How to Visit Every State Park in Your State
When thinking of iconic spots, big mountain hikes, or awe-inspiring vistas, our country’s national parks are often the first thing that comes to mind. While these parks provide recreation for humans and important ecosystem conservation, they often outshine the vast landscapes and unique regions that are protected by the nation’s state parks. With over 10,000 parks dotting the map, America’s state parks give 739 million annual visitors the chance for adventure in their own backyards. State parks are often free to residents and can be an amazing alternative to visiting our sometimes crowded national parks. They are also a vital resource to help cover our towns and communities with protected green space, and ensure that everyone has chances for outdoor recreation within an affordably close distance from home.
America’s state parks include the largest area of protected land in the contiguous US—bigger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon national parks combined (Adirondack Park, New York). They protect the largest area of old growth redwoods on the planet (Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California). They safeguard national treasures such as Mount Katahdin (Baxter State Park, Maine), Lake Tahoe (Lake Tahoe State Park, Nevada, and Emerald Bay State Park, California), and the Valley of Fire (Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada). Our state parks even protect wildlife such as manatees (Edward Ball Wakulla Spring State Park, Florida), multiple tropical bird species (Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas), and bison that have been known to hang out on the beach (Antelope Island State Park, Utah).
Paying a visit to each of the state parks in your state is a great way to learn about the place you call home. We are often quick to visit a foreign place and climb a far-off mountain, but sometimes it’s important to appreciate the beauty and adventure that may be right around the corner. Visiting state parks gives you a reason to explore past your corner of the state, and discover the diversity that is hiding in plain site. It can give you a greater understanding of your state’s history and culture—all the while supporting local communities and motivating you to get outside. Since many parks will be within a weekend’s drive, this goal is also great for those who want to start adding to their hiking resume but don’t have the availability to take off work or school for multiple weeks each year.
Visiting all the parks in your states may seem like an overwhelming task, but with a little planning and dedication it can become completely attainable. Every hiker and state will have a different set of challenges to overcome in order to meet this goal, but we’ve mapped out some ways to get yourself organized and ready to start checking parks off the list:
Step One: Make A List
For most states, finding a list of every state park can require a little bit of research (your state’s DCNR, parks and recreation department, and local hiking clubs will be good places to start). Once you have the list compiled, it’s beneficial to add them all to a map of your state. This can be as simple as getting a paper map and putting a thumbtack on the location of each park, or can get as high tech as creating a Google MyMap. However you choose to create it, the map will be useful in seeing where each state park is in relation to your home, other parks, and the rest of your state.
Step Two: Divide Everything Up
Already been to a few parks? Begin by marking those as complete so you can focus on the ones you have left to visit. Do a little research and figure out which parks are close enough to home to be done in a day trip and which ones will require a weekend getaway. Grouping parks together that are reasonably close to each other is an easy way to potentially hit multiple parks in the same trip. Have relatives or friends who live in another corner of the state? Figure out what parks are close to them and include them in on the fun during your next visit.
Step Three: Determine Your Standards
Before starting, it’s important to map out what accomplishing this goal looks like to you. Is your objective to spend at least three hours at each state park? An entire day? A whole weekend? Or maybe it’s as simple as going on each park’s most famous hike. Accomplishing this goal will look different to everyone, so it’s important to pick a game plan that is motivating and interesting for you. While you’re discovering a new park, it can also be worthwhile to do research on what notable attractions are in the surrounding towns. Exploring places outside the parks while crossing them off your list can sometimes help keep you motivated when visiting parks that may be on the smaller and less exciting side. No matter how you set up your game plan, just be cautious about falling into a mentality of simply checking off parks for its own sake—be sure to get the most out of each experience.
Step Four: Set Your Timeline
Visiting every park in your state is no small task; depending on your state, you could have upward of 100 parks to explore before completing this goal. Setting smaller targets is a great way to gradually check off parks, and keep your motivation for completing high. Your goal could be as ambitious as trying to visit all the parks within a single year, or more mild like visiting a new park each month. Your timeline will depend on your lifestyle and intent, but remember that there is no need to rush. Take your time at each park and really soak up what’s special about each corner of the state you call home. The longer you spend exploring each area, the more you will learn and come to appreciate the unique aspects of your state.
Step Five: Get Moving
Take a look at your calendar and figure out your available weekends and days off for the next few months. Pick out some days to start visiting parks and keep those days sacred. Of course, there are times when life comes up and plans change, but chalking the time out in your schedule (and being sure to keep it free) is essential to checking off a maximum number of parks. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get through the list when you regularly dedicate time each month to accomplishing the goal.
While visiting every state park is usually a self-organized goal, certain states provide state park passports that you can get stamped as you visit each park. Your state’s parks department will be able to provide you with what services and perks are offered to those attempting to see them all.
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