The South's Best State Parks 2022

Black Rock Trail, Grandfather Mountain, NC
Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

If the great outdoors are calling your name, set out on an adventure in one of the South's best state parks. Our readers voted on their favorite destinations for getting outside and exploring in nature, and these parks took the top spots. They span the region and represent an exciting array of landscapes. Find your way to these outdoor destinations, and you'll be met with mountains, gorges, beaches, rivers, swinging bridges, marshes, hiking trails, campgrounds, and plenty of fresh air. Some are more remote and offer a real escape from the bustle of everyday life, while others are just a stone's throw from cities and small towns, making them easy weekend getaways. Whether you're looking for picturesque hiking routes, dramatic waterfalls, or sandy spots to settle in and see the sunset, there's a park here that's destined for your bucket list. Explore the great Southern outdoors this year and make new memories in the South's best state parks.

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10. Table Rock State Park

Table Rock State Park in South Carolina
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South Carolina

At the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this Palmetto State hiking hub invites visitors to trek to the top of Table Rock for panoramic views, explore trails, and enjoy the cool waters of Pinnacle Lake and Lake Oolenoy. The park is also home to Pinnacle Mountain, which is the highest peak located entirely in South Carolina.

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9. Brazos Bend State Park

Brazos Bend State Park in Texas
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Texas

Embark on an array of adventures on approximately 5,000 acres in this scenic attraction along the Brazos River about 45 miles from Houston. Go horseback riding or hike the nature trails, and keep the binoculars handy. You might catch a glimpse of the area's wildlife, including river otters, alligators, waterfowl, and migratory birds.

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8. Smith Mountain Lake State Park

Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Virginia
Scott Suchman

Virginia

Created by a dam that was completed in the 1960s, Smith Mountain Lake is the showstopper of this Virginia destination, which lies on 1,248 acres along the shore between Lynchburg and Roanoke. Spanning over 20,000 acres, the lake is the second-largest body of freshwater in Virginia, with 500 miles of shoreline for boating and fishing.

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7. Cheaha State Park

Mount Cheaha, AL
Laurey Glenn

Alabama

Established in 1933, Cheaha is the oldest state park in Alabama and features thousands of acres of wilderness as well as the highest point in the state. That's Cheaha Mountain (inside Talladega National Forest), and its peak rises to an elevation of about 2,400 feet above sea level.

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6. Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Courtesy of Florida State Parks

Florida

Beloved for its water sports (such as kayaking, fishing, boating, swimming, tubing, canoeing, snorkeling, and scuba diving) this state park near DeLand, Florida, is a popular spot—and not just for people. In winter, manatees gather here and can be seen floating through the clear waters. Be sure to arrive early, because this place reaches capacity year-round.

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5. Natural Bridge State Resort Park

Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Kentucky
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Kentucky

The calling card of this Kentucky escape is an impressive natural bridge that you can access via a hike along a scenic trail or a short ride on the park's sky lift. You will find a lot to explore nearby, including Daniel Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge Geological Area, where you can go birding, fishing, and canoeing.

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4. Grayton Beach State Park

Grayton Beach State Park in Florida
Courtesy Kurt Lischka/Visit South Walton

Florida

Located in Northwest Florida off East County Highway 30A, this state park is home to one of the Panhandle's most picturesque stretches of shore. It's a prime destination for seeing sunsets, paddling on Western Lake, and meandering the trails that thread through acres of salt-scrubbed plants and trees.

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3. Huntington Beach State Park

Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina
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South Carolina

This state park on the South Carolina coast includes both beach and inland wetland terrain, which makes it a destination for wildlife watching. Several nature trails allow access to the landscape and its inhabitants: Be on the lookout for seafaring birds such as egrets, herons, and ospreys plus other animals like alligators and sea turtles, which live in and around the area.

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2. Tallulah Gorge State Park

Tallulah Gorge State Park in Georgia
Robbie Caponetto

Georgia

To experience some of the most jaw-dropping sights in Georgia, head to Tallulah Gorge, a 2-mile-long, 1,000-foot-deep geological formation carved by the Tallulah River. Enjoy waterfalls and overlooks via challenging trails along the rim (for experienced hikers only), or take in a view from the 80-foot-high suspension bridge over the gorge. (You'll need a permit to hike to the gorge floor.)

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1. Grandfather Mountain State Park

Black Rock Trail, Grandfather Mountain, NC
Peter Frank Edwards

North Carolina

Head to the North Carolina mountains to explore an incredible Southern landscape. At 5,946 feet, Grandfather Mountain stands higher than any other peak in the surrounding area. Grandfather Mountain State Park encompasses almost 2,456 acres with hiking trails and the opportunity to camp (with a permit). Hikers can take in panoramic views of the North Carolina scenery from the Black Rock Trail (shown at right). The neighboring 700-acre Grandfather Mountain nature park (which includes the Mile-High Swinging Bridge and wildlife habitats) is run by the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, a nonprofit. Visitors to the area love exploring the hiking trails that lace the forests, where they can take in the natural beauty of North Carolina.
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