While our national parks contain some of America’s most prized natural features, some of America’s most beautiful landscapes and historical landmarks are located in state parks. Sadly, our nation’s state parks are often unappreciated by the public and by politicians, as many states have severely cut, or even eliminated, public funding to state parks in recent years.
I’m going to list my ten most favorite state parks in the entire country. In order to qualify for consideration for this list, a “state park” is a park, forest, recreation area, historical site, or other type of area administered by a state government agency that is responsible for the operation of state parks.
#10: Bethpage State Park, New York
Bethpage State Park, located near Farmingdale, New York on Long Island, is not your typical state park. Instead of natural beauty, Bethpage consists of five 18-hole golf courses. Bethpage’s Black Course, one of the most difficult golf courses in the entire country, hosted the 102nd and 109th U.S. Open golf championships in 2002 and 2009, respectively. In addition to golf courses, Bethpage State Park also has a polo field.
#9: Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas
Arkansas is home to the only publicly-accessible diamond-bearing site: Crater of Diamonds State Park, located in the Ouachita Mountains near Murfreesboro, Arkansas. Tourists can search for diamonds in 37.5-acre plowed field in the park.
#8: Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Located along the Illinois River near North Utica, Illinois, Starved Rock State Park is proof that Illinois has some impressive natural wonders. Outcroppings of soft sandstone provide some very impressive geography, including cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls.
#7: Custer State Park, South Dakota
Named after U.S. Army Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, who was killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, Custer State Park includes some of the majestic terrain of South Dakota’s Black Hills, the scenic Needles Highway, and a heard of free-roaming bison.
#6: Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona
While Arizona’s Superstition Mountains are located in a federally-administered national forest, you can get an impressive view of the mountains from nearby Lost Dutchman State Park. The park includes desert scenery and hiking trails that lead into the national forest. The park gets its name from the legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.
#5: Washington Monument State Park, Maryland
Believe it or not, there are actually three monuments to George Washington, our nation’s first president. The most famous Washington Monument is run by the federal government and located in Washington, D.C., and there’s also a Washington Monument in Baltimore, Maryland. However, a lesser-known Washington Monument is located west of Boonsboro, Maryland, in Washington Monument State Park. The Boonsboro Washington Monument is the oldest of the three, having been completed in 1827, The monument sits near the top of Monument Knob, one of many peaks on South Mountain, a long ridge that extends from Maryland into Pennsylvania.
#4: Red Rock Canyon State Park, California
Located at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada near Cantil, California, Red Rock Canyon State Park provides some of the most beautiful desert scenery you’ll find anywhere. Cliffs, buttes, and rock formations provide a spectacular landscape that has been featured in many movies.
#3: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida
Located near Key Largo in the Florida Keys is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, an underwater state park in Florida. Named after conservationist John Pennekamp, the park features coral reefs and associated marine wildlife.
#2: Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
Located near Davis, West Virginia, Blackwater Falls State Park provides some of Appalachia’s most splendid scenery. The park gets its name from the 62-foot Blackwater Falls, where the tannic acid-darkened water of the Blackwater River flows into Blackwater Canyon.
#1: Copper Falls State Park, Wisconsin
While Wisconsin Dells and Door County state parks are far more famous, Wisconsin’s Copper Falls State Park, located near Mellen in the northwestern part of the state, is what I consider to be Wisconsin’s most beautiful state park, and my favorite state park in the entire country. The Bad River and Tylers Forks, a tributary of the Bad River, flow over a series of waterfalls within the park. The park also includes Loon Lake, trails, a campground, and a ton of opportunities for recreation.
State parks provide this country with natural scenery, historical landmarks, and wonderful recreation opportunities. They deserve more funding and public support.