Beauty can be found everywhere, especially in nature. Some of America’s oldest and most beautiful natural structures are found in state parks. The United States has over 6,000 state parks, with more than 240,000 campsites. From grand waterfalls to volcanic sandy beaches, every state park has something amazing for you to experience.
Let’s look at the 10 prettiest state parks in the United States. Found across the country, the state parks on this list are sure to showcase the area’s beauty.
1. Hot Springs State Park, Wyoming
The Hot Springs State Park is found in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Water flows over the colorful mineral terrace 24/7, staying at a constant 128°F (53°C). A bathhouse located in the park is free and open to the public year-round except on Christmas and Thanksgiving. The park has over 6 miles of trails, some being universally accessible, and the rest are great for hiking.
Inside the park, you’ll find the Swinging Bridge, which is a suspension footbridge that travelers can walk on and experience a breathtaking view of the Bighorn River and mineral terrace. In the late fall and winter, bison are found inside the park, allowing visitors to see these beautiful animals from a safe distance.
2. Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Logan, Ohio, is home to the beautiful Hocking Hills State Park. Here you will find towering cliffs with waterfalls all around. The rocky cliffs and caves in this park were formed over 330 million years ago when the area was covered by the Atlantic Ocean.
Inside the state park, there are many places to explore, including Lake Logan and Rose Lake, which are open for swimming. Areas like the Devil’s Bathtub and Old Man’s Cave are accessible by hiking trails. There are nine hiking trails, all under 4 miles, that have gorgeous scenery throughout. This park offers events for anyone to join all year long, with activities like fishing, astronomy, kayaking, and hiking.
3. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
The valley of Fire State Park is located in Overton, Nevada. The fire-red stones found throughout the park are made out of Aztec sandstone from the Jurassic period. These beautiful stones make up 46,000 acres of the Mojave Desert. In this park’s hiking trails, you can see things like prehistoric petroglyphs and the white domes made of white sandstone that beautifully contrast the red rocks surrounding them.
The nature throughout the park is made primarily of creosote bush, burro bush, and brittlebush, with several cactus species like beaver tail and cholla, found around as well. Due to the hot temperatures of the desert in the daytime, most desert animals are unlikely to be seen since they are nocturnal. Some animals found in the desert include several species of lizards and snakes, spotted skunks, and black-tailed jackrabbits.
4. Ecola State Park, Oregon
On the Oregon Coast, you can find the gorgeous rocky cliffs of Ecola State Park. This state park takes up about 9 miles of coastline. Along the beach, travelers can see things like secluded coves, tidepools, and a scenic view of the coastal mountains. Hiking trails nearby take visitors through the misty forest off the coast.
Ecola State Park was a filming location for a few movies, including Twilight, The Goonies, and Point Break. The gray cloudy weather provides a different beach experience than most would imagine, but it gives the surrounding mountains and forests an intriguing mystery. Tons of wildlife live in the area, including deer, elk, and eagles. In the winter, you may be lucky and spot a migrating gray whale.
5. Niagara Falls State Park, New York
Niagara Falls is a famous State Park located in New York. Recognized as the oldest state park in the United States, it has plenty of activities and sights to enjoy. You can take rides on the Niagara Scenic Trolley or the Maid of the Mist to see different scenery and areas of the park. Other places to enjoy inside the park include the Observation Tower and the Niagara Aquarium, which has over 1500 species of aquatic animals.
Niagara Falls State Park contains the Bridal Veil Falls, the American Falls, and a section of the Horseshoe Falls, also known as the Canadian Falls. Hiking trails are found all around the falls, and most are universally accessible so everyone can enjoy them. Visitors can also enjoy the museum, movie theater, and food stands found around the park.
6. Chugach State Park, Alaska
In South-central Alaska, mostly in the Municipality of Anchorage, you can find Chugach State Park. With approximately 495,000 acres, the state park is the third-largest in the United States. Within the large park, there are multiple different natural wonders to view, like Eklutna Lake, which stretches over 12 miles along the Lakeside Trail. The Lakeside Trail turns into the Eklutna Glacier Trail, which will take you to the foot of Eklutna Glacier.
Animal life is abundant in the park. Some of the animals you may spot include black bears, great-horned owls, moose, beaver, salmon, and grizzly bears. Plantlife found in the park is also abundant, and during the late summer and early fall, berry picking is especially popular. Plants commonly found in the park include ferns, mushrooms, wildflowers, mosses, and the Alaska state flower, the alpine forget-me-not.
7. Custer State Park, South Dakota
In Custer County, South Dakota, Custer State Park sits nestled in the granite peaks and luscious pine trees of the Black Hills. Filling over 70,000 acres of land, visitors can find historic lodges, lakes, resorts, trails, and community events. Tall rocky peaks provide the perfect terrain for rock climbers, as well as a great vantage point to view the beauty of the park. Stockade lake is a great place for fishing, boating, or just taking in the surrounding nature.
Tons of wildlife can be found here, though the park is most famous for its bison herds. Animals like antelope, mountain goats, wild turkeys, and bighorn sheep are commonly spotted throughout the park. Custer State Park is located just south of Mount Rushmore, making it a great spot to visit after viewing the iconic mountain sculpture.
8. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, California
Named after a respected pioneer woman from the Big Sur country, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park stretches 12 miles along the California Pacific coastline. A well-known feature of the park is an 80-foot waterfall that drops into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary waters of the Pacific Ocean. Two camping areas are found in the park, both providing spectacular scenery and a great view of the coast, although a camping reservation is required.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a great place to view wildlife and marine life. Here you can find animals like mule deer, crayfish, wild turkeys, and whales. The Julia Pfeiffer Burns Underwater Area is a great spot for scuba diving and enjoying the local marine life. The park is also home to 2,000-year-old 300ft tall redwood trees.
9. Waiʻānapanapa State Park, Hawaii
On the Island of Maui sits the Waiʻānapanapa State Park. Famous for its black sand beach, this park has volcanic-sand beaches, lava tubes, and sea stacks. In the Hawaiian language, Waiʻanapanapa means “glistening fresh water,” which refers to the nearby freshwater streams. Other beautiful features of the park include the native Hala forest and coastal mesic forests.
Several times of the year, bright red tide pools appear due to the arrival of small shrimp. Local legend says the tide pools turn red because it’s the blood of Popoaleae, a princess murdered by her husband, Chief Ka’akea, nearby. Local wildlife includes large seabird colonies, sea turtles, and mongooses.
10. Iao Valley State Park, Hawaii
Maui is home to another gorgeous must-see park, the Iao Valley State Park. Luscious green mountains cover the 4,000-acre park. Freshwater streams, waterfalls, and towering mountain peaks are all found in this lush tropical forest. Animals like chameleons, geckos, African giant snails, and junglefowl are all found around the park.
Found among the lush greenery of the park is the Lao Needle, a 1,200 ft tall natural rock formation that was once used as an altar. The needle is known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian God of the Ocean. The park is most famous for being the location of the Battle of Kepaniwai.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © YingHui Liu/Shutterstock.com
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