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State Park Staycation


Castlewood Canyon just south of Denver

At a time when the recession has prompted many of us to trim our budgets, and global warming awareness has encouraged us to fly and drive less, I have a suggestion for fun getaways that satisfy both concerns. Consider your state parks.

Grab a map of your state, or go to your state website, and locate your nearest state parks—they’re probably not too far away. What facilities are available? Some are just day-use, others offer campgrounds, cabins or yurts for overnight stays. What do you like to do—hiking, backpacking, bicycling, other activities? How much time do you have? It’s also important to get your kids or grandkids out in nature, to give them fresh air, exercise, and a hands-on connection to the precious resources and beauty of our planet.

My husband and I discovered our state parks here in Colorado a few years ago, and have enjoyed hiking, picnicking, wading, watching and taking photos of flora, fauna and gorgeous scenery. We’ve camped and stayed in rustic cabins without spending the big bucks. You’ll find fascinating glimpses into your local geology and history. For example, one of the nearest to Denver, Castlewood Canyon State Park, features a canyon carved out by Cherry Creek. The canyon includes five different ecosystems to hike among, and the ruins of a huge dam that burst in 1933, sending Denver its second worst flood in history. 

Kate wading

If you plan a trip out of state, keep the state parks in mind wherever you go. Last year, we visited Florida Caverns State Park, and beat the heat by taking a guided cave tour of unexpected underground marvels. It was cool down there in both senses of the word! 

Our experience is that state parks tend to be less visited than national parks, so you have less crowding and lower prices. We plan one-day getaways several times during the summer—weekdays are best if your work schedule allows. We pack a picnic lunch, our sunscreen, hats and water bottles, and have only the $6 day-use fee to pay. Our tax dollars at work have given us much to relish and remember.