In a year that many national parks are bursting at the seams with record-setting traffic, why not try camping at a state park instead?
“There are about 60 national parks, and about 6,000 state parks. There’s a lot of hidden gems that are just overlooked because they don’t get the media hype,” says Kevin Long, co-founder of The Dyrt.com, a camping website and app, featuring reviews from millions of users.
He shares some favorite state campgrounds with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia:
Not only are the Blue Ridge Mountain views memorable at this state park, but so are the residents, a herd of wild horses
. “They’ll walk through your campsite if you’re lucky. They kind of ignore the people,” Long says. Overnight visitors
can choose from a bunkhouse, yurts and camping sites, along with equestrian camping areas.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas:
For an epic canyon experience without the crowds, Long suggests checking out this West Texas park. Its canyon stretches for 120 miles, making it the second-largest after the Grand Canyon
. “It’s a totally different foot-traffic level. It’s like being able to have a national park experience,” he says.
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon:
If you like scaling cliffs, you’ll love this park, one of the country’s top rock-climbing sites
with more than 2,000 routes. But even if you’d rather stay on the ground, you can still enjoy a visit too, Long says. “I love walking around that park and watching those people on cliffs doing things I wouldn’t do myself.” It also has hiking
and mountain biking trails
Letchworth State Park, New York:
Called the “Grand Canyon of the East,” this park, located about 40 miles from Rochester, centers on the Genesee River. Highlights include three major waterfalls, thick forests and 66 miles of hiking trails. Long recommends the hot air balloon rides, offering an unforgettable view of the landscape from above.
More information: parks.ny.gov/parks/letchworth
DYRT CAMPER GINNEY M
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada:
Take your choice of tent, group and RV camping at this Mojave Desert park northeast of Las Vegas, which even offers wifi plans for visitors. The park’s striking landscape comes from red sandstone outcrops set among gray and tan limestone mountains. Make sure to seek out the 2,000-year-old petroglyphs
painted on canyon walls. “It’s pretty amazing when you start thinking about that,” Long says.
More information: parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire
DYRT CAMPER PAUL N
Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Minnesota:
Whatever your camping style, you can find it at this Lake Superior shoreline park. Campers
can choose from pack-in, walk-in or unique cart-in sites, using a free wagon provided to haul in gear. Some sites are even ADA accessible and others have access to a remote beach. “You’re not going to have that experience at a national park, I’ll tell you that,” Long says.
Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia:
With opportunities to climb
, mountain bike
or even explore wild caves (by permit), there’s plenty to do at this Appalachian Mountain park in northwest Georgia. As one of the state’s largest parks, it offers walk-in camping, RV sites, cottages and yurts, along with backpacking sites.
Related: 15 Of the Best RV Sites Across the U.S