Great State Parks

Incredibly beautiful and highly rated, these under-visited state parks can deliver enriching and exciting camping experiences:

1- High Mountain, Black Bear Country: Mueller State Park, Colorado

View some of the most beautiful land Colorado has to offer at Mueller State Park. Five thousand acres are home to many wildlife some of the most famous sightings include elks, eagles, hawks and even black bears. In fact, Muller is situated in the heart of black bear country—on the western slope of Pikes Peak—and many visitors are able to witness these magnificent, roaming animals during spring, summer and fall.

Once a vast, uninhabited land, the area was used mainly as a hunting ground for Ute Indians and a way for other settlers to pass through. When gold was discovered in the 1900s, more than 50,000 people lived in the area. The W.E. Mueller family purchased the land in 1980, allowing for the preservation of this pristine high mountain country for wildlife to live and for people to enjoy.

Hiking is a main pastime when visiting Mueller State Park. There are over 50 miles of trails winding through wildflowers, ponds, old homesteads, rock overlooks, and through other beautiful mountain settings. The campground located in a forest setting and offers a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains. There are 132 campsites, including 22 walk-in tent sites and an RV Group Campground Loop. Open year round, the campground has modern restrooms, coin-operated showers and electric hookups. For reservations, contact Reserve America at www.reserveamerica.com/. To contact the park, call 719/687-2366 or visit www.parks.state.co.us/.

2- Gay Deliverance at Tallulah Gorge, Georgia

If you are a gay outdoor enthusiasts, how can you not be interested in camping where the movie Deliverance was filmed? Tallulah Gorge has been called the Niagara of the South, and you can literally hear it before you see it. And for those of you who were wondering, you’re right: This is where John Voight walked out of Chattoga gorge in the 1971 film, Deliverance.

At less than 3000 acres, Tallulah Gorge proves the adage, “good things come in small packages.” Just two-miles long, the 1000-foot-deep gorge is clearly one of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern United States. Most visitors hike its rim trails to several overlooks, and—if you aren’t afraid of heights—view the spectacular waterfalls and roaring river while swaying on the suspension bridge 80 feet above a rocky bottom. If you’re adventurous, and physically fit, apply for one of the only 100 daily permits to hike into the canyon. Most, not all, make it out like Voight.

Hiking on more than 20 miles of trails, mountain biking, swimming and fishing are all featured park activities. Tallulah Gorge offers a year-round, 50-site campground, available for both tents and RVs, with basic amenities. For more information, visit www.gastateparks.org/info/Tallulah/ or call 706/754-7970. For reservations, call 800/864-7275.

3- Camping In Sight of Chicago’s Loop: Indiana Dunes State Park

“The dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and Yosemite to California. They constitute a signature of time and eternity,” said Chicago’s own poet, Carl Sandberg, of Indiana Dunes State Park. Located within 50 miles of Chicago’s Loop, the 2100-acre Indiana Dunes offers 10 hiking trails comprised of 16.5 winding miles over drifting dunes—some nearly 200 feet tall. You can hike along three miles of lakeshore beachfront and marshes and through 1800 acres of woods. The 9.2-mile Calumet Trail traverses varied and unusual topography, from interior blowouts to exposed foredunes. Swimming along three miles of Lake Michigan’s south shoreline begins a week before Memorial Day.

A nature center offers detailed history of the dunes area and interpretive naturalists host guided beach walks and give history lessons of the Pottawatomie Indians. Sand dunes, desert plants, giant wood ferns and white pines are astounding features to camp with at Indiana Dunes. The park’s campground boasts 140 newly restored campsites, all with 50-amp electrical service. Wood, ice, and groceries are all available. For more information, visit www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/properties/park_dunes/ or call 219/926-1952. For reservations, visit www.camp.in.gov/ or call 866/622-6746.

4- Kentucky’s Bird Man: John James Audubon State Park

In 1819, James Audubon went broke in the dry goods business and he soon went to prison for failing to pay off his debts. In jail, he abandoned the idea of owning a store and decided to devote himself to his real passion: studying and painting birds. Today—nine miles south of Evansville, Indiana via Hwy 41 at Henderson, Kentucky—a peaceful, serene state park near the Ohio River honors Audubon’s life, his values and his work. The park’s museum houses the greatest collection of Audubon memorabilia and much of his best work. Enjoy the nature center featuring a wildlife observatory or play a round of golf on the nine-hole course. You can even follow the footsteps of Audubon himself by hiking along 6 1/2 miles of trails through peaceful wood. Fishing and pedal boats are also available for use on a 28-acre lake.

A 69-site campground is available for both trailers and tents. A central service building has water, showers and electrical hookups, but primitive sites also available. The campground is open year round and sites are available on a first come, first serve basis. For more information, visit www.parks.ky.gov/stateparks/au/ or call 270/826-2247.

5- Caving in Montana: Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

One way to beat the heat that often creeps up during spring is to find shelter in a cave perhaps the Lewis and Clark Caverns is a perfect reprieve. As Montana’s first and best-known state park, these spectacular caverns are naturally air conditioned and truly unique. A two-hour guided tour showcases a beautiful array of limestone stalactites and stalagmites, Western big-eared bats, boulders and exposed rock faces for fossilized shellfish—helping prove the theory that about 330 million years ago, much of Montana lay beneath a shallow sea. Take time to notice the spectacular ecology that has been brewing for millions of years in a world without light.

Although Tom Williams and Bert Pannell were the first to explore the caverns in 1862, Dan Morrison was the entrepreneurial spirit behind providing the public access to the caves. President Theodore Roosevelt eventually named it the Lewis and Clark Caverns the explorers had never visited the caverns, but the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition route is located just below the caves along the Jefferson River.

A large campground, cabins, showers, RV dump facilities and several picnic areas are available at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Although the caverns are the park’s main attraction, visitors may also fish, view wildlife, explore nearby forests and historic sites or hike along a 9-mile trail. For more information, visit www.fwp.state.mt.us/ or call 406/287-3541.

6- On Fire Near Las Vegas: Valley of Fire State Park

Six miles from Lake Mead—about 55 northeast of The Strip—is Valley of Fire, Nevada’s oldest and largest state park. Valley of Fire derives its name from a series of sandstone formations spread out across the Mojave Desert, which were formed from prehistoric sand dunes over 150 million years ago. Two campgrounds with 51 total units are available on a first come, first serve basis. Shaded tables, grills, water and restrooms are available at each campsite.

Visitors are able to get a lesson in history—very early history—by viewing the ancient trees, petrified wood and 3000 year-old Indian petroglyph (a prehistoric caving or line drawing on rock). If you wish to camp in a more modern setting, Atlatl Rock Campground provides restrooms and showers. Near this campsite are fascinating examples of ancient Indian rock art, including depictions of the atlatl—a notched stick used to throw primitive spears. If your prefer a little more privacy, Arch Rock Campground has more secluded campsites and is close to a two-mile scenic road that provides great views of some of the Valley of Fire’s most spectacular rock formations. For more information, visit www.parks.nv.gov/vf.htm/ or call 702/397-2088.

7- The Old Man’s Remains: Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Nathaniel Hawthorne, who visited New Hampshire often, wrote: “The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble the features of the human countenance." Visitors to Franconia Notch State Park can see the remains of the same Great Stone Face—or the Old Man of the Mountain—that Hawthorne so intricately speaks of in his story, "The Great Stone Face". Although the rocks making up the old man’s profile collapsed in 2003, there is still a sense of mystery and awe at the precipice that once held a very human-like form.

Located in the heart of White Mountain National Forest, Franconia Notch State Park is now becoming more famous for the Flume Gorge and its cascading waterfalls. A flume—derived from the Latin word /fluere/, or to flow—is a narrow riverbed gorge the Flume Gorge at Franconia was used by early settlers for carrying water to power the gristmills and to transport logs. Visitors can also view flume-covered bridges and various notches—narrow openings or passages in mountains, where early occupants formed trails or roads.
Camping is available at Lafayette Campground, which has 97 wooded tent sites. Eighty-eight of those campsites are by reservation only, so it’s a good idea to call ahead of time (603/271-3628) and save your spot. Coin-operated showers and a camp store is also onsite. For more information about the park, call 603/823-9513 or visit www.franconianotchstatepark.com/.

8- Just West of the Big Apple: High Point State Park, New Jersey

High Point State Park in New Jersey offers a plethora of activities and sights for any camper. There are 11 hiking trails in addition to a stretch of the Appalachian Trail that transects the area. Ranging from easy walking to difficult rocky terrain, the trails at High Point are perfect for hikers, bird watchers, photographers or Sunday afternoon strollers. Aside from picturesque trails, the peak interest of the park is High Point Monument. Built in honor of all war veterans, the monument was completed in 1930 and stands at 1803 feet above sea level. Observers standing at the top of the 220-foot structure will witness a truly high point, spectacular panorama of lush valleys and forests crossing through three states.

The Olmsted Brothers of Boston designed the intriguing landscape the brothers were the sons of the renowned Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Visitors to High Point State Park are able to stay at one of the fifty tent sites available along Sawmill Lake, open April 1 through October 31. Fire rings and picnic tables are included in each site and flush toilets are within walking distance. Two group campsites, which accommodate 25 and 35 people each, are also available, as are a variety of furnished cabins. For more information about High Point State Park and for reservations, visit www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/ or call 973/875-4800.

9- Gorge Through Mohican State Park, Ohio

Mohican State Park is a prime example of how nature was able to form a diverse, ecologically abundant region in an almost unbelievable way. Experts attribute the narrow gorges and steep cliff walls to a glacier. Yes, glaciers were once found in Ohio—the last one, named the Wisonsinan, slid though the area over 12,000 years ago during the ice age. Yes, the glacier even has a name. What was left in its wake is Clear Fork gorge, a 1000-foot-wide gorge that is over 300 feet deep it’s old-growth white pine and towering hemlocks are a must-see.

Visitors can view the full splendor of Mohican State Park while biking along an 8.5-mile trail. Or if you prefer trekking it, then hike through over 13 miles of trails that lead to scenic wooden bridges, lake shorelines or cascading waterfalls. The Mohican River is popular for smallmouth bass fishing, and largemouth bass, carp, crappie, catfish, perch and bluegill are also abundant.

Mohican State Park features 120 campsites with electricity, fire rings and picnic tables. Also available at the main campground are showers, flush toilets, a dump station and camp commissary, which loans games and sporting equipment to registered campers. For more of a backcountry feel, Hemlock Grove campground has 24 non-electric sties, pit latrines, tables and fire rings. For reservations, call 866/644-6727 or visit  www.ohio.reserveworld.com/. For Mohican State Park information, call 419/994-5125 or visit www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/mohican.htm/.

10- The Waterfalls of Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

Majestic. Cascading. Beautiful. Impressive. These are just some of the many words describing the waterfalls and sparkling streams of Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee. At 256 feet, Fall Creek Falls is one of the highest waterfalls east of the Rocky Mountains, and the park’s three other waterfalls (though smaller) are just as impressive. Water lovers are able to view the park’s most aquatic, scenic amenities by hiking along miles of trails that wind around flowing streams, gorges and waterfalls, and pass through Tennessee’s most remarkable woods.

Fall Creek Falls State Park is an all-encompassing park that truly has it all. Visitors are able to canoe on the lake, hike or bike through trails, swim in an Olympic-size pool and throw in a round of 18-hole golf as well. Recognized as one of the top public golf courses by Gold Digest, Fall Creek Falls Golf Course is one of the most challenging layouts carved out of forested woodlands.

Fall Creek Falls hosts 228 campsites in three campgrounds, all of which have tables, grills, and water and electrical hook-ups. Central bathhouses with showers are easily accessible near each site. Three backcountry campsites are also available and require a permit. For more information about the park, visit www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/ or call 423/881-5298. For reservations, visit www.tennesseeanytime.org/parks/.

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