A trip to a National Park can be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. They can also be crowded, and nearby lodging can be expensive.
With growing concerns of the delta variant, we’ve pinpointed incredible state parks from New York to California, for families who want a getaway that’s (hopefully) not too far away. Here are 10 picks ahead of Labor Day Weekend.
Lake Superior State Park in Bethel, New York
Head to picture-perfect Sullivan County, where about 20 miles west of Monticello, lies this bucolic state park, spread over more than 1,000 acres with two bodies of water, Lake Superior and Chestnut Hill Pond enclosed within. There are beaches, boat launches and picnic areas, volleyball courts and a playground. In the winter, this year-round park is a mecca for ice fishing, hiking and sleigh riding.
When the time is right, book a stay at Villa Roma Resort, about nine miles from the park’s entrance, or Kenoza Hall, which sits at the location of the early twentieth century Catskills boarding house, Armbrust House, just eight miles away. There’s also YO1 Health Resort — 10 miles away — a veritable wellness paradise with naturopathic treatments, ayurvedic cuisine and yoga galore. If vacation rentals are more your speed, opt for Bush Kill Park or Crosslands Monticello, both through Red Cottage Inc., a portfolio of handsomely appointed cottages, cabin and luxury homes in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.
Fun fact: Bethel is where the 1969 Woodstock festival took place, and you can now catch a show at the sprawling outdoor arena Bethel Woods Performing Arts Center, or relive 1960s history at the Bethel Woods Museum.
Patapsco Valley State Park in Ellicott City, Maryland
Maryland’s oldest state park, extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River with some 16,043 acres and eight developed recreational areas ripe for exploration.
On your visit look for a stone marker for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which follows the path of Smith and his fellow explorers as they surveyed a large part of the Northeast. The park is also the site of some of the state’s first mills and factories, America’s first common-carrier railroad and the world’s first underwater hydroelectric plant.
Anglers, bring your fishing rods, and aqua babies can also enjoy some great canoeing here. Or, opt for overnight camping followed by a lazy breakfast spread in a picnic area before taking a short ride to Baltimore the next day to chase your rural escape with some city frolicking. Our vote is the Hotel Revival in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood or a splurge-worthy night at The Ivy Hotel, Maryland’s only Relais & Chateaux property.
State Forest State Park Walden, Colorado
Located in Jackson and Larimer counties, just east of Walden proper, 360-degrees of breathtaking views await in this Shangri-La or forest, towering peaks, and high-altitude lakes. Personally, we’ll be plopping down Never Summer Nordic, rural yurts tucked into a winding system of old roads and trails. Another great option is the Trading Post Resort, with 13 cabins for rent, a stone’s throw away from the Poudre River and about 35 minutes from the park.
As you’d expect in this state of natural wonders, there’s plenty of wildlife to see here including birds, fox, coyote, minks, and the crème de la crème: moose. In fact, State Forest State Park’s North Park area is considered the moose viewing capital of Colorado, with over 600 moose hanging around these parts year-round. Head to the Moose Visitor Center for hiking advice from rangers, to pick up a map and to check out some informational displays.
Hiking in Itasca State Park Dark Rapids, Minnesota
Welcome to the headwaters of the Mississippi. This meandering pine forest haven studded with 100-plus lakes for fishing and canoeing also marks the spot where the mighty Mississippi begins its 2,552-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.
Established in 1891, Itasca State Park, the 32,000-acre oasis also provides first-rate birding, particularly for Loons and Alder Flycatchers, as well as a chance to see the blooming of countless native wildflowers and Lady’s Slipper Orchids. For your digs, the park has several cabins and campsites on offer to accommodate everyone from solo travelers to groups, as well as rooms in the Douglas Lodge – a wooden lodge that dates back to 1905. This hideaway features a large stone fireplace in the common area and is a full-service establishment with Wi-Fi service as well should you really need to be connected to the rest of the world (pro-tip: don’t).
Honey Creek State Park in Moravia, Iowa
Yes, it has corn for miles, but Iowa is pretty spectacular — don’t overlook it. Here, you’ll find 850 acres of virtually untouched wilderness along the crystal-clear shores of Lake Rathbun. Whether hiking, boating, or fishing is your cup of tea, you’ll be delighted by the lack of picture-snapping crowds and surplus of multi-use trails for biking and hiking.
Make your home away from home the Honey Creek Resort, which has no shortage of on-site activities ranging from an indoor water park, a golf course, a floating inflatable playground and naturalist education programs for, you know, sitting around with a book and doing nothing. There’s also lakeside RV camping available if you’d rather forgo a handsomely appointed room in the lodge — which boasts Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture — or cottage rental.
Worth noting if you plan on sticking around the Hawkeye State for a while: Iowa offers a State Park Passport, with travel ideas and incentives for visiting state parks.
Columbia State Historic Park in Tuolumne County, California
We can’t get enough of this state gem, known for being the best-preserved Gold Rush town in California. On your visit, you can hop on an authentic stagecoach for a ride around the grounds, experience a working blacksmith’s forge, or refresh yourself with a local sarsaparilla soda in a Western-style saloon after conquering the 1.6-mile loop hike on the Columbia College Fitness Trail, which offers some lovely pond views.
To rest and rejuvenate, stay at The City Hotel or its sister property the Fallon Hotel, both authentically restored 19th-century inns If you’re looking to satiate your state park hankering further, squeeze in a visit to Calaveras Big Trees State Park – about 35 minutes away before you skip town.
Bastrop State Park in Bastrop, Texas
If you’re all about trees, this 6,000-acre state park showcases some of the best of the bunch. Home to the famed loblolly pine trees, or “Lost Pines,” these trees are thought to have originated during the Ice Age. When you’ve got your coniferous fix, you can also swim, canoe, scout out wildlife, golf, camp and more. For overnight stays, try one of the park’s campsites or in a historic cabin built in the 1930s. Or, the Hyatt Regnecy Lost Pines Resort and Spa is quick drive to the park and about 40 minutes outside of Austin.
Bird enthusiasts, Bastrop has some 277 different species of birds flying around at any given time, and it’s located along the prolific route that millions of birds take on their way to South America and back during their biannual migration, so it’s definitely a must-visit on your binoculars circuit.
Carolina Beach State Park in Carolina Beach, North Carolina
Hikers and fishermen, get excited. Perched along the Cape Fear Riverside of Carolina Beach, 761 acres are yours for the taking and stargazing, should you choose to pitch your tent here overnight or stay in one of the park’s cabins for the evening. (There’s also plenty of vacation rentals, inns and hotels in nearby Wilmington, about 20 minutes away from the park’s entrance.
The park’s one-of-a-kind terrain has longleaf pine forests, pocosin wetlands, limesink ponds, brackish marshes and wiregrass savanna communities. You’ll also get a chance to check out the noteworthy Venus flytrap, a native species to the greater Wilmington area. To geek out, join rangers for weekend Carnivorous Plant walks on — what else — the park’s half-mile Venus Flytrap Trail.
Mount Greylock State Reservation in Lanesborough, Massachusetts
Immerse yourself in a natural habitat that’s home to 40 species of rare plants, fifty miles of trails, and a retro roadside motor lodge.
After you’re done spelunking about the park’s 12,500 acres of wilderness, which even includes the Appalachian Trail for 12 miles, rest up at vintage-inspired Tourists – a nostalgia-infused boutique hotel unlike any other. For something more bare-bones, we’d point you towards pet-friendly Bascom Lodge.
Don’t conclude your trip without a jaunt to MASS MoCA in North Adams or catching a concert in Lenox at the dreamy outdoor venue, Tanglewood – the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since the 1930s.
Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona
Situated at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, you’ll see many desert plants including nearly 5,000 saguaros and a larger-than-life cactus that can grow up to 66 feet tall. There’s wildlife spanning from birds to coyotes so be sure to bring your binoculars – particularly the 150+ species of birds, at this Important Bird Area (IBA), a conservation-focused label designated by the Audubon Society.
It’s recommended hiking the Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail to explore The Romero Ruin, a Hohokam pueblo dating back to around 500-600 AD. When you’re ready to rest, find reprieve in your tent or RVs within that park’s gates or reserve a room at El Conquistador Tucson, a Hilton property about three miles down the road.