10 Under-the-Radar State Parks

While our country’s National Parks are some of our greatest assets, we also have a vast system of state-owned and operated venues that receive less love than their bigger brothers. Before you commit to the crowds and lines of the popular destinations, take a look at these 10 parks that are less visited and ready to be explored.

Photo By: Utah Office of Tourism

Photo By: Eric Backman/Shutterstock

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Photo By: Brad Stinson

Photo By: Explore Minnesota + Sunny Augustine

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Photo By: NH Division of Parks and Recreation

Photo By: Louisiana State Parks + Hunter Carter

Photo By: SouthCarolinaParks.com

Photo By: 1000 Islands International Tourism Council

Red Fleet – Utah

Quiet waters abound at this park near the south entrance to Dinosaur National Monument. Its main campground is an excellent place to set up shop for a day (or several) of kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddleboarding at a less crowded shoreline on the namesake reservoir. Paddle to the adjoining shoreline to get a sneak preview of this region’s archaeological history.

Cottonwood Canyon – Oregon

In Central Oregon, the John Day river twists and turns to reveal a massive canyon set in the state’s high desert. Cottonwood Canyon is slowly starting to be discovered by those looking for a quieter trail experience, especially in springtime. The park is beautiful during the summer as well; just bring plenty of water as temperatures routinely swell past 90 degrees. 

Limekiln – California

Although Highway 1 was damaged by California’s rough winter, its Central Coast is still worth the extended trek (just check road conditions before you go). Limekiln offers camping amongst old Redwoods on one side and a gateway to the ascending cliffs of Big Sur and the Pacific Ocean on the other. This biodiversity means you’ll see coastal plant life and desert growth in the same hike. 

Hells Gate – Idaho

Just a couple hours south of Spokane lies one of the country’s best jetboating canyons. Hire a captain to take you and your crew down the Snake River as steep cliffs and wildlife reveal themselves along the way. All the trails in and around the park are fairly easy, making this a great option for families. 

William O’Brien – Minnesota

There are few better places to camp amongst the color changing trees in the fall than the upper Midwest. White Pine and large meadows turn into a rainbow of red, oranges and yellows as temperatures begin to cool. Just an hour from the Twin Cities, this park offers it all in between the quiet waters of the St. Croix River. If winter sports are more your speed, come back after the first snowstorm for excellent cross-country skiing. 

Grafton Notch – Maine

If you’re looking for more of a challenge, look no further than this park, which features 12 backcountry miles of the Appalachian Trail. Waterfalls dot the landscape as you power through this arduous trek. Its summit highlight is Old Speck — a 4,180-foot peak that offers sweeping views of the White Mountains. For an easier adventure, drive along the park’s Scenic Byway for plenty of pull-offs to similar waterfalls and viewing areas.

Echo Lake – New Hampshire

Climbers head here to ascend two granite ledges: Cathedral and White Horse. Over time, natural routes have formed with options for every athlete from novice to experienced. Adventurers can tackle either ledge on their own or hire a company to lead their trip. If climbing seems a little too ambitious, enjoy the namesake lake and the easy walkabout trail that circles the water. 

Chicot – Louisiana

6,400 acres of sweeping hills and water await those who journey three hours northwest from New Orleans. Of special note is the Louisiana State Arboretum, which was the first state-supported arboretum in the country. Botanists and nature lovers will delight in the area as a case study in southern prairieland (and some great fishing to boot).

Oconee – South Carolina

Oconee is near the beginning of South Carolina’s 425-mile Palmetto Trail that runs all of the way to Charleston. Each of its interior trails are less than three miles in length and vary in ability level — meaning there’s something for everyone. Stocked lakes offer accessible fishing for bass, bream catfish and trout (depending on the time of year). Oconee also has quite the list of amenities and activities, including one of the only parks we know of with square dancing (every Friday night through Labor Day weekend).

Wellesley Island – New York

As the largest camping complex in the Thousand Islands area, there’s something to match your desired level of outdoors living. It ranges from standard tents and trailers to twelve vacation rentals, which have full amenities and grill pits perfect for s’mores and campfires. It’s a peaceful retreat right on the St. Lawrence River. 

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