Playgrounds, green pastures and playful pups; these are a few of the things we first think of when we hear the word "park." Not that these associations aren't on point, but there are more than 7,500 state parks plotted across the U.S., all of which feature attractions that reach beyond your typical interpretation of a picturesque park.
Aside from the federally run National Parks, each of our 50 states is home to an elaborate park system of its own, all designed to preserve the most environmentally significant and historic lands of the area. According to the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD), each year more than 720 million Americans visit state parks and generate more than $20 billion in revenue for local communities.
With gems like North Dakota's rugged Little Missouri State Park and West Virginia's historic Cass Railroad State Park strewn across the states, a visit to one of our nation's state parks opens up opportunities that extend far beyond picnicking and playing fetch with Fido.
This list of noteworthy state parks was compiled by the people who know them best; the directors and managers whose job it is to run and maintain them. Lewis Leford, Executive Director of the NASPD, called upon deputies from an assortment of states in order to gather their expert recommendations.
While we couldn't include a park from every single state, we're still confident that we've painted a quality picture that highlights a good deal of our country's best state parks.
One of Missouri’s most cherished outdoor areas, Ha Ha Tonka sits near the Lake of the Ozarks and is home to the remains of a late 20th century castle. Not only will this state park leave you in awe of its architecture, but with more than 15 miles of trails that wind through sinkholes, natural bridges and caves, you can indulge your more adventurous side, too. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Scott Miller Click Here to see more Stunning U.S State Parks
Like with most parks whose names feature the ‘F’ word, visitors at Cumberland Falls can expect to encounter a tall chute of rushing rapids. Known as the “Niagara of the South,” Cumberland falls is 125 feet wide and according to the park’s website, is the only place in the western hemisphere where you can spot a “moonbow” during a full moon. A few of the park’s other attractions include a rustic lodge, the Cumberland River, hiking trails, cottages, and camping accommodations. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Sarah Altendorf
Flowing water falls and rushing rapids lie at the heart of Swallow Falls. Hikers can expect to encounter rocky gorges, rippling rapids and unbelievable views of Western Maryland, including the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls waterfall. “This is a mountain park with old growth forest, Maryland's highest waterfall and a rich history,” says Maryland State Parks Superintendent Nitta Settina. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Nga Nguyen Click Here to see more Stunning U.S State Parks
One of the first to honor Vietnam Veterans in the U.S., this memorial park serves as “a place for reunion, reflection, healing and sharing of experiences,” according to the park's website. The park was built in honor of Lt. David Westphall, who was killed in battle along with 16 other Marines in Vietnam in 1968. Westphall’s parents opened the memorial in 1971 and it's still a well-attended place of remembrance. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Ed Schipul
This 18,086-acre park is tucked away in the center of the Smoky Hills and is well attended for the scenery its location affords. Hiking trails offer unrivaled views of native Kansas prairie and the Wilson Reservoir. Camping accommodations and cabins are available throughout the park and land is dedicated to mountain biking, fishing and hunting (in season only). Photo Credit: © Flickr / Beatrice Murch Click Here to see more Stunning U.S State Parks
Described as a “jewel of the system,” this state park is a geologist's dream. Hiking trails, campsites and natural swimming spots all prominently feature rock formations, some of which are well-preserved and are more than a billion years old. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Tom Check
A 550-acre stretch of land at the base of Arizona’s Whetstone Mountains, Kartchner Caverns is home to the world’s longest stalactite formation and according to Kansas State Parks Division Director Linda Lanterman, it’s also recognized as one of the top ten caves in the entire world thanks to an extensive array of mineral formations that exist in both the upper and lower caverns. Photo Credit: © Flickr / Mr Flickr Click Here to see more Stunning U.S State Parks
-The Editors, The Active Times
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