My 10 Favorite
My 10 Favorite
State Parks in the U.S.
Between my early years when I traveled with my parents and my later years when I traveled
either by myself or with a girlfriend, I've visited over 300 state
parks in the U.S. One reason I like to visit state parks is to camp, and I've camped in over a hundred
state parks in all parts of the
U.S. and in almost every state.
the scenery in U.S. national parks and monuments is often more spectacular than
in state parks, national parks are usually a lot more crowded and their campgrounds
usually offer fewer facilities. For instance, few national park
campgrounds have showers and, to my knowledge, none offer water or electrical
hookups at each campsite. While state parks may offer less-spectacular
scenery, they are usually much less crowded than national parks or monuments and,
furthermore, state park campgrounds usually have showers and
flush toilets and many offer water and electrical hookups at each campsite.
estimate that about 60% of the state parks in the U.S. are day-use only and don't have campgrounds,
though this depends on the area. For instance, Oregon has
about 200 state parks but the vast majority of these are small 1- or 2-acre
plots that are day-use only. Conversely, while there are
generally fewer state parks in eastern states than on the West Coast, a larger
them have campgrounds.
state parks in the U.S. charge an entrance fee, usually between $2 and $4. For
those state parks that have campgrounds, the typical camping fee is between $8 and $18 per night, depending on the number of facilities provided.
The cost partly depends on the region, with camping fees on the West
Coast being on the high end of that range while camping fees in the Midwest and
Southeast being on the low end.
listed my favorite state parks below with a brief description. By reading
my website, you probably know what my biases are: I don't like
crowded, overdeveloped parks, instead preferring places that are quiet and scenic,
and those having interesting things to do (like hiking). Also, since I
enjoy camping, I like parks that have nice campgrounds with private, secluded campsites,
and all of these ones do.
My 10 Favorite State Parks
(Click for story and photos)
1. Humboldt Redwoods (Eureka, California)
A hundred years ago, the dwindling groves of redwood trees in
Northern California were on the verge of extinction. Thanks to the efforts
of forward-thinking conservationists, though, the groves have been preserved in
State and National Parks to be enjoyed by future generations.
all the redwood parks in northern California,
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the largest redwood park in America, is my
A former segment of Highway
101, now called "The Avenue of the Giants," winds for 30 miles through
the peaceful redwoods and is one of my favorite drives in the U.S. There are three campgrounds in this park with my favorite, Hidden Springs,
located on the southern end. Burlington campground, located in the central
part of the park, is open year-round.
I've camped in this park several
times and did a three-day backpack trip here a few years ago. Walking
through the lofty redwood groves here is an inspiring and unforgettable
experience that should not be missed.
Above left: Fern's-eye view of the redwoods, the tallest trees in
Above center: One of my favorite drives in America is this former
section of Highway 101, called Avenue of the Giants, which winds through the
redwoods for 30 miles.
Above right: Yes, they do get a little rain here. In fact, they
had a massive flood here in 1964 that wiped out several towns and killed 48 people. This is downtown Weott, California and that marker on the top
is the high water mark from the '64 flood. None of these towns have really
recovered from that flood.
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2. Kodachrome Basin (Cannonville, Utah)
you've been following my website, you probably know that southern
Utah is my favorite part of the U.S. Kodachrome Basin State Park, located
a few miles east of Bryce Canyon
National Park, is an oasis amidst the vast, undeveloped landscapes of the Four Corners region.
The nice campground here has showers, making
it a great place to get cleaned up
after camping in the dry Utah backcountry. There are a lot of interesting
trails here too, and plenty of activities for the whole family. Don't forget to
see Shakespeare Arch (Utah's most recently discovered arch) and Fred Flintstone
Rock, whose silhouette bears an amazing resemblance to that goofy guy from Bedrock. The
park has a few pleasant oddities too, like chukar pheasants that meander through
The best time to visit is during spring or fall when the
crowds are down and the "no-see-ums" (small, biting flies) and cedar
gnats (larger biting flies) are gone. Summer can be hot and pretty buggy,
and it gets downright cold here in the winter, as I discovered a few years ago.
the way, the area was named Kodachrome Basin back in the 1940s by visitors who
were bedazzled by the scenery. The folks at
Kodak didn't take kindly to the copyright infringement and demanded that the basin be renamed,
which it was. But then the Kodak folks realized that it would be good
publicity and granted the use of the name.
Believe me, you can shoot a lot of Kodachrome
(or in my case, Fujichrome) here.
A sandstone "sand pipe" near the campground at Kodachrome Basin State
These unusual and rather perverted-looking geologic features are former underground springs that silted up.
in only a few locations around the world.
Above center: Here's another sand pipe. This one's even more
perverted-looking than the last one.
Above right: This 100-foot high monolith is called "Fred
Flintstone Rock" for obvious reasons.
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3. St. George Island (Apalachicola, Florida)
to a recent issue of Money Magazine, St. George Island has one of the best beaches in America. In my opinion, this is
also one of the best state parks in the nation. St George Island is
located on a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico and is a little hard to get
to, but if you make the effort you'll definitely be rewarded.
road dead-ends at this park so there isn't a lot of traffic. The water in the Gulf of
Mexico stays between 65 and 80 degrees all year, much warmer than the ocean
waters off Southern California, and the body surfing is excellent, as I can
personally attest. Don't visit during March or April, though,
when college kids from the North invade.
Two other terrific
state parks in
Florida that just missed my Top 10 list are John Pennekamp in the Florida Keys, a
haven for snorkelers and skin divers (and where I first learned to swim) and
Anastasia Island, near St. Augustine.
Above left: Boardwalk to the beach at St. George Island.
Above center: When I was here in May, 1995, the park was nearly
deserted, though the ranger told me that the place had been packed just a few
weeks before with college kids visiting on Spring Break.
Above right: There's a pretty nice campground here, just a hundred
yards from the beach. This is great place to relax.
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4. Fort Stevens (Astoria, Oregon)
Oregon, in my opinion, has the best state park system in the nation, and
most of its premiere parks are located on the Oregon Coast near Highway 101.
There are over 70 state parks on the Oregon Coast, although only 15 coastal parks offer camping
(and only about six of those offer camping during the
I had a hard time choosing my favorite park on the Oregon
Coast. My other favorites include
State Park, near Bandon,
Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach (day-use only), and
State Park, near
I chose Fort Stevens because it has a lot of
interesting things to see and do. The park is at the mouth of the Columbia
River and the beach, which stretches for several miles, features
the rusting hulk of the English freighter "Peter Iredale."
Visitors can also tour the World War II fortifications, which were shelled by a Japanese
submarine in 1942 (the only attack by a foreign country on the American mainland since the War of
The campground here, with 600 sites, is the largest state park
campground in America and is filled with mossy trees and ferns. Nearby Astoria is an interesting city, as
well, with lots of things to do, including Lewis & Clark's 1805-06 winter
encampment at Fort Clatsop.
Above left: Fort Stevens is at the mouth of the Columbia River, shown here
with a freighter going out to sea. That's Cape Disappointment, Washington
on the far side. This is where the Lewis and Clark expedition finally
reached the Pacific Ocean after traveling west for two years, noted in their
journals with the words, "Ocian in View. O the joy."
The bow section of the
"Peter Iredale" at Fort Stevens State Park. The Iredale was
beached during a storm in 1906 with no loss of life. Every time I visit,
it's a little smaller.
Above right: Abandoned fortifications of Fort Stevens, a military
installation which has guarded the mouth of the Columbia River since the Civil War.
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5. Fort Sisseton (Webster, South Dakota)
discovered this park on my recent trip through South Dakota. Fort Sisseton
State Park is one of the most peaceful places I've ever visited and is one of
the undiscovered jewels of the upper Midwest. Fort
Sisseton was built in 1864
in response to a Sioux uprising, only to be abandoned 25 years later. The
buildings fell into disrepair but have been recently renovated by the state parks
Most of the 15-or-so buildings
here are open to the public,
including a huge blockhouse and the stable, which is reputed to be the longest
stone building in the United States. Numerous interpretive signs guide the
way around the grounds. The 14-site campground has electricity and showers
and overlooks a beautiful prairie and, best of all, is rarely crowded.
was going to stay here only for one night during my recent trip and liked
it so much, I stayed for eight more. The one question I kept asking myself
during my stay was, "Why aren't there more people here?"
more information, see my page on
Sisseton State Park.
Above left: Officer's Quarters at Ft. Sisseton State Park.
Above center: The campground's restrooms and showers
are located inside the old stable.
Above right: The North Barracks houses the Visitor Center and is
decorated just as it was 120 years ago.
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6. Sam Houston Jones (Lake Charles, Louisiana)
discovered this park during my recent trip to Louisiana. There aren't many
state parks in
Louisiana, but this one is pretty spectacular. It's located on the Calcasieu
(CAL-ka-shoe) River and offers a great bayou camping experience, complete with a
large cypress swamp, Spanish moss, egrets, lightning bugs and croaking frogs to
serenade you to sleep. I didn't see any alligators, but I'm sure they're
best times to visit southern Louisiana are in the spring and fall. Winters
can be gray and cold and summer can be really, really sticky, as I can
personally attest. Regardless of when you visit Louisiana, though, if you
want a bayou camping experience, this park is a great place to visit.
Above left: The campground is a handy place to change your headlights.
Note the lagoon on the edge of the campsite.
Above center: The
bald cypress bayou makes a romantic setting to catch some fish... I guess.
Above right: The lazy Calcasieu River. There are "No
Swimming" signs posted here, but I wasn't sure if that's because of the
motorboats or the alligators.
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7. Cobscook Bay (Lubec, Maine)
This park is in the
"Down East" region of Maine, which is more remote,
rugged, friendly, and lesser-visited than the area further west near Portland
(yes, the Maine coast actually runs east-west, not north-south). I've camped at this park twice, once in the spring and once in the fall,
and greatly enjoyed both
stays. The spacious campground offers scenic sites overlooking beautiful Cobscook
are lots of interesting things to see nearby. The park is located a few miles from Quoddy Head, the
easternmost point in the United States and the site of a beautiful lighthouse.
It's also near the pleasant town of Lubec and President Franklin Roosevelt's summer
home at Campobello.
Above left: My campsite at Cobscook Bay State Park.
Above center: The
state park is near the
picturesque border town of Lubec, Maine, which you cross through to get to
Campobello Island, located in Canada.
Above right: Also nearby is Quoddy Head, the easternmost
point in the United States.
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8. Moran (Orcas Island, Washington)
Located in the Puget Sound on Orcas Island, Moran State Park offers a whole slew
of activities. When I was a kid, we used to hike (or run) from the summit
of Mount Constitution down to the campground, a drop of 2,400'. The view
from Mount Constitution, the highest peak in the San Juan Islands, is amazing (if the frequent fog and
clouds don't obscure it). The best part of visiting this park is the ride on
the Washington State Ferry to get here, which is always a blast.
Above left: The Washington State Ferry system is the largest ferry
fleet in the U.S. The ferries zip around the 172 islands in the San Juan Archipelago and are a
blast to ride.
Above center: Here's my friend, Julie (see News:
July 22, 2001), relaxing on top of Mt. Constitution with the San Juan Islands in the distance.
Above right: The dock at the small town of Olga on Orcas Island.
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9. Gulf (Gulf Shores, Alabama)
This is the only Alabama
state park on the
Gulf of Mexico, but it's a real gem. There's a large campground here
and there are plenty of activities for the whole family. The large campground is a short
walk to the white-sand beach, which offers a beautiful sunset every night, and
Southern Hospitality reigns.
Above left: Camping at Gulf State Park a couple years ago.
Above center: Belly's
eye view of the white
sand beach here. Suck in that gut, Del.
Above right: This is one of my
all-time favorite photos. I shot this while walking along the dunes at Gulf State Park one
evening about 15 years ago.
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10. Fort Abraham Lincoln (Bismarck, North Dakota)
buffs (like me) really enjoy this park. Fort Lincoln was a Cavalry outpost
during the late 1800s. Its most famous resident was Colonel George
Armstrong Custer who, along with the 7th Cavalry, rode out to the Black Hills to
hunt for Sioux
Indians in 1876, never to return.
department has restored Custer's house and provides daily tours of the
grounds. There's also an interesting museum and five reconstructed
Mandan Indian earth lodges. The campground has sites right on
the Missouri River with views of Bismarck in the distance, all for only $7 a
night. If you like history and are traveling across North Dakota, this park is definitely worth a visit.
For more information, see my page on
Above left: Firing a cannon stuffed with cabbage at a recent cavalry demonstration.
Above center: Sergeant
Mark's tour, with the Custer House in the background
Above right: A view of Bismarck (note the skyscraper capitol) and the
peaceful Missouri River from the campground.
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