Some of the best outdoor spaces for social distancing
If you’re feeling cooped up after a winter spent indoors, mother nature still offers fresh air and freedom to stretch your legs — without getting too close to others in this new era of social distancing due to the coronavirus. National parks are great and all, but some of the US’s most excellent and lesser-known wild places can be found in state parks.
To get you moving, we’ve compiled some of the finest state-owned outdoor spaces in the country that are perfect for visiting during springtime for the reduced crowds, ideal weather, and effective social distancing.
While the majority of state parks, as well as national parks and monuments currently remain open (many have limited hours and facility access), remember to always check the latest updates from local officials about COVID-19 and do your part to keep your park visits healthy and enjoyable for everyone — namely, keep your distance from other visitors.
Cape Disappointment State Park, WA
Where the Columbia River meets the Pacific, Cape Disappointment State Park offers a dreamlike landscape of windswept cliffs, old-growth forests, and coastal marshes. There’s something for adventurers of all kinds, but whale watching makes it especially enticing in the spring. Gray whales migrate north up the coast to their feeding grounds in March, April, and May, while orcas can be seen through the end of summer.
Baxter State Park, ME
Maine’s Baxter State Park is a sprawling two hundred thousand-acre wilderness that’s home to hundreds of miles of trails for hiking, biking, climbing, and backpacking. Baxter is home to the mighty Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and when the snows melt, a vast network of ponds and rivers makes the park ideal for paddling, fishing, and even whitewater rafting.
Crater of Diamonds State Park, AR
Arkansas is one of the only places in the world where the public can search for diamonds in their original volcanic source. That’s right — you can sift through a plowed diamond field in this volcanic crater — and keep whatever you find! In addition to other gemstones and minerals, over thirty-three thousand diamonds have been unearthed since the park opened in 1972, including the largest diamond ever found in the US. Combing through the Arkansas country dirt is probably best done before the sweltering summer heat arrives.
Eldorado State Park, CO
In the backyard of Boulder, Colorado, Eldorado Canyon is an internationally known haven for rock climbers, boasting over 500 climbing routes. Its towering cliffs and scenic hiking and picnic areas are best enjoyed without the overbearing summer weekend crowds.
Redwood National and State Parks, CA
Jointly managed by the national, state, and regional parks systems, Redwood is one of the most magnificent outdoor areas in the country. Northern California’s redwood ecosystem is an awe-inspiring dreamscape boasting towering old-growth groves of coast redwoods — the tallest trees on Earth. Redwood is worth visiting year-round, but reduced crowds and migrating birds make spring the ideal time to go.
Letchworth State Park, NY
The “Grand Canyon of the East” offers stunning vistas and imposing waterfalls, including the tallest falls in New York. As the snows melt, the magnificent waters swell, and hikers, bikers, and horseback riders can enjoy the surrounding lush forest trails.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, MI
If space is what you’re after, “the Porkies” in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offers 60,000 acres of remote forest that’s far from civilization of any kind. Giant pine and hemlock trees blanket the rugged landscape and offer a sheltered wilderness for backpackers looking to camp in the middle of nowhere or in one of the park’s rustic yurts or cabins. Summer is the busy season, so if the spring warmth comes on time, try April or May to experience the park’s full isolation effect.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX
The second-largest canyon in the US lies in the Texas panhandle near Amarillo. Palo Duro Canyon’s classic Western scenery includes impressive cliffs and ancient rock formations, but it’s better to visit in the more temperate springtime.
Kickapoo State Recreation Area, IL
A former mining territory, rich vegetation and wildlife have reclaimed Kickapoo’s sycamore and maple forests and waterways. This fisher’s paradise houses 22 deep-water ponds and plenty of trails for hiking, camping, mountain biking, or whatever you like.
Update: Illinois state parks have now been closed indefinitely to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Mount Greylock State Reservation, MA
In densely populated New England, it can be difficult to find room to sprawl. Mount Greylock in the Northwest corner of Massachusetts offers twelve thousand acres of lush forests and the tallest peaks in the state. Backcountry skiing is a spring option if the snows persist, or there are plenty of trails for backpacking and biking once the white stuff melts off.
Custer State Park, SD
Custer State Park is an excellent option for those seeking true wilderness. Seventy one thousand acres in the Black Hills includes over 500 climbing routes, many miles of trails, and the picturesque Sylvan Lake for water activities. With ambling bison herds and sweeping vistas, Custer makes for a classic western landscape. While you’re out there, try visiting nearby Crazy Horse memorial, Wind Cave National Park, and Mount Rushmore.
With COVID-19-related travel restrictions and mandates in place, outdoor spaces offer some of the best refuges for the restless. Always check the latest updates from officials about park accessibility, but while public parks remain open, a leisurely hike or weekend camping trip could be just the escape you’ve been needing.