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National Parks vs. State Parks: Which Do You Prefer?

The need is real! No matter your age, gender, social status, or interests, the need is real for experiencing nature at its purest form. In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly harder to escape the grip that technology has on us. From cell phones and iPads to GPS devices and laptops, it seems that we’re constantly taking in information that overwhelms our minds and complicates the world around us. Even from a very young age we’re taught that we’re supposed to learn about the world from a screen. While the Internet can bring distant and hard-to-reach places right into our homes for us to explore, it shouldn’t take the place of us actually getting out into nature to experience it with all of our senses. While technology can enrich our lives with photos and information, it doesn’t hold a candle to the sights and sounds that are alive in nature.

A trip to a national or state park is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the beauty and serenity of nature and really see it for what it is—a gift for all of us to enjoy. A camping trip will open your eyes to the peacefulness and joy that can only be found miles from civilization. If you’re new to camping, you might wonder which you’d prefer—a national or state park. While they have their differences, you might be surprised at how similar your experiences in either one would be. Let’s take a look at both and then you can decide for yourself which you’ll want to visit first this year.

A National Park Visit

If you want to go all out this year and travel to a national park, I’m right there with you! The vacations that top my list of favorites are ones to national parks. I’ve hiked the rocky coastline of Acadia in Maine. I’ve driven the windy roads of Yellowstone and have hundreds of pictures of bison to prove it! I’ve gazed up at the glorious snow-capped Tetons in Wyoming while rafting down the Snake River. While it took putting thousands of miles on our truck and RV to travel to and from these amazing destinations, it was worth every minute and every mile—and I can’t wait to embark on a new destination this summer (Rocky Mountains here we come!).

To get into national parks across our country, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. If you plan to visit more than one national park this year, it would be smart to consider purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass. Not only does this $80 annual pass get you and your passengers into all 59 national parks across the country, but it also grants you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites. These include national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. With most larger national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree, the Everglades, and Acadia charging an entrance fee of $25-30/vehicle, three national park visits in one year will pay for the pass. And with almost 100% of the proceeds going right back into improving and enhancing federal recreation sites, everyone wins!

The sights that you’ll see in a national park are indescribable. Photos that I bring home of our national park visits never even come close to showing the immense beauty of the areas we visit. Imagine canyons deeper than the eye can see and mountains higher than the highest clouds in the sky. The landscape of a national park suddenly makes you feel incredibly small and humbled. The size (and number) of wildlife will shock and startle you at the same time. You’ll gape at plains stretching out before you filled with bison the size of small trucks. Or quietly spy on a bear cub picking berries off a bush just off the roadway. Or excitedly watch as two porpoises play just off the coastline in the Atlantic. National parks truly amaze and inspire with the beauty and life that can be found within them.

While camping within a national park is an awesome experience, it can often be a rugged one. Many national park campgrounds offer fewer amenities in an effort to preserve the area and give you the experience of feeling close to nature. You’ll find that both front country and backcountry camping is usually offered at most national parks, allowing you to choose the type of camping you want to do. Since national parks vary greatly in the amenities they offer, such as bathhouses and RV hookups, do your research before you make a reservation. In our travels we’ve come across national parks with beautiful new bathhouses and full RV hookups and parks that only offer tent or vehicle camping (no RVs and no hookups). Fortunately there were many campgrounds just outside of the park with hookups.

While it would be nice if every national park had campgrounds to accommodate everyone’s needs, it would undoubtedly take away from the effort to keep the land as pure and untouched as possible.

National parks draw millions of visitors every year, with the Great Smoky Mountains topping the list at more than 11 million people last year! Although a popular destination for nature lovers and families alike, especially during the summer months, the sheer size of the parks helps them feel not so crowded. There are so many reasons to get your map out and choose which national park to visit this year!

A State Park Visit

For those times when a weekend getaway is just what you need to revive and recharge, a state park visit will do the job. Planning for a trip that doesn’t require two weeks worth of clothes and planning a 1,000-mile route across the country is a lot easier to tackle! And you might be surprise at the beauty and history that is right under your nose.

We’re fortunate to live in a state that boasts the Great Lakes and a stunning Upper Peninsula. Michigan is known for its beauty year round and there’s never a shortage of places to visit, including state parks. With many of them being located right on the water, like Hoffmaster State Park and Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan and Lakeport State Park on the shores of Lake Huron, we can pack up our travel trailer RV and within just an hour or two be unloading at our campsite right along the sparkling blue waters of the lake.

Entrance fees into state parks vary by state. In Michigan we can buy an annual pass for just $11/vehicle. This pass grants us access to more than 300 Michigan outdoor destinations. In Wisconsin the annual pass is $28/vehicle. In Maine it is $105/vehicle. Oftentimes the money spent on a state park pass goes back into helping to maintain and grow the state’s outdoor recreation. This can include funding the state parks, forests, and trails, community grants for park improvement, historic sites within state parks, and recreation facilities.

While about 91% of state park visitors use the parks during the day only, there are wonderful overnight accommodations at a lot of them. At the 10,000+ state park areas across the United States, there are almost 220,000 campsites available. They range in amenities from primitive to multiple hookups, so whether you’re tent camping or bringing your fifth wheel RV, there’s a spot for you. We love staying at state parks because they seem to have higher standards for cleanliness than, say, private campgrounds. And they’re always cheaper! We haven’t been disappointed yet with a state park!

With state parks numbering in the 10,000s and spreading out over 18 million acres across the country, there’s plenty of room for visitors to take their time and enjoy their visit. Rarely are state parks obviously crowded or so busy that you can’t enjoy the sights. Since they usually constitute a day or two of sightseeing and then visitors are most likely on their way to another park or back home, traffic moves quickly in and out. State parks are rarely a week-long destination that a family has traveled cross-country for (although it happens in some of the more well-known ones, like Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee or Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan).

Whether you choose to stick close to home to visit a beautiful state park or pack up the family for an amazing summer vacation and hit one of our country’s national parks, you won’t be disappointed! Getting away from the hustle and bustle of home and surrounding yourself with the slower pace of nature will soothe your soul and clear your mind. Give both a try and let us know which you prefer!

We can’t wait to hear about your outdoor adventures!

What Do You Think?

2019 RV Wars
2019 RV Wars