By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
It was tough to decide which of the several hundred great state parks to include in this month’s column. The only restriction we placed on ourselves was that we could choose only one park from each state. It was difficult, but lots of fun. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas
This park features the only diamond deposit in the United States open to the public. Rock hounds hope to turn up a diamond, but they don’t complain if it’s a garnet or amethyst instead. Besides, what you find is yours to take away. Over the past 25 years, visitors have brought up 25,000 diamonds! Non-diggers enjoy the visitor and interpretive centers to learn about the geology of the area and why there are diamonds here. Make sure to stop by the Adventure Theater and Diamond Discovery Center before heading into the diamond search area.
2. Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware
Delware’s largest state park contains a 6-mile-long stretch of ocean beach. Go ahead and stroll along it; then, visit the Seaside Nature Center. Numerous trails through pinelands and sand dunes provide plenty of exercise for hikers. That’s sure to send you back to the campground feeling relaxed and fulfilled.
3. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Florida
Florida isn’t all people and traffic; it has notable natural and historical areas as well. This 21,000-acre preserve near Gainesville has been home to humans since 8000 B.C. Now you’ll find ranger-led walks, backpacking trips, and a sky view of the preserve’s wildlife in the observation tower. Bicycle trails, hiking trails, and “official” campgrounds are more modern conveniences for lovers of nature.
4. Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia
One of the most spectacular gorges in the Southeast, Tallulah Gorge draws visitors from around the world. The park has scenic hiking and biking trails, and an excellent interpretive center. Should your arrival be timed to when the Georgia Power Company opens its dam, you’ll stand awed by the sight of kayakers riding thunderous rapids through the canyon.
5. Pere Marquette State Park, Illinois
Aptly called a nature lover’s paradise, Pere Marquette draws people from all over, in all seasons. Winter visitors might spot bald eagles. Autumn brings a spectacular display of colors. And in all seasons you’re able to appreciate the view overlooking a wide expanse of water “” the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The park offers many recreational opportunities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and boating.
6. Swallow Falls State Park, Maryland
This park lies along an officially designated Wild and Scenic River, the Youghiogheny. (Wouldn’t you love to memorize the spelling of that name?) The river flows along the park’s borders, passing through rocky gorges and down a series of rapids. Hikers get the opportunity to see it all close up. But this park’s highlight is Muddy Creek Falls, 53 feet of water crashing down from on high. We aren’t the only campers to enjoy the scenery; writer John Burroughs, inventor Thomas Edison, and automobile pioneer Henry Ford also camped there.
7. Mount Greylock State Reservation, Massachusetts
With 12,500 acres, Mount Greylock is both the oldest and certainly one of the largest reserves in Massachusetts. Its namesake, the state’s highest peak, is accessible only to hikers at this time, as the summit road will be closed for improvements until 2009. The summit, now a National Historic Landmark, offers a view spanning 100 miles across five states. Other activities include bicycling and snowmobiling. The visitors center offers exhibits, interpretive programs, and information about the park.
8. Beavers Bend State Park, Oklahoma
Beavers Bend certainly doesn’t fit the image some have of Oklahoma as being merely an expanse of prairie grassland. That idea disappears when visitors see the dense pine forests lining the shores of Broken Bow Lake. Fishing enthusiasts claim that the Mountain Fork River is the state’s finest trout stream. The park also includes the Forest Heritage and Education Center, focused on man’s relationship with forest lands.
9. Goose Island State Park, Texas
We aren’t the only birders who count Goose Island as one of our favorite bird sites. Just across the St. Charles Bay is Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, wintering grounds for whooping cranes. Non-birders are delighted by the campground’s island setting and by the fishing. Other area attractions include Mustang Island State Park, Fulton Mansion State Historic Site, the Texas Maritime Museum, and the Texas State Aquarium.
10. Mount Philo State Park, Vermont
Located 15 miles south of Burlington, this park covers most of its namesake mountain. The road to the top provides views of the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain, and the Green Mountains. Now for the downside. The park is not accessible to large motorhomes, and none of its campsites are open to large coaches. But we certainly encourage going if you have a small motorhome, or just wish to explore in your towed vehicle. It’s too beautiful to miss. Other attractions in the area include the Basin Harbor Maritime Museum, Fort Ticonderoga, and the Shelburne Museum.
11. Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington
How about this for a location? The park, formerly Fort Canby State Park, includes nearly 1,900 acres along the Long Beach peninsula. Native Americans lived on the island long before Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805. Twenty-first-century travelers find camping facilities a bit more modern. Recreational opportunities include hiking, boating, fishing, beach walking, and bird-watching. The park also includes a nature trail, two lighthouses, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and the historic Coast Artillery gun emplacements.
12. Peninsula State Park, Wisconsin
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, the park’s most fabulous feature is the towering limestone bluff, offering spectacular views. The park stays open year-round, but the campgrounds aren’t full-service during the off-season. (We’ve never felt the allure of camping in a foot or two of snow, anyway.) But seeing the spring blossoms of apple and cherry trees is quite another thing. The spring bird migration is incredible. Summer is beach season, with swimming, boating, fishing, etc. The White Cedar Nature Center is open all year, but tours of the historic Eagle Bluff Lighthouse are scheduled around the weather.
13. Medicine Lodge State Archaeology Site, Wyoming
Located on the western side of the Big Horn Mountains at the mouth of Medicine Lodge Canyon, this site includes a campground, a visitors center, and a nature trail. The Medicine Lodge area has long been known for its Indian petroglyphs and pictographs, but it wasn’t until 1969 that archaeologists discovered that human history here dates back 10,000 years. Interpretive signs located at the base of the petroglyph cliff and exhibits in the log cabin visitors center give a taste of what was found there.