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Featured Photo by Rainbow Springs State Park

Best State Parks For Outdoor Adventure Along National Rivers

Anywhere you travel in the US, you will often be able to find nearby state parks that can add outdoor recreation and additional fun and excitement to any trip. Some of the best state parks are located on rivers around the country, giving visitors access to waterways and more recreational activities. State parks often give visitors easy access to a variety of adventures including camping, hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and other more unique location-based activities, typically for a fair price. Read on for a few of the best state parks for outdoor adventure that can be found along rivers in various states and cities.

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Best For On-site Recreation & Amenities
Located in Park Rapids, Minnesota at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park is Minnesota’s oldest state park dating back to 1891. The historic park stretches for 32,000 acres and offers visitors plenty to do. With onsite rentals for bicycles, canoes, kayaks, fishing and pontoon boats, plus children’s programs and evening entertainment, you can plan a couple of days of fun at this popular Minnesota state park. You can also stay at the park at one of their many campsites or cabins, or at the historic Douglas Lodge. Itasca is also a great park for wildlife viewing, as the Itasca Wilderness Sanctuary can be found within the park, especially for bird watching.

Itasca State Park Trip Tips
Camping Location: Onsite lodge, cabins, campsites, Popular Park Activity: Boating, Must-See Trail: Headwaters Loop Trail, Waterway: Mississippi River, Nearby Attractions: Douglas Lodge Restaurant, Lake Itasca Tours

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Best For Scenic Views
If you’re in search of some of North Carolina’s most dramatic mountain scenery that is also easily accessible, look no further than Chimney Rock State Park. Here you can witness the signature 315 foot spire that overlooks Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure for beautiful, scenic 360 degree views of the area. The park also offers opportunities for lots of hiking excursions varying in difficulty from family-friendly to moderately strenuous treks. Popular trails include Outcroppings Trail, Rumbling Bald Trail, and Skyline Trail. Mountain biking is also a common pastime at Chimney Rock on the 17 mile long Weed Patch Mountain Trail. During your visit, eat at the on-site restaurant, the Old Rock Cafe and see great views of the Rocky Broad River from the dining patio.

Chimney Rock State Park Trip Tips
Camping Location: None, Popular Park Activity: Hiking, Must-See Trail: Rumbling Bald Trail, Waterway: Rocky Broad River, Nearby Attractions: Lake Lure

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Best For Waterfall Viewing
Nestled along the Cumberland River in Corbin, Kentucky, Cumberland Falls State Resort Park features the “Niagara of the South,” the epic Cumberland Falls. Visitors to the park won’t soon forget the 125 foot wide wall of water falling 60 feet into a boulder-strewn gorge, especially if they visit during a full moon and witness the moonbow, a phenomenon that can’t be found anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. The park also has plenty more to offer by way of outdoor adventure, including touring the Pinnacle Knob 1937 Fire Tower, gem mining for fossils, horseback riding through the forest, and hiking Eagle Falls Trail. But visitors can also go birding, fishing, picnicking, and swimming. Plus if you want to stay for a few nights, you can choose between the historic DuPont Lodge, the cabins and cottages, and the campground.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park Trip Tips
Camping Location: On-site Campground and other accommodations, Popular Park Activity: Moonbow and waterfall viewing, Must-See Trail: Eagle Falls Trail, Waterway: Cumberland River, Nearby Attractions: The Brick Oven

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Best For Water Recreation
Rainbow Springs State Park is a beautiful, serene Florida state park located north of Tampa. The waters of the Rainbow River and of Rainbow Springs are clear and sapphire-blue, making the park an excellent place for water recreation. Many park visitors enjoy swimming, fishing, paddling, snorkeling, and tubing during their visit. But Rainbow Springs also features accessible walking and hiking trails that pass by shaded gardens and three human-made waterfalls, and highlight the natural Florida flora and fauna. Being a part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, the park is an especially great place for birding. Camping and picnicking are also popular activities, as the park offers many amenities and accessibility options.

Rainbow Springs State Park Trip Tips
Camping Location: On-site campground, Popular Park Activity: Tubing, Waterway: Rainbow River, Nearby Attractions: Sholom Park, The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park, Silver Springs State Park

Content Writer and Social Media Coordinator. I paint, listen to music, and play with my dogs a lot. When I’m not doing all that, I love to read and try new things.

Maeve Miller

Writer, River Travel Magazine