State parks are an incredible way to enjoy nature without breaking the bank, all while spending a relaxing day with the family. Heading to state park campgrounds became hugely popular during the pandemic, and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. From hiking and biking to fishing and swimming, the best state parks have a ton to offer the entire family.
You might wonder the difference between a state park vs. national park. A state park is controlled and owned by the state government, while a national park is regulated by the federal government. They have different funding sources, therefore different rules. However, they both provide relaxing outlets to enjoy the great outdoors. If you are looking for the best state parks, here are the Top 10 in the USA as rated by Google reviewers.
Bond Falls Scenic Site
If waterfalls are your thing (and who doesn’t like a waterfall?), then Bond Falls Scenic Site is one of the best state parks you can find. This gorgeous park tucked away in Ontonagon County, Michigan is ideal for nature lovers. The waterfall is 100 ft. wide with a total drop of 50 ft, making it large enough for perfect Instagram photos, yet accessible enough where you won’t have to worry about waiting in line to get a peek. If camping is on the itinerary, this state park can accommodate that too along with your pets.
- What Google reviewers like: Visitors love the trail and easily accessible path where you can admire the view all day long. A convenient picnic area makes it simple to bring the whole family for a bite to eat. Reviewers also like the fact that bathrooms are simple to get to when nature calls!
- What’s nearby: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park isn’t far and offers gorgeous mountain views along with recreational opportunities and amazing overlook views you shouldn’t miss.
- Pet friendly: Yes, on a leash.
- Camping: You can camp at Agate Falls, which is about a 15 minute drive.
- Parking: Free roadside parking
- Trails: There are plenty of trails to enjoy throughout the state park.
- Other activities: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, known as “The Porkies” by locals, is a gorgeous spot to check out with 31,000 acres of forest. It’s about an hour away from the waterfall which could make a fun day trip for the family.
Avenue of the Giants
California’s Redwood Coast is one of those must-see travel destinations on a lot of bucket lists. The Avenue of the Giants, which is located within the Humbolt Redwoods State Park, combines breathtaking views of the California coast with the jaw-dropping Redwood trees as a stunning backdrop. Enjoy 31 miles of incredible tree-lined roads that pass through a number of family-friendly spots to round out your trip. Don’t miss the Immortal Tree, which at about 1,000 years old, is a history lesson in itself.
- What Google reviewers like: Visitors give the giant Redwoods top billing here, but they also love self-guided tours and the fact that you can stop at a number of places for hikes, picnics, swimming, and more without going too far off the Avenue.
- What’s nearby: Morris Graves Museum of Art can provide some Pacific Northwest culture to your trip while the Humbolt Botanical Garden is a must for the gardener in your family.
- Pet friendly: You can bring your pup in the car along the trail and in picnic areas, but pets are not allowed on the trails.
- Camping: There is an RV and campground located conveniently along the trail and several state park campgrounds nearby.
- Parking: Free roadside parking
- Trails: There are plenty of trails to enjoy throughout the state park.
- Other activities: If you want to do a little bit of everything this area has to offer, local tours provide opportunities for swimming, hiking, kayaking, and even surfing!
DTE Energy Foundation Trail
If you prefer to see Mother Nature on a mountain bike, the DTE Energy Foundation Trail located in the Waterloo Recreation Area in Michigan will be one of the best state parks to bring your family. Enjoy more than 20 miles of unique biking trails with varying terrain and plenty to do along the way.
- What Google reviewers like: Reviewers say there is truly something for every skill level at this state park, so if you are just learning how to ride the trails, or you need a challenge for the weekend, there’s something for you.
- What’s nearby: If getting physical is only part of your plan and you need some tourist attractions to round out the trip, no worries. The Lost Railway Museum will take you back in time when railroads were the main mode of transportation. For the youngsters, Timber Town is a fun spot where the kiddos can play for hours on wooden playgrounds.
- Pet friendly: Dogs are allowed on the trails with a leash.
- Camping: Although there are no official state park campgrounds along the trail, take your pick from several campgrounds surrounding this area.
- Parking: If you're parking a car, you’ll need to purchase a Recreation Passport online for $11, or you can do so on site for $16- but it’s cash or check only. Make sure to check the Facebook page first before leaving; it closes for bad weather that lead to erosive conditions.
- Trails: There are four distinct loops, each between 4 and 5 miles in length.
- Other activities: Just a 15-minute drive away, enjoy the many activities Waterloo Recreation Area has to offer including picnic areas, nature trails, hiking areas, equestrian trails, and swimming beaches.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
The Redwoods are so iconic, we had to add them once again on this list of best state parks! Located 50 miles north of Eureka, California, enjoy expansive views of the largest trees in the world along with gorgeous beaches, and you’ll even get a look at herds of Roosevelt elk at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
- What Google reviewers like: It’s nice to know aside from the historic redwoods and nature, you’ll find friendly staff and clean bathrooms in the state park, according to Google reviewers.
- What’s nearby: If any film buffs are on your family vacation, take a walk to Fern Canyon, which was used as the backdrop for Jurassic Park!
- Pet friendly: Dogs are not allowed in Fern Canyon or on any of the trails. They are welcome in campgrounds, parking lots, and on roads within the park as long as they are on a leash no longer than 6 ft.
- Camping: Visitors can stay at either Elk Prairie or Gold Bluffs Beach campground, both popular state park campgrounds that you’ll need a reservation for.
- Parking: $8 for a day pass, free to walk or bike inside.
- Trails: There are 75 miles of trails and a 19-mile loop for bike lovers. There is also a Redwood Access Trail for those with physical limitations.
- Other activities: If you want to see this gorgeous area from the water, take a jet boat tour! Visitors reported seeing bears and other amazing wildlife along the way.
Sinks Canyon State Park
Don’t let the rugged terrain scare you away from Sinks Canyon State Park. There are plenty of spots to take in the gorgeous views without much effort. At the base of the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming, you’ll find this canyon that is named for the geological formation, or “sinks,” where the river disappears underground near the canyon.
- What Google reviewers like: One reviewer called it a “unique gem” that offers visitors a wide range of birds, fish, and other animals to enjoy.
- What’s nearby: History lovers might want to take the 30-minute drive to see Sacajawea’s final resting place.
- Pet friendly: Dogs are allowed.
- Camping: While there are spots to camp, it’s best to call ahead to your campground because many do not allow larger tents or SUVs due to limited space.
- Parking: Parking is free, but you’ll need to pay between $10-$18 for camping reservations, and $35 for picnic shelters.
- Trails: There are a variety of different trails with varying degrees of difficulty for all ages.
- Other activities: There are plenty of spots to fish, climb, or even to take a scenic drive.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
This 10,000 acre park is chock full of majestic redwood trees you can explore with the family. This state park contains 7% of all the old-growth redwoods in the world. This is one of the best state parks for families because there are so many additional activities, including snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking along the Smith River.
- What Google reviewers like: This state park must have some friendly park rangers, because they are mentioned often as being quite helpful and pleasant!
- What’s nearby: The Smith River Recreational area is where the popular movie Last of the Mohicans was filmed. Enjoy fun on the river along with a little pop culture lesson.
- Pet friendly: Dogs are allowed, but only service dogs are allowed on trails.
- Camping: You can bring an RV or tent, or rent a cabin in the park.
- Parking: Free
- Trails: Enjoy a variety of different trails, but reviewers say make sure to bring proper shoes because it can be slippery certain times of the year.
- Other activities: Visitors say Ocean World is a must-see aquarium just a 10 minute drive away if you have kids.
Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park
This state park is a site to remember the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the elite firefighters who perished in Yarnell, Arizona in 2013 while fighting an incredibly dangerous wildfire. Hiking the trails while give you stunning views, along with a better understanding of what these brave men went through trying to save lives.
- What Google reviewers like: This memorial site tells a story, and brings the Granite Mountain Hotshots memories to life thanks to a statue and timeline board along the 7 mile hike.
- What’s nearby: The Hassayempa River Preserve is a short drive away. This streamside habitat is home to a wide array of wildlife.
- Pet friendly: Leashed dogs are welcome.
- Camping: There is plenty of camping nearby, but you cannot camp on the trail or the site.
- Parking: Free
- Trails: This one way trail is a 7 mile trip.
- Other activities: If the hike inspires you to learn more about this dedicated group of firefighters, you can stop by the Hotshots Learning and Tribute Center in Prescott.
Grayson Highlands State Park
Not terribly far from the border of North Carolina, you’ll find Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia nestled between two of the state’s tallest mountains. It is a gorgeous state park packed with roaming wildlife, trails, and plenty of recreation activities to keep the whole family busy for your day trip or vacation.
- What Google reviewers like: One reviewer mentions seeing deer, bunnies, and wild ponies on the hike, so get ready to bond with Mother Nature.
- What’s nearby: As reviewers mention, this is a remote area and you’ll want to make sure you have a full tank of gas. However, you are only about an hour away from the breathtaking Stone Mountain Park in Georgia, which is worth the drive.
- Pet friendly: Leashed dogs are welcome, but you shouldn’t bring dogs that are reactive to animals like ponies, which you will likely see while on a hike.
- Camping: There are a variety of state park campgrounds to choose from whether you want to camp yourself or rent facilities.
- Parking: Depending on the time of year, it ranges anywhere from $7-$10, or $15 for overnight parking.
- Trails: Enjoy hiking, bicycle, and horse trails.
- Other activities: If you come in the winter, you can even rent cross-country skis to make your way through the park.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Located in the gorgeous state of Hawaii, this is one of the best state parks for stunning views. This state park overlooks a colorful gorge inside Waimea Canyon. Enjoy an easy drive where you can hop out and take pictures, along with plenty of activities including camping or even taking a leisurely picnic while taking in the stunning Hawaii scenery.
- What Google reviewers like: Reviewers love the easy access to the park where incredible views are just a quick trip inside. If you want a state park with plenty of Instagram-able spots, this is your place.
- What’s nearby: Of course Hawaii is no stranger to nature’s beauty, but you won’t want to miss Kalalau Lookout, which is a short 20 minute drive from Waimea, and provides equally stunning views.
- Pet friendly: No pets allowed.
- Camping: There is no camping allowed.
- Parking: You’ll need to pay a $5 per person entrance fee if you are not a Hawaii resident, along with a fee for either commercial or non-commercial vehicles to park.
- Trails: Enjoy plenty of hiking, and some of it is strenuous enough to be warned. Bring plenty of water and there is no need to hike far to see beautiful views if you are a novice hiker.
- Other activities: The website boats seasonal trout, pig, and goat hunting.
Letchworth State Park Upper Trails
Dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park is an ideal spot to view gorgeous waterfalls, stunning gorges, and lush forest surrounded by plenty of wildlife. If you love to take in the outdoors with the family while having fun with recreational activities such as cross country skiing, horseback riding, and biking, this is one of the best state parks for you.
- What Google reviewers like: Visitors say this state park is easy to spend an entire day inside thanks to beatiful sites and accessible trails.
- What’s nearby: Right on site, you’ll be able to learn about the area’s history at the William Pryor Letchfield Museum.
- Pet friendly: Pets are allowed, but be mindful of a two pet maximum policy within the campgrounds.
- Camping: Camping is very popular within this state park, but you’ll want to make reservations.
- Parking: You will pay a $10 vehicle entrance fee.
- Trails: There are a number of trails to choose from, and if you’re an avid bird watcher, this is the state park for you. It has been named a National Audobon Society Important Bird area, so bring your binoculars!
- Other activities: Enjoy equestrian trails, playgrounds, fishing spots, and more within the state park.
What to Bring to State Park Campgrounds
Whether you are visiting one of the best state parks in the country for the day, or camping there for a week, it is important to bring along outdoor accessories to make your time not only safer, but more convenient. We started a pack list for you to enjoy your very own adventure!
- Camping chairs to sit by the campfire or take a break on a trail
- Pop up canopies to keep yourself out of the sun
- Umbrellas and portable sun shelters for your time by the lake
- Coolers to keep your beverages ice cold
- A cot to stay comfy on your overnight camping trip
- A camping table to prepare your food or play a good game of cards with the family