The 11 Best U.S. State Parks for Hiking
These locations are perfect for anyone looking to spend some time in nature.
When trying to plan the perfect hiking trip, it can be easy for your mind to immediately jump to one of the many national parks that dot the U.S. But while the federally administered sites are certainly worth a visit, they're far from the only option for getting outdoors. There are also more than 10,000 state parks that provide over 40,000 miles of trails nationwide, according to the National Association of State Park Directors. And in many cases, it can make it much easier to visit and access the nature you're looking to experience. Read on to see which U.S. state parks experts say are the best for hiking.
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Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
It's no secret that Utah is packed with plenty of natural beauty. But experts say one lesser-known spot makes for a great place to hit the trail.
"Hidden in the shadow of the immensely popular Zion National Park is one of the best, most hikeable state parks in the entire U.S. … and most drive right past it!" Sophie Clapton, a travel expert and writer for We Dream of Travel, tells Best Life. "Snow Canyon State Park is a wonderland of historical and geological marvels."
"The park offers dozens of hiking trails of all distances, which lead to everything from lava tubes to slot canyons to petroglyphs and pictographs. Most notable, however, is a vast area of petrified sand dunes that can be explored by foot," she says. "This swirling, textured landscape of petrified sand is unlike any other you will find in the U.S."
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (California)
The awe-inspiring redwood forests of California attract crowds of eager visitors annually, but Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park provides a unique way to experience them while hiking.
"The park is more than 10,000 acres of incredible beauty, and the best way to explore it is through one of the 17 hiking trails located there," Rae Miller, co-owner of Getaway Couple, tells Best Life. "You'll find everything from short, easy trails like Stout Memorial Grove Trail or Simpson-Reed Trail that are less than a mile to the challenging 17-mile out-and-back trail from Hatton to Hiouchi to Mill Creek Trail."
She adds that the park's namesake trees must be seen in person to be believed, many of which are thousands of years old and as much as 350 feet tall. "You'll feel incredibly tiny hiking through the massive redwood groves. Hop on the Boy Scout Tree Trail if you want to experience some of the oldest and largest trees. It truly showcases what makes this place one of the best U.S. state parks for hiking," she says.
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Kodachrome Basin State Park (Utah)
The natural beauty of any place can be enhanced by how its colors enhance and play off one another. One location out west provides plenty of opportunities to take it all in from the trail.
"Kodachrome Basin State Park in southern Utah is one of the best state parks you've never heard of. Its 2,240 acres are filled with canyons, ridges, and reddish stone spires framed by vivid blue skies," Steve Prohaska, travel expert and founder of See the Best Places, tells Best Life.
There are also plenty of options that are suitable for all ability levels and durations. "Hike the 1.7-mile Sentinel Trail to see the giant natural Shakespeare Arch and panoramic views of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Make your way down the 1.5-mile Grand Parade Trail on the basin's floor to see box canyons and plant and animal life. The 6-mile Panorama Trail will take you to the tall Ballerina Spire, the strange hoodoos of The Hat Shop, and the cliff-lined Cool Cave. At Kodachrome, you'll have hiking trails and stunning views on a par with those at some of the national parks, but without the national park tourist crowds," Prohaska says.
Silver Falls State Park (Oregon)
National parks are often famous for their natural landmarks, like Old Faithful or El Capitan. But experts point out that some state-administered parks have unsung wonders of their own.
"I'd recommend checking out Silver Falls State Park, east of Salem, Oregon, which is known as the 'crown jewel' of the Oregon State Park System," says Jessica Schmit, owner of Uprooted Traveler. "It's most famous for its Trail of Ten Falls, where you can hike along an 8.5-mile trail and see 10 incredibly unique waterfalls, ranging up to 170 feet tall."
"What makes this park truly special is that, due to the geological composition in the area, four of the waterfalls have large caverns behind them, allowing you to actually hike behind the curtains of the falls!" she adds. "If you're not up to hiking 8.5 miles, this loop trail can also be done as a 'choose your own adventure,' hiking to as many or as few of the falls as you want."
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Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (California)
Big Sur's jaw-dropping natural beauty has made it a bucket list destination for anyone traveling along the California coast. Of course, experts say the area's state park provides one of the best hiking opportunities you can find in the state.
"I love visiting Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park because to get there, you have to drive the iconic Highway 1 with stunning coastal views on one side and mountainous views on the other," Brittanie Harbick, co-host of Travel Squad Podcast, tells Best Life. "It's a great place for hiking, and depending on the path you choose, you may get both coastal and forest views."
"One of my favorite trails within the park is the Pfeiffer Falls Trail because the hike tucks into the redwood forest. Leading up to the waterfall, there is a pedestrian expansion bridge to cross over, above the canyon, providing breathtaking views of the gigantic trees before approaching the 60-foot Pfeiffer Falls," she says.
Waimea Canyon State Park (Hawaii)
From its pristine beaches to its glowing volcanoes, it's impossible not to experience natural beauty when visiting Hawaii. But besides the well-known national parks there, those looking to get the most out of their time on the trail might also want to consider adding one state park to their list.
"Nicknamed the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific,' Waimea Canyon is one of Hawaii's most popular hiking destinations," says Trysta Barwig, travel expert and the founder of This Travel Dream. "This 10-mile long and 3,600-foot-deep canyon is a hiker's paradise, offering miles of trails with breathtaking views of its red and orange cliffs and the verdant rainforest that covers its slopes."
She explains that there's no shortage of trails to choose from, ranging from easy and approachable to more challenging. "One of the most popular trails is the Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls, a moderate 4-mile round trip hike leading to a stunning 800-foot waterfall overlooking the canyon. It takes about two to three hours to complete."
"For an easy hike, try Cliff Trail, a 1.8-mile loop that offers views of the canyon and its cliffs that you can complete in about an hour. And if you're looking for a more challenging hike, the Kukui Trail is a 5-mile round-trip hike that takes about 3.5-4 hours to complete. This trail is steep, with a 2,000-foot elevation drop to the canyon floor," Barwig suggests.
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Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
Some destinations are simply so visually stunning they have to be seen to be believed. And for anyone looking to take a nature break during a visit to Sin City, experts say there's one local option that's not to be missed.
"Valley of Fire State Park, just 45 minutes from Las Vegas, is incredible for hiking, with more than a dozen trails leading you to the park's incredible orange and red rock formations," says Schmit. "Be sure to hit the Fire Wave Trail, where you'll cross the desert floor to an eye-popping sandstone formation of pink, white, and orange swirls. The White Domes Trail is also stunning, where you can make your way through a narrow slot canyon and climb up the two rock domes for sweeping vistas of the park below."
Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah)
While size has nothing to do with what's designated a state park, some truly magnificent sites are among the smallest. One Utah park makes it very manageable to get in a plenty of sightseeing from the trail without overwhelming visitors.
"Fans of the cult classic movie Thelma & Louise might know Dead Horse Point State Park more from the movie's famous final scene. But the park has around seven miles of relatively easy trails providing spectacular views of the canyon floor below where the Colorado River flows," Ashley Tepen, co-founder of outdoor adventure website HelloTrail, tells Best Life.
"There's also one daily occurrence you might not want to miss. "If you plan your day just right, you can witness one of the most picturesque sunsets. Just make sure to arrive at the park an hour beforehand, hike to one of the western facing overlooks, grab a seat, and let nature do the rest," she says.
Ka'ena Point State Park (Hawaii)
Heading to the Aloha State with your trail boots in tow? Experts say there's one destination you shouldn't pass up.
"Ka'ena Point State Park is one of the best hiking spots in Hawaii," says Barwig. "The secluded park is located at the northwestern tip of Oahu and provides stunning views of the ocean and nearby islands. The park is also home to various native plants and animals, making it an excellent place for nature lovers. The incredible contrast between the lush greenery, lava rocks, and the deep blue ocean is something you won't want to miss."
And there's more than just the incredible views and scenery. "While not always guaranteed, hiking the Ka'ena Point Trail gives you a chance to spot spectacular wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled, and you might get lucky enough to see some! The endangered Hawaiian monk seal, albatross, and green sea turtle are just a few of the creatures that call this place home. And if visiting in the winter months, you might even catch a glimpse of humpback whales frolicking in the distance," she says.
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Golden Gate Canyon State Park (Colorado)
Even though it might not be as well known as its national park neighbors, Golden Gate Canyon State park offers some of the best trails in a place synonymous with hiking. And according to Dan Meyer, founder and director of the travel planning company Back&Pack, its 42 miles of paths make it very much worth a visit.
"You can really get lost in the tranquility of the wilderness there, spot some incredible wildlife, or simply enjoy a picnic at one of the many beautiful roadside spots," he tells Best Life. "The forest is very pristine, and you can get sweeping views of the Colorado Rockies—including many of the same mountains you see in Rocky Mountain National Park. I especially recommend the Raccoon Trail, a 2.5-mile moderate hike with panoramic views of the Continental Divide. It's absolutely stunning in the fall."
Meyer explains that the park has plenty of advantages over other local options. "Golden Gate offers all the great activities you'd expect from a well-known national park—hiking, fishing, climbing, camping—but I think it has a leg up due to its accessibility. The park is only 45 minutes from Denver, and fewer people know about it—especially out-of-staters!—so the crowds tend to be lighter. In sum, Golden Gate offers a similar mountain experience to the better-known Rocky Mountain National Park nearby, but it doesn't require as much advanced planning, nor does it come with some of the headaches of the larger crowds," he says.
Tallulah Gorge State Park (Georgia)
Anyone based on the East Coast knows they have no shortage of options when it comes to hiking. But one state park provides a wide range of trail options amidst stunning scenery.
"Tallulah Gorge is a 2-mile-long, 1,000-feet deep canyon in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia," Erin Moreland, travel blogger and owner of Super Simple Salty Life, tells Best Life. "Tallulah Gorge State Park has more than 20 miles of trails that are perfect for hikers who want to view the six different waterfalls cascading throughout the park. The trails are well-marked and have differing difficulty levels from easy to strenuous, depending on the hiker's age and skill level."