Family adventure time! But where to, and how? You want a true outdoor experience. You want the sheer awe of the natural world to grab onto your children and peel their eyes off their phones instead of having to do it yourself for once. This can only mean one thing: Road trip time! Of course tons of National Parks are suited for this. But here’s another list of big artillery to add to your toolbox in the battle against Candy Crush and Tik Tok.
Never underestimate the greatness of a state park
State parks don’t always get the same attention and love as National Parks for adventure-seekers for some unknown reason, but they absolutely should. Often you will barely be aware of any difference between the two. The wildlife and epic scenery don’t care whether it is a state or a federal employee grooming the trail and manning the visitor center, so why should you?
To get you started, we put together a list of some serious eye-candy and adventure-seeking that may just leave you astonished that you haven’t added them to your bucket list yet. Take notes because we have some serious gems here.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida
Ichetucknee Springs is our pick for water adventure. If your family’s happiness level is directly associated to their proximity to water, our first state park has everything you are looking for especially if you’re here in the summer for fantastic tubing adventures. Bring or rent an inner tube and float “lazy river style” either from the North end (3.5 hours), the South end (1 hour 45 minutes) or Dampier’s Landing (45 minutes). Oncce there, simply hop on the tram to return to your chosen starting point.
Ok, now that you have finished tubing, what else? Grab a Stand-up paddleboard, a kayak, maybe a canoe. Perhaps hit the many trails on foot to see any land-dwelling wildlife you may have missed on your float. Grab a mask and fins and take your pick of snorkeling or diving deep into the Blue Hole Spring. If you’d like to dive here, note you’ll need to be a certified cave diver, because as the name implies, the Blue Hole Spring descends into hundreds of feet of caves below. Who knew state parks had all this?
Year-round comfort in a cavern
Our next stop is Cathedral Caverns State Park, Alabama. If your children, or perhaps even you, have never seen the majesty of a naturally formed cave system, now is the time and Cathedral Caverns is a great place to start. This is also a perfect destination for off-season travel. Whether it’s blazing hot or your hair is freezing solid outside, a few steps into the caverns and it’s a cool and calm 60 degrees year-round. Visit with Goliath, one of the largest known stalagmites in the world at 45 feet tall. See what appears to be a waterfall frozen in time, a 32-foot high flowstone wall. Marvel at the 3 acres of stalagmite forest. You will never look at icicles the same way again.
Win the lottery at Crater of Diamonds State Park
Do you feel like you have a particularly lucky family? If so, Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas might just be the perfect stop for you. As the name implies, diamonds are found here in their natural environment, an eroded volcanic crater. Not only are diamonds historically found here, nor are they found here in some locked-up, gated-off mine nearby or something. You can find diamonds here. Yup, real diamonds. This is one of the only places on the planet you can go to search for your own diamonds legally, and certainly by far the easiest place we know of. We hear your skepticism. They must be worthless since they let you just go out and hunt for them at the state park right? In 2015, a park attendee found an 8.52 carat diamond worth approximately $1 million. So, nope. There are real, quality diamonds to be found here.
Crater of Diamonds has all the standard amenities of a great state park. Hiking, camping, fishing, even a water park to keep the kids occupied while you spend “just a few more minutes, honey”, looking for your fortune. So if you want to go camping, hit the waterslides then perhaps pay off your mortgage while you are at it! Give Crater of Diamonds a try.
Off to Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Starved Rock State Park is a gem of its own. With many waterfalls and 18 stunning canyons to keep you always wanting to wander off its miles of trails to see what might lie over the next ridge.
Starved Rock is known not only for its natural beauty, but also the rich history of the area. Starved Rock has been home to Native Americans as early as 8000 B.C. as well as the site of Fort St. Louis, built by the French in 1682-1683.
While you have many great campsites here to choose from, we suggest pampering yourself in the amazing and rustic 1930’s stone and log lodge. This is the perfect spot to use as home base for your adventures through the park. Relax in the hot tub for some mellow time while the kids hit the pool. Make sure to check in and see if there are any events going on here as well, you might get to catch some live music, a musical show, or maybe a paint and wine class during your stay.
This is a great park to visit in the winter, too, for that family vacation to shake off any seasonal blues. Keep your eyes open for bald eagles while you take the kids out to do a bit of ice fishing. Or consider the option for ice climbing here – yes, ice climbing! (guide recommended) With the lovely lodge to cozy up in and the hot tub and sauna to warm you back up after a day out, you can’t go wrong here.
Heading out to a state park for family vacation?
You’re so smart to take advantage of fantastic wilderness in the United States! Let us know where you’re going and we’ll be sure it’s the vacation you deserve with no stress and tons of family time to enjoy!