15 unbelievably cheap private islands you can rent in the US
Hotels? Too full of other guests. Vacation rentals? Too close to other people. A private island? Just right.
A classic A-frame house, hammock, rope swing, and canoe all await you on this private island on Maine’s Annabessacook Lake – for as low as $150 per night. The price includes a private ferry ride to and from the island for all guests and their luggage. Guests can spend the day walking the island’s 14 acres of trails, swimming, and kayaking, and then cook dinner in the fully-equipped kitchen or on a campfire under the stars.
Juggler Lake, Minnesota
This cheap private island on Juggler Lake is a budget hiker’s paradise, with 18 acres of lush forest to explore, as well as wild strawberries, ginger, and morels to forage for. Only about an hour and a half from Fargo, the island offers a relaxing nature-focused getaway for anyone looking for some peace and quiet. The A-frame cabin sleeps up to 10 people in three bedrooms and has all the amenities – including three patios, floating diving dock, and a fully-equipped kitchen. A boat is available for rent for just $200, and the private island itself costs only $375 per night.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
When you rent the Private Islands of Old House Cay, you get not just one private island but three – all for the low price of $536 a night. This lowcountry group of islands is just 10 minutes from Hilton Head, but feels like a whole world away. The main island included with the rental comes with an off-the-grid, modern home that’s equipped with all the creature comforts you’ll need for a relaxing getaway.
A tour boat passing between islands at Thousand Islands National Park © Getty Images / iStockphoto
Thousand Islands, New York
For a cheap private island getaway in the Thousand Islands, rent Quadkin Island. The island’s spacious five-bedroom house can be yours (along with up to 11 of your friends) for as low as $471 per night – spectacular sunsets, swimming, and boating included.
Named Dogatraz Island, this one-acre getaway is perfect for pets and their owners. Set on Lake Iroquois, this Vermont escape offers swimming, fishing, bird-watching, and incredible sunsets. The two-bedroom house has all the amenities (including potable water, which isn’t always a guarantee on an island). A cozy outdoor seating area, fire pit, and long dock complete this outdoorsy rental. This cheap private island can host four people (and any number of dogs) for a mere $379 per night – dog treats not included, but kayaks and canoes are.
Republic Island, Michigan
For as little as $106 per night, Republic Island on Michigan’s Michigamme River can be rented to groups of four or less. The private island hosts a three-bedroom cedar log cabin that was built in the 1800s, and is surrounded by two-acres of densely wooded land. A boat is included with the rental to close the 300ft gap to the shoreline.
This log cabin nestled on a private island in Maine can be rented for just $150 a night by groups of six or less. The gorgeously designed house features a fieldstone fireplace, cathedral ceiling, and a screened-in porch. The island is a short row away from mainland Damariscotta, and there are three kayaks and life jackets available for guests to use to explore the surrounding waters.
Explore miles of pristine shoreline in Minnesota © GeorgeBurba / Getty Images
Lake of the Woods, Minnesota
Blackbird Island, on Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, is just one mile from Canadian waters and provides the perfect base for exploring the 65,000 miles of pristine shoreline nearby. The private island’s charming cabin sleeps up to eight, and rental prices start at just $143 per night.
From the shores of Poulsbo, Washington, guests are ferried over to their private paradise on Island Lake via an electric raft (a service that’s included in the $304/night rate). The island’s main house sleeps up to eight people, and for stays of four nights or longer, a second cabin will be made available for the group’s use so they can spread out even more.
Gloucester, Rhode Island
The large cabin on this private island comfortably sleeps 11 people, so a big group might pay just $31 per person per night – a true bargain considering the beautiful sandy beaches, rowboat, beach chairs, and picnic table that come along with the rental. The island is kept natural and wild, so there’s no running water or electricity, but there are solar lights, a wood-burning stove, firepit, and gas grill.
Forget camping – a private island in Douglas State Forest can be rented for almost the same price as a campground spot. Dodd Island sleeps eight people, bringing the cost down to $34 per person per night. The 7-acre cheap private island is perched on Whitins Reservoir, a warm and shallow lake with visibility down to 40ft, making it a paradise for snorkelers and divers.
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Foley Island is a private island surrounded by the beautiful waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. A secluded swimming area and over-water sundeck make this a true island paradise, and it can all be rented by up to 12 people for just $386 per night.
Sands Island, North Carolina
Sands Island rents for $325 per night and gives groups of up to four 32-acres of undeveloped land to explore. The private island’s two-bedroom cottage is the only building on the entire island and was built from locally milled pine. It uses solar power to seamlessly blend into the surrounding environment.
Eagle Island, Georgia
A 1500-sq-ft house with wrap-around screened porch, hot tub, and wood-burning fireplace can be yours for as little as $475 per night on Eagle Island, which includes access to the entire private island. Boat rentals, fishing tours, and eco-adventures are also available to book at an extra cost.
Swansboro, North Carolina
This famous private island in Swansboro, North Carolina, has appeared on the Island Hunters television show. If you missed the episode, the island has a small cabin that sleeps up to four people. Surrounded by white sandy beaches, the island is great for relaxing, but not too far from civilization (you can kayak right up to nearby bars and restaurants with dock entry). Rates for this ultra-cheap private island start at $101 per night.
This article originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
The Budget Travel Guide to Vermont
During a drive in Vermont, it’s common to see simple, handwritten signs tempting with their advertisements of hyper-local goods. “Eggs for Sale,” “Maple Syrup Here” and “Fresh Produce” beckon drivers all along the state’s country roads. Unless you’re in a big hurry — and, if you’re driving through Vermont, where the pace is almost island-like, you shouldn’t be — you’ll want to factor in random, unplanned stops, a promising part of a visit to the quintessential New England state. All-season playground Nestled in between Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire, Vermont is the second-least-populated U.S. state. It’s no stranger to visitors, however, who long ago began discovering the sweet state’s trove of treasures. It starts with its rolling green mountains, duly cherished by skiers and snowboarders. Fans of the winter sport flock to Stowe for its European-like village and Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain, and to Jay Peak, the beloved resort on the US-Canada border. Killington’s sheer vastness (1,509 skiable acres) explains its well-appointed nickname: The Beast. There’s a mountain for every level — and every interest too. While skiing has never been a budget-friendly sport, those who wish to get in a day on the slopes will find flexibility is key for the gentlest prices. A midweek day pass offers the best value for your buck; at $146/day, upscale Stratton is on the high end, and at $93/day, Mount Snow is on the lower end. But the best deal is for those athletes who don’t need a chairlift to get up the mountain. One can experience The Beast for $35 — and plenty of grit and endurance to skin up the mountain. Of course, Vermont’s mountains don’t disappear come summer, and for many, it’s a much more pleasant time to check out the trails. Plus, it’s free in the off-season! Cyclists, trekkers, and ambitious trail runners will be rewarded with mesmerizing views at the top. If the state’s heavily forested landscape is something to see along the road, it’s otherworldly from this vantage point. For those preferring water activities, Vermont’s warm-weather months offer a bevy of recreational activities. Lake Champlain comes alive in summer. Think paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, swimming and sunning. A visit to Lake Champlain is highly recommended, but it’s not the only way to splash around. All across the state are swimming holes, waterfalls and treks of varying degrees of difficulty, many with water crossings. Some top spots include Clarendon Gorge, Warren Falls, and Bristol Falls, though it’s worth noting it is possible to find random waterfalls and swimming holes no matter where your adventures take you. Beer is good After you’ve worked up a sweat and cooled off in a river, it’s time for liquid sustenance. Vermont’s beer scene exploded years ago, but it’s still popping today, as evidenced by the astounding number of breweries across the state. That and the fact that you’re more likely to find a four-pack of craft brews than a six-pack of Budweiser at the local markets and gas stations has aided Vermont’s stellar reputation among beer drinkers. It’s never a bad idea to visit a brewery, and it’s an especially good idea when there’s a killer view to pair with your pint. Beer Naked in Marlboro, VT sits on the top of Hogback Mountain; the deck tables are worth waiting for. The rotating selection of craft brews pairs wonderfully with inventive and familiar bites coming out of the kitchen — bone marrow spread to please the adventurous eaters, and the cheese plate as a matter of course. If you want to get a taste of several different breweries and a deeper understanding of why Vermont’s beer scene is superior, you might consider a Vermont Brewery Tour with 4 Points. For less than a hundred bucks, the tour includes pick-up and drop-off, multiple brewery stops and tastings, snacks and entertaining fodder from your guide. It’s a relative bargain, though not as inexpensive as creating your own beer trail with the help of this nifty website. Cheese, please You can find excellent local cheese in just about every Vermont grocery or general store. River Bend Market in Wilmington has a particularly unique selection of cheese from reputable cheese makers, including Vermont Creamery, Crawley, and Grafton, which has its own shop in Brattleboro.. A visit to Grafton Village Cheese, which sells wine and cheese accoutrements, may just inspire an impromptu picnic. If you’d rather gallivant around the state collecting this most delicious of souvenirs, you’ll be delighted to learn there’s a Cheese Trail Map, which lists the cheese makers who welcome visitors. In July, $50 will get you into the Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival, which offers workshops, tasting and other cheese-centric activities around the over 200 cheeses showcased. Non-dairy provisions While the state deserves its cheesy (sorry/not sorry!) reputation, when it comes to wallet-friendly bites, you need not look too hard to find other delicious items. Charming diners, cafes and bistros can be found throughout the state, but look a little closer and you’ll start to notice a smattering of food trucks. Vermont’s food truck scene isn’t as diverse as Portland Oregon’s or as big as Austin, Texas’s, but it’s nonetheless an exciting one. Nomad Food Kitchen Trailer in Dover has weekly specials in addition to a menu rounded out by ramen. About that ramen: The prices are a little steep for this part of town, but the best thing on the menu is the $5 pork bun. Loaded with glistening meat, crispy around the edges, crunchy vegetables and sweet and salty sauce, it’s basically two (three if you’re a more delicate eater) of the best bites in Vermont. Healthier fare can be found at Carte Blanche in Burlington. Think eclectic soups, inventive sandwiches (pork belly with miso mayo), and kimchi-topped rice bowls. As the name implies, anything goes here. Further North in Jefferson is chef and owner Lea Ann Macrery’s My Favorite Things. Hailing from South Africa and Malawai, Macrery might be dishing up poutine one day and a specialty beef burrito the next. Most of the food trucks update their Instagram and Facebook pages regularly, so check there first to make sure you know how and where to find them. Dose of Culture Vermont boasts a number of family-friendly activities, many of which are inexpensive or free. A top pick is Bread & Puppet Theater, where puppets perform in a barn in the middle of the Northeast Kingdom. Art can be purchased here too — and for a nominal fee. Want to add a history lesson to your Vermont visit? The Vermont Historical Society offers an interesting look at the state’s history, including a collection depicting the early days of skiing. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum also offers a history lesson with its model gallery showing the evolution of boat building in the region and The Roost, a cabin featuring stories of women on the water -- lighthouse keepers and lake explorers. Both children and adults will find joy in Vermont’s farms, whether picking blueberries in July or petting alpacas in the fall. Midnight Goat Farm sells cheese and offers goat meetings in typical times. Maple View Farm sells alpacas and offers information on alpaca breeding, but you need not be in the market for an alpaca — visiting and petting opportunities are available at this farm. Shelburne Farms is chock-full of animals and kid-friendly activities. Introduce the kids to donkeys, cows and sheep and pick up some pasture-farmed eggs if you haven’t already been lured off the road by an “eggs for sale” sign. For many visitors to Vermont, a must is visiting the flagship Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory. Located in Waterbury, this is also where you’ll find the infamous Flavor Graveyard, just up the hill from the main building. Here you can grieve the flavors that are no longer. Dog lovers traveling with Fido or missing Fido back at home won’t want to miss Dog Mountain, where dog-lover and artist Stephen Huneck, has created a haven for dog people. Roaming the grounds and visiting the chapel is free. Gone antiquing Just up the road from the sprawling Grafton Village Cheese complex is Jeff’s Basement, an antique store with an impressive as well price-friendly selection of mid-century and postmodern furniture, lamps, and art. For more fantastic vintage finds, Anjou & The Little Pear up in Burlington delights with cool glassware, snazzy art and old but gently used rugs. For more eclectic finds and random finds, The Vermont Antique Mall has everything from the old-school bedside clock you didn’t know you needed to the mini cast iron pan. And, finally, for rock-bottom prices and seriously sweet finds, including rooms full of toys and children’s games, there’s Twice Blessed. Located in Dover, right next to the dog-friendly Snow Republic Brewery, the cash-only shop a fine place to while away an hour or two and make good use of that twenty-dollar bill hiding in your wallet.
10 bucket list adventures in Alaska
This content has been produced in partnership with Visit Anchorage. Alaska has no shortage of things to do! Adventurers will discover that Anchorage is a great “anchor” point for a wide variety of amazing adventures that are sure to provide lifelong memories. 1. See a glacier Alaska has over 100,000 glaciers, that have shaped the landscape for thousands of years! Anchorage has over 60 glaciers within 50 miles for explorers. Take a glacier cruise for a few hours and listen to the loud rumbling as these massive landmarks continue to carve through the land. mv Ptarmigan cruising in front of Portage Glacier. Credit: Donna Dewhurst, Visit Anchorage 2. Take a sightseeing trip Anchorage has several incredible day-trip options for sightseeing. Take the Glacier Discovery Train to Spencer Whistle Stop for the day, take a flightseeing plane to see Alaska from the sky, or ride the Alyeska Tramway 2300 feet up a mountain. No matter which you choose, you’re guaranteed to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States! 3. See a whale A trip to Alaska isn’t complete without some whale-watching! Pods of beluga whales spend their summers in the waters outside Anchorage. Or, head to Seward and hop on a sightseeing cruise to see some of the biggest species of whales in the world! 4. Bear Viewing near Anchorage Bears at the zoo. Credit: JodyO.Photos, Visit Anchorage Alaska is the only place in the US that has black, brown, and polar bears! Take a short flight to Katmai or Lake Clark National Parks and see these fascinating creatures as they feed near a salmon-filled steam. In October, make sure you vote in Katmai’s annual fat bear week. To see a polar bear, check out the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. 5. View the northern lights The northern lights are a beautiful phenomenon of auroras that dance in the night sky. They are active in Alaska between mid-August and April. Popular spots for viewing them are Eklutna Tailrace, Girdwood, and the Knik River. The northern lights. Credit: JodyO.Photos, Visit Anchorage 6. Enjoy the Midnight Sun Alaska is so far north that it has more summer daylight than anywhere else in the lower contiguous US! In June, the sunset happens around midnight, providing plenty of time for outdoor activities. It’s incredible how much fits in a day when the sun barely ever sets! 7. Go Dog Sledding Dog Sledding is Alaska’s state sport, and visitors can experience dog sledding year round (though best in winter!). In summer, several mushers will camp out on top of glaciers to provide an authentic sled-dog experience. Dog sledding Girdwood. Credit: Nicole Geils, Visit Anchorage 8. Alaska Art and Shopping Anchorage has lots of excellent shopping options for the discerning shopper. Peruse a downtown filled with authentic art galleries, and support Alaska native art. Pick up some fresh-caught salmon for dinner, or some homemade candy for dessert! Anchorage provides tax-free shopping Denali National Park. Credit: Ashley Heimbigner, Visit Anchorage 9. Visit National Parks Anchorage is a dream for National Park enthusiasts! Its close proximity to Alaska’s major parks provides tons of options for adventurers. Take a sightseeing plane over the soaring peaks of Denali, take a day cruise to the Kenai Fjords, or (safely) see a bear from Katmai or Lake Clark! Make sure to stop into the visitor’s center to get a stamp for your National Park passport book. 10. Take a road trip Anchorage has several different options for a scenic day trip drive, allowing you to get out of the city and see some of Alaska’s beautiful scenery. Take a coastal trip down the Seward Highway, and see huge mountain peaks topped with ice. Head up to the Glen Alps for a breathtaking panorama of Anchorage and its surrounding area. Head up to Hatcher Pass for some dramatic landscapes and stop to explore some of the old remnants from the gold rush. There's never been a better time to cross of your bucket list adventures in Alaska! This content has been produced in partnership with Visit Anchorage.Presented by Visit Anchorage
With majestic canyons, sandstone walls, and breathtaking hikes, it’s no wonder this jewel of the National Park Service was named for the promised land. Zion National Park in Southwest Utah is one of the most extraordinary places in the United States (and on earth). It offers adventure surrounded by towering canyons, immense sandstone walls, and amazing hikes that every American must see at least once in their lifetime. Getting There McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is the largest airport near Zion National Park. The St. George Regional Airport is a bit closer at just 50 miles away, but prices are usually between $100 and $200 more for a round-trip ticket. Keep an eye on ticket prices leading up to your purchase, and snag some for St. George if you find a comparable deal. If you’re coming from Las Vegas, rent a car for the 160-mile drive to the park. Then take off toward the mountains on I-15 for desert panoramas that will just begin to prepare you for the jaw-dropping Utah landscape you’re headed for. We recommend completing this drive during daylight. Not only will you want to take in the desert scenery, but there are also some winding roads. For the best gas prices, be sure to fuel up in St. George or Hurricane, UT. It’s also advisable to buy several gallons of water before entering the park in case of emergency. Entering And Navigating The Park Park Entrance At the park entrance, you’ll pay $35 per car, which gives you access to the park for seven days. For $80, you can get the America The Beautiful pass, which grants you access to all national parks in the US. If you plan to go on from Zion to other nearby parks such as Bryce Canyon or Arches, we absolutely recommend this option. Shuttle Buses During most of the pandemic, Zion has been implementing a shuttle ticket system. At the end of May 2021, the park eliminated this system. The shuttle is now open for anyone to ride. The only requirement is that you wear a mask! As of June 2021, the only places the buses are stopping include the visitor center, the lodge, the Grotto, Big Bend, and the Temple of Sinawava. There is often a line to get on a shuttle, and on busy days, you may feel as though you’re standing in line at Walt Disney World. The line is typically worse in the morning as everyone is arriving to the park, but extra-early birds can beat the crowds. Shuttle buses begin running at 6 AM, so get in line around 5:00 AM if you’d like to be one of the first up canyon. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel runs between Zion Canyon and the east side of the park. Due to height limitations, this 1.1-mile tunnel cannot accommodate large vehicles in both lanes. Rangers must control the traffic flow so that oversized vehicles can drive down the center of the tunnel. Therefore, vehicles larger than either 11’4” tall or 7’10” wide must pay a $15 tunnel permit fee at the park entrance station. Vehicles larger than 13’1” are completely prohibited. Also note that pedestrians and bicyclists are not allowed in the tunnel at any time. See below for the 2021 tunnel hours of operation (MDT) for large vehicles. August 29 to September 25: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM September 26 to November 6: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Winter hours of operation starting November 7: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Camping: The Ultimate Bargain Dispersed Camping Tent camping is one way you can cut expenses while visiting Zion National Park. You can make camp on most BLM (public) land without a fee; however, this option should only be used by those who are experienced campers. If you want to camp for free, make sure you have a map and give yourself plenty of daylight to find a campsite. The tradeoff with this option is that you’ll have to devote a little more time traveling to and from the park. Campgrounds If you’d prefer a campsite inside the park with more amenities, plan to book your spot early. The Watchman Campground is right by the visitor center and is the busiest campground, often selling out months in advance. Additionally, the South Campground is just a bit further up the road and allows reservations up to 14 days before your trip. For a little more privacy, you can stay at the first come, first served Lava Point Campground, about an hour and twenty minutes from the south entrance of the park. Hotels Are A Short, Beautiful Drive Away Affordable hotels can be found in Hurricane, UT, about a 30-minute drive from the park. Prices can be as low as $60 in the off season, and $70 in the high season. The drive is beautiful; just be sure to budget time to get through the park’s gates. Springdale is the closest town to Zion’s south entrance, but it tends to be a bit pricier. Keep your eyes on hotel prices as you prepare for your trip, and again, snag something if you find a comparable deal. There’s a shuttle that runs between Springdale and the park, so parking doesn’t have to be such a pain if you stay in town.Stock up on food in advance To stay on budget, you’ll want to stock up on food and water at a grocery store (pick up a cooler and ice if you’re packing perishables of course). Stop in either Las Vegas or St. George for these items. There are also several restaurants and small markets just outside the park in Springdale, but these will be more expensive. Hiking: Zion’s Main AttractionThe Narrows is one of the most fun hikes in America. Photo by Laura BrownZion is world-renowned for its hiking. Whether you spend the day wading through a river canyon or scaling the side of a mountain, there is no more rewarding way to soak up Zion’s unreal landscape. Plus, hiking is free! Here are our top recommendations in the park. Pa’rus Trail Section: South side (of the canyon) Level of difficulty: Easy The 3.5-mile Pa’rus Trail is great for bicyclists and for those who want a fairly flat trail that will still give them plenty of stunning views. Additionally, there is only one trail in Zion that pet owners can take their animals, and this is it! Watchman Trail Section: South side (of the canyon) Level of difficulty: Moderate If you’re wanting to do something a little more difficult than the Pa’rus Trail without having to enter the canyon via shuttle, try this trail. In 3.3 miles, it rewards you with great views of the Watchman, the lower canyon, and Springdale. Canyon Overlook Trail Section: East side Level of difficulty: Moderate The Canyon Overlook Trail is a beautiful one to watch either sunrise or sunset from. It’s a short jaunt that clocks in at just one mile round-trip, and it leads you up to spectacular views of lower Zion Canyon. Just be sure to head there a little earlier than your intended hike start time as you may have to park down the road. Parking at the trailhead is very limited. Taylor Creek Trail Section: Kolob Canyons Level of difficulty: Moderate If you’re interested in getting away from the crowds Zion is known for, take an hour drive to the Kolab Canyons section of the park and try the 5-mile Taylor Creek Trail. Emerald Pools + The Kayenta Trail Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Moderate Connect the Emerald Pools Trails with the Kayenta Trail for one of the easier hikes up canyon. This route is perfect for families or for those who are a little tired from hiking in the morning. There are a few different ways to do this combination depending on which Emerald Pools Trails you take, but the longest way clocks in at just about three miles. The Narrows Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Strenuous You can hike the Virgin River up to Big Spring (3.6 miles one-way), wading through the water as you stare up at the high walls enclosing you. The trail is listed as strenuous because it involves climbing over some rocks, but there’s little elevation gain. Some choose to rent gear such as walking sticks and water shoes from outfitters in town. If you want to save some money, however, just bring along the trekking poles you’re using to hike with anyways. Note that there’s always a risk of flash floods on this trail. Keep your eye on the flood forecast posted around the park and turn around if you see the following: Deteriorating weather conditions Thunder or a buildup of clouds Sudden changes in water clarity (from clear to muddy) Angel’s Landing Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Strenuous This is Zion’s most famous hike, which ends with a crawl across the spine of a mountain to a view meant for angels. If you’re afraid of heights, stop on the trail at Scout Lookout, which provides views almost as good as those farther on. This trail is often very crowded – by the end of the effort, you’ll be best friends with the people climbing the trail around you. Bring extra water as the set of steep switchbacks on the trail will have you needing more than you might think. Angel's Landing is more strenuous than you think. Be prepared! Photo by Laura Brown Other Things You Need To Know Closed Hikes Due to rockfall in 2019, a few hikes are closed: Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, and Observation Point via the canyon floor. These trails are bound to be closed for another decade or so (if they ever reopen). Cyanobacteria The Virgin River (and any water sources coming from the river) is currently experiencing a toxic cyanobacteria bloom. Even though the park is monitoring it regularly, much is unknown regarding its effects. If you choose to go into the water, avoid getting it in your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or in any open wounds. Additionally, do not let dogs drink from or get into the river as the algae has been found to be fatal to our furry friends. The United States’ national parks are some of our favorite road trip destinations, and we were thrilled to create this budget guide for Zion. For more details about the park, head to the NPS website. If you go to the park and post any photos on social media, be sure to use the hashtag #MyBudgetTravel for a chance to be featured on our page!
There’s no denying the allure of this country’s majestic national parks. But there's plenty of natural beauty to go around, and many state parks offer outdoor experiences that shouldn't be overlooked. State parks tend to have lower entrance fees and more manageable crowds than the marquee-name national parks, plus there’s the added bonus of not being affected by pesky government shutdowns. Here are 10 fabulous state parks to get you started. 1. Custer State Park: Custer, South Dakota (Courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks) A free-roaming herd of 1,500 bison is the main attraction at this park in the scenic Black Hills, but there’s plenty more wildlife to be spotted along its 18-mile loop road, including pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and even feral burros. Needles Highway, a popular 14-mile scenic drive through the park, is dotted with needle-shaped rock formations, two tunnels, and sweeping views of evergreen forests and lush meadows. Weekly park license, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; gfp.sd.gov/parks/detail/custer-state-park 2. Kartchner Caverns State Park: Benson, Arizona Home to a 21-foot stalactite that ranks as the third-longest in the world, this multi-room cave located 45 miles southwest of Tucson has only been open to the public since 1999. Kartchner Caverns is a living cave, meaning that its formations are still growing, and the park offers two guided tours that explore several different areas. The park is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, so it’s great for stargazing. Tours, from $23 for adults and $13 for youth ages 7-13 (reservations recommended); azstateparks.com/kartchner 3. Petit Jean State Park: Morrilton, Arkansas (Courtesy Petit Jean State Park) Central Arkansas probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a mountaintop adventure, but that’s just what Petit Jean State Park offers. Perched atop the 1200ft Petit John Mountain, this park has 20 miles of hiking trails that feature captivating geological formations such as giant sandstone boulders, stone arches, rock shelters, and box canyons. The park’s historic Mather Lodge, a rustic, cozy accommodation built of logs and stone, is a great option if you’re staying a few days. Free entry; arkansasstateparks.com/parks/petit-jean-state-park 4. Anza-Borrego State Park: San Diego County, California A remote and rugged landscape located in southeast California’s Colorado desert, Anza-Borrego State Park has 600,000 acres of varied terrain including badlands and slot canyons. The popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail takes hikers on a rocky stroll to an almost surreal oasis filled with California palms. When you’re visiting, save time to check out the collection of more than 130 giant metal creatures built by sculptor Ricardo Breceda in the nearby town of Borrego Springs. Day fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov/ansaborrego 5. Dead Horse Point State Park: Moab, Utah It’s not the Grand Canyon, but it was a suitable stand-in for filming the final scene of the classic film Thelma & Louise. In other words, the views from Dead Horse State Park are fantastic. Just 25 miles from Moab, this park sits 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River and looks out over Canyonlands National Park. Visitors can pick their favorite view from one of eight different lookout points along the seven-mile rim trail. Entry fee, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse 6. Watkins Glen State Park: Watkins Glen, New York With steep, plant-covered cliffs, small caves, and misty waterfalls, this state park in New York’s Finger Lakes region feels a little like stepping into a fairy tale. Visit in spring, summer, or fall, when you can hike the Gorge Trail, a two-mile journey that descends 400 feet, past 19 waterfalls into an idyllic narrow valley. Visitors can also enjoy the beauty from above on one of the dog-friendly rim trails. Season runs mid-may to early November. Day fee, $8 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov/parks/142 7. Tettegouche State Park: Silver Bay, Minnesota Eight great state parks dot the 150-mile stretch of Highway 61 along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, but Tettegouche stands out for its scenic hiking opportunities through forests, past waterfalls, and along the shoreline. The easy Shovel Point trail takes hikers along jagged, lakeside cliffs to a dramatic lookout over Lake Superior. There are also three loop trails featuring waterfalls. One-day park permit fee, $7; dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html 8. Valley of Fire State Park: Overton, Nevada Drive just 50 miles northeast of the bustling Las Vegas strip, and you’ll find a peaceful valley filled with dramatic red-sandstone formations that take on the appearance of flames on sunny days. The popular Atlatl Rock trail features a giant boulder balanced on a sandstone outcrop 50 feet above the ground. Climb its metal staircase to see the prominent ancient petroglyphs.Entrance fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire 9. Montana de Oro State Park: San Luis Obispo County, California (Courtesy California State Parks) Spanish for “mountain of gold,” Montana de Oro gets its name from the golden wildflowers that cover the area each spring, but you can find colorful views year-round on the seven miles of rocky, undeveloped coastline that comprise the western edge of this state park in California’s central coast region. The 4.6-mile Bluff Trail is a great way to see a large swath of the beaches, tide pools, and natural bridges in the park, or you can hike the Hazard and Valencia Peak trails for summit views. Pebbly Spooner’s Cove Beach serves as the park’s central hub.Entry fee, $20 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov 10. Baxter State Park: Piscataquis County, Maine With no electricity, running water, or paved roads within its boundaries, this 200,000-acre park in North Central Maine offers mountain, lake, and forest adventures for those who like their wilderness truly wild. The park’s 5,200-foot Mt. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, but there are more than 40 other peaks and ridges to explore, and five pond-side campgrounds that offer canoe rentals. Entry fee, $15 per vehicle; baxterstatepark.org