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US State Parks - Reasons to Visit

They Aren’t State Parks for Nothing


A babbling brook in Adirondack State Park.

A babbling brook in Adirondack State Park is one of the many hidden treasures to be discovered.

© Lauren Himiak

State parks are protected areas of land, preserved for a host of reasons. Whether state and/or local government is concerned about maintaining a land’s natural beauty or protecting a historic landmark, these parks exist for a reason.

Chances are, your state offers a variety of parks, but do you know why? You could be miles away from stunning waterfalls, deep gorges, or historic forts. Nature is being protected, so why not explore what’s so special about the conserved land?

Just as there are numerous reasons these lands are protected, there are plenty of reasons to get out there and visit them. Here are the top motives:

Try Something Outrageous!

Doing something extreme doesn’t always mean jumping out of a plane or dying your hair pink. For some, attempting something “outdoorsy” is as intense as it gets. Hiking sounds like a sweaty, muscle-aching way to spend an afternoon. And camping means sharing your bed with bugs and not having the convenience of a toilet. But that’s not always the case.

If summiting Mount Rainier isn’t on your Bucket List, try visiting a state park for a day out of the norm. Attempting something new can be surprisingly rewarding and may even change your mind. Find out what turns you off about the outdoors, and try something similar, even just once. Don’t like how you look in a bike helmet? Strap it on and take a ride through nature’s greatest tracks. State parks offer beautiful scenery and a soundtrack of wildlife; a complete opposite of the hustle and bustle of life. Obnoxious cell phone ringtones and loud car horns are replaced by birds singing and leaves rustling in the breeze.

Remember, even camping at a state park can be less intense than a national park. Here, you may have the luxury of numerous amenities, such as showers/bathrooms, electric outlets, vehicle parking, fire pits/logs, and playgrounds.

So break away from your routine and visit a state park. Not only can you be proud of your new endeavor; you just may like it.

“This Year I Am Going to Lose Seven Pounds.”

It could be the most common New Year’s resolution ever. But you don’t necessarily need to spend your whole paycheck on unforgiving spandex and pricey gym memberships. Chances are you live near one of the 3,675 designated state parks in the U.S. And if getting into better physical shape is important to you, think of state parks as the planet’s most majestic fitness centers.

Each state offers a variety of parks, some more than others, but all offer something different. Do a little research and you can find great destinations for hiking, biking, canoeing, and more. Why spend an hour running in place on a treadmill when you could be on-foot exploring lush trails or historic landmarks? In fact, Mother Nature has outfitted many state parks with the same equipment as any high-tech fitness center. Use a log for push-ups or dips. Attempt a hill of rocks as you would a stair climber.

If this is sounding too intense, remember that walking can be just as beneficial. The point is to get out there and explore. Not only will your body benefit, but being immersed in a state park can do wonders for your mentality and stress levels.

Times are Tight

For the majority of Americans, saving money isn’t a tough choice anymore, it’s a lifestyle. With economic hardships and personal debt, it can be challenging to enjoy something recreational. Going to a show means money. Having dinner with friends costs money. Even watching cable television or renting a movie equals money. But you don’t need to hide indoors or become unsocial to save a buck—state parks offer free and relatively inexpensive entertainment.

Instead of visiting a museum that charges admission, check out if your area houses any historical sites at state parks. Many parks offer free admission for exploration, meaning the day is up to you. If you own a bike, you’re all set; if you don’t, rentals are typically easy on the pocket. Same goes for boat or canoe rentals.

If taking the family to Disney World isn’t in the budget this year, head to a park for some quality time. Camping at a site for $20 a night is definitely more economical than shacking up in a hotel. Not only will you save on travel, lodging, and recreation, you may even discover new hobbies. State parks are perfect settings for hobbies like cycling, swimming, bird watching, fishing, and running.

Remember, you don’t have to break the bank to have a good time!

“We Should Really Keep in Touch.”

It all starts when friends sign your high school year book: “You made history so fun…KIT this summer!” And when you get a little older, you realize just what a challenge it can be.

Whether you want to reconnect with a group of college buddies or find a unique trip for your office, visiting a state park is a fresh approach to an old idea. Instead of meeting at the local Applebees, plan a fun-filled afternoon at a convenient park.

Options are endless. Many parks offer bike and boat rentals, while others house areas specific for barbeques and large gatherings. Though it may take a little extra time to plan said excursion, the payoff is much more rewarding. State parks have a little something for everyone: Trails for walks, areas for sports/games, grills/tables to eat, and some even have vending machines and restrooms for convenience.

If it hasn’t crossed your mind already, parks also offer a fun setting for quality time with family/children, first dates, birthdays, and family reunions. Whether you want to strengthen the current relationships in your life or create new ones, state parks provide an accommodating environment.

Still not convinced? How about these reasons: You’ve never seen a bullfrog in real life. Tan memberships are pretty expensive. Parks are socially acceptable venues for tandem bicycles. The air is cleaner. And where else can you meet fit strangers who appreciate nature as much as you?

In all seriousness, you may never be fully convinced that you need to visit state parks in your lifetime. But once you explore these protected lands, you may wonder what took you so long to find them. View the full listing of state parks and find one in your area.

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