The West's Best State Parks

Near Moab, Utah

Even by the numbers, Dead Horse Point is wondrous. The5,250-acre park sits on a sandstone promontory that drops 2,000feet to the Colorado River. At its narrowest, Dead Horse Pointsqueezes to less than 90 feet across. Not surprisingly, the viewsfrom the edge are spectacular. Below you, the Colorado makes asharp bend through a landscape broken into a series of erodedterraces that resemble a more expansive version of the GrandCanyon.

One account has it that the point was named after a group ofwild horses rounded up by cowboys. The cowboys selected the bestand left. The remaining horses were unable to find their way offthe point and died. It’s an ugly image that sharply contrasts withthe grandeur found here today. – Matthew Jaffe

WHERE: From Moab, take U.S. 191 northwest 10 miles, turnleft 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 timein the life span of the towering redwoods here (many are more than1,500 years old), it does note a landmark in human terms. A centuryago, activists rallied to save the fern-dotted canyons, massivetrees, and chaparral-covered ridges in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Itwas a movement that led to the creation of California’s state parksystem, which now has 266 parks. At 18,000 acres, Big Basin is nolonger the state’s largest park, but the awe-inspiring redwoodsstill draw hikers and campers. The park kicks off its centennialparty on June 8 and hosts regular anniversary events throughSeptember 15. – Lisa Taggart

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

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

COST: $5 per car.

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

CONTACT: (831) 338-8860 or

Near Burlington, Washington

With its shoreline trails, windswept headlands, andnorthwesterly views of the San Juan Islands, Deception Pass reallyhas that island feel. To orient yourself to the park and its 38miles of trails, hike 1 mile east from Rosario Head on FidalgoIsland to Lighthouse Point. You’ll get great cross-channel views ofthe park’s Whidbey Island Unit and of the landmark Deception PassBridge that ties together the two parts of the 4,000-acre park. Twofreshwater lakes, sand dunes, old-growth forest, and a salt marshattract about 175 species of birds. Overhead you’ll hear whatlocals 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 18miles.

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 sandybeaches, Koke’e State Park is a rare island of Hawaiian foresttucked between rocks and a wet spot. The rocks are the rugged wallsedging the spectacularly deep gash of Waimea Canyon that edges theroad leading to the park. The wet spot is one of the planet’srainiest places: Alakai Swamp, along the park’s east flank. Andwhile visitors can hike both along the canyon rim and into themisty swamp, Koke’e’s real attractions are its small museum and itstrails through cool forests, where sandalwood and koa shade othernative plants. On clear days, drive up to the Puu o Kila overlookfor 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 incabins from $35; (808) 335-6061.

CONTACT: (808) 274-3444.

Near Calabasas, California

Not far from the filming site where Hawkeye and Trapper Johnoperated (in all their assorted ways) on the television show M*A*S*H, there’s some movement along the trail. In thefading light, the animal appears to be a coyote. But in realityit’s a pair of flirting and purring bobcats, content with eachother and obviously content with their home in what has beendescribed as the Yosemite of Southern California: Malibu CreekState Park. Its volcanic outcroppings, canyons, and valley oaksavanna 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 towardthe Pacific to the beach and wetlands of Malibu Lagoon State Beach.- M.J.

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