These State Parks Have All the Beauty of National Parks and None of the Crowds

Every year from Washington to Virginia and Montana to Arizona, throngs pour into U.S. national parks and preserves to climb towering cliffs, hike through misty forests, and capture the perfect selfie at the grandest of canyons.

Widespread appreciation for protected lands is a good thing, but national parks’ overwhelming popularity also has downsides. There are lines to scale Angel’s Landing in Zion every summer, and traffic jams just to ride the brakes through Yosemite Valley.

Dead Horse Point State Park State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the National Park Service centennial in 2016, the system registered a record 331 million visits, and last year it nearly surpassed that mark, with the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Zion, and Acadia all registering new record highs.

The crowds aren’t simply an inconvenience. They can also be a strain on the very environments national parks are meant to conserve.

This month, the National Park Service announced an entrance fee increase to cover infrastructure improvements and backlogged maintenance that will go into effect June 1, and some parks are considering adding reservations to cut down on congestion or at least spread it out. Muir Woods National Monument implemented parking reservations in January, and Utah’s Zion and Arches national parks may soon require advanced bookings.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But RV travelers who want to revel in natural splendor without the crowds and lineups have an alternative: state parks. With summer high season around the corner, these state parks deserve spots on your travel to-do list.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

You could be forgiven for thinking you drove to Utah and ended up in the Grand Canyon instead. Featuring immense cliffs carved by the elements and stunning overlooks, Dead Horse Point State Park draws you in with its breathtaking landscapes, dark starlit skies, and rich history.

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs about 6,000 feet above sea level. Two thousand feet below, the Colorado River winds its way from the continental divide in Colorado to the Gulf of California, a distance of 1,400 miles.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

It may be South Carolina’s most visited state park, but that doesn’t stop this secluded barrier island located 15 miles east of Beaufort from being one of the most picturesque destinations in the South, thanks to its famous lighthouse, pristine beaches, and popular fishing lagoon.

Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun fact: many of the Vietnam scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed here.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Consisting of 6,150 acres with two miles of sugar white sand beaches and three fresh water lakes, Gulf State Park has a modern full-service campground, cabins, cottages, back country trails, and the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico. The park also features an interactive nature center, scenic nature trail, new tennis courts, beautiful beach pavilion, 18-hole Refuge Golf Course, and a 900-acre lake for fishing in the picnic area on Lake Shelby

Galveston State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Mitchell State Park, North Carolina

The drive up Mount Mitchell is a slow string of twists and curves that gradually climb up, up, up. When you reach the visitor center, two more miles will take you to the summit parking lot. A quarter-mile paved walkway leads to the summit observation platform. Up there, your shoulders drop. Tension and stress disappear in the vast 360-degree views.

A nine-site tent campground is open in warm-weather months, and backpacking opportunities abound. A concession area and a full-service restaurant serve visitors from May to October.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Camping at Galveston State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. Things to do at Galveston Island State Park include camping (56 sites with 50/30 amp electricity and water), swimming, fishing, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, and relaxing.

Worth Pondering…
When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

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