50 underrated state parks across the US that everyone should visit in their lifetime

John Bilous/ShutterstockBlackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia.
  • Many state parks across the US offer breathtaking views, diverse wildlife, and a wide range of recreational activities.
  • You can catch a glimpse of stunning waterfalls at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee.
  • Animal lovers can see the hundreds of manatees that flock to Florida’s Blue Spring State Park each winter.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

National parks may boast massive networks of hiking trails and breathtaking views, but they also tend to come packed with tourists. However, state parks like Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon or Hocking Hills in Ohio have just as many activities to offer without the overwhelming crowds.

Whether it’s to see the manatees at Florida’s Blue Spring State Park or to sandboard down the dunes at Bruneau Dunes in Idaho, here are the US state parks everyone should visit in their lifetime.

Explore a giant cave when you visit Alabama’s Cathedral Caverns State Park.

ShutterstockCathedral Caverns State Park in Woodville, Alabama.

Located in northeast Alabama, Cathedral Caverns State Park is named for its massive cathedral-like cave. The park welcomes guests on tours of the cave daily, where you’ll catch a glimpse of one of the world’s largest stalagmites.

Denali State Park in Alaska contains the highest peak in North America.

Galyna Andrushko/ShutterstockA view of Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.

For the especially adventurous, Denali State Park in Alaska offers spectacular views of the Alaskan Range and untouched wilderness. Experienced hikers can even climb the Denali Mountain, which is the highest peak in North America.

Red Rock State Park in Arizona is named for its beautiful red rock formations.

Lissandra Melo/ShutterstockRed Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona.

With mesmerising Sedona red rock formations, lush meadows, and a babbling creek, guests can enjoy a diverse environment at Red Rock State Park in Arizona. There’s even a 15-mile trail connecting Red Rock State Park to Dead Horse Ranch State Park that visitors can use to hike, ride horses, or bike.

Check out the natural structures built at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas.

Weidman Photograhy/ShutterstockDevil’s Den State Park in West Fork, Arkansas.

The Civilian Conservation Corps used mostly natural materials in the 1930s to build the wood and stone structures found in Devil’s Den State Park. The park still maintains its original cabins, which you can reserve a spot in today.

Devil’s Den also features a rock dam, as well as trails fit for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Visit an untouched seashore at Crystal Cove State Park in California.

SunflowerMomma/ShutterstockCrystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, California.

California’s Crystal Cove State Park boasts one of the last remaining natural seashores in Orange County. Take a dip in the Pacific Ocean, explore tide pools at low tide, or hike through the mountainous backcountry at this diverse park.

Chances are high that you will spot a moose roaming around Colorado’s State Forest State Park.

Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia CommonsState Forest State Park in Jackson County, Colorado.

State Forest State Park is home to sprawling forests, jagged peaks, and over 600 moose, which can be spotted year-round. This Colorado park also offers a variety of snow activities including skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding.

Hike up to see cascading waterfalls at Kent Falls State Park in Connecticut.

A Rudnick/ShutterstockKent Falls State Park in Kent, Connecticut.

This Connecticut park is centered around cascading waterfalls that lead to the Housatonic River. The best time to visit Kent Falls State Park is right after a rainstorm or as snow is melting in the spring, which causes the waterfalls to appear especially dramatic.

Fort Delaware State Park offers a look at American life in the 1800s.

Kelleher Photography/ShutterstockFort Delaware State Park in Delaware City, Delaware.

You can take a step back in time to learn about the Civil War at Fort Delaware State Park. Reenactors dressed in period clothing help guests understand what life was like in 1864.

You may even spot a ghost while you’re there as this Delaware park was featured on “Ghost Hunters” for its paranormal activity.

Manatees flock to Florida’s Blue Spring State Park each winter.

VisitWestVolusia.com/Save The ManateeBlue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.

During the winter months, Blue Spring State Park in Florida welcomes hundreds of manatees to its warm, natural springs. With clear water and a boardwalk surrounding the springs, visitors can easily see these gentle marine mammals.

Explore the various landscapes at Cloudland Canyon State Park in Georgia.

Rob Hainer/ShutterstockCloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, Georgia.

Cloudland Canyon State Park offers a variety of interesting sights to enjoy. From deep canyons and waterfalls to sandstone cliffs, you won’t run out of trails to hike or paths to bike at this Georgia park.

Hawaii’s Wai’ānapanapa State Park is home to the famous black sand beach.

Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty ImagesBlack Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park in Maui, Hawaii.

Located on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Waiʻānapanapa State Park is famous for its black sand beach. Although tourists flock to the park for this reason, you’ll want to be sure to check out its native hala forest, deep caves, and volcanic coastline while you’re there.

You can go sandboarding at Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho.

Sam Strickler/ShutterstockBruneau Dunes State Park in Bruneau, Idaho.

Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho is home to the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America. While you can simply hike through the park, daring visitors are encouraged to rent a sandboard.

Starved Rock State Park in Illinois features 18 canyons.

Tonya Kay/ShutterstockStarved Rock State Park in Oglesby, Illinois.

With 13 miles of hiking trails that take visitors through moss-covered canyons, plunging waterfalls, and sandstone bluffs, the Starved Rock State Park in Illinois is beautiful and full of history. Native American tribes called this area home as far back as 8,000 BC.

Indiana’s Chain O’ Lakes State Park is named for its nine connected lakes.

Joseph P. Brennan/ShutterstockChain O’ Lakes State Park in Albion, Indiana.

The Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Indiana is perfect for avid boaters. With nine lakes connecting to create a chain, there are plenty of opportunities for fishing, canoeing, and other water activities.

Visit the limestone dam at Beed’s Lake State Park in Iowa.

nailuj110/TripAdvisorBeed’s Lake State Park in Hampton, Iowa.

A limestone dam welcomes guests to Beed’s Lake State Park in Iowa. The dam was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps so that water could be stored for running a mill but has since become a popular tourist destination. A two-mile trail leads visitors to the base of the dam where they can enjoy a refreshing mist of water.

Check out historic cave carvings at Kanopolis State Park in Kansas.

Wikimedia CommonsKanopolis State Park in Marquette, Kansas.

The first state park in Kansas, Kanopolis State Park, is full of caves, hills, and sandstone bluffs. In one of the caves, you can even catch a glimpse of carvings from early pioneers who used the structure for shelter.

The park offers more than 30 miles of trails made for hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding.

You can view a moonbow at Kentucky’s Cumberland Falls State Resort Park.

Patrick Jennings/ShutterstockCumberland Falls in Whitley County, Kentucky.

Dubbed the “Niagara of the South,” Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in Kentucky is home to a 125-foot-wide waterfall that creates a moonbow at night. During full moons, the falls create a stunning rainbow from the light of the moon, a phenomenon that doesn’t occur anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.

Fontainebleau State Park in Louisiana is home to an abandoned sugar mill.

ShutterstockFontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, Louisiana.

Situated on Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, Fontainebleau State Park contains the ruins of an abandoned sugar mill that was built in 1829. After exploring the history of the park, guests can enjoy sunbathing on the beach, birdwatching on the bayou, and hiking one of the scenic trails.

Maine’s Quoddy Head State Park is home to a bright and historic lighthouse.

Richard Semik/ShutterstockQuoddy Head State Park in Lubec, Maine.

The Quoddy Head State Park is located on the coast of Maine and boasts a bright red-and-white-striped lighthouse. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and built in 1808, you can still climb the lighthouse today to take in the spectacular views and spot migrating whales.

Guests can view wild ponies at Assateague State Park in Maryland.

Zack Frank/ShutterstockAssateague State Park in Berlin, Maryland.

Beachgoers flock to Assateague State Park in Maryland to relax by the Atlantic Ocean, but the real draw is the nearly 100 wild ponies who call the park home. Although visitors may be tempted to approach the feral horses, park officials warn against touching or feeding the animals.

Bash Bish Falls State Park boasts the longest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts.

Flickr/David SunshineBash Bish Falls State Park in Mount Washington, Massachusetts.

You can visit the longest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts at the Bash Bish Falls State Park. Guests are encouraged to start hiking from the Upper Falls in order to take in the beauty of it all, but you’ll want to be careful as it’s a steep descent.

Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park has picturesque views.

John McCormick/ShutterstockPorcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Michigan.

With more than 90 miles of trails, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is Michigan’s largest state park. Check out the Summit Peak observation tower for stunning views of Lake Superior, lush forests, and streaming rivers.

You can spot diverse wildlife at Prairie State Park in Missouri.

turtix/ShutterstockPrairie State Park in Mindenmines, Missouri.

With less than 65,000 acres of tallgrass prairie remaining in the United States, Prairie State Park in Missouri offers a glimpse of this vanishing ecosystem. The park boasts more than 150 different kinds of birds, 500 plant species, and much more unique wildlife.

Drive through an enclosed bison range at Minneopa State Park in Minnesota.

Steve Moses/FlickrMinneopa State Park in Mankato, Minnesota.

As part of the Minnesota Bison Conservation, Minneopa State Park is home to a number of bison that are free to roam 331 acres. Visitors hoping to spot the animals are free to drive through the range or spot them from the Seppmann Mill overlook. You can also walk the trails in Minneopa State Park to view its stunning waterfalls.

You can play a round of golf at Mississippi’s LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.

Geoff Alexander/FlickrLeFleur’s Bluff State Park in Jackson, Mississippi.

Situated along the Pearl River, LeFleur’s Bluff State Park provides an oasis from the urban city. Guests can camp, fish, and even golf at this lush park in the heart of Jackson, Mississippi.

Take a peek into prehistoric life at Montana’s Pictograph Cave State Park.

Tbennert/Wikimedia CommonsPictograph Cave State Park in Billings, Montana.

As the former home of prehistoric hunters, Pictograph Cave State Park in Montana features cave drawings that date back over 2,000 years. There is a walking loop that connects the three main caves, so visitors can peek at these ancient pieces of art.

Diverse wildlife calls Nebraska’s Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area home.

Zack Frank/ShutterstockWildcat Hills State Recreation Area in Gering, Nebraska.

This rocky Nebraskan park is home to a diverse set of animals that aren’t typically seen in other places in the United States. Visitors to the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area can spot bighorn sheep, mule deer, and bobcats, among other creatures.

Hike through bright red sandstone at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

ShutterstockValley of Fire State Park in Overton, Nevada.

The draw to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is its 40,000 acres of bright red sandstone outcrops that date back to the Jurassic period. Many of the trails take guests through the sandstone and allow hikers to see petroglyphs that were carved into the rocks more than 2,000 years ago.

Ride the aerial tramway at Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire for spectacular mountain views.

E.J. Johnson/ShutterstockFranconia Notch State Park in Lincoln, New Hampshire.

The aerial tramway at Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire takes visitors up 4,080 feet to the summit of Cannon Mountain. When at the summit on a clear day, visitors can see the mountains of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Canada, and New York.

During your visit to Franconia Notch State Park, you can also swim in Echo Lake, go fly fishing at Profile Lake, rock climb, bike, and much more.

Take in the New York City skyline at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

Sorbis/ShutterstockLiberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Located in northern New Jersey, Liberty State Park offers views of the New York City skyline, Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. During your visit, be sure to take advantage of the range of recreational activities, which include kayaking, biking, rollerblading, and more.

View the tall, volcanic rock formations at New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park.

Eric Foltz/ShutterstockCity of Rocks State Park in Faywood, New Mexico.

City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico is full of volcanic rock formations that reach as high as 40 feet. Land erosion over time created the formations which are separated by paths resembling city streets.

The park offers hiking trails, campsites, mountain biking, and more recreational activities.

Each year, visitors flock to the famous Niagara Falls State Park in New York.

lastdjedai/ShutterstockNiagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, New York.

New York is home to the iconic Niagara Falls State Park, which is also the oldest state park in the United States. Established in 1885, visitors flock to the park each year to catch a glimpse of all three falls that make up the majestic Niagara Falls.

Learn Civil War history while kicking back on the beach at Fort Macon State Park in North Carolina.

Rudy Umans/ShutterstockFort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

Fort Macon State Park in North Carolina offers the amenities of a coastal beach park with a dose of American history. After taking a tour of the Civil War-era fort, guests can go fishing on the inlet or take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.

The terrain at Little Missouri State Park in North Dakota is perfect for horseback riders.

Sharon Mollerus/FlickrLittle Missouri State Park in Killdeer, North Dakota.

Offering sweeping views of the North Dakota badlands, much of the rugged Little Missouri State Park is only accessible to hikers and horseback riders. With 45 miles of trails, horse corrals, and hay for purchase, this park is perfect for equestrians.

Enjoy lush and shaded gorges at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio.

See1,Do1,Teach1 / FlickrHocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio.

Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio has a multitude of activities on top of its natural beauty. Visitors can enjoy archery, disc golf, and fishing, in addition to hiking through caves, up waterfalls, and under tree-shaded gorges.

Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma used to be a famous hideout for outlaws.

Thomas & Dianne Jones/FlickrRobbers Cave State Park in Wilburton, Oklahoma.

A famous hideout for outlaws Jesse James and Belle Starr,Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma is now an outdoor lover’s dream. With sandstone cliffs perfect for climbers and large lakes for trout fishing, guests have many options for experiences.

Learn about fish hatcheries at Milo McIver State Park in Oregon.

Wikimedia CommonsMilo McIver State Park in Estacada, Oregon.

Located just 45 minutes outside of Portland, Oregon, Milo McIver State Park is situated on the Clackamas River, allowing visitors to kayak, canoe, or visit the Clackamas Fish Hatchery. In addition to river activities, there’s a 27-hole disc golf course for those seeking unique fun.

Visit Pennsylvania’s Cherry Springs State Park at night for an exquisite view of the sky.

Michael Yatsko/ShutterstockCherry Springs State Park in Coudersport, Pennsylvania.

Given its remote location on untouched land in Pennsylvania,Cherry Springs State Park is known for its uninhibited views of the night sky. The clear skies allow astronomy enthusiasts to check out the Milky Way and planets from its overnight Astronomy Field or short-term Night Sky Public Viewing Area.

Beavertail State Park in Rhode Island offers an in-depth look at marine life.

Kenneth C. Zirkel/Wikimedia CommonsBeavertail State Park in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Beavertail State Park in Rhode Island offers a variety of marine life education programs for the whole family. With an aquarium and coastline location, the park allows visitors to take a peek into the plants and critters that call the coast home.

Hike the mountains at Table Rock State Park in South Carolina for great views of the wilderness.

Dave Allen Photography/ShutterstockTable Rock State Park in South Carolina.

With streams, mountains, and waterfalls, the natural beauty of Table Rock State Park in South Carolina shines. Hiking trails take guests to the top of the Pinnacle and Table Rock mountains for sweeping views.

Large wild animals like bison and elk live in South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

Nancy Bauer/ShutterstockCuster State Park in Custer, South Dakota.

Across its 71,000 acres, Custer State Park in South Dakota welcomes guests with its abundance of activities, diverse wildlife, and breathtaking scenic views. Visitors can hike, rock climb, or swim, all while catching a glimpse of wild animals like bison or elk.

Enjoy beautiful waterfalls at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee.

RichardBarrow/ShutterstockFall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee.

While guests initially flock to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee for the waterfalls, it’s the unique activities that keep them coming back. In addition to classics like hiking and biking, the park also has a full golf course and a challenging ropes course in the treetops.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas boasts the second-largest canyon in the United States.

John Fowler/FlickrPalo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas.

The second-largest canyon in the United States is located in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas. For those looking for an overnight adventure, visitors can stay in cabins located on both the canyon rim and floor.

Cowboys used to frequent Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park in the 1800s.

Shawn Mitchell Photo/ShutterstockDead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah.

Despite its name, Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah used to welcome cowboys herding wild mustangs in the 1800s. Today, visitors can enjoy the desert landscape from the top of sandstone cliffs.

Learn about the illegal trading route to Canada at Smugglers’ Notch State Park in Vermont.

Eunice/Wikimedia CommonsSmugglers’ Notch State Park in Stowe, Vermont.

After President Thomas Jefferson outlawed American trade with Canada, many people in Vermont continued illegally trading by smuggling goods through the notch found in what is known today as Smugglers’ Notch State Park.

The park now welcomes hikers, rock climbers, ice climbers, and cave explorers to this lush and historic area.

Visitors can enjoy a picnic at First Landing State Park in Virginia.

Virginia State Parks/FlickrFirst Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Named to commemorate the first European settlers’ landing in North America, First Landing State Park in Virginia is a beach-goers’ paradise. With access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, this park offers calm waters, uncrowded beaches, and easy boardwalk access.

Guests looking to escape the busy pace of Virginia Beach can also stay overnight in a cabin.

Located on the ocean, Washington’s Cape Disappointment State Park has two lighthouses.

Wikimedia CommonsCape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington is anything but a disappointment. Located on the Pacific Ocean, this park contains two lighthouses, eight miles of hiking trails, and an amphitheater for entertainment.

Check out the amber-coloured waterfall at Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia.

John Bilous/ShutterstockBlackwater Falls State Park in Davis, West Virginia.

The amber-coloured water of the Blackwater Falls State Park waterfall in West Virginia is the main attraction for this park. Guests can view the waterfall from various steps and landings that are accessible year-round.

Take a break from city life at Lakeshore State Park in Wisconsin.

Tony Savino/ShutterstockLakeshore State Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Lakeshore State Park is located in the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Michigan. With walking and biking trails throughout, the park offers a green oasis to those caught up in city life.

Bathe in the natural, mineral hot springs at Hot Springs State Park in Wyoming.

Charles Willgren/WikimediaHot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

Named for its natural hot springs, Hot Springs State Park in Wyoming has a free bathhouse where visitors can enjoy a therapeutic dip in water that remains at 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Adventure seekers can also hike, boat, and view the park’s herd of bison.

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