The national parks are wonderful, but sometimes, a well-situated state park can be even better.
On our journey across the country last winter, state parks systems often bailed us out by providing excellent camping in beautiful areas we were exploring.
Along the West Coast, the California State Parks system has some wonderful facilities.
At the top of our list was Half Moon Bay State Beach near San Francisco. The sites were steps from the Pacific Ocean and just a short walk from the attractive town of Half Moon Bay. Just a few miles away is the surfing mecca of Mavericks and this park even has free WiFi, something you rarely see.
Other parks we loved in California were Montaña de Oro State Park near Morro Bay, with its fantastic hiking, Carpinteria State Beach near Santa Barbara, and San Elijo State Beach near San Diego. All offered incredible access to spectacular views of the Pacific.
Of course, the Oregon State Parks system is justifiably proud of its offerings along the coast. We’ve had wonderful stays at Cape Lookout State Park on the north coast and Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park on the central coast. We plan to stay at Cape Blanco State Park on the southern coast this fall, a place we first visited 40 years ago and still talk about.
Washington, of course, has several amazing state parks that we’ve returned to again and again. Most of our favorites come with miles of hiking trails, including Larrabee State Park near Bellingham, Deception Pass State Park on Whidbey Island and Cape Disappointment State Park on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Closer to home, Steamboat Rock State Park in Grand Coulee country is an inland escape with spectacular camping and hiking.
In the Southwest, one of our favorite stays was at Dead Horse Ranch State Park near Cottonwood, Ariz. We had just come from the nearby town of Sedona and wanted to remain in the area a little longer. Faithful reader Howard Braham of Otis Orchards had recommended Dead Horse Ranch to us (“This is a must for wayward wanderers!” he wrote) and sure enough, it was a winner. Thanks again, Howard, and we’re already planning to return this winter.
In New Mexico, we were looking for a place to stay when we visited Carlsbad Caverns, a rare national park that didn’t offer camping. We found Brantley Lake State Park nearby, a nice spot with economical sites that served as home base.
As we got farther east, the state parks of the Gulf Coast were fantastic. We stayed in the bayou at Palmetto Island State Park and loved paddling through the swamp in a rented canoe, the alligators eyeing us suspiciously. At the southern tip of Louisiana, Grand Isle State Park was home for several days, a beautiful spot along the ocean.
We hit Alabama and Florida during the busy spring break season, but were fortunate to score sites at Gulf State Park and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, both nice refuges from the strip malls that dominate the coastline there. Each offered beautiful, unspoiled beaches.
One other memorable state park we found was in northern Georgia at the start of the Appalachian Trail. Amicola Falls State Park was lovely, with miles of hiking set around a staggeringly beautiful 729-foot waterfall.
This week’s Going Mobile Question
Washington State Cougars fans brag that they beat everyone when it comes to tailgating. We’ve also heard from many Eastern Washington Eagles who talk up their partying skills. What other college football teams handle tailgating with a lot of style? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll give you equal time in the next column.