The National Parks of the United States are well known around the globe, but what is not as commonly known is that the U.S. also boasts an amazing network of State Parks.
It may be a little surprising, considering that each state manages its own State Parks, independent of other states, or the national government. There is such a diversity between the states, and the manner in which each state manages the aspects under their control, such as education, varies greatly. Some states have outstanding policies and programs, and others kinda stink. Yet one thing they all seem to do well, is maintain some outstanding State Parks.
State Parks are managed by the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, an agency of each state’s executive branch. The DNR for each state has varied responsibilities and authorities, which commonly include wildlife, forestry, natural resources, and waterways, but sometimes also include energy, soul conservation, coastal management, geological surveys and historical restoration. DNRs have a pretty large breadth of responsibility, but the intent of the DNR is that the management of natural resources and public lands be done in a manner that benefits all of the citizens of the state. This means a lot of the benefits come at little or no cost.
It is sometimes mistakenly assumed that the State Parks are only good for hiking and fishing. Yes, the hiking and fishing opportunities abound in the majority of state parks, but there is SO MUCH MORE. Exactly what all that “so much more” entails depends on the individual state.
So, what could you find in a State Park near you? The answer varies a little based on where you live, but here in the Midwest, there is a long list of options: hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, beaches (yes, like real beaches,), campgrounds, historical villages, restored historic homes, mines and mills, Native American earthworks, museums, off-roading, horseback riding, bird-watching, championship trees, Geocaching, cave tours, rafting, canoeing, kayaking.. the list goes on and on.
Gypsy With a Day Job author Keyauni Kern has already posted three articles on State Parks, including Turkey Run, in Indiana, and Waimea Canyon State Park, in Hawaii, and Na Pali Coast State Park, also in Hawaii, which you can find in our Recent Posts or archives. We will add several more articles about State Parks all over the country over the next few months. However, if you are looking for a Day Trip this weekend, check out your states DNR website. We have posted links for all of those in the Midwest at the bottom of the page.
In the meantime, here is a bit of information about some of the State Parks we loved long before we started writing travel articles.
Starved Rock, Oglesby, Illinois.
An absolutely stunning wooded setting on the southern banks of the Illinois River, filled with canyons and cliffs overlooking the river, with a very sad history. The park features miles of hiking trails a scenic overlooks, eagle watching, picnic areas, canoeing, kayaking, and a visitor center with several informational exhibits. There is also lodging available at the Starved Rock Lodge, or the campground. Entrance to the park: FREE!
For more information about Starved Rock:
Cache River State Natural Area, Cypress, Illinois.
An eerie and unique wooded area, also one of the rare places on the planet Earth to boast four different ecosystems within a relatively small radius. The extraordinary wetlands are reminiscent of the Louisiana swamplands. The area is filled with hiking and biking trails, canoeing, and hunting. There are also and a wetlands visitor's center with educational activities, championship trees to be discovered, and boardwalks that take visitors right in to the midst of the marshes.
For more information on the Cache River State Natural Area:
New Salem State Park, Petersburg, Illnois.
A charming and historical park, depicting life as it was for a young Abraham Lincoln, when he lived in the village of New Salem for six years. The town has been rebuilt using historic records and original foundations, so visitors can experience the sights, sounds, skills and crafts of the 1830s. The park features picnic areas, hiking trails, old-fashioned gift shops, educational and cultural events, outdoor theater, and of course, self-guided tours through the village. Entrance to the park: FREE, but a $2.00 donation is suggested.
For more information about New Salem State Park:
Meramec State Park, Sullivan, Missouri.
A gorgeous wooded area along the Meramec River, filled with hidden caves. This is NOT the Meramec Caverns tourist site. This amazing park in Missouri features hiking, biking, bird watching, canoeing, rafting (the best!) fishing, picnic areas, camping, and of course CAVE TOURS. There is also a visitor's center featuring a 3,500 gallon aquarium highlighting area marine life, and a life-size riverbank diorama. Entrance to the park: FREE! Cave tours, $10 per adult, $8 per teen, $6 per child. Ages 6 and under, FREE!
For more information on Meramec State Park:
Indiana Dunes State Park, Chesterton, Indiana.
Probably the most amazing inland beach in the US is found at Indiana Dunes State Park, on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The water is cool and clear, with miles of golden sand beach, and the dunes are immense. This park features swimming, body surfing, hiking, bicycling, bird watching, fishing, cross country skiing, picnic shelters, and a campground. There is also a nature center and a bath house, for changing. Entrance to the park: $7.00 per personal vehicle
For more information about Indiana Dunes State Park:
At Gypsy With a Day Job, we know that there are amazing things to be seen and experienced everywhere, often right out the back door. Quite often some of those amazing things are in our glorious State Parks. Sometimes, they are available to be enjoyed, for free. None of us should have to let something like a tight budget interfere with our ability to experience our wonderful world, or giving that experience to our children. Visit a State Park soon!
Links to DNR sites for Midwest states:
I would be remiss if I did not tell you that the pictures used for this article are not ours. We borrowed them from Wikepedia Commons, and the photographer information for each of them is in the image descriptions. We will always give you this information when this is the case, otherwise, we took our own amazing photographs.