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America's Ten Best State Parks

By Deb Hopewell
May 3, 2014; 3:41 AM ET

Every year, our nation's nearly 8,000 state parks see more than 720 million visitors-more than two-and-a-half times the number of all visits to national parks, which include marquee names such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon. These state parks tend to be smaller than national parks, and relatively modest in comparison, but they form the backbone of our park system and enjoy fierce loyalty from families who visit year after year. Here are 10 you may not know about-but should.

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Photo Credit: Cynthia Davison/Shutterstock

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Where: Texas

At 120 miles long, 20 miles wide in some places, and 800 feet deep, Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the country, behind the Grand Canyon. You can explore the 20,000-acre park by hiking or horseback-riding, or even take a leisurely drive across the canyon floor. There's tent, equestrian, and RV camping, but for a modest splurge, book one of the three stone cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (since modernized), set on the rim with sweeping view of the canyon below.

Insider Tip: From the end of May until mid-August, more than 60 actors, singers, and dancers take the stage at the park's amphitheatre to perform Texas, a rousing musical that depicts the settling of the Texas Panhandle. Go early for the chuck-wagon BBQ dinner beforehand.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Amarillo Guide

Photo Credit: Ebyabe [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Where: Florida

Straddling the Gulf of Mexico to the west and St. Joseph Bay on the east, you can practically watch the sun rise and set on this narrow spine of beach without moving your chair. Named "Best Beach" in 2002 by Dr. Beach, T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park on the Florida Panhandle's "forgotten coast" is perfect for those who eschew people-watching and boardwalks in favor of fishing, snorkeling, bird-watching, and star-gazing.

Insider Tip: One of the most popular activities at the park is snorkeling over the grass beds to collect delicious bay scallops from St. Joseph Bay. The season runs from July 1 through September 24, and a saltwater license and dive flag are required.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Florida Guide

Photo Credit: © Peter Guttman

Adirondack Park

Where: New York

Though technically not a state park, Adirondack Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous U.S., covering six million acres in northern New York-bigger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks combined. Unlike most parks of its kind, about half is privately owned, meaning there are towns (over a hundred), boutiques, restaurants, homes, and luxury resorts, making it a crazy quilt of mixed uses. But with roughly three million acres consecrated as a "forever wild" preserve, there are more lakes (3,000), mountains, rivers, forests, and beaches than anyone could see in a lifetime.

Insider Tip: The past few years have seen a small boom in wine production along the Adirondack Coast of Lake Champlain. The 66-mile Adirondack Coast Wine Trail roughly follows Interstate 87 from Plattsburgh to Chazy, and includes seven wineries and cider houses.

Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Adirondacks Guide

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