The First 4 Things To Do in Any State Park

State parks are one of the best options you’ll find for getting outside and enjoying what your local area has to offer. If you’re heading out to a state park for the first time, check these easy items off your list on the way in to make sure you’re prepared for a great adventure.

Get a Map

If you’re familiar with some of the follies of my first long hiking trip, you’ll know all about the importance of taking a map. This is true anywhere you go, even if you’re not planning on a long hike or a rugged trail. Your trusty map will tell you everything you need to know about the park including:

  • How long and difficult the trails are
  • Where campsites and restrooms are located
  • How to find parking
  • Which spots are best for your picnic.

You’ll usually get a map on your way in when you pay your entrance fee, but if it’s not offered to you, just ask. They’re free and incredibly important.

Scout Out the Hot Spots

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The ladders at Shades State Park

Before you hop onto the first trail, take a few minutes to identify the top features of each one. It’s unlikely that you’ll hit them all, so it’s worth looking over your options. Most parks have at least one unique feature that you’ll want to include on your agenda. If you’re in Indiana, it’s things like the ladders at Turkey Run and Shades, the tunnel at Clifty Falls, or the earthworks at Mounds.

You can also check the mileage and difficulty of the trails you want to hit, and map out your best route. Most state parks have an extensive network of trails that might loop around, switchback, or meet up with other trails. If you have a rough idea of where you’re going, you’ll know whether you want to hop off on Trail 5 when you come to it, or stay the route. If you’d rather wing it, just make sure you’re prepared. This approach can lead you to anything from a 15-minute stroll to a day-long hike, depending on which way you go.

Stop by the Visitor Center

The visitor center is easy to miss in many parks. If you don’t park in the right lot, you can bypass it entirely. However, this is a must-see stop for anyone who really wants to make the most of their visit, particularly if you haven’t been to the park before. Inside you’ll get a glimpse of local wildlife, brush up on any warnings in the area, and find all the information you need for a memorable day in the park, whether you’re looking for ranger-led talks or bird-watching tips. If you don’t see what you need, you’ll always find someone you can ask.

Grab Your Gear

The extent of what you’ll need varies wildly depending on the type of trails you’re tackling. If you’re headed on a short, moderate trail you probably don’t need much. I like to carry a water bottle. Adam is a camel but he always has his sunflower seeds. If you’re planning a longer hike, however, you’ll want to pack your bag well. Include plenty of water, sunscreen, bug spray, and snacks. Make sure you have a durable, comfortable backpack for your adventures. It’s an investment worth making.

Once you’re a pro, the prep won’t take nearly as long as it seems. In fact, if you fall in love with the parks like we have, your bag is probably packed and complete with maps by the door already.

You can find state parks just about anywhere. Not familiar with the nearest options? Start here with a quick search to see what’s around.

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