State Park Index 2018

Ranking America’s 18 Most Extraordinary Parks

Where are the best state parks in America? From Niagara Falls to Honeymoon Island, these protected areas of outstanding beauty bring environmental, social, and economic benefits to every corner of the USA. With a staggering 8,565 state parks in operation nationwide, almost every town in America is only a short drive away from the nearest one. Each park offers something unique to visitors, with activities on offer ranging from hiking to horseback riding, and from surfing to scuba diving. Some state parks are so outstanding that it’s only natural to mistake them for national parks!

HomeToGo has produced the 2018 US State Park Index, based on five factors important to visitors, to help you find the best state park for your vacation.  We researched the average visitor rating, the affordability of parking and entry, the number of activities on offer, the diversity of bird species, and the availability of nearby accommodation for each of the 18 parks in our spectacular shortlist. For more information about our research process, please see the methodology at the bottom of this page.

Discover the best US state parks for visitors below: 

America's state parks welcomed 807 million visitors in 2017.

Many visitors to America's State Parks enjoy hiking

More than 66 million people stay overnight in state parks each year in tents, cabins, and lodges. 

State Park accommodations range from cabin rentals to lodges

All 8,565 American state parks cover a total of 18.7 million acres of land. 

The US has over 18 million acres of state park land

State Park Index 2018

State Park
Visitor Score
Affordability Score
Activities Score
Bird Species Score
Accomm. Score*
1. Island Beach, NJ 
2. Pilot Mountain, NC 
3. Honeymoon Island, FL
4. Niagara Falls, NY
5. Cayo Costa, FL 
6. Smith Rock, OR
7. Blue Spring, FL
8. Letchworth, NY
9. Bear Mountain, NY
10. Calaveras Big Trees, CA 
11. Devil's Lake, WI
12. Rainbow Springs, FL 
13. Dead Horse Point, UT 
14. Emerald Bay, CA 
15. Goblin Valley, UT 
16. Palo Duro Canyon, TX
17. Na Pali Coast, HI
18. Sand Hollow, UT

Mapped: America's Greatest State Parks

Learn More About America's 18 Most Extraordinary State Parks

View of desert land near Sand Hollow, Utah

18. Sand Hollow, Utah

Featuring a 1,322-acre reservoir that heats up nicely under the intense Utah sun, Sand Hollow is Utah’s newest state park. Perfect for bathing, fishing, and diving, the park is instantly recognizable because of its red sandy landscape. It’s also close to the town of Hurricane, that boasts multiple golf courses.

View on the mountainous landscape in Hawaii

17. Na Pali, Hawaii

With a landscape so extraordinary that it would upstage even the most dramatic Hollywood blockbuster, Na Pali state park in Hawaii is truly out of this world. Its steep peaks and dramatic coastline make it the perfect place for enthusiastic hikers and photographers. Boat tours and scuba diving excursions are popular activities in the ocean below.

View of unusual rock formations at Palo Duro Canyon

16. Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Located in the Texas Panhandle close to Amarillo, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the country, after the Grand Canyon. At 20 miles wide and almost 1,000 feet deep, this truly astounding natural wonder is a national treasure. With dozens of hiking trails, excellent accommodations, as well as mindblowing vistas, this underrated beauty will impress even the most discerning guest.

View of rock formations under a dramatic sky at Goblin Valley

15. Goblin Valley, Utah

It may resemble a distant, unfamiliar planet inhabited by martians, but Goblin Valley State Park is actually located 200 miles south of Salt Lake City in a remote corner of Utah. Its truly unique landscape, featuring colorful geological landforms, makes it perfect for canyoneering and hiking. Additionally, visitors can enjoy exciting rafting day tours from the nearby town of Green River.

View of an island located in a lake, with forested hills in the background

14. Emerald Bay, California

As well as being a remarkable state park, Emerald Bay is also a National Natural Landmark. Located close to South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay woos visitors with its shimmering waters and dense forestry that surrounds it. Kayaking, hiking, and swimming in the bay itself are the most popular activities on offer.

View of Dead Horse Point State Park, with its canyon and craters

13. Dead Horse Point, Utah

Easily confused with the world-famous Grand Canyon, Dead Horse Point State Park gives its better-known cousin a run for its money. This awe-inspiring park covers 5,300 acres of desert and is located at 5,900 feet. Its name hints at the fact that this place is not for the faint of heart; but for those who are brave enough, there are various accommodations on offer.

View of a blue spring surrounded by greenery in Florida

12. Rainbow Springs, Florida

Get lost along the shores of the Rainbow River, paddle through lush gardens, and even stop for a magnificent view of an enchanting waterfall. Rainbow Springs State Park in Florida is full of surprises - not only is it one of the largest fresh water springs for swimming in the state, but it is also a haven for bird watching, kayaking, and even tubing!

View of rocks in a blue lake in Wisconsin

11. Devil's Lake, Wisconsin

Devil’s Lake is Wisconsin’s largest state park and encompasses a 360 acre lake as well as 500 foot high Quartzite bluffs. With views, trails, and swimming holes aplenty the park is perfect for the whole family. Follow the Ice Age Trail for a walk back in time, enjoy a picnic along the sandy shores of Devil’s lake, or simply relax among the pines.

Large trees rising high in a forest

10. Calaveras Big Trees, California

As the name suggests, Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a densely forested area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Its giant sequoia trees are so thick that even the most brutish 4x4 could fit through the middle. Its natural beauty easily contends with the world-famous Yosemite not far away, but Calaveras’ smaller size makes it more manageable for visitors.

View on a suspension bridge near Bear Mountain

9. Bear Mountain, New York

Among the mountains to the west of the iconic Hudson River, Bear Mountain State Park’s lakes, fields, and picnic groves can be found. Families flock for the expansive pool and unique Merry-Go-Round that features 42 hand carved seats in the form of animals found at the park. Go for a ride on a black bear, turkey, or even a skunk (!) and enjoy the lush natural surroundings as you merrily go around.

View of the waterfall in Letchworth State Park

8. Letchworth, New York

Winding trails that wander along a picturesque vista and a huge amount of natural beauty await visitors of Letchworth State Park in New York. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the park contains a gorge, three waterfalls, and soaring cliffs (some as high as 600 feet!). The park has a plethora of activities - from mountain biking to white water rafting. Visitors won’t run out of fun things to do at Letchworth!

View of a river running through trees in Florida

7. Blue Spring, Florida

Manatee lovers, look no further than Blue Spring State Park in Florida. A designated manatee refuge as well as the preferred winter home to a large group of the gentle giants, Blue Spring State Park encompasses 2,600 acres of lush Florida landscape. With 73 degree spring water flowing, swimmers, snorkelers, and, yes, manatees, can enjoy a dip year round.

View of the alpine landscape at Smith Rock State Park

6. Smith Rock, Oregon

Created many moons ago by a huge volcanic eruption, Smith Rock State Park has a truly explosive impact on the Oregon landscape. Recognized as being the birthplace of American sport climbing, it is the perfect place for keen rock climbers. The park is also popular with visitors who enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, and slacklining.

View of Cayo Costa and the Floridian coastline

5. Cayo Costa, Florida

Cayo Costa is perhaps the most secluded and intimate of America’s state parks. Accessible only by private boat, helicopter, or ferry, this entirely undeveloped barrier island off the coast of Florida is truly serene and idyllic. Those who are lucky to experience this magical park can expect to see dolphins and manatees drifting around its tropical waters.

View of Niagara Falls and its mist

4. Niagara Falls, New York

The iconic American landmark of Niagara Falls is so dramatic and awe inspiring, that it’s hard to believe America’s most famous waterfall is not a national park. Touting both an American side and Canadian side, guests can explore two different viewpoints of the powerful cascading waterfall. Niagara Falls is the oldest state park in the United States, and attracts millions of visitors a year.

View of the beach on Honeymoon Island, Florida

3. Honeymoon Island, Florida

Boasting secluded, sundrenched beaches and remarkably clear waters, Honeymoon Island State Park is a small piece of paradise located just off the western coast of Florida. Despite being within easy reach of Clearwater and Tampa, this barrier island offers a much more relaxed vibe compared to the busy mainland. Swimming, boating, and fishing are especially popular.

View of Pilot Mountain in North Carolina

2. Pilot Mountain, North Carolina

Known for its distinct landmark, used for centuries as a navigational guide, Pilot Mountain State Park’s dramatic rock formation and mountain top treat visitors to a natural landscape that really stands out. Over 2,000 feet above sea level, the park’s peak holds an extensive trail network for hikers, and plenty of rock climbing opportunities for those seeking a grand adventure.

View of the waves on Island Beach, New Jersey

1. Island Beach, New Jersey

With white sand shores that stretch up and down the Atlantic Coast, blue waters, and no beachfront condos in sight, you’ll be shocked to remember that you’re still in New Jersey. This gorgeous state beach, situated on one of New Jersey’s barrier islands, offers 10 miles of undeveloped paradise. Enjoy a day of family boogie boarding, or simply savor a sunset walk, a trip to Island Beach State Park, New Jersey is not to be missed.

How We Produced This Guide

We used HomeToGo’s own search data to identify the top 100 most popular state parks across the nation for 2018. Next, we created a shortlist of 18 of the highest-rated state parks. In order to rank these 18 parks, we researched 5 categories: The average visitor rating, the affordability of visiting the park, the number of activities on offer, the diversity of bird species, and the availability of nearby accommodation. After obtaining the raw data, we assigned each data point a representative numerical value between 5 and 10, with 5 representing the lowest data point and 10 representing the highest data point. The hypothetical "perfect score" would be 50 out of 50. We used the following equation in order to calculate this for every factor:

Score(i) = 5 . ( ( (x(i) - x(min) ) / ( (x(max) - x(min) ) ) + 5 

Visitor Score: We used Google Maps to find out the average visitor rating of each of the state parks in our ranking, as of August 2018. The park with the highest average rating was awarded a maximum score of 10, and every other park was awarded a score based on the equation above.

Affordability Score: Using prices provided by the state parks themselves, we calculated the cost of entry and parking for each of the 18 parks. The park with the lowest prices awarded a maximum score of 10, and every other park was awarded a score based on the equation above.

Activities Score: We used the official websites of the respective state parks in our ranking to find out whether the parks offer visitors the chance to partake in the following activities: Hiking, boat tours, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, canoeing and kayaking, scuba diving, bouldering, golfing, surfing, cycling, horse riding, hunting, fishing, snorkeling, and tubing. The park that offers the most activities was awarded a maximum score of 10, and every other park was awarded a score based on the equation above.

Bird Species Score: We used the official websites of the state parks, coupled with other online resources, to calculate the number of bird species in each of the state parks. The park that boasts the highest number of bird species was awarded a maximum score of 10, and every other park was awarded a score based on the equation above.

Accommodation Score: Average price, per person per night to stay in a 4-person accommodation on Saturday September 14th, 2018. Prices were sourced from HomeToGo's own booking data. The park with the highest number of nearby accommodation offers was awarded a maximum score of 10, and every other park was awarded a score based on the equation above.

All prices in USD. All prices were calculated in August 2018. For additional information and interview requests, please contact