5 of the Best: U.S. States Parks to Explore in 2023By Angelica Malin
Move over Yellowstone National Park, and hello Valley of Fire! With fewer crowds, lesser-known landscapes and breathtaking scenery, it’s time for State Parks to get their turn in the spotlight. There are over 2,400 State Parks to explore across the U.S., so Visit The USA has rounded up five State Parks to kick-start your adventures in the great outdoors.
The Lowdown: Three hiking trails wind through the mighty Sam Houston Jones State Park, inviting travellers to explore the tree-filled lagoons that act as tributaries to Lake Charles’ main Calcasieu River. The park is proudly home to more than 70 acres of longleaf pines – the oldest living southern pine species – and is actively restoring the splendour of the region’s local forests via the educational Longleaf Legacy Project.
Perhaps most special of all is the access to wildlife, with turtles, alligators, otters and raccoons scuttering through the park, and nearly 200 species of birds, making it one of the best bird-spotting places in all of Louisiana. The park’s many waterways make it a popular spot for water sports, and affordable campsites are available, as well as glamping options.
The Lowdown: World-renowned for its 40,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone rocks, Valley of Fire State Park is home to ancient, petrified trees and petroglyphs more than 2,000 years old. Located in the Mojave Desert, the park is a true geological wonderland, with sandstone formations dating back to the Jurassic period. Nevada’s oldest and largest State Park is only 80 kilometres northeast of Las Vegas, making it the perfect day trip for those wanting to escape the bustle of urban life. Drive through the park at sunset to witness a true natural phenomenon as the sun’s rays reflect on the park, making it appear to be quite literally on fire!
The Lowdown: Located among the pinyon trees on the slope of Smokey Mountain in Cassia County, Idaho, with rock formations dating back 2.5 million years, Castle Rocks State Park is home to historic trail crossings, 20th-century ranching, and even remnants of Native American pictographs. The challenging landscapes of Castle Rocks attract thousands of rock climbers every year, and more-experienced hikers will be rewarded with views along the California National Historic Trail. The steep terrain is ideal for mountain biking year-round, and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice climbing in winter. Castle Rocks also make for the perfect family day out; practise your archery skills with the park’s trained rangers, or keen fishers can try their hand at catching a Chinook, Salmon, Steelhead or Trout.
Photo credit: Visit Idaho
The Lowdown: At the southern foot of the Appalachian Mountains in Northeast Alabama, Desoto State Park’s vast expanses of protected forests offer a year-round rainbow of natural beauty, with blazing sunset colours of fall foliage, brilliant pink and purple rhododendrons in spring and dense green forests in the summer. The park has 40 kilometres of hiking trails, with Alabama’s tallest waterfall, Grace’s High Falls – standing at 133 feet – just a short drive away at Little River Canyon. Walkers may even be able to spot a bear or two feeding in the river below, with daily reports of black bear sightings. Overnight park visitors can opt for cosy lodge cabins equipped with a kitchen and fireplace, or try their hand at a more rustic camping experience tucked away within the woods. Whatever choice of abode, park guests can be found gathered around the campfire toasting s’mores and singing along to country music classics.
The Lowdown: Little Missouri State Park, in Western North Dakota, is home to some of the most rugged and picturesque badlands in the State. The park has over 45 trails, and visitors are encouraged to ride on horseback to best explore them. One of the park’s most popular trails is the Park Loop, an eight-kilometre route best suited for those seeking an off-the-beaten path adventure, with sweeping Badlands views. Make sure to bring binoculars as the park is also a haven for unusual wildlife; from mule deer to bobcats, and even golden eagles. After a day of roughing it among the badlands, spend the night in rugged comfort camping under the stars.
Photo credit: North Dakota Tourism