3 Not-to-Miss State Parks in the U.S.


Dive into some of the lesser known natural wonders the U.S. has to offer with today’s guest blogger Allison from TipsForFamilyTrips.com. Check out other great tips and hotspots at the end of the post in celebration of Travel Tips Tuesday. 

Custer State Park in South Dakota

State parks are like the 2nd class citizens of parks. I think that’s too bad, but I understand why.

National parks and monuments are nearly always must-see destinations for my family. They preserve natural wonders or important historical sites for the generations to come. On the other hand, state parks are often not as large or showy. Sometimes, their appeal is limited. For example, there are several state parks in my home state of Utah where the top activities are boating, camping and off-roading.

Lots of people love to do those things, but not us.

There are state parks that defy a second-class description. They showcase unique scenery or other features that deserve attention. Here are three state parks in the Western United States that our family has visited. Each of them is special in different ways, and none of them could be mistaken for second-class.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

This park in the Black Hills of South Dakota should not be missed on any trip to Mount Rushmore. It is situated between Mount Rushmore National Monument and Wind Cave National Park. It is a great place to see wildlife, hike, fish or take a scenic drive.

Our family spotted bison, deer, prairie dogs, and the famous Begging Burros on two trips around the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop. We loved the scenic vistas on the Iron Mountain Road, which included a long-distance view of Mount Rushmore. Our drive on the spectacular Needles Highway was made even more dramatic (and a little frightening) by fog on a rainy day.

Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

There is nothing disappointing about Cape Disappointment State Park in the southwest corner of Washington State. This park on the Pacific Ocean, nicknamed “Cape D”, has two miles of gorgeous ocean views, two lighthouses, several hiking trails and it is home to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

Cape Disappointment State Park overlaps with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, and several other Lewis and Clark historic sites can be found in the vicinity. Camping is available inside the park. Other lodging, dining and beach activities can be readily found in the nearby cities of Ilwaco and Long Beach, Washington.

Goblin Valley State Park in Utah

Goblin Valley State Park, Utah

My children keep asking when we can return to this remote and other-worldly park in Southern Utah. Located between Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks, Goblin Valley State Park is unique. Why? It is filled with knobby sandstone “goblins” that stretch for miles. They practically beg to be climbed and explored. I have seen few places that ignite imagination and the spirit of exploration in the young and young-at-heart as well as Goblin Valley.

My childhood memories of Goblin Valley include flashlight tag under the stars with my cousins. When I returned to Goblin Valley with my own young children, they pretended to be wild animals prowling the wilderness. Even on the most crowded day, there is plenty of space for families to find their own private playground.

Next time you plan a trip in the United States, consider the state parks in the area. Find out what they have to offer. It can be challenging to fit every worthy attraction into a family vacation, but don’t write off a state park simply because of its status. You could miss something truly special.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Reply

    Some of our favorite parks have been state parks. The parks in Georgia are particularly nice- we really enjoyed Etowah Indian Mounds. We also have some parks here in Ohio that are now offering spectacular views with their fall colors.

    Goblin Valley sounds great. What wonderful memories.

  • Lisa

    I don’t think that I ever would have considered looking up state parks before a trip – it’s a great suggestion! I’m not sure when I’ll ever get to Utah but Goblin Valley will definitely be on my itinerary – it looks so cool!

  • Kate

    We are frequenters of the state parks here in Washington. So many special and unique places to check out! We went camping at Cape Disappointment last spring—such a beautiful spot! I really want to check out Goblin Valley now–and how appropriate for this time of year!

  • Carol B

    Our family spent a week in Custer a few years ago. We’ve been to many places, including at least one National Park and State Park each year, and Custer still ranks high as to places we would go back to. I’ve never been to the other two places – will add them to our list! Utah is on our short list for next summer, so perhaps we will make to Goblin Valley.

  • Allison

    This is a good time to visit Goblin Valley! I didn’t think of the Halloween connection before, but the temperatures are perfect there this time of year. It is really out in the middle of nowhere, but I do hope you all get to see it for yourselves sooner or later.

    Washington does have a lot of great state parks. We have stayed several times at Fort Flagler for family reunions and love exploring all the parks in that area. I suspect that every state has parks that are really worthwhile.

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