David Zaitz
The West's Best State Parks

Near Moab, Utah

Even by the numbers, Dead Horse Point is wondrous. The 5,250-acre park sits on a sandstone promontory that drops 2,000 feet to the Colorado River. At its narrowest, Dead Horse Point squeezes to less than 90 feet across. Not surprisingly, the views from the edge are spectacular. Below you, the Colorado makes a sharp bend through a landscape broken into a series of eroded terraces that resemble a more expansive version of the Grand Canyon.

One account has it that the point was named after a group of wild horses rounded up by cowboys. The cowboys selected the best and left. The remaining horses were unable to find their way off the point and died. It's an ugly image that sharply contrasts with the grandeur found here today. - Matthew Jaffe

WHERE: From Moab, take U.S. 191 northwest 10 miles, turn left on State 313, and continue 22 miles.

WHEN: Year-round.

COST: $7 per car.

CAMPING: 21 sites from $14; (800) 322-3770.

CONTACT: (435) 259-2614 or

Near Santa Cruz, California

Though Big Basin's 100th birthday marks only a blink of time in the life span of the towering redwoods here (many are more than 1,500 years old), it does note a landmark in human terms. A century ago, activists rallied to save the fern-dotted canyons, massive trees, and chaparral-covered ridges in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was a movement that led to the creation of California's state park system, which now has 266 parks. At 18,000 acres, Big Basin is no longer the state's largest park, but the awe-inspiring redwoods still draw hikers and campers. The park kicks off its centennial party on June 8 and hosts regular anniversary events through September 15. - Lisa Taggart

WHERE: From Boulder Creek near Santa Cruz, take State 236 west 9 miles.

WHEN: Year-round; damp and drippy in winter.

COST: $5 per car.

CAMPING: 186 sites from $12; (800) 444-7275. Tent cabins from $49 per night; (800) 874-8368.

CONTACT: (831) 338-8860 or

Near Burlington, Washington

With its shoreline trails, windswept headlands, and northwesterly views of the San Juan Islands, Deception Pass really has that island feel. To orient yourself to the park and its 38 miles of trails, hike 1 mile east from Rosario Head on Fidalgo Island to Lighthouse Point. You'll get great cross-channel views of the park's Whidbey Island Unit and of the landmark Deception Pass Bridge that ties together the two parts of the 4,000-acre park. Two freshwater lakes, sand dunes, old-growth forest, and a salt marsh attract about 175 species of birds. Overhead you'll hear what locals call "the sounds of freedom" from a different kind of bird: navy jets from nearby Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. - Jim McCausland

WHERE: From I-5 at Burlington, take State 20 west 18 miles.

WHEN: Year-round; winters are rainy.

COST: Free.

CAMPING: 251 sites from $14; (888) 226-7688.

CONTACT: (360) 902-8844 or

Kauai, Hawaii

Straddling a mountain nearly 4,000 feet above Kauai's sandy beaches, Koke'e State Park is a rare island of Hawaiian forest tucked between rocks and a wet spot. The rocks are the rugged walls edging the spectacularly deep gash of Waimea Canyon that edges the road leading to the park. The wet spot is one of the planet's rainiest places: Alakai Swamp, along the park's east flank. And while visitors can hike both along the canyon rim and into the misty swamp, Koke'e's real attractions are its small museum and its trails through cool forests, where sandalwood and koa shade other native plants. On clear days, drive up to the Puu o Kila overlook for views to the ocean far below. - Jeff Phillips

WHERE: From Waimea, drive 15 miles on State 550.

WHEN: Year-round; bring a warm waterproof jacket.

COST: Free.

CAMPING/LODGING: $5 camping permit required. 12 units in cabins from $35; (808) 335-6061.

CONTACT: (808) 274-3444.

Near Calabasas, California

Not far from the filming site where Hawkeye and Trapper John operated (in all their assorted ways) on the television show M*A*S*H, there's some movement along the trail. In the fading light, the animal appears to be a coyote. But in reality it's a pair of flirting and purring bobcats, content with each other and obviously content with their home in what has been described as the Yosemite of Southern California: Malibu Creek State Park. Its volcanic outcroppings, canyons, and valley oak savanna have been used in movies, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the original Planet of the Apes. The 10,000-acre park extends down toward the Pacific to the beach and wetlands of Malibu Lagoon State Beach. - M.J.

WHERE: South of the intersection of Las Virgenes Rd. and Mulholland Hwy., 4 miles south of U.S. 101 and 6 miles north of Pacific Coast Hwy.

WHEN: Year-round.

COST: $2 per person.

CAMPING: 50 sites from $12; (800) 444-7275.

CONTACT: (818) 880-0367 or

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