According to the National Association of State Park Directors, there are 7,804 state parks in the U.S. That’s a lot of publicly accessible nature, and in our experience, state parks are the best when you’re living full-time on the road.
We didn’t plan to stay only at state parks. It just kind of happened. We were one week out from hitching up and leaving for the year when we decided to finally sit down and book a campsite. We used Hip Camp to find out what was available near Sedona, AZ. That’s how we found Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which would become our first destination and our introduction to how great (and inexpensive) state park living could be.
After that (positive) experience, we searched for another and another until finally we just decided that we would only stay at state parks whenever possible. The benefits abound, so here’s our top ten list of why you should consider checking them out and staying a few days, too.
1. Water and Electricity? Check and check.
Almost every campground has a least a dozen sites with water and electric hookups. In the Southwest, electricity may be harder to come by, but for the most part your basic amenities are met.
2. Affordable (even on our budget).
The most expensive campground we’ve stayed at so far was $25/night. That’s very affordable when you consider KOAs can be upwards of $30-$60/night and don’t offer the views and nature of a park.
Beware though: some state parks also charge entrance fees per person, which can ^^up^^ your expenses. In TX we had a few nights that were $30-$35/night when you figure in the entrance fees. Always check to see if it’s cheaper in that instance to get a state park pass.
3. Close (enough) to Area Attractions.
Many of our state parks have easily been within a 30-minute drive to major cities and attractions. The furthest we’ve been is 50 min. away, and that was Brantley Lake State Park in NM. We were trying to get close to Carlsbad Caverns, but even then the drive really wasn’t that bad.
4. Nature, Man.
State parks are built so that YOU can enjoy nature. Unlike RV parks which are often off busy interstates and highways, state parks are nestled in beautiful areas often near lakes and with abundant hiking trails nearby.
5. Peace and Tranquility.
If you’ve been to an RV park, then you know that the stalls can be very close together, meaning yes, your neighbors can hear you listening to music, arguing (hey, it happens), etc. State parks are more spread out. So even when you do have neighbors, you don’t really notice it.
6. Comfort Stations / Bath Houses – some better than your dorm room shower.
Seriously, some of the bath houses we’ve visited are impeccable. And the showers are nicer than any dorm floor we’ve witnessed.
7. Hiking and Biking Trails.
We brought our hiking boots along for this trip because we wanted to enjoy the outdoors are much as possible. And when you’re staying at state parks, there’s no need to drive for a great hike or bike. The trail often starts just feet from your camper door.
8. Park Hosts and Hostesses.
Park hosts are awesome. We seek them out at every state park we visit. They often have insider knowledge of what to do / see in the area and are generally interesting people. We like to ask for breakfast recommendations, and they’ve always been solid!
9. Stars, Sunsets and Sunrises.
Your park isn’t right in the middle of the city, which means you’ve got full view of the stars and some pretty awesome sunrises and sunsets right our your door or window.
10. Online Reservations.
All this great news at state parks got you worried that sites are filling up fast? No worries. Many state parks can be reserved online in advance. It’s all the convenience without the worry.