Wednesday, March 13, 2013

This year, explore your state park system

State parks make for fun and easy to reach alternatives
to national parks. Photo courtesy of Minnesota DNR.
With spring approaching, the time has arrived to think about where you might hike. While many people think mainly about national parks or national forests where outdoor recreation is concerned, most states’ parks offer wonders just as impressive, albeit on a smaller scale. The possibilities range from fantastic waterfalls and ocean beaches to billion-year-old gorges and lush jungles.

You can find out about the parks in your state or one you’re visiting simply by typing the state’s name along with “state parks” into a search engine (i.e. “Wisconsin state parks”). Entry fees also are listed there. Most state park passes can be purchased at the park itself or online through the state.

As I’m currently traveling through the upper Midwest, let me pass on state park pass info for two states where I recently purchased passes.

Anytime a vehicle enters a state park or recreation area, a vehicle admission sticker is required. A sticker can be purchased as a daily or an annual pass; the former expires at midnight of that day while the latter is only good for the calendar year, expiring on Dec. 31. Some parks and state forests offer one-hour passes as well. Towed vehicles don’t need stickers. The cost of the sticker varies based on the vehicle driver’s age (seniors receive a discount) and state of residence (non-Wisconsin residents pay more). State trails don’t require passes if hiking (walking), but you’ll likely have to pay an additional fee if horseback riding, using an ATV, or camping. For more information, go to

As with Wisconsin, anytime a vehicle enters a state park or recreation area, a pass is required. There are fewer options for passes, however. The main two categories are daily or annual; the advantage of the annual pass is that it’s good for the next 365 days. Discounted permits are given for vehicles with handicap license plates, to disabled veterans, and to active-duty military personnel. For more information, go to

The best for your money in any state is to buy the annual pass (especially if early in the calendar year). If you visit state parks at least twice in a calendar year, in most states you’ll save money over buying a daily pass each time.

A final note: Funding for most states’ parks always is in jeopardy, so show your support as a hiker by visiting them.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.