These State Parks Offer the Natural Splendor of National Parks Without the Crowds

Across the U.S., there are more than 10,000 designated state parks, spanning an astounding 18 million acres.

Within their borders, travelers find landscapes every bit as dramatic as national parks—from the 70-foot wind-sculpted sand dunes of Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas to the needle-like granite formations of Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota—and often without the crowds.

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks tend to be smaller than national parks, and relatively modest in comparison, but they form the backbone of America’s park system and enjoy fierce loyalty from families who visit year after year.

With summer high season around the corner, these state parks deserve spots on your travel to-do list.

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

Monahans Sandhills State Park is a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Monahans westward and north into New Mexico. Most of these dunes are stabilized by vegetation, but the park is one area where many dunes are still active. Active dunes grow and change shape in response to seasonal, prevailing winds.

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shin oak is one of the plants that stabilize the dunes. When fully mature it usually stands less than 4 feet tall and bears an abundance of large acorns.

Things to do at Monahans Sandhills State Park include camping (26 sites with electricity and water), sand surfing, hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, and nature study.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Spanning 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, South Dakota’s first state park is a wildlife wonderland, where a herd of 1,300 buffalo roams the plains, and visitors spot pronghorn, elk, and bighorn sheep. When you can pull your attention from the abundant animals, turn it to the equally impressive landscape, a natural playground of granite peaks and mountain lakes that draws climbers, hikers, campers, and boaters.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park campgrounds offer a variety of scenic sites. Set up camp along a flowing stream, in the midst of pine forest, or near a mountain lake. The choice is yours! Each campsite has a gravel or paved camping pad, a fire grate, and picnic table. Unlike many national parks, electric hookups are available in most campgrounds.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Named for the river it boarders, Shenandoah River State Park is a peaceful and serene park. With over 5 miles of river front and nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains, the park is truly a gem. The rolling, mountainous land features steep slopes and is mostly wooded.

Vogel State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, multi-use trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. With miles of trails and ziplines, the park has plenty of options for hiking and biking. Riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, and camping cabins are available.

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville. At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer. The park provide a range of overnight accommodations including 56 campsites with electric service suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length, 22 tent/pop-up campsites, 14 tent-only walk-in campsites, and 34 cottages.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lake for swimming and boating, and miles of hiking trails adjacent to the famous Appalachian Trail offer something for everyone. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats, and during summer, visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill was the home of Judge John Rowan. Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from England.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

Worth Pondering…

In the words of Willie Nelson, “goin’ places I have never been, seein’ things that I may never see again”, exploring our magnificent country, its natural beauty, state parks, historic sites, and treasured landmarks.

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