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8 Off-the-Radar State Parks Your Family Needs to Explore

by Susan Finch

Sep 16, 2017

Kwiktor | Dreamstime


State parks have always been a frugal and fun family vacation, but unless you live a stone’s throw from some of the greats like Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore, you need more options. And there are actually plenty of under-the-radar choices for state parks in the United States. Did you know there are actually 10,336 state park areas with more than 18,597,527 acres?


Family hiking at State Park in California

Photo: Anna Dudko | Dreamstime

So the question isn’t whether or not to go, but where to go. Here are eight off-the-radar state parks your family needs to explore.


1. Hells Gate

Open year-round, Hells Gate in Idaho rests on 960 acres and features all the things you would expect from a phenomenal state park like mountain biking, wildlife viewing and fishing. Hells Gate State Park rests on the site of a Nez Perce village with remnants of pit houses used by the Nez Perce people as they fished along Asotin Creek for lamprey.


2. Wellesley Island

Families who love to fish should stop through Wellesley Island State Park in New York for the largest camping complex in the Thousand Islands region. It features smallmouth, bass, pike and muskie fishing.

Hot Air Balloon Over The Middle Falls At Letchworth State Park

Photo: James Vallee | Dreamstime

3. Letchworth State Park

Dubbed the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park houses The Genesee River and three major waterfalls nestled between cliffs. Hiking trails, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are available. There is also a history and performing arts program and summer lecture series along with hot air ballooning opportunities kids will love.


4. Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is the kind of place your kids will think came right out of a movie with waterfalls, 13 miles of trail and even ice fishing. It was named the No. 1 attraction in the state of Illinois and its Lodge features an oversized two-sided fireplace where kids can warm up with hot cocoa on a cool night.


5. Crater of Diamonds State Park

Kids who drag their feet on hiking, swimming and the great outdoors can get behind a treasure hunt for gems and diamonds at the aptly named Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. Kids can learn how diamonds come in all types of colors whether white, brown and yellow and get a look at jasper, agate and other rocks at the park. The best part? If you find a diamond, it’s actually yours to keep.


6. Natural Bridges State Beach, California

Mix a proper beach trip into a state park vacation at Natural Bridges State Park in California. This beach is perfect for wildlife viewing with shore birds, migrating whales, seals and otters, but also features plenty of rocks that look like bridges popping out of the shoreline. There’s also a monarch butterfly natural preserve.


7. Waimea Canyon State Park

No state park list should be complete without a shout-out to Hawai’i. Waimea Canyon State Park on the island of Kaua’i is often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific with nature trail hikes and a Salt Pond Park. After taking in the 10 miles across and 3,000 feet deep view, head out on an adventure for wildlife watching and a trip out to the falls.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park Castle Wall ruins

Photo: Cjh Photography Llc | Dreamstime

8. Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Kids will giggle over Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri’s name. Ha Ha Tonka is a bit of a wonderland and feels like stepping into medieval history. Sinkholes, caves, an enormous natural bridge and even a turn-of-the-century stone castle overlooking Lake of the Ozarks and Ha Ha Tonka Spring. Your kids will question whether it’s really a state park or a historical theme park. Either way, you come home the hero for suggesting it.


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