Park | Photo by j3net 10 of The Best State Parks in the USA That Rival National Parks 1

A long natural beach, lighthouses, and a historic fort make Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park a favorite beach destination for Mid-Atlantic families, and one of the best state parks in the USA.

The park has beaches on both an inland bay and the Atlantic Coast, so if the surfs up, there’s still a place for little ones to wade. Families love the Gordon Pond hiking trail and the park’s borrow-a-bike program that allows families to bike the parks fantastic trails without bringing their gear from home.

See more of the first state. Here are 10 great Things to do in Delaware with kids

Read About More State Park Fun!

Featured photo by: Shutterstock

About the author

Melissa Moore is one of Trekaroo's Travel Experts located in Washington DC. She's a mom to two energetic young children who wake up at the crack of dawn asking, "Where are we going today?" Being a Coast Guard wife gives her a new "hometown” to explore and a cross country road-trip to plan every few years. Recently, she left her native California behind and now has the privilege of introducing her kids to all the history that the Nation's Capital has to offer.

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