These City Parks Are Better Than Most State Parks

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Gas Works Park in Seattle, WA glows alongside Lake Union and the Seattle skyline.

All across the country, cities are showing off by creating state-of-the-art parks for everyone to enjoy. These parks aren’t your typical teeter-totter and curly slides either, and they’re not just for kids. We’ve found 10 of the best city parks that are better than most state parks. Let’s take a look!

What Is a City Park?

A city park is a designated green space for recreation. Local municipalities fund and maintain it. These parks often include walking paths, playgrounds, and other outdoor recreational areas. The purpose of these parks is to encourage outdoor recreation and community.

A city park is a public-use space with use restrictions set by the local government. These parks may host festivals and other community activities. You’re also likely to find restrooms and water fountains.

What Is a State Park?

State parks are protected areas managed at the state level. The purpose of state parks is to preserve an area’s natural beauty, resources, or historical significance. Some parks accommodate outdoor recreational activities like camping, boating, and hiking but usually have rules and regulations users must follow.

Because states manage these parks, upkeep and enforcement of regulations can vary from one park to the next. State parks that don’t experience much traffic won’t get as much priority as parks that experience higher crowds.

10 City Parks That Are Better Than Most State Parks

When it comes to memorable parks, people love to hype up national and state parks. However, we’ve found 10 city parks that are better than most state parks. Let’s get started!

1. Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri

Address: 5595 Grand Dr, St. Louis, MO 63112 

The city of St. Louis manages and maintains this 1,326-acre park. Forest Park opened in 1876 and was the site of several major events, including the 1904 World’s Fair and the Summer Olympics. The World’s Fair Pavilion is an open-air shelter available to rent and is one of the park’s most popular and impressive attractions.

If you’re looking to enjoy natural beauty, the park has that too. Guests can find the 75-ft Flegel Falls waterfall, John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest, and the 17-acre playspace opened in 2021. There are plenty of opportunities for guests to enjoy native and diverse plants and animals within the park.  

2. Patterson Park in Baltimore, Maryland

Address: 2601 E Baltimore St, Baltimore, MD 21224

This park in Baltimore is packed with historical significance. In the War of 1812, American troops stood ready for the battle of North Point here. A decade and a half later, William Patterson, a wealthy shipping merchant, donated six acres to create a public walk space. This made Patterson Park the oldest park in Baltimore and the first gift to any city for public recreation. The park later hosted a hospital and camp for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

Schools and churches often use the grounds for community activities. It’s not uncommon to find children and families enjoying multiple athletic fields, ice rinks, and playgrounds. In the summer months, guests can enjoy water recreation at the swimming pool or boat lake.

3. Gas Works Park in Seattle, Washington

Address: 2101 N Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98103

This 19-acre park sits on the former Seattle Gas Light Company site on the north shore of Lake Union. The park has a unique sundial that uses a guest’s shadow to tell the time. You can also find a beautiful view of Seattle from practically anywhere in the park. You may not be able to fish, swim, or boat in the water, but that doesn’t detract from the views from the 12.5-mile Burke-Gilman Trail.

This Seattle gem is a perfect place to post up and enjoy a picnic while watching seaplanes land and take off on Lake Union with the Seattle skyline as the backdrop. Many visitors also enjoy spending time at the large play barn where guests can climb on the sole surviving smoke arrestor hood from the days of the Seattle Gas Light Company. The park also has a big hill where people fly kites. If you’re looking for a spot to enjoy a picnic or watch the sunset, Seattle’s Gas Works Park might just be it!

Pro Tip: If you are looking to explore more than just Gas Works Park, check out these 8 must-do activities in Seattle, WA!

4. Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Address: 2650 S John Williams Way East, Tulsa, OK 74114

Located along the bank of the Arkansas River in Tulsa is Gathering Place. This 66.5-acre park is a natural space with programs to provide inclusive and engaging experiences for all ages and walks of life. This park is unlike any other park in the country as it offers many unique and free experiences for all ages. The park’s nearly half a billion-dollar cost is the largest private gift given to a community in this country.

The park has many opportunities for playing, learning, and dining. In terms of physical activities, you’ll find a five-acre playground, sports courts, a BMX pump track, and a skate park. There are also several gardens, pathways, and trails to explore. There’s so much to see and do at this park; you’ll likely need a couple of visits to see it all. However, considering the park still isn’t finished, you’re likely going to need to plan a return trip in the future.

5. ​​Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California

Address: 4730 Crystal Springs Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027

This massive 4,310-acre park is one of the largest city parks in all of North America. The park’s 1,625-ft elevation offers an unforgettable view of the City of Angels. Guests can view many of the native plants and animals that call California home. Much of the land is protected and remains unchanged since Native American villages occupied the area.

Guests will enjoy numerous educational and cultural experiences, miles of hiking or horseback riding, and many other recreational activities. You can get glimpses of the famous Hollywood sign, visit Griffith Observatory, or enjoy a show at the Greek Theatre while in the park. It’s never a dull moment when you visit Griffith Park.

Pro Tip: If you are planning on visiting the City of Angels, check out these 10 wonderful things to do in Los Angeles to make you fall in love with it!

6. Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California

Address: 501 Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA 94117

The third most visited park in the U.S. sits on 1,017 acres in San Francisco. The park is home to a bison paddock, fly-fishing pools, a large playground with concrete slides, and a 1914 Herschell-Spillman Company carousel. This park’s architecture and natural beauty make this a one-of-a-kind city park that’s hard to beat.

The ever-changing colors in the botanical gardens and nature trails make every trip to this park unique. You can experience the seasons while strolling through the 55 acres of gardens and landscaped spaces. If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air in a large city, Golden Gate Park is a great option to consider.

7. Forest Park in Portland, Oregon

Address: 2960 NW Upshur St, Portland, OR 97210

Our second Forest Park on this list! This Forest Park is a 5,200-acre park in Portland that’s home to hundreds of native wildlife and plant species. If you’re looking to experience a Pacific Northwest forest, you don’t even have to leave the Portland city limits. It’s the perfect place for those who need a quick fix to connect with nature and enjoy life in the city.

While you won’t find playgrounds in this city park, there are plenty of trails to enjoy. This park is a paradise for anyone looking to enjoy hiking or biking. With the 30-mile Wildwood Trail, hikers will likely run out of daylight before they run out of trails to hike. In addition, the park is home to 25 miles of roads, fire lanes, and trails for biking. While equestrian use is allowed on 25 miles of the trails, parking is in short supply, making parking a horse trailer difficult.

8. Royal Gorge Park in Canon City, Colorado

Address: 4218 Co Rd 3A, Canon City, CO 81212

Royal Gorge Park has welcomed more than 26 million visitors. The park sits 1,503 ft above the river. This unique park is millions of years in the making as its primary focal point is the 1,200-ft deep canyon formed by the Arkansas River. Walking across the bridge is a mixture of inspiration and excitement. If you’re looking for a bit more adrenaline, you can take a gondola shuttle across as you dangle above the canyon. However, the most extreme visitors will get their thrills on America’s highest zip line.

Other opportunities in the canyon include whitewater rafting, a historic railroad, and even a state-of-the-art dinosaur museum. You can see real dinosaur fossils and interactive displays of the massive creatures that once roamed the area. If you travel with any dinosaur enthusiasts, you won’t want to miss this park!

Pro Tip: If you’re interested in seeing Colorado and more of the western states but don’t know where to start, check out this guide on how to plan an RV trip out west!

9. Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois

Address: 337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601

Grant Park is a 319-acre park located in Chicago’s Loop community. The park is named after the Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. The park contains many of Chicago’s famous attractions like Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The park houses performance venues, gardens, art, sports, and harbor facilities. It’s almost like Chicago’s version of New York’s Central Park.

Whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy the Chicago skyline, let your four-legged friends run, or experience a family-friendly environment, Grant Park offers it. You can easily spend a large portion of the day walking and exploring the various offerings in this park.

10. Governors Island in New York City, New York 

Address: 10 South Street, Slip 7, New York, NY 10004

This 172-acre island is minutes from Lower Manhattan and provides some of the city’s best views. You can also see the Statue of Liberty. The park provides year-round educational and cultural experiences. Guests can also easily access the National Park Service’s national monument.

The park offers dozens of historic buildings for guests to explore. In the future, Governors Island hopes to continue to expand its guest offerings by including public art and cultural spaces to promote research and education regarding the global climate crisis. 

Plan a Visit to One of These Epic City Parks

Gone are the days when park titles had to end with “state park” or “national park” to be great. Cities across the country are investing in infrastructures to help cater to the needs of residents. The results of their efforts are some fantastic parks for residents and travelers passing through. We’ve shared 10 of the best city parks with you; how many of them have you visited?

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