The Group Travel Leader
Published October 10, 2018
Without a doubt, some of our country’s greatest treasures are our state parks, a tradition that dates back to the 1820s. Today, there are more than 10,000 state parks in the U.S., preserving unique regional natural wonders. Having so many preserved spaces in each state means getting to a park isn’t difficult. Wherever your group travels, there’s likely to be a fascinating state park nearby.
The beauty of these parks is varied and breathtaking, ranging from coast to coast, traversing mountains and deserts. Each park offers numerous activities, from fishing and birding to canoeing and horseback riding, the sorts of outdoor adventures that are suitable for group travelers. Here are some worth visiting.
Jacobsburg State Park
Northhampton County, Pennsylvania
More than 1,000 acres of woods, fields and streams make up Jacobsburg State Park in Pennsylvania. With equestrian outfitters Lehigh Valley Trail Rides, groups can enjoy a scenic and relaxing ride and take in the serene beauty of the park. More than 18 miles of trails wind through forest that displays the vibrant colors of fall. The outfitter uses natural horsemanship training techniques to ensure their horses are gentle and well mannered. What better way to take in the area’s natural beauty than atop a majestic horse?
Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds
Pacific Grove, California
This Monterey Peninsula park’s name means “refuge by the sea,” and it sits on 107 acres of ecologically diverse beachfront land. Groups can enjoy several self-guided or staff-guided walking tours, including a history tour that highlights the architecture of Julia Morgan, a tour of the park’s dune habitat, a coast trail walk and a forest walk. Each offers visitors different perspectives on the park and its scenery. Other attractions include a monarch butterfly sanctuary and a bird walk with 60 species of birds. The conference center comprises two historic lodges and four cottages, including one that author John Steinbeck called home.
Raven Rock State Park
Lillington, North Carolina
Raven Rock State Park spans nearly 5,000 acres of hardwood and pine forest and is popular for camping, hiking, leaf peeping and horseback riding. It also features new mountain biking trails. The park is famous for the picturesque Cape Fear River, which hosts guided rafting tours that wind through the scenic rock formations along several miles of calm water before hitting Class I and II rapids. Wildlife sightings are frequent on rafting trips, and guests can expect to see bald eagles and blue herons, among other birds. Also available are tubing adventures on the river with stops for lunch at a popular local restaurant called Mermaid Point.
Rangeley Lake State Park
On 869 acres in Maine’s western mountains, visitors can enjoy all the usual activities found at a state park: camping, hiking, picnicking, leaf peeping, photography, fishing and hunting. Four-wheeling and snowmobiling are popular trail options, and several local companies rent kayaks, canoes and mountain bikes. There are also fishing charters to enjoy the park’s salmon and trout. The park is also a popular destination for foraging: Rangeley’s Wilhelm Reich Museum features an outdoor classroom where groups can take a mushrooming workshop with local mycologist Michaeline Mulvey.
Dead Horse Point State Park
This canyon park with an unusual name near Moab is full of dramatic overlooks of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. There are multiple options for camping and hiking, but viewing the astounding canyons and rock formations by hot-air balloon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The park was designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2016, meaning that there is no light pollution and stargazers can view the night sky much as it would have looked hundreds of years ago. With these ideal viewing conditions, park rangers provide programming such as full-moon walks and seminars using telescopes.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
On the high desert plains, Big Bend Ranch State Park features rugged environs made for the adventurous. The park has 238 miles of multiuse trails made for hiking, biking, backpacking, horseback riding and two- and four-wheel-drive-vehicle exploration. The park stretches through west Texas along the Rio Grande River and borders Mexico. The park is known for its mountain biking — it hosts one of the country’s biggest mountain biking events, the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest — and local outfitters provide guided tours of the park’s bikes-only designated trails. History buffs will enjoy visiting nearby ghost town Terlingua and hipster destination Marfa.
Waianapanapa State Park
On the road to Hana, 122-acre Waianapanapa State Park is a great stop, with panoramic views over a black-sand beach surrounded by jungle foliage. Explorers will want to check out the ocean caves, sea arches, anchialine pools, cliff diving and blowholes. This hiker’s paradise offers two trails: One features a Hawaiian burial ground, a blowhole and the Ohala Heiau, an ancient sacred structure ending at Kainalimu Bay. The other, Kipapa O Kihapi’ilani Trail, is a three-mile loop with black rock caves, a lava tube and, at Pukaulua Point, ruins, a heiau and burial mounds.
Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Sand Harbor is a popular sandy lakeside beach that’s great for stand-up paddleboarding, photography, picnicking, hiking and cultural activities like movies, concerts and the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. At nearby Zephyr Cove Resort, fishing enthusiasts can take a boating excursion with everything included, from refreshments to tackle. The four-hour trips run morning, afternoon and evening, and explore not just the lake’s scenery but also the species of fish found in the lake. Lucky fishermen will have their catches cleaned and bagged by the tour staff to take home. Two local restaurants, MacDuff’s and Riva, will cook the fish.
Ludington State Park
Eighty-two-year-old Ludington State Park is a local favorite for repeat visits. The park sits between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake and is popular for hiking, biking, stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing, row boating and more than five miles of white-sand beach. Hikes take visitors through sand dunes, wetlands and marshlands and to a historic lighthouse. The view from the top of Big Sable Point Lighthouse is worth the effort to climb it for the stunning panoramic view of the lake. The gently flowing Sable River is also popular for kayaking and tubing, with most recreational equipment available for rent on the beach.
Mancos State Park
The southern part of Colorado is beautiful any time of year, but Mancos remains a fairly undiscovered gem for winter activities. Rural Mancos is one of the state’s designated art districts and a thriving agricultural area, but it offers plenty of outdoor adventure, too. Heated yurts in the park and groomed trails make an excellent place to cross-country ski or snowshoe. Snowmobiling is popular in the San Juan mountain range, and rainbow trout and perch are abundant when ice fishing on Jackson Lake. Nearby Hesperus Hill, a family-owned ski hill, also offers snow tubing.