While America’s national parks get most of the attention, raking in 4-6 million visitors per year at big name destinations like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, busy parks may not be what you’re seeking. State parks see far fewer visitors individually, meaning more ‘me time’ for you and less jockeying for the best selfie-position. Go for a hike, take your fishing pole or sketchbook, and enjoy some real peace and quiet in some of America’s best state parks.
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
Goblin Valley’s miles of unique rock formations make this state park’s landscape look more like it belongs on Mars than anywhere else. Goblin Valley has narrow wash canyons and field after field of hoodoos. The hiking trails range from easy to difficult, and the sunsets are spectacular.
Sinks Canyon State Park, Wyoming
Sinks Canyon offers all kinds of outdoor activities. Be sure to see the canyon’s namesake— where the river mysteriously ‘sinks’ into the ground. This totally unique canyon has tons of outdoor activities. With sandstone, limestone, and granite cliffs all lining the walls of the canyon, Sinks is a sport climber’s paradise. Its south-facing walls allow for climbing even in the harsh Wyoming winters. The Popo Agie (pronounced ‘puh-PO-jah’) River has excellent fly fishing, and beautiful mountain bike trails criss-cross the north facing side of the canyon. For the outdoor enthusiast, Sinks Canyon can’t really be beat.
Spearfish Canyon Nature Area State Park, South Dakota
Considered one of the most beautiful spots in South Dakota’s Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon is home to all kinds of wildlife. Bird watchers come to glimpse a sight of the rare American Dipper fishing for its dinner in the riverways. The park is open year-round, and snowshoeing is one of the best ways to experience it in wintertime.
Fish Creek State Park, Montana
As you can tell from its name, Fish Creek is the place to go for excellent fishing in Montana. This 5,603 acre state park is great for photography and picnicking, as well as mountain biking and hiking. Just be sure you have a fishing permit before you go!
Castle Rocks State Park, Idaho
Mountain Lupines take off during wildflower season in Castle Rocks. If you’re looking for a spring trip, look no further than this state park a few hours outside of Boise. Their wildflower season is brief, but absolutely stunning. The state park also has Dutch oven cooking lessons!
Eldorado Canyon State Park, Colorado
Eldorado may frequently reach vehicle capacity in the summertime, but winter is one of the best times to explore state parks. Fewer crowds, bright snowscapes, and a good chance of seeing wildlife are all great reasons to enjoy busier state parks in the off season. We recommend seeing this park on cross-country skis.
Dead Horse State Park, Utah
While most people head to Utah for Arches or Canyonlands, Dead Horse State Park offers similar views with far less traffic. A certified Dark Sky Park, this spot offers mountain biking, hiking, stargazing, and easy access to iconic national parks nearby. This is definitely a bucket list destination.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado
Acquired in 2000, Cheyenne Mountain State Park is one of Colorado’s newest state parks. Come for the fall foliage, stay for the great picnicking, hiking, and archery range! Please be advised that pets are not allowed in the park.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park, California
This Californian state park was created to preserve the North Grove of giant sequoias that grow in abundance there. This park has an incredible amount of educational resources, nature walks, and discussions with rangers to learn about the plants and animals that live there. This is a great state park to visit with kids who love the outdoors!
Mueller State Park, Colorado
Mueller State Park is one of the best all-around parks. With over 5,000 miles of wilderness, there is something for everyone, during every season. Skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and photography are just a few of the things to do here. They also host plenty of events throughout the year, like the Teacher’s Workshop, to help educators bring nature to their classrooms.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Forty thousand acres of red Aztec rock provide an incredible playground for kids and adults alike. Enjoy the hiking and camping in this year-round park, and plan your trip for the Annual Atlatl Competition, where participants can practice their spear throwing skills. Please never remove or tamper with artifacts, petroglyphs, or sensitive archaeological sites.
What’s your favorite “underrated” state park? Be sure to comment below!