State parks, quite literally, are a national treasure. These protected areas are kind of the last bastions of nature in our crazy teched-out world — and they are so necessary to visit in order to unplug and connect with ourselves, our families and the Earth. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
And there are over 6,000 state parks in this country — 6,000! Obviously, that’s too many to explore and too many to know unless you dedicated your entire life to scoping out each and every one (which wouldn’t be that bad a gig now that we think about it). They’re all amazing, but it seems like there’s just a handful that are always getting all the good press — so how are we supposed to find which lesser-known parks we really shouldn’t miss?
Because we love y’all so much, we went ahead and did the research and found some of those parks unknown that are worth the adventure.
1. Makoshika State Park, Montana
Montana’s state parks kinda get the shaft thanks to Yellowstone and all, but Makoshika is definitely one to add to your must-see list. Not only does the 11,000-acre wilderness offer view-filled hiking, but the park is most notable for its dinosaur fossils. That’s right. You can get up close and personal with some prehistoric fossils while getting your hike on.
2. Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota
Don’t be confused by the name. Little Missouri State Park is actually located in North Dakota, and it isn’t that little. The park is a hidden gem because most of the 30-mile trails are only accessible by horseback or hiking. It’s worth the trek through the remote expanse that has been described as a “scenic wonder.”
3. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Check out Starved Rock State Park for its hiking trails. You’ll come back for the views. Thanks to a river running through the canyon and a lake, you can also camp, fish and boat at this state park. With 18 canyons and 13 miles of hiking trails, this park isn’t just Instagram-worthy, it’s remember-it-for-a-lifetime-worthy.
4. Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah
Utah is one of the hottest scenic destinations. And while national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon get a lot of the publicity, Kodachrome Basin deserves a spot on the list. The colors are so vivid in this state park that the National Geographic Society expedition named it Kodachrome after the 1948 color film.
5. Slide Rock State Park, Arizona
Arizona is rich with interesting landmarks to enjoy aside from the Grand Canyon. Escape the scalding summer heat by heading to Slide Rock, so named for the natural water slide that formed by the slippery bed of Oak Creek. Basically, it’s like a natural water park.
6. Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas
Maybe I just love this park because the saying is true — diamonds really are a girl’s best friend. Really, I like to think that it’s my inner child excited by the idea of discovering something never before seen with the human eye. Because that’s exactly the opportunity you have while exploring Crater of Diamonds. You see, it’s named because there are actual diamonds here, and if you find one, you get to take it home.
7. Natural Bridges State Beach, California
The name is pretty straightforward, folks. But the breathtaking beach views aren’t the only thing Natural Bridges offers. There’s tons of sea life, so you’re sure to glimpse sea stars, anemones, crabs and more. Even better, the beach is known for its monarch butterfly migration, which you can experience in the fall.
8. Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Missouri
Ha Ha Tonka not only offers the most fun park name on this list, but it also has a castle. That’s right. You can check out the ruins of a castle that was built in 1905 while you hike among the 13-mile trails the park offers. There are also sinkholes, natural bridges, caves and a lake to explore.
9. Cathedral Caverns State Park, Alabama
Cathedral Caverns was originally known as the Bat Cave. Need I say more? Aside from exploring this cave of wonder, you can also camp, hike the trails, go zip-lining and fish. It’s the perfect spot for the whole family.
10. Wood-Tikchik State Park, Alaska
My parents are big Alaska buffs. Random, I know, but my father is a huge outdoorsman and fisherman, and we have family that lives up there. I bring it up because my father loves the Wood-Tikchik State Park, mostly because I think he just loves saying the word “Tikchik.” I kid, I kid. The fun-to-say name is far from the only awesomeness the park offers. From hiking to floating down the river, you won’t regret taking in this breathtaking scenery.
This post is sponsored by Land Rover.