State Parks of the West You Never Knew About (And Will Never Forget)

Cathedral Gorge State Park at night with star filled sky and person holding flash light

If you’re planning a road trip around the Western US, I can confidently say that all of these should make an appearance on your “must visit” list. After roaming the States in a camper van for 2 years, these parks leave lasting memories in my mind and are ones I find myself wanting to return to again and again.

Why visit State Parks?

We know your road trip to-do list is long and enticing, so it can be challenging to know whether to actually make the stop or not. After all, you’ve got a lot of places to see! State parks, time and again, prove to be a worthy use of time, whether you’re a solo traveler, a retiree on an adventure, or a family with a car-load of kiddos.

Beautiful orange, yellow and purple sunset over Larrabee State Park.
Larrabee State Park has 8,100 feet of saltwater shoreline on Samish Bay in northwest Washington. Photo by Laura Hughes.
  • Special events and continued learning. Often times there are opportunities to participate in programming put on by rangers and volunteers, which makes for a fun group activity or a way to learn more about the place you’re visiting.
  • There’s typically a fee associated with visiting State parks, but they’re usually less than you’d spend on the cost of lunch for a family– plus, if you get a State parks pass, they’re typically good for the entire state, which means you can keep the exploring rolling all summer long!
  • Fewer lines. State parks typically aren’t as crowded as National Parks but have a lot of great trails, recreation areas, and amenities, so you’re sure to have a good time.
  • Proximity to other attractions and towns! Not all state parks are located in an easily-accessible locations, but many are nearby some other small towns and public lands worth visiting, like National Parks. Plus, many Good Sam campgrounds are located near State parks, so you’ll always have somewhere fun to stay!
Hiker walking along flat desert area with small green bushes and mountains in distance
Snow Canyon State Park, photo by Laura Hughes.

Cathedral Gorge State Park (Nevada)

Cathedral Gorge State Park desert rocky, person walking down staircase
Cathedral Gorge State Park, photo by Laura Hughes.

Found on the Nevada/Utah border, this infrequently-visited park can often feel like yours for a few hours. Its geological history is rooted in volcanic activity, the ash explosions creating surreal towers hundreds of feet tall. Although you’ll only find a couple trails running through this park, there is still plenty to see, and interpretive spaces allow you to set out on your own through cave-like formations. Did you land on a foreign planet or are you walking through a State park? Only you will know the truth when you show friends and family your photos!

Cathedral Gorge State Park has a campground with 22 sites, complete with hookups, that are available on a first come, first served basis.

Recommended Good Sam campground nearby: Picketts RV Park (Crystal Springs, NV)

Larrabee State Park (Washington)

Woman sitting at beach cliff edge looking down at water
Larrabee State Park. Photo by Laura Hughes.

Larrabee is a long-standing favorite for its endless options for exploring by the water. Located just outside of Bellingham, WA on Chuckanut Drive, park visitors take a scenic route of winding roads lined by evergreen. Larrabee State Park itself sits right on the northeastern edge of the Puget Sound, and from the shore you can see the infamous San Juan Islands. Take yourself on a walk via one of the handful of trails you’ll find at the park, launch a sea kayak and go for a paddle, or climb out onto the sandstone and look for sea stars and other marine wildlife in the tidepools. It’s easy to spend a day at Larrabee!

Tall trees surrounding highway
The park is primarily forested with coniferous trees and dense woodland vegetation. Photo by Laura Hughes.

Larrabee State Park has 51 standard sites, plus additional primitive tent sites, that can be reserved up to 9 months in advance online or by calling Washington State Parks.

Recommended Good Sam campground nearby: Mount Vernon RV Park (Mount Vernon, WA)

Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)

Woman hiking up rocky terrain of Snow Canyon State Park on sunny day
Snow Canyon State Park, photo by Laura Hughes.

Southern Utah is full of gems for the outdoor enthusiast, but as far as State parks go, nothing really tops Snow Canyon. From exploring lava tubes and slot canyons to taking interpretive trails over petrified dunes, you’ll fall in love with the layered colors and unique shapes around every corner. This park feels unique because many of the trails are less defined. You’ll travel over slickrock with metal markers as indicators of where to go, which makes for a different type of hiking adventure! Snow Canyon is also in close proximity to Zion National Park, one of the US’s most-visited parks, so you can take advantage of seeing more than one incredible piece of landscape while you’re in the area!

Man dressed warmly wearing orange baseball hat standing atop mountain cliff, looking out at beautiful view
Snow Canyon State Park. Photo by Laura Hughes.

Snow Canyon State Park has 31 campsites that you can reserve up to 4 months in advance on a rolling basis.

Recommended Good Sam campgrounds nearby: WillowWind RV Park (Hurricane, UT)

Anza Borrego State Park (California)

Most people hear of Anza Borrego every spring season that a super bloom happens, but the park’s beauty and opportunity for adventure extends year-round. One surprise about this area of the southeastern Californian desert are the palm oases, which you can come upon in the Borrego Palm Canyon through the park’s most-visited hiking trail and seek some refreshing shade in the warm afternoon sun. When you want to take a break from hiking, you can make yourself at home in Borrego Springs, a small town entirely encompassed by the State park itself and full of art as well as natural beauty.

Anza Borrego State Park has a plethora of camping options, with 4 established campgrounds and 175 total campsites. Reservations can be made October 1st through April 30th but all other dates are first-come, first-served.

Recommended Good Sam campground nearby: Escondido RV Resort – Sunland (Escondido, CA)

Slide Rock State Park (Arizona)

Beautiful rocky mountain formation of Slide Rock State Park with blue skies
Slide Rock State Park, photo by Laura Hughes.

If you need to get near water in the desert, Slide Rock State Park is the place to find yourself. Red rock carved by water over centuries into water slides and swimming holes (named Oak Creek) make for the perfect oasis in the middle of Arizona. After you’ve properly cooled yourself off, go and take a walk on some of the trails that showcase the vibrant views sitting just outside Sedona, Arizona. Pro tip: out of all the parks on the list, this is the one most often-visited by locals, so while many travelers may not know about this park it’s important to know that you will probably make new friends when you go to take a dip.

Young woman walking in stream with hat on and sun shining through green trees
Slide Rock State Park, photo by Laura Hughes.

Slide Rock State park does not have established campsites, but there are a plethora of camping options in the area.

Recommended Good Sam campground nearby: Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort (Cottonwood, AZ)

Bruneau Dunes State Park (Idaho)

Three people atop sandy hill of Bruneau Dunes State Park on sunny day
Bruneau Dunes State Park, photo by Laura Hughes.

When travelers think about large sand dunes they don’t often think about Idaho– but those are the folks who haven’t visited Bruneau Dunes State Park. Grand, sweeping dunes can be found perfectly at sunrise, and by midday are full of footprints from kids, families, hikers, and even people with bikes and sleds! From the top of the dunes, you can see some of the lakes and trails available for hiking, swimming, horseback riding, and fishing. This is truly a multi-sport park that has a long open season and caters to folks of all ages, which makes it accessible for groups and recreationalists of all ages!

Man biking down a sandy dunes hill on sunny day
Bruneau Dunes State Park. Photo by Laura Hughes.

Bruneau Dunes State Park has 117 campsites on location, and of those 82 have year-round hook up services, though water may be turned off during the colder winter months. You can make reservations online to secure your space.

Recommended Good Sam campgrounds nearby: Canyon Springs RV Resort (Caldwell, ID)

Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area (Oregon)

View of ocean and beach through side rear view mirror
Don’t look back, unless it’s a good view. Photo by Laura Hughes.

Cape Kiwanda is the perfect spot to relax any time of year, but in the summer it’s especially welcome. The golden rock formations lining the Pacific Ocean are both delicate and impressive, and park visitors can walk to high bluffs and admire the three different capes that comprise the area. When the tide is low, beach-goers can walk on the sand out to Haystack Rock, a large sea stack positioned just off the coast, and search for marine life or play in the surf.

Large rock out at sea at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area in Oregon on partly cloudy day
Kiwanda provides great hang gliding and kite flying opportunities. Photo by Laura Hughes

Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area does not have a campground on-site, but there are many public and private camping options nearby!

Recommended Good Sam campgrounds nearby: Cape Kiwanda RV Resort & Marketplace (Pacific City, OR)

 

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