Our Favorite State Parks: Mountains

Part 2 of our 4 part series detailing our favorite mountain based US state parks.

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Categories: Camping  

With more than 10,230 state parks to explore in the USA, there is something out there for everyone. In Part 1 of our series, we shared our favorite state parks with you on the west coast. In this part, we are going to explore some beautiful parks in the mountain region.

Why We Love State Parks

National parks are amazing, but they can get crowded—especially during our pandemic times. State parks often are a little more off-the-beaten-track. Plus, fees to enter and camp are sometimes lower.

Let’s go ahead and dive into our list!

1. Valley of Fire State Park

While you are driving on I-15 between Las Vegas, NV and St. George, UT, you will come across the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Founded in 1935, it is both the state’s oldest state park and its biggest. To get there, you will have to turn off the interstate.

Valley of Fire State Park

This sprawling park comprises 40,000 acres, and features stunning formations of red sandstone. Along with the rock formations, you also will be able to take a look at petrified trees and petroglyphs that are thousands of years old.

For those not camping, the hours are between sunrise and sunset. There is a $10 access fee. Camping costs an additional $20 per vehicle if you are in an RV, or $25 per vehicle if you are not. There are a pair of campgrounds to choose from, with 72 units available between them. There are showers on-site along with water, restrooms, grills, and shade. You can stay for up to 14 days.

Note that Valley of Fire does not accept reservations. So, you will want to get there early to make sure you get a site.

Why You’ll Love It

Valley of Fire features some truly distinctive rock formations. The bright colors of the landscape add to its grandeur, making for dramatic vistas no matter where you look.

While the rock formations will probably capture much of your attention, dotted across the landscape are beautiful creosote bushes and cacti. You may also encounter desert wildlife such as jackrabbits, desert tortoises, and antelope ground squirrels.

2. Eleven Mile State Park

If you drive west out of Colorado Springs and continue on past Pikes Peak, you eventually will come to Eleven Mile State Park. In fact, exactly 11 miles to the north is Lake George.

Eleven Mile State Park

The park features 7,662 acres of land, and provides access to the Eleven Mile Reservoir. If you are looking for wide open spaces, beautiful views, and water-based activities, you are in the right place.

There are nine campgrounds and several hundred total campsites, so you have plenty options for where to pitch your tent or park your RV. Different sites offer different amenities, so make sure you do your research and pick the one that will be most suitable for you.

Why You’ll Love It

The scenery is just one of the draws to Eleven Mile State Park. The other attraction is the wide range of activities you can enjoy when you are staying here.

You can go hiking, cycling, birding, boating, fishing, cross-country skiing, hunting, ice skating, sailboarding, and more. If you fish, you could catch rainbow trout, brown trout, northern pike and more.

3. Sinks Canyon State Park

Close to the middle of Wyoming is a beautiful place to set up camp: Sinks Canyon State Park. With its location in the Wind River Mountains, its definitive feature is the flow of one fork of the Popo Agie River through its canyon. The river passes into a cavern with the name “the Sinks” along its route.

Sinks Canyon State Park

If you want to camp here, be aware that there is no electricity. Vault toilets, potable water, and firewood are all on-site, however. Your site also will have a table and a firepit. Be aware that you need a reservation to camp in the park.

Why You’ll Love It

You will appreciate the picturesque scenery in this state park along with the diversity of its ecology. In fact, you can visit both a pine-fir montane forest zone and a subarid zone while you are here. Some of the animals you may encounter include bull snakes, rattlesnakes, yellow-bellied marmots and mule deer. While visiting the park, you can go cycling, hiking, and more.

Tips for Camping at Mountain Region State Parks

  • Know how booking works. As we discussed, some camping sites take reservations while others are first-come, first-serve. Look up how to book well in advance, and plan accordingly. Remember, state parks are more crowded these days than they were before the pandemic, so you should make reservations early when possible. It is wise to have a backup plan if you are trying to get a spot on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Check the amenities and rules. Because amenities and rules vary from one campsite to the next—even sometimes within the same park—you need to look up both before you pack and plan for your stay.
  • Layer up. Weather in the mountain states can range widely between day and night. Mountainous areas also often feature dramatically different microclimates. So, it is best to pack layers to wear so you can easily add or remove them during your visit.
  • Bring a pop-up canopy tent. While you will sleep in a camping tent (or your RV or fifth wheel, if you are bringing one), a pop-up canopy tent can be a very useful addition to your site. You can store camping supplies under it to keep them from getting rained on, or you can set up some camp chairs beneath where you can kick back after you return from hiking or other activities.

Enjoy Exploring These Mountain Region State Parks

Now you have some ideas for where to pitch your tent in some of the most beautiful state parks in the mountain region. Be sure to read on to Part 3 and Part 4 of this series to discover our suggestions for top state parks in the Midwest and East Coast.