Tatiana Sorokina is the owner of Family Road Trip Guru blog that is devoted to educational, fun, and affordable family travel in North America with a focus on California. Tatiana's specialty — unique itineraries and hidden travel gems. From meeting Mark Twain in person to getting on board Air Force 1 to climbing into the "Belly of the Dragon" you can find the best travel ideas on Family Roa...

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Chris Harrigan has an economic degree from Limestone College and an MBA from Clemson University. He previously managed auto insurance claims for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Currently, he is using his business and insurance expertise to provide insurance data analysis and visualizations to enhance the user experience.

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Reviewed by Chris Harrigan
Former Auto Insurance Claims Manager

UPDATED: Sep 15, 2020

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Everybody loves national parks. Their beauty, grandeur, and diversity are simply stunning. Many people plan their major vacations around a visit to a national park.

The most visited U.S. national park is the Great Smoky Mountains found in Tennessee and North Carolina with over 11 million visitors per year. The second in line is Grand Canyon National Park with around 6 million visitors per year.

The high volume of people at these parks creates a lot of problems for visitors, including congestion on the roads, lack of parking and hotel rooms nearby, and even hefty price tags for lodging inside national parks that sometimes need to be booked a year in advance.

All these things combined can lead to stressful vacations and unhappy travelers.

Few people realize that there are several state parks in the U.S. that rival the best national parks. And, these state parks can be visited any time of year with much less stress and no sacrifice in terms of experience.

You don’t even have to worry about complicated travel details like needing car insurance when traveling internationally. It’s easy to take a road trip and see beautiful parks in the United States. If you’re going to be gone for a couple of weeks and borrowing a car, there are even 2-week car insurance options available for you.

Before you hit the road to check out one of these state parks, be sure to compare a few of the best car insurance policies in your area. Simply enter your ZIP code into the free insurance comparison tool above.

In this article, I am going to tell you about my favorite state parks and provide you with travel trips along the way. You are guaranteed an unforgettable experience at these unique, breathtaking destinations. Take it from a road trip guru, each will definitely rival a more expensive national park experience.

#1 – Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Starved Rock State Park is located only 90 miles away from Chicago. You need to visit this park if you love canyons and waterfalls. The park has over a dozen waterfalls that are great to see after spring and summer rains. But these waterfalls are even more spectacular when they are frozen in winter.

In addition to that, during the winter Starved Rock State Park becomes a temporary home for dozens of bald eagles. They come to feed in this area because the Illinois River, which runs through the park, does not freeze in this part of the state due to a dam built on it right in the park.

Seeing these majestic birds in their natural habitat and in such large numbers is truly an amazing sight to behold. I don’t know of any national park that has so many bald eagles in close proximity to the visitors so that the visitors could easily observe them hunting without binoculars.

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#2 – Valley of Fire, Nevada

Valley of Fire is located just 60 miles away from Las Vegas, and it is a fantastic destination to visit for those who love red rock formations. This park definitely rivals some of the more famous national parks in Utah, and it is much easier to get to it than some of the other parks in Utah.

Valley of Fire has a variety of rock formations that are truly amazing. There are arches, hoodoo-looking formations, and much more. The variety of curiosities, shapes, and forms all have a distinct red color that makes the whole park look like a landscape from Mars.

#3 – Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Another red rock beauty is located in Arizona next to the town of Sedona. Magnificent towering red rocks surround the town. Although they are similar parks, the Valley of Fire has hoodoos and arches while Red Rock State Park has huge red monoliths.

In addition to that, Red Rock is located literally right next to Sedona so that you could stay in town and explore different trails every day.

Valley of Fire, on the other hand, is located in the middle of nowhere so it is best for a one day trip unless you plan to camp inside the park.

#4 – Big Sur, California

Big Sur is a 90-mile stretch of wilderness along the Central Coast of California that encompasses not just one park but a grouping of half a dozen state parks. Big Sur is known for many places of natural beauty including rivers, waterfalls, redwood groves, beaches, and the rugged coastline itself.

Make sure you’ve got the right California car insurance coverage when you’re driving down the PCH from Big Sur.

There are only two national parks in the U.S. that include coastal areas in their territory: Acadia in Maine and Redwood in California. Big Sur coast’s magnificent beauty can definitively put it in the same incredible category as Acadia and Redwood.

Big Sur is much easier to get to than the aforesaid national parks since it is located only about 130 miles from San Francisco, which is a major travel hub.

To learn more about various state parks in Big Sur, please, check out this detailed Big Sur itinerary.

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#5 – Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, California

Redwood National Park is amazing, there is no doubt about that, but getting there is a challenge. It is 5.5 hours’ drive from San Francisco or Portland, Oregon, the nearest major cities. And that’s without traffic.

The good news is that there are a lot of state parks in close proximity to San Francisco where you can see the towering redwoods in an easy, one-day trip. The most famous redwoods state park is Muir Woods but it is also the most touristy and crowded.

As a much better alternative to Muir Woods, drive a little farther north to Armstrong Redwoods National Reserve located in Sonoma County.

In this Reserve, you can see many giant trees that grow to be the tallest trees on Earth. Nowhere else do coastal redwoods grow that high. Visiting these amazing trees leaves you humble and speechless.

#6 – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida

There is only one U.S. national park that is pretty much completely underwater and that is Biscayne, off the coast of Miami in Florida. John Pennekamp State Park, located just a little south of Miami near Key Largo, can easily rival Biscayne because it pretty much sits on the same coral reef.

You can book three types of tours in this state park: glass-bottom boat, snorkeling, or diving. Snorkeling and diving will give you a close and personal experience with the coral reef. But even the glass bottom view of the reef is magnificent. You can see barracudas, sharks, and dolphins in addition to a multitude of colorful fish.

I hope this list gives you enough cool ideas for state parks adventures. That said, there are over 10,000 state parks in the United States, and I am pretty certain there is at least one great park very close to where you live. So go out and explore!

If you don’t have your own car, there are several affordable rental options, but don’t skip out on the rental car insurance — or small damage could mean you pay thousands out of pocket.

Before you begin your park research and road trip packing, make sure you have adequate car insurance coverage. Our free tool makes it easy to compare the best car insurance policies in your area. Get started today!