The United States is full of incredible National Parks, but not all of our most interesting natural landmarks and phenomena fall under the National Park system. In fact, many of the most unique and less traveled parks are run by the state or even a county. If you’re looking for a reason to hop in the car and experience the wonders of North America, here is a list of 5 of our favorite non-National Parks in the US. Ranging from waterfalls to desert hikes, here are a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences you need to add to your bucket list.
Ringing Rocks Park - Pennsylvania
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, is home to a truly unique county park. Located within a 120-acre forest, you’ll find a field of large rocks known as Ringing Rocks Park. Bring a hammer with you on this excursion because you’ll likely never experience something like this again. Why you might ask?
Well, Ringing Rocks Park got its name from the property of sound that resonates from the rocks when they are struck. About a ⅓ of the rocks here will create this bell-like, metallic sound when hit with a hammer. These rocks are known as “live” rocks. Spend your day walking around to different rocks and striking them to hear a variety of tones. Bring a few friends or family and create your own “rock” band.
So what makes these rocks ring exactly? The reason is still relatively unknown. Scientists are still stumped. Controversy still surrounds these rocks, but there are a few things we do know that influence the sounds. While size, shape, and how the rocks are supported certainly influence the sound produced, it is thought that the density and their high content of iron and aluminum may be the reason for the ringing sound.
While visiting, be sure to also check out Buck County’s largest waterfall.
Slide Rock - Arizona
Slide Rock is located 7 miles north of Sedona, Arizona, in the Coconino National Forest. This state park got its name from the natural water slide chute created from Oak Creek. Visitors can slide down the slippery rocks, dip their feet in the water while taking in the incredible red rock views, or take a dip in one of the larger pools.
As one of Arizona’s most sought after landmarks, prepare to arrive early so that you can snag a parking spot. Parking is limited, and this place fills up quickly on hot days. Make a day of it and bring a picnic and the whole family. The kids can enjoy sliding down the creek while the adults can relax on the red rock “beaches.”
Interestingly enough, this impressive landmark is actually located on a 43-acre apple farm, but that is often overlooked. Each autumn there is a Fall Festival at the park. Visitors can buy (or pick their own) apples and witness the original apple sorting machine used at the farm. There are 13 varieties of apples grown on the property that you can try! This family-friendly event is free with your park admission.
In addition to Slide Rock, there are also three short hiking trails within this state park. These include the Pendley Homestead Trail (.25 miles), Slide Rock Route (.3 miles), and Clifftop Nature Trail (.25).
Custer State Park - South Dakota
Custer State Park in South Dakota is known for its scenic drives, historic sights, lakes, camping, resorts, but most importantly, its wildlife. Named one of the Ten Best Wildlife Destinations in the World, this state park is home to a large buffalo population. Each year there is an Annual Buffalo Roundup which attracts over 10,000 visitors to watch experienced cowboys move the heard from the state park to national park land.
Now in its 51st year, this event was originally a way to keep track of herds and getting them onto protected land so they could be vaccinated and auctioned off. The profits of the auction went back into the state park system. Nowadays the roundup has turned into a large arts festival where you can enjoy great BBQ, dancing, and more. For more on this incredible experience, learn about Laura Grier’s first-hand experience at this All-American safari.
Oneonta Gorge - Oregon
Do you like waterfalls? If so, you’ve probably heard of the famous Multnomah Falls in Oregon, but did you know about the falls next door surrounding Oneonta Gorge? This hidden gem is located in the Columbia River Gorge and is known as one of America’s most beautiful hikes. While technically not a state park, this landmark is designated as a botanical area.
If you plan to make the trek, be prepared to get wet. You will need to walk through waters which can reach up to chest level at times, and you will have to climb over a major log jam to continue along the path. Depending on the time of year, the water may be freezing cold, but the hike is totally worth it. You will encounter four major waterfalls along this hike including Upper Oneonta Falls, Middle Oneonta Falls, Lower Oneonta Falls, and the Triple falls.
This mossy hike is only a 2.7-mile loop, however, we recommend adding on the additional side trip to Triple Falls which is another 1.8 miles roundtrip.
The Wave - Arizona
The Wave is a sandstone rock formation located in Arizona near its border with Utah. As with the famous Antelope Canyon, The Wave is becoming a highly sought after spot for hikers and photographers for its unique terrain. The incredible U-shaped erosions of the rock date back to the Jurassic age when rainwater flowed and cut troughs into the sandstone. For those that visit, the best time to photograph The Wave is midday when there are no shadows across the sandstone. One of the shortest hikes is about 6 miles roundtrip, but there is very little shade, strong winds, and high temperatures much of the year.
This hike is not for the faint of heart and is so exclusive that only 20 people get to experience it each day due to the fragile nature of the rock formations. 10 passes are reserved for hikers that book online months in advance, and 10 next-day permits are available for walk-ups at the visitor's center. Hikers have died due to cardiac arrest from the extreme heat, so it is best to hike early in the morning and be well prepared for all conditions.
Is there a hidden state, county, or private park that you just can’t get enough of?
What ones are on your bucket list?