Gorgeous State Parks That Are Crowded National Park Alternatives

by Will McGough

Gorgeous State Parks That Are Crowded National Park Alternatives

by Will McGough

While we await the reopening of national parks across the country, you may want to turn to your local state parks for a dose of natural beauty. Many of them still fly under the radar, and plenty offer similarly jaw-dropping landscapes as big-name parks. These are our favorite state parks with comparable sights and terrain to major national parks.

While we await the reopening of national parks across the country, you may want to turn to your local state parks for a dose of natural beauty. Many of them still fly under the radar, and plenty offer similarly jaw-dropping landscapes as big-name parks. These are our favorite state parks with comparable sights and terrain to major national parks.

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Canyon State Park / iStock / Alisha Bube
Custer State Park
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A Badlands or Yellowstone Alternative: Custer State Park, South Dakota

The sharp spires and grooved ridges that make Badlands National Park so special can also be found just 85 miles due west in Custer State Park. But its best-kept secret – one that puts it on par with Yellowstone – is the bison. Comprising more than 73,000 acres, Custer is home to an abundance of wildlife, including about 1,300 bison as well as bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and antelope.

Read more: 3 Unmissable Sunrises and Sunsets in South Dakota’s Black Hills

The sharp spires and grooved ridges that make Badlands National Park so special can also be found just 85 miles due west in Custer State Park. But its best-kept secret – one that puts it on par with Yellowstone – is the bison. Comprising more than 73,000 acres, Custer is home to an abundance of wildlife, including about 1,300 bison as well as bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and antelope.

Silver Falls State Park
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A Yosemite Alternative: Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

One of the main reasons visitors flock to Yosemite in huge numbers is its waterfalls. But in the summer, Yosemite Valley might as well be a parking lot. If it’s waterfalls you crave, head up north to Silver Falls State Park in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Here, you can see 10 waterfalls on a single day hike (appropriately named the Trail of Ten Falls), headlined by the 177-foot South Falls, which you can walk behind. 

Read more: One Day in Portland: What to Do Morning, Noon, and Night

One of the main reasons visitors flock to Yosemite in huge numbers is its waterfalls. But in the summer, Yosemite Valley might as well be a parking lot. If it’s waterfalls you crave, head up north to Silver Falls State Park in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Here, you can see 10 waterfalls on a single day hike (appropriately named the Trail of Ten Falls), headlined by the 177-foot South Falls, which you can walk behind. 

Cathedral State Park
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A Canyonlands Alternative: Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Canyonlands – and Southern Utah in general – is regarded for its slot canyons. Most people aren’t aware that this type of terrain can also be found in Nevada, where it's actually a bit more accessible at just a 2.5-hour drive from the Las Vegas airport. The terrain at Cathedral Gorge State Park is highlighted by carved cliffs and slot canyons that are fit for day hiking and camping. Many of the formations and shapes are created because the canyon walls are made of Bentonite clay. It can become be so soft at times that it will show footprints.

Read more: Utah's "Mighty 5" National Parks: Which Should You Visit?

Canyonlands – and Southern Utah in general – is regarded for its slot canyons. Most people aren’t aware that this type of terrain can also be found in Nevada, where it's actually a bit more accessible at just a 2.5-hour drive from the Las Vegas airport. The terrain at Cathedral Gorge State Park is highlighted by carved cliffs and slot canyons that are fit for day hiking and camping. Many of the formations and shapes are created because the canyon walls are made of Bentonite clay. It can become be so soft at times that it will show footprints.

Snow Canyon State Park
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An Alternative to Zion: Snow Canyon State Park, Utah

Zion owes its nickname of “canyon country” to its steep red cliffs. The 15-mile-long Zion Canyon is the main attraction for visitors driving through, hoping to steal a look at its striking red-and-tan Navajo sandstone. Fifty miles farther west and somewhat isolated, Snow Canyon State Park is about 1/20th the size of Zion but offers similar terrain. Its best feature is its hiking, namely the Cinder Cone Trail that takes you across wind-carved sandstone hills and old lava flows. Fun fact: The movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in Snow Canyon. While you're there, look for Gila monsters and desert tortoises – both are protected species in Snow Canyon.

Read more: Here’s How to Do a Luxury Ranch Vacation in Utah

Zion owes its nickname of “canyon country” to its steep red cliffs. The 15-mile-long Zion Canyon is the main attraction for visitors driving through, hoping to steal a look at its striking red-and-tan Navajo sandstone. Fifty miles farther west and somewhat isolated, Snow Canyon State Park is about 1/20th the size of Zion but offers similar terrain. Its best feature is its hiking, namely the Cinder Cone Trail that takes you across wind-carved sandstone hills and old lava flows. Fun fact: The movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in Snow Canyon. While you're there, look for Gila monsters and desert tortoises – both are protected species in Snow Canyon.

Valley of Fire State Park
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An Alternative to Petrified Forest National Park: Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas

Although it's a lesser-known national park overall, Arizona’s Petrified Forest is internationally recognized for its abundance of fossils and petrified wood, and it draws almost a million visitors a year. Another option is to check out Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park, six miles from Lake Mead and 55 miles from Las Vegas. It's the state's oldest and largest state park and has expansive areas of petrified wood and 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs.

Read more: A One-Week Arizona Road Trip with Something for Everyone

Although it's a lesser-known national park overall, Arizona’s Petrified Forest is internationally recognized for its abundance of fossils and petrified wood, and it draws almost a million visitors a year. Another option is to check out Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park, six miles from Lake Mead and 55 miles from Las Vegas. It's the state's oldest and largest state park and has expansive areas of petrified wood and 3,000-year-old Indian petroglyphs.

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