The South is home to hundreds of state parks of various terrain and bewildering splendor. Our state parks system is a treasured service that ensures your adventures are safe, clean, well-marked, and worth experiencing.

We did the heavy lifting and combed through each Southern state’s list of parks to pick our top three state parks, some of which are often overlooked, for you to check out on your next road trip or weekend getaway. Happy exploring! (We’ll be adding more Southern states as we research them for our top picks!)

If you’d rather jump straight to the state you’re most interested in, rather than scrolling the full list, use these links below:

ALABAMA | (See All 21 Alabama State Parks HERE)

Cathedral Caverns State Park | 637 Cave Rd, Woodville, AL 35769

Originally called Bat Cave, Cathedral Caverns was renamed because of its cathedral-like appearance when it reopened to the public in the 1950s. Upon entering the massive entrance (126 feet wide and 25 feet high), you’ll feel the year-round 60-degree temps and catch sight of some of the most beautiful formations nature has ever created. Book a tour of the caverns and check out the hiking trails around the park, too.

Catherdral Caverns

This state park is home to “Goliath,” one of the largest stalagmites in the world, measuring 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference! Image: Scott Baker

Gulf State Park | 20115 State Park Rd, Gulf Shores, AL 36542

Gulf State Park boasts over three miles of golden sand beaches and foamy surfs. There is so much to see and do in the park for kids of all ages. You can camp (and now even “glamp) at one of the park’s 500 modern or primitive campsites, or rent a lakeside cottage or cabin. There is ample hiking, canoeing, kayaking, nature education, and more to explore at this highly acclaimed seaside state park.

Cheaha State Park | 19644 Hwy 281, Delta, AL 36258

Towering at the highest point in Alabama, Cheaha Resort State Park is like “an island in the sky.” It’s the oldest park in Alabama (est. 1933) and is considered to be one of the most unique state parks in the United States. Located on the southernmost tip of the Appalachian mountains, the park is filled with huge granite boulders, ancient trees that often tower above the clouds, and almost 400,000 acres of Talladega National Forest. There’s even a resort lodge and cliffside pool and restaurant, great for unwinding after a day of hiking.

ARKANSAS | (See All 52 Arkansas State Parks HERE)

Devil’s Den State Park | 11333 West Arkansas Hwy. 74, West Fork, AR 72774

Devil’s Den is full of surprises that seem fit for the West’s national parks! Peculiar wood and stone formations dot the landscape, and there are a number of caverns and alcoves to explore. You can hike through the forest, give mountain biking a try, or rent a boat for a day to fish on Lake Devil.

Petit Jean State Park |1285 Petit Jean Mountain Rd, Morrilton, AR 72110

Petit Jean State Park — Arkansas’s first state park — is a natural and historic treasure. Hiking trails lead to many raw bluffs, the spectacular 95-foot Cedar Falls, Seven Hollows, and lots of beloved sites like Bear Cave, the Grotto, Natural Bridge, and other natural formations. Book a room at the lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon, and cozy up by the foyer fireplace in the winter. There are also cabins and campsites along the shores of Lake Bailey, with its 100 acres of fishing, kayaking, and pedal boating.

Petit Jean State Park

Petit Jean State Park is a certified Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Site with so many peaks begging to be climbed. Image: Liz Schutte

Crater of Diamonds State Park | 209 State Park Rd, Murfreesboro, AR 71958

Crater of Diamonds attracts visitors from all over because it’s one of the only places in the world where you can search for real diamonds at their original volcanic source … and keep what you find! More than 33,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since it became a state park in 1972, including the 40.23-carat Uncle Sam, the largest diamond ever unearthed in the United States.

FLORIDA | (See All 175 Florida State Parks HERE)

Ichetucknee Springs State Park | 12087 SW US Hwy 27, Fort White, FL 32038

Explore the interior of Florida when you visit the swamps and springs of the lush and idyllic Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Paddle beneath a canopy of green trees or spend the day tubing down the river, drink in hand.

How could you resist jumping right into these crystal-clear Florida springs waters? Image: HAB Youth

Grayton Beach State Park | 357 Main Park Rd, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

Grayton Beach State Park boasts seriously beautiful beaches, award-winning fishing, and miles of hike-and-bike trails through a coastal forest. The park’s unique “dune lakes” offer tranquil paddle excursions, and, of course, you’re close to our favorite oceanfront communities of WaterColor or Seaside.

Blue Springs Lake State Park | 2100 W. French Ave. Orange City, FL 32763

Intense conservation measures have yielded astonishing wildlife results within the refreshing 72-degree waters of Blue Spring. Hundreds of manatees populate the spring as well as ospreys, eagles, kingfishers, and other birds. You can hike along the spring run or along the 4.5-mile Pine Island Trail. Rent a canoe or kayak, or take a guided boat cruise along the river.

GEORGIA | (See all 48 Georgia State Parks HERE)

Tallulah Gorge State Park | 338 Jane Hurt Yarn Dr, Tallulah Falls, GA 30573

This popular park surrounds a two-mile, 1,000-foot-deep gorge formed by the Tallulah River. Hike along the rim to see beneath, or hike to the gorge floor (with a permit!). The strenuous trails get crowded at peak times, so take that into consideration when planning your trip.

Tallulah Gorge State Park Georiga

Aside from the gorge, there are waterfalls and an iconic swinging bridge in Tallulah Gorge State Park. Image: @endless.hiking

RELATED: 8 Jaw-Dropping Swinging Bridges in the South

Providence Canyon State Park | 8930 Canyon Rd, Lumpkin, GA 31815

“HOW is this in Georgia!?” and “HOW did I not know this was in Georgia!?” are two thoughts that many Southerners have when they hear about Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.” The striking purple, orange, and red hues of this park’s wild, layered canyons were actually the result of poor farming practices in the 1800s. Get ready to take some photos!

Amicalola State Park | 280 Amicalola Falls State Park Rd, Dawsonville, GA 30534

With its pristine North Georgia wilderness, diverse hiking trail options, and famous record-making waterfall, it’s easy to see why Amicalola is one of Georgia’s most popular state parks. Unwind and dine at the lodge for Southern fare and sweeping vistas. There’s archery, zip lines, birds of prey, guided hikes, and more to explore in this resort-style state park.

KENTUCKY | (See All 45 Kentucky State Parks HERE)

Cumberland Falls State Park | 7351 Hwy. 90, Corbin, KY 40701

Best known for — you guessed it — Cumberland Falls, this park also has everything from hiking, rafting, and horseback riding to gem mining, birding, and fishing. Visit on a day where you can see a moonbow, a rare nighttime phenomenon (also known as a lunar rainbow) that this park sees a lot. Big stone fireplaces in the historic DuPont Lodge will make a welcome sight at the end of your adventure.

Columbus-Belmont State Park | 350 Park Rd, ColumbusKY 42032

Part of the scenic Kentucky Great River Road and perched along the Mississippi, this one’s for the Civil War buffs! Trails meander through Civil War earthworks, and you can see the huge anchor and chain that was strategically stretched across the Mississippi during the war. Learn more at the Civil War Museum (once used as a civil war hospital). And you must hit the park’s snack bar for their famous soft-serve ice cream and hot dogs.

Natural Bridge State Resort Park | 2135 Natural Bridge Rd., Slade, KY 40376

Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is best explored at this park. Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the park’s famous Natural Bridge spans 78 feet long and 65 feet high. Hike the scenic trail up to it or ride on the seasonal skylift. Make a weekend of it, and book a cottage rental or stay in the Hemlock Lodge. Every Saturday night at Hoe Down Island (just down the hill from the lodge), there’s an old-fashioned square dance on the outdoor patio!

Natural Bridge Red River Gorge Kentucky

The magnificent natural bridge is only the beginning of the treasures you can explore on foot in this park. Image: Red River Gorge

LOUISIANA | (See All 21 Louisiana State Parks HERE)

Chicot State Park | 3469 Chicot Park Rd, Ville Platte, LA 70586

Chicot State Park is 6,400 acres of rolling hills and the cool, clear water of the bayous surrounding Chicot Lake, filled with picturesque trees and lots of fish for the relaxed kayakers and avid fishermen alike. Hike the 20-mile loop around the park and explore the Louisiana State Arboretum, home to a magnificent beech-magnolia forest and an educational center.

Fontainebleau State Park | 62883 Hwy. 1089, Mandeville, LA 70448

More than 400 different species of birds and animals live in and around Fontainebleau State Park, largely due to the three bodies of water and their diverse ecosystems that border the park – Lake Pontchartrain, Bayou Cane, and Bayou Castine. Canoe out to your ready-to-check-in canvas campsite on a private sandbar and soak up the insane sunsets and the sunrises.

Fontainbleu

Many visitors also say that Fontainebleau State Park‘s museum is an absolute “must”! Image:

Tickfaw State Park | 27225 Patterson Rd, Springfield, LA 70462

One of Louisiana’s most popular state parks, Tickfaw boasts a lush natural setting, recreation outlets, and an easy drive-time from both New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Over a mile of boardwalk extends through four ecosystems filled with alluring sites and sounds: cypress swamp, bottomland hardwood forest, pine forest, and the Tickfaw River itself.

MISSISSIPPI | (See All 25 Mississippi State Parks HERE)

Tishomingo State Park | 105 County Road 90, Tishomingo, MS 38873

Snuggled into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Tishomingo State Park is as historically important as it is scenically beautiful. Indians lived in the area where the park is now as early as 7,000 B.C.! Explore massive rock formations and fern-filled, moss-laden crevices found nowhere else in Mississippi.

Toshomingo State Park

The famous Natchez Trace Parkway runs through the park, making it a no-brainer road trip stop on many Southern routes. Image: Image: Erin Elisabeth

Buccaneer State Park | 1150 South Beach Blvd, Waveland, MS 39576

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, this park is filled with giant moss-draped oaks and critter-filled marshlands. It got its name because French Buccaneer Jean Lafitte smuggled and pirated along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the late 1700s.

Paul B Johnson State Park | 319 Geiger Lake Rd, Hattiesburg, MS 39401

Close to the charming college town of Hattiesburg, this park has lots of wooded trails, a lakeside beach, and a kid-friendly splash pad. Enjoy leisurely walks or cozy camping amidst long-leaf and loblolly pines, delicate dogwoods, and ancient oaks.

NORTH CAROLINA | (See All 34 North Carolina State Parks HERE)

Chimney Rock State Park | 743 Chimney Rock Park Rd, Chimney Rock, NC 28720

Chimney Rock near Asheville is seriously spectacular. With a waterfall more than 400 feet high, hiking, rock climbing, and the legendary 315-foot monolith granite boulder, Chimney Rock belongs at the top of every outdoor lover’s bucket list.

48 hours Asheville

Chimney Rock, the 535-million-year-old monolith for which the park is named, is widely recognized as one of the most iconic sites in North Carolina. Image: Chimney Rock

Eno River State Park | 8801 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27617

Within day-trip proximity to Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Greensboro, you’ll find the beloved Eno River State Park. This close-to-urban oasis is home to spectacular forests, babbling creeks, and some of the state’s favorite biking, hiking, and horseback riding trails. Try the 1.5-mile Buckquarter Creek trail that starts at Few’s Ford, a popular warm-weather swimming hole.

Stone Mountain State Park | 3042 Frank Pkwy, Roaring Gap, NC 28668

Rising up in a rather otherworldly way, 600 feet above the surrounding terrain, the park’s focal point is a massive exposed granite dome. When you’re not exploring the more than 18 miles of trails, enjoy every type of outdoor activity imaginable here — hiking, rock climbing, fishing, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, and more.

RELATED: 5 Southern Outdoor Destinations Off the Beaten Path

SOUTH CAROLINA | (See All 47 South Carolina State Parks HERE)

Jones Gap State Park | 303 Jones Gap Rd, Marietta, SC 29661

The 13,000 acres of Jones Gap State Park is rich in towering waterfalls, colorful wildflowers, and pristine mountain woodlands and coves. Trails allow hikers to traverse between the park and Caesars Head State Park. The trout-laden Middle Saluda River runs through Jones Gap and is a gem for fish lovers.

Hunting Island State Park | 2555 Sea Island Pkwy, St Helena Island, SC 29920

Hunting Island is a secluded semitropical barrier island near Beaufort and one of the state’s most popular state parks. Lots of land and maritime wildlife love the park, too, and inhabit its five miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, and a slew of saltwater lagoons. Trek up 130 feet to the famous Hunting Island Lighthouse for breathtaking panoramic views.

Keowee-Toxaway State Park | 108 Residence Dr, Sunset, SC 29685

With some of the state’s most breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Keowee-Toxaway State Park is one of South Carolina’s most beloved parks. Get to stunning views of the Jocassee Gorges via two hiking trails, or take the half-mile trail to Lake Keowee filled with bass, bream, crappie, and catfish.

Koewee-Toxaway

After you’ve sufficiently taken in this view, visit the Keowee-Toxaway Museum to see exhibits about the area’s Cherokee Indians. Image: @wwardbn

TENNESSEE | (See All 56 Tennessee State Parks HERE)

Rock Island State Park | 82 Beach Rd, Rock Island, TN 38581

Rock Island State Park is an 883-acre park located on the headwaters of Center Hill Lake at the meeting of three major rivers. A gorge, a dam, and some seriously scenic overlooks contribute to the rugged beauty of the park. Located just beneath the 19th-century cotton textile mill that it powered over 100 years ago, the picture-perfect Great Falls is a 30-foot horseshoe cascading waterfall just begging you to swim under it!

Roan Mountain State Park | 1015 HWY 143, Roan Mountain, TN 37687

This peaceful park near the Tennessee-North Carolina line offers more than 2,000 acres filled with hiking trails, a historic farmstead, semi-spooky mountain hotel ruins, cozy cabins, and the Doe River winding through the park. It’s also the perfect park for taking in fall foliage.

Cumberland Mountain State Park | 24 Office Dr, Crossville, TN 38555

Cumberland Mountain State Park started as a New Deal-era initiative when 250 poverty-stricken families were relocated to a farming homestead community on the Cumberland Plateau. This 1,720-acre park was their recreational area, and it still offers some of the best outdoor activity in the state. Since Tennessee’s top waterfall parks like Fall Creek Falls and Rock Island fill up quickly year-round, consider checking this one out instead.

How many of the South’s hundreds of State Parks will you see this year? There’s no better time than now to start checking some iconic and lesser-known State Parks off your list!

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