The Best State Parks In America

Because national parks shouldn't steal all the spotlight

National parks may get most of the attention from nature-loving travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, but state parks across the country boast a unique beauty all their own. Bonus: They tend to be less crowded.

Here are five you need to visit.

Georgia Kral is a reporter and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow her food and travel adventures at @georgiakral.

Jockey's Ridge State Park

Nags Head, North Carolina

This park in the Outer Banks contains the tallest living sand dune system on the East Coast. It's a popular spot for flying kites and hang gliding—or just sliding down the picture-perfect white sand on your bum. With glistening sand around you and the ocean visible in the distance, you'll feel like you're in the desert or on another planet entirely.

Photo: Posnov/Getty Images

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Santa Cruz, California

Redwood National Park in Northern California is indeed breathtaking, featuring a variety of trail hikes and drives through the ancient forests of the largest, tallest trees in the world. But perched in the mountains above the beach town of Santa Cruz, Big Basin is truly a hidden gem. The state park features campsites, all manner of trail and two trees—known as the Mother and Father of the Forest—that tower over the landscape. 

Photo: Sierralara/Getty Images

Makena State Park

Maui, Hawaii

Makena State Park, on the southwest side of Maui, has arguably the best beaches on the island. Big Beach, also known as Oneloa Beach, has perfect golden-yellow sand and turquoise water. Little Beach, just a five-minute walk, is located on the other side of the 360-foot dormant volcano Pu'u Olai, an imposing rock that defines the landscape. 

Photo: Ivan_Sabo/Getty Images

Roan Mountain State Park

Carter County, Tennessee

Roan, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, is a hiker's paradise, with gorgeous scenery and alpine flora at every turn. The rugged ridges promise big views of the undulating Smoky Mountains in the distance, and the hardwood forests leading up to the mountain tops are impressive, too. For overnights, choose between fully equipped cabins and campsites.

Photo: kellyvandellen/Getty Images

Bash Bish Falls State Park

Mount Washington, Massachusetts

Located in the Berkshires on the New York border, Bash Bish Falls State Park is home to the highest-drop waterfall in Massachusetts. The hike in can be strenuous, but the breathtaking waterfall and crystal clear pool below, which is 60 feet deep, is worth the effort. Although it's prohibited by law, you'll see plenty of locals jumping from nearby cliffs into the smaller pools.

Photo: Craig Houghton via Flickr