12 State Parks Every Travel Nurse Should Visit

Mar 22, 2024

Picture this: You just left your shift as a travel nurse and have three days off to explore your new area. Colorful mountains, crystal clear lakes, and wildlife like you’ve never experienced before. There are lots of state parks in each state that travel nurses flock to each year, but in this list, we’re going to focus on some of the hidden gems across the Midwest and give you some local tips along the way.

Missouri State Parks

Besides its barbecue, and the Kansas City Chiefs, Missouri is known for its unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park

Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a beautiful park that offers smooth rock canyons across the Black River. The area is perfect for hiking, swimming, and Kayaking. The nearby town of Ironton has a lot of local dining options and even a coffee shop called Arcadia Valley that roasts its own coffee.

Lake of the Ozarks

The Lake of the Ozarks is a huge lake in Missouri. It expands its arms into multiple cities, but the most populated city is Osage Beach. The lake is extremely popular in the summer months and offers a wide range of lake activities, like boat/kayak rentals, fishing, and lakeside bars. Certain areas of the lake are mostly known for the large groups of people that go there all summer and party at the lakeside bars. There are also a lot of golf courses nearby if hanging out on the lake isn’t your thing.

Kansas State Parks

The Sunflower State is known for its Wild West history and modern innovation. Kansas is filled with small towns, unique cities, and some beautiful, and often overlooked scenery.

Cheney State Park

This park is located near Wichita Kansas and offers a lot of water-based recreational activities! It’s most popular for families looking for a fun lake day, and since it’s near Wichita there’s a lot of great food options. Head over to Doo-Dah Diner and experience the best Diner in Wichita. Everything they make is made from scratch and is loved by locals and visitors alike!

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

Let’s take a quick break from lakes and rivers and talk about Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. The state park is located in western Kansas and showcases a mile-long stretch of 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs! The park has two permanent hiking trails that will take you to multiple overlooks. Keep in mind the park is only open during the daytime and doesn’t offer any kind of camping, so plan for a single-day trip if you want to hike at Little Jerusalem. Since the park is relatively new, there aren’t any facilities available to visitors so make sure you bring plenty of water, and a bag to pack your trash in.

See also: Travel Nurse FAQ’s

Oklahoma State Parks

travel nurse walking in an oklahoma state parks

Nicknamed the “Sooner State” for those who settled there before it was officially opened for land runs, Oklahoma offers a surprising mix of landscapes and cultures.

The Wichita Mountains

The Wichita Mountains are a wildlife refuge in Oklahoma that has free-range bison and long horns! The state park has a lot of hiking and biking trails, as well as campgrounds and picnic areas. If you go camping in the fall you’ll fall asleep and wake up to the sounds of Elk calling to each other. Since it is so far away from civilization the stars come out in full force at night, so make sure you come ready to stargaze.

Lake Murray State Park

Lake Murray State Park offers just about every activity other lakes offer but the town surrounding the lake has a lot of unique experiences that make this state park stand out. Along one of the shorelines sits a super fun minigolf course, a full-sized golf course, rock climbing, and ATV trails. Though the town seems small, it has a little bit of everything for adventure seekers.

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Colorado State Parks

mountains in colorado state parks

Alright mountain lovers, this one is for you. Colorful Colorado is filled with scenic views and powdery slopes, and depending on what time of year you go, you’ll find a whole list of things you can do.

State Forest State Park

Even though its name is a little weird, State Forest State Park is a beautiful place known for its vast amount of wildlife. The state park encompasses 71,000 acres and includes vast forests, jagged peaks, and abundant wildlife. Keep your head on a swivel for moose, who are common to the state park. It’s important to note that some areas of the state park require 4WD to be able to access them and during the winter months only the most experienced winter adventurers can access the park because of how bad the snow gets. Nearby reservoirs and other bodies of water make for a great place to kayak and listen to the animals around you.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

Rock climbers! This one is for you! Eldorado Canyon State Park is the place for you to explore. They have over 500 climbing routes throughout the park, so no matter how many times your travel nurse adventures take you to Colorado, you’ll never run out of new routes to try. If climbing isn’t your thing, the state park also offers a wide variety of hiking/biking trails. The area also has some great trout fishing areas, so don’t forget to bring your fishing pole!

Nebraska State Parks

The Cornhuskers State stretches across the Great Plains and is known for its rich history that was shaped by Native Americans and Homesteaders. Though it isn’t normally the first place that comes to mind when you’re looking for a unique travel opportunity, it has a lot of awesome parks worth exploring.

Chimney Rock State Park

This State Park served as a landmark for centuries. Native Americans and American pioneers used this larger rock formation as a navigational landmark for the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails. Today the rock formation serves as a state park with a few different hiking trails and a museum about the Oregon Trail.

Niobrara State Park

Niobrara borders Nebraska and Missouri and has pretty much everything. The state park offers beautiful landscapes, camping, fishing, and water activities. There are a lot of popular hiking and horseback riding trails in the area. Though the park is open year-round, it is important to note that Nebraska is lucky enough to experience all 4 seasons, so make sure you pack accordingly.

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Minnesota State Parks

Minnesota is known for how many lakes they have. So it should be no surprise that the state parks in Minnesota have something to do with a lake. If you’re willing to try new things, these state parks have a lot of fun activities for travel nurses no matter where you are coming from.

Itasca State Park

Minnesota’s oldest state park the Itasca State Park offers a variety of activities. It’s the source of the Mississippi River and offers beautiful scenery for nature lovers. Itasca State Park is home to hiking trails that cater to all experience levels, with family-friendly routes to more challenging hiking paths. While you’re walking, make sure you keep your eyes on the water and look out for wild otters. The lake is great for fishing, and if you’re on a winter travel assignment be sure to try ice fishing if you haven’t already. Just make sure you pack really warm clothes or rent a shanty. If ice fishing isn’t your thing, you can go cross-country skiing!

Voyageurs National Park

Campers, boaters, and snow lovers rejoice! This National Park is 218,000 acres of water, so if you love being on the water this is probably heaven on earth. Voyageurs National Park has so much water that boating is the primary form of travel throughout the park. During the summer a lot of boats are on the water doing watersports, and hanging out on the islands within the lakes. The park has campgrounds so if you’re looking to spend some time outside on your next travel assignment Voyageurs may be the place for you.

Each state has more state parks to offer than what we listed, so if you don’t see the right thing for you, chances are there is a park waiting for you to explore. So pack your bags, and get to traveling!

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