Why visit state parks + Best Northeast State Parks
Compared to National Parks, state parks receive much less love on the internet, but they definitely deserve more attention. State parks can be our favorite local haunt, our quick outdoor fix, or they be a vacation destination, offering an experience similar that of visiting a national park.
To learn some tips and tricks to exploring state parks, I spoke with Sophie Hartley. Sophie has what might be the coolest internship ever. Her task is to explore New Hampshire State Parks and blog about her experience here. Since her job is to explore parks, she is the perfect person to suggest a few tips to exploring state parks.
There’s Lots to Love About State Parks
When it comes to local adventure, most of us turn to our closest state parks. These parks tend to be beautiful, less expensive, and less congested than the national parks.
State Parks Are Often Cheaper Than National Parks
State parks are conservation land maintained and operated by the state. Management practices and fees vary from state to state. Even so, most state parks are less expensive than national parks.
For example, the day rate for an out-of-state vehicle in New Hampshire is $4-5, depending on the park. In comparison, vehical pass to a National Park averages $25.
State Parks Tend to Be Less Crowded
At the state parks you might have more privacy and silence than you would at a state park. “With the privacy comes a more unique connection to nature,” Sophie says. “You might hear noises and bird songs that would not hear in a busier park.”
This, like any generalization, is not true for every park. Several of our team members mention that their local state park’s campgrounds are often booked well in advance or select a less busy time.
This summer, our family camped at White Lake State Park in New Hampshire. During the weekend, the campground was full — smoke billowed from every fire pit and the beach was blanketed with towels. Sunday night, everyone left but us. We spend the rest of our visit in near blissful isolation.
Many State Parks Are Close to Urban Areas
Sometimes a preson needs to get into nature FAST. State parks tend to be located closer to uran areas than national parks. If you are looking for a one-day adventure, a state park is probably an easy drive from your house. These day-long or half-day adventures can be as memorable as a week-long trip.
Find Your State Park
While there are 63 national parks (and more national sites), the United States has more than 6,000 state parks! This abundance of park land means that there’s probably a state park near you.
To find a state park, Sophie recommends seeking out the state park website. These websites are often packed with information about usage fees, activities, and rentals.
“Don’t judge a state park by its internet presence,” Sophie warns. Because state parks attract less attention than national parks, photos featuring the park may make it seem drab. More than once, Sophie as assumed a park was uninteresting after looking at Google images. “But when I get there, I’m blown away.”Sophie Hartley
If you can’t find your state’s park website, stateparks.com has an interactive map to help locate parks. This map is exceptionally useful for those hoping to stay in state parks while traveling cross country.
Try a New Activity
Many state parks rent equipment to visitors. Boats, snowshoes, skis, and other equipment can be borrowed for the day. Check the state park’s webiste for prices and availablity. It’s the perfect way to try paddleboarding before buying your own!
If there’s a particular activity you love, activity-specific apps can help you locate new trails or places to explore. Some of our favorite apps include AllTrails for hiking, GoPaddle for water sports, and Trailforks for biking.
Take Advantage of the State Park Nature Programs
Many state parks offer nature programs, typically run by a ranger or knowlegdeable volunteer. Topics may range from history, to botany, ecology, and geology.
Many state park systems offer Junior Ranger programs, offering students the opportunity to earn a badge while learning about their natural environment.
When Visiting a National Park, Consider Staying at a Local State Parks
Frequently, the state conserves land near a national park. Some of these parks offer an experience similar to – or better – than the national park.
You may also use a local state park for a base camp when exploring a national park. This summer our family loved camping in Shenandoah National Park but we didn’t love driving an hour from our campsite to tube on the river or explore Luray Caverns.
If we had chosen to camp at Shenandoah River State Park, we would have been much closer to these attractions. From that state park, we could easily have driven into Shenandoah to hike from Skyline Drive or found hikes that climbed up the mountains and into the park.
For example, if you are planning to visit Acadia National Park, consider staying at Lamoine State Park instead. This quiet park is located across the Eastern Bay separate Mount Desert Island, where most of Acadia is located and has oceanfront acess.
Northeast State Parks Round up
Often state parks can be the highlight of a road-trip, if you know where to go. Here are our suggestions for state parks in the Northeast.
The fossilized dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur State Park in Conneticut facinated my kids. While we were there, a ranger explained how scientists think the 2,000 footprints became fossilized. No campsites are available at this park, and its walking path is only two miles, but the dinosaur exhibit is memorable. We found this to be a great way break up a longer drive.
Cape Henlopen is located at point where the the Delaware Bay empties into the ocean. This costal beach with natural sand offers a quiet place to swim, fish, or bike. My kids were intrigued by the park’s defensive fort built during World War II.
Situated on the deepest lake in Maine, Sebago Lake State Park oferrs year-round fun. The lake lends its to watersports, but the park also encompasses bogs, large wooded regions, sandy beaches, and a river. Visitors camp, hike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe on the trail surrounding the lake.
Maryland’s Assateague Island is a TMM team favorite! Several of us have been multiple times to this park famous for its wild horses. These horses live on the beach and inspired Misty of Chincoteague. Assateauge Island allows camping, but I perfer to camp on the neighboring island, Chincoteague, where the mosquitoes and flies are fewer. My kids loved crabbing off piers along these islands.
I’ve yet to explore any Massachusetts state parks, but one place I hope to visit is Walden Pond, the site where Henry David Thoreau composed Walden. While this site is no longer an escape into isolated wilderness, it has still retained its beauty. Visitors can also tour the cabin where Thoreau wrote and lived.
Nestled in the White Moutains, Franconia Notch State Park was the site of the rock formation know as The Old Man of the Mountain. Although this geological feature has since fallen, visitors still flock to the park. My family loves to swim at Echo Lake, walk thorugh the Flume Gorge, and ride the tramway to the top of Cannon Mountain.
The prestine water and stunning scenery at White Lake State Park make it a favorite swimming and camping location. This glacial lake is located in a pine forest near some of the best hiking in New Hampshire.
At the end of New Jersey sits Cape May State Park, one of the country’s most popular bird-watching sites. This protected land is a natural resting spot of migratory birds. With its mix of beachy dunes, freshwater meadows, and a historical lighthouse, this park is sure to please.
Want to escape for days? As the largest protected area of land in the contental U.S., Adirondack Park offers you the opportunity to explore six million acres of forest perserve. Not technically a state park, Adironack Park is partically owned by the stae of New York. It’s a destination for backpacking, paddling, cycling and mountain biking.
With 22 named waterfalls, Ricketts Glen is a beautiful park in northern Pennslyvania. Visitors enjoy camping, hiking, boating and fishing. This park also offers a DiscoverE Kids Program designed to teach children about the natural world.
Hickory Run, another interesting Pennsylvania park, protects lands around a giant boulder field. This flat, rocky field is all that remains of a glacier that once settled in this region. Regular nature programs at this park target both adulta and childern.
If near Bristol, take a break from the city to stroll through Colt State Park. This green space has trimmed lawns, perfect for frisbee or kite flying, and easy, paved biking paths along the seashore. While there visit the adjacent farm museum and Bristol beach.
If you dream of owning your own New England island, camp at Burton Island State Park. This park in the middle of Lake Champlain can only be reached by ferry or private boat. We camped at a primitive site and enjoyed swimming in what felt like our private island beach.
For a different experience, swim at Boulder Beach in Groton, Vermont. This park is named for the giant boulders dotting its sandy shores. If the water is too chilly for swimming, rent a boat or bring your own to explore this lake.
Explore Near You
These state parks are a few that I have enjoyed in my region or plan to visit soon. What parks are your favorite?
- Favorite State Parks in Florida
- Three Best Campgrounds in the Smoky Mountains
- 10 Best Yellostone Kid-Friendly Hikes
- Adventure travel tips!
© 2021, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.