Summer’s here, and you can escape the crowds and still enjoy first-class hikes, views, and wildlife with a visit to a state park. Managed at the state level rather than by the federal government, these underdogs are well worth a visit.
Read on to discover six of our favorites across the country. We recommend finding the one closest to you—or your next vacation destination—and getting out there.
Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Nestled within the foothills of Southern Ohio, Hocking Hills serves as a scenic gateway to Appalachia. The park’s a popular camping and day-trip destination for Columbus residents—the city’s a little over an hour’s drive away—but draws plenty of visitors from over state lines, too: It’s Ohio’s second most-popular tourist destination. It won’t take long to see why with a stroll along the park’s myriad hiking trails. Some of the park’s most famous sites, craggy outcroppings nestled into hillsides, appear hewn into the earth as if by a giant chisel.
Waimea Canyon State Park, Hawaii
Touted as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon State Park is a sight that’s hard to fully grasp without seeing it in person—but we’ll do our best to paint the scene. 14 miles long, a mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep, Waimea Canyon is a unique geological feature on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Green-dappled cliffs of red rise above the rush of the Waimea River. And its location along Kauai’s scenic west coast makes for ample opportunity to take in stunning views, like a scenic drive down Waimea Canyon Drive with plenty of pull-offs for hikes and panoramas.
Palouse Falls State Park, Washington
While Western Washington tends to get all the attention, there are plenty of scenic attractions on the state’s east side that punch well above their weight—including this one. On a misty, Pacific Northwest morning, Palouse Falls State Park evokes the ethereal feel of Iceland. To really see the best of the park, experienced hikers can trek the Palouse Falls Trail. Don’t let its 1.4-mile length fool you: The trail’s only suitable for the sure-footed due to its technical difficulty, from sheer drop-offs to scrambles. But the payoff of panoramic views is worth it.
Chugach State Park, Alaska
Just outside Anchorage lies this jaw-dropper, framing the backdrop of the city’s skyline. Clocking in at about 495,000 acres, Chugach State Park offers a little bit of everything: snow-capped peaks, miles of ocean shoreline, plenty of alpine lakes, and massive glaciers and ice fields. Some of Alaska’s most popular hiking trails lie within it, like Flattop Mountain, the most-summited mountain in the state. The steep, 1.5-mile trail only takes about an hour to traverse, with a huge payoff in the way of panoramic views, from Denali to the Aleutian Islands.
Watkins Glen State Park, New York
Rich with wineries, museums, and picturesque scenery, New York’s Finger Lakes region is an East Coaster’s perfect escape from the hubbub of big-city life. And one of its highlights is Watkins Glen State Park. The park’s shining star is the stream that flows more than 400 feet beneath walls of canyon 200 feet high, creating more than 19 waterfalls along its journey. One of those creates Watkins Glen’s most iconic and photographed sight: Rainbow Bridge and Falls appears like something out of a Tolkien story. You can take it all in by following its path along the Gorge Trail, a 2.5-mile hike that offers up plenty of picturesque scenery along the way.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida
Ditch the idea that Florida is all about the beach with Ichetucknee Springs State Park, offering a different kind of cool reprieve from the heat and humidity. Floridians flock to this park in North Florida, a 45-minute drive from nearby Gainesville, from May to September for its most popular activity: innertube floating. Eight crystal-clear springs bubble up from an underground aquifer to create the Ichetucknee River, 6 miles long and always a pleasant 72 degrees Fahrenhneit.