From Hawaiian waterfalls to Florida beaches to a real life fern gully, put these gorgeous preserves on your must-visit list.
Every year from Maine to Alaska, throngs pour into U.S. national parks and preserves to climb towering cliffs, hike through misty forests and capture the perfect selfie at the grandest of canyons.
Widespread appreciation for protected lands is a good thing, but national parks’ overwhelming popularity also has downsides. There are lines to scale Angel’s Landing in Zion every summer, and traffic jams just to ride the brakes through Yosemite Valley. During the National Park Service centennial in 2016, the system registered a record 331 million visits, and last year it nearly surpassed that mark, with the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Zion and Acadia all hitting new highs.
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The crowds aren’t simply an inconvenience. They can also be a strain on the very environments national parks are meant to conserve. This month, the NPS announced an entrance fee increase to cover infrastructure improvements and backlogged maintenance that will go into effect June 1, and some parks are considering adding reservations to cut down on congestion or at least spread it out. Muir Woods National Monument implemented parking reservations in January, and Utah’s Zion and Arches national parks may soon require advanced bookings.
But travelers who want to revel in natural splendor without entering the scrum have an alternative: state parks. Across the country, there are more than 10,000 designated state parks, spanning an astounding 18 million acres. Within their borders, travelers find landscapes every bit as dramatic as their national brethren — from the 4,000-foot cliffs of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast to the sandstone “waves” of Nevada’s Valley of Fire — and often with significantly less company.
With summer high season around the corner, these state parks deserve spots on your travel to-do list.