My Favorite State Parks

March 6, 2022

National Parks get all the love, but there are some amazing state parks across this country that are well worth a visit. While I can't claim to have been to all of them, or even most of them, Here's a list, in no particular order, of my favorites that I have been to.

A fog filters the setting sun on Indian Beach in Ecola State Park, Oregon.
Misty Sunset on Indian Beach

A light fog glows with the sunset on Indian Beach in Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Oregon, on a late summer evening.

Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, Oregon

It feels a bit unfair to focus on just one of Oregon's state parks, with almost 400 miles of coastline designated as state parks to conserve the land in its natural state. As you wind down the Oregon Coast Trail, you pass through many of these parks. Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach, and south of Seaside, is one of the most stunning. There are trails that allow you panoramic views of the coast looking south, including the iconic Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, and Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Lewis and Clark caught their first glimpse of the Pacific from the headlands at Ecola State Park as well. Inland, driving or hiking through the park brings you through subtropical rainforest. Ecola State Park is also a popular film location. Among some of the more well-known films shot here are The Goonies, the original Point Break with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, and Free Willy. It's amazing to see, and as a photographer, offers a wide variety of opportunities. Indian Beach at Ecola State Park is pictured above.

A sunset framed by Arch Rock in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
Arch Rock Sunset

The warm orange hues of the sun glow brilliantly above the desert horizon, creating a serene, dream-like atmosphere all around. The huge, towering Arch Rock proudly frames the sunset, a majestic silhouette against the warm ethereal light, as its enormous, swooping curves form a powerful gateway to the end of yet another peaceful day in the Nevada desert.

Valley of Fire State Park, Overton, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park is located about an hour northeast of Las Vegas, so you can be forgiven if the bright lights of the strip somehow made you miss this treasure. Back in my days working for Canon, I would visit Las Vegas at least once or twice a year, and sometimes three or four times a year for trade shows. Often, when we needed a break from the hectic pace of Vegas, we would finish our day on the trade show floor, and quickly head to Valley of Fire to unwind, photograph, and just spend some off hours together. The park is pretty well visited, with good reason. There are many trails here, and a number of natural arches to see. It's simply a beautiful place with lots of areas to explore, including the Fire Wave, Arch Rock (shown above), Elephant Rock, and Mouse Tank Road. This list of great spots in the park pretty much covers it.

The Lower Falls of the Genesee River are flowing strong after a heavy rain in Letchworth State Park in upstate, New York.
Lower Falls of the Genesee River

The Lower Falls of the Genesee River are flowing strong after a heavy rain in Letchworth State Park in upstate, New York.

Letchworth State Park, Castile, New York

Known as the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park was voted the #1 state park in the United States in a USA Today poll in 2015. The highlight of the park is the series of waterfalls on the Genesee River within the gorge. The Upper and Middle Falls are easily accessible by a short walk from the parking lot, while the lower falls (pictured above) are a slightly longer walk from another parking area. The views along the park road are stunning, with plenty of spots allowing a view down the gorge. There are many hiking trails, camping cabins, and a historic Seneca Council Grounds. If camping isn't your style, lodging can be found in nearby Mount Morris. The park is beautiful year round, but in the autumn, it really shines, as the foliage explodes into a riot of yellows, oranges, and reds.

Glade Creek Grist Mill on an autumn day in West Virginia.
Glade Creek Grist Mill

Standing as a monument to other West Virginia mills that once dotted the area, Glad Creek Grist Mill was constructed from parts of three other grist mills, and completed in 1976. The vivid autumn reds, oranges and yellows of the surrounding trees frame the picturesque mill, giving it an air of warmth and mystery. Sitting atop the hill, the mill is a striking sight, its rustic structure recalling days long past in the morning light. With the creek gently rolling by, the scenery is completed with a gentle, soothing murmur of the falls.

Babcock State Park, Clifftop, West Virginia

Babcock State Park in West Virginia is well known amongst photographers. It's famous for the Glade Creek Grist Mill, pictured above, a recreation of the type of grist mills common in the area. The park features over 20 miles of hiking trails, camping, fishing, hunting, swimming, and more. Babcock State Park is a cozy corner of Appalachia that is well worth a visit. It's only about 20 miles from New River Gorge National Park, one of the newest parks in the National Parks system.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse stands watch over the waters of Quoddy Narrows and Passamaquoddy Bay in Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the United States.
West Quoddy Head Light Station

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse stands watch over the waters of Quoddy Narrows and Passamaquoddy Bay in Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the United States. The lighthouse's unique red and white candy striped exterior contrasts starkly with the gray, cloud-filled sky and surrounding green and brown grasses. Below, it is low tide on the bay, and the rocky coastline is revealed, covered with barnacles and seaweed in shades of deep green. This a scene of quintessential down east Maine on an autumn morning.

Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec, Maine

Quoddy Head State Park may be the park most off the beaten path of any listed here, and possibly any state park anywhere. Approximately six hours' drive from Boston, and four hours from Portland, Quoddy Head is at the very tip of Maine, in the easternmost town in the contiguous 48 states. The crown jewel here is West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, perched high atop the headlands looking out over Passamaquoddy Bay, with Grand Manan Island. There are several great hikes located in the park, but my favorite is the coastal trail, running south from the lighthouse, providing some stunning views from high above the bay. I've caught several sunrises in the park and it's always a treat to watch the first light shine on the cliffs. I still have spots I would like to photograph here. I'll need to make some plans soon. There is no camping in the park, but there are campsites in Eastport, about 40 minutes away. To stay in Lubec, I've done AirBnB, the Eastland Motel, the Inn on the Wharf, and Cohills Inn. Cohills and the Inn on the Wharf both offer spots right in the harbor, but the Eastland is well situated on the main road into town, not five minutes from the harbor.

These are just a few of the many state parks I've visited, but they stick in my mind as places I need to return to over and over again.

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