Our Favorite State Parks: West Coast

Part 1 of our 4 part series detailing our favorite west coast US state parks.

Posted by on

Did you know there are more than 10,230 state parks throughout the US? National parks may get most of the attention, but more of these beautiful state parks deserve to be in the spotlight.

Indeed, state parks are often less crowded than national parks, and may cost less to visit and camp at as well.

In this multi-part guide, we are going to share some of our top recommendations with you for state parks to enjoy. Let's kick off by sharing several of our favorites on the West Coast. We'll start in Southern California and work our way up to Oregon.

1. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

If you drive east out of San Diego along I-8, and then drive up highway 79, you will reach a special place called Cuyamaca Rancho State Park up in the mountains.

Trail through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Here, you will find more than 100 miles of trails where you can hike, cycle, or ride on horseback. Explore forests and meadows, stumble upon idyllic creeks, and marvel at the majesty of oak trees. As you discover all that Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has to offer, you will quickly forget that a bustling metropolis is just to the west.

Just to the north of the state park, you can also visit Lake Cuyamaca, which features additional opportunities to fish and hike (don't miss out on the stone maze). Drive the entire Sunrise Highway loop back to I-8 to find even more trails and views. Particularly dramatic are the vistas of the desert that you can see from Mount Laguna at an elevation of 6,000 feet.

In Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, you can camp at Green Valley or at Paso Picacho, which are located at 4,000 and 5,000 feet respectively. Make sure that on season, you place a reservation.

Why You'll Love It

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is an oasis of nature that can restore and renew you if you are living in or visiting Southern California. You'll get away from traffic jams and concrete, and replace them with breathtaking views and peaceful mountain trails.

2. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Close to the California-Oregon border, you'll find a small town called Crescent City located on the coast. Literally just outside this city to the east is Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Redwoods in Jedediah Smith Park

If you want to behold the mighty redwood trees in all their towering glory, this is the place to do it. The narrow Howland Hill Road will take you on a journey that is up-close-and-personal, fully immersing you in the splendor of the forest.

Enjoy fishing or kayaking? You will appreciate the access the park offers to the Smith River. As you explore the trails around the park, be on the lookout for giant yellow banana slugs and other critters that call the state park home.

While you are visiting, you will have the opportunity to pitch a tent at the Jedediah Smith Campground. A night in the redwoods is a magical experience you will never forget. Just remember that sites fill up fast months in advance, so call as early as you can to make your reservation.

Why You'll Love It

The redwoods are some of the most iconic symbols of the state of California, and are the tallest and most majestic trees on the planet. The Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is easy to access from Crescent City, and offers some of the most dramatic experiences of those trees you are going to find.

3. Smith Rock State Park

In recent years, Bend, OR has become one of the country's outdoor recreational hotspots. If you drive northeast of Bend along highway 97, you will get to a fantastic destination called Smith Rock State Park.

Smith Rock Park in winter

Describing the destination, Oregon State Parks writes, "If you enjoy scenic views of deep river canyons or rock climbing, Smith Rock State Park is the place for you. There are several thousand climbs in the park. More than a thousand are bolted routes. We also offer miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Along your trip through the canyon, you might see golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver."

Along with hiking, climbing, and watching wildlife, you can also go fishing in Smith Rock State Park.

This is a wonderfully affordable place to camp, since you only need to pay $8 per night per person. There are no reservations required (nor, in fact, are reservations possible). Be sure to get there early to secure your site since it is first-come, first-serve. You will have access to hot showers and restrooms.

Why You'll Love It

The rugged terrain at Smith Rock State Park is spectacularly beautiful, and is a veritable playground for anyone who is passionate about rock-climbing. But you do not have to be a climber to enjoy your experience at this state park. You will love the breathtaking scenery, the trails, and the sight of eagles and falcons soaring above.

Quick Tips to Enjoy Your Stay

Wherever you choose to set up camp, here are a few tips to get the most out of your state park experience:

  • Book your reservation months in advance if possible.
  • Look up amenities provided before you show up so you know what is available on-site and what you need to bring.
  • Check the rules for the campground, especially around open fires and noise levels.
  • Have a backup plan. In case of inclement weather, a full first-come, first-serve campsite, or other unexpected issues, it is wise to have a plan B ready in case you cannot camp at your original intended location.

Have Fun Exploring These West Coast State Parks

Now you have some ideas for where you can set up camp on the west coast. Consider bringing a canopy tent to pop up alongside your camping tent so you have a shaded, sheltered spot to stow gear, sit and relax, or eat. Enjoy visiting these beautiful state parks, and check back with us soon to discover more destinations throughout the US.