I love our American national parks and am so very grateful to those of our ancestors who had the means and foresight to set aside these wonderful areas of the country so that future generations could enjoy them. I have visited many of them and have a goal to hit each one at least once!
The national park system, however, is mature, typically congested (especially in the more popular ones) and can be expensive.
There are state parks that are every bit as spectacular as our national parks and there are numerous reasons to visit them either in addition to or instead of our national parks.
US Citizens have an amazing number of unique and spectacular national parks. There are 401 areas in the National Park System. Contrast that with an approximate count of 6,000 to 7,000 state parks.
Each state boasts their own parks. You can usually find them by searching for the state name + park, or by visiting the state government site and following links. There are also several websites dedicated to consolidating information about them. On America’s State Parks.org you can select a state on the map to find it’s park site.
From seashore to mountains to prairie and lake; from camping to luxury lodges; spelunking to horseback riding and boating the scenic variety and services available vary widely from park to park.
See the giant redwoods in California state park – Big Basin and sleep inside a tent cabin for around $80 a night! Visit America’s oldest state park – Niagara Falls State Park and see the falls (no passport needed), ride a boat to the bottom, or eat in a restaurant at the top. Get up close and personal with the alligators at the Florida Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park and book a room in the historic Wakulla Springs Lodge . Prospect for diamonds in Arkansas Crater of Diamonds state park. Take a day trip into some of the 495,000 acres of Alaska’s Chugach State Park - right from Anchorage.
We visited the Grand Canyon south rim in August 1992 and encountered rush hour type traffic jams on the rim road – yuk.
If you don’t have school age kids along, you can avoid some of the national park traffic by going in off season. If you do have kids, consider visiting state parks instead – it may help you avoid congestion.
Closer to home.
Every state in the union has set aside park lands. If you live in the US, especially in the lower 48 or Hawaii, you are likely to have a park available within a couple hour drive.
Although some state parks, like Chugach, are immense, many tend to be smaller and located closer to towns with modern and available lodging availabile.
When we took our extended family to Yellowstone in 2012, booking for the lodges opened May 1. I had mistakenly understood that it opened May 31. I called May 31 to make reservations in Old Faithful Inn, where I wanted everyone to stay. We could not get reservations for rooms with bathrooms because they were all booked up already!
If you need access to cell phone and/or internet coverage, you are likely not to get it in a national park – plus campsites and lodges in national parks tend not to have television either (which can be good or bad depending on your viewpoint at the moment).
Entrance fees and activity expenses are generally less in state parks than in national parks. Food and lodging are more accessible and lodging within the park tends to be less expensive than that run by Xanterra – the contractor running all the national park lodges.
What is your favorite state park?