As the United States’ love affair with its national parks endures, destinations like the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone and Yosemite are flooded with tourists “finding their park.”
There’s no doubting the natural beauty and cultural significance of the national parks, but they are only a sliver of the natural and cultural treasures preserved in the US.
To get away from the crowds and off the beaten track, consider these five state parks just as incredible as their national park brethren.
GULF STATE PARK
Alabama invested $85 million in settlement funds from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster to develop sustainable tourism facilities in Gulf State Park.
That includes the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism & Sustainability, a world-class ecotourism and experiential learning facility was created in with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society.
In 2020, the center will launch the Gulf Coast Ambassadors of the Environment program to students in grades 4-12, housed at the Gulf State Park Learning Campus.
Letchworth State Park
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the East,” western New York’s Letchworth State Park is a scenic area where the Genesee River flows over multiple waterfalls.
Over 400 million years, the river carved a deep gorge with 600-foot walls. The Seneca, stewards of the land for centuries, believed the falls' beauty inspired the sun to stop at midday in admiration.
The Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps left its mark on Letchworth State Park from 1933-1942 constructing multiple camps, roads, bridges, shelters, and cabins still in use today.
One of the most scenic areas in the eastern U.S., Letchworth State Park contains more than 66 miles of hiking trails, whitewater rafting and kayaking and hot air balloon rides.
Silver Falls State Park
Located an hour south of Portland, Silver Falls State Park is called the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks system.
Waterfalls are the highlight of Silver Falls State Park and the Trail of Ten Falls is designated as a “National Recreation Trail” by the American Trails nonprofit agency.
This nine-mile backcountry forest trail follows the canyon rim past 10 different waterfalls. At times the footpath leads hikers into caves carved out behind some of the larger cascades.
Dedicated as a state park in 1933, Oregon entered an agreement with the National Park Service and US Army to create a master plan and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program in the park.
The CCC built trails, bridges, walls and buildings from 1935-1942, many still standing in the Silver Falls Historic District in the South Falls area of the park.
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