The Wonders of America's State Parks

In partnership with
Instructor Joe Yogerst,
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Course No. 9788
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Explore the important role state parks have played in preserving the nation’s history and landscape.
  • numbers Learn which state parks offer the best options for hiking, biking, skiing, and other recreational activities.
  • numbers Consider what makes state parks different from national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.
  • numbers Get helpful tips and strategies for making the most out of your next visit to one of these state parks.

Course Overview

Enormous mountain ranges and breathtaking gorges. Wild sea shores and lazy rivers. Ghost towns and battlefields. Pristine lakes and coral reefs. Not to mention nearly 25,000 campsites, 52,000 miles of hiking trails, over 300 marinas, and hundreds of pools and ski slopes and golf courses. Encompassing more than 18 million acres of land, America’s state parks feature a variety of adventures that is nothing short of astounding.

There’s so much more to America’s natural wonders than the Grand Canyon and Old Faithful. In fact, if you’re looking for a remarkable treasure trove of wilderness, wildlife, history, and recreation, look no further than your own backyard—within one of the more than 8,000 state parks across the United States.

Whether it’s Niagara Falls in New York, Pennekamp Coral Reef in the Florida Keys, or the redwood state parks of northern California, America’s state-managed lands offer something for every kind of visitor. Stopping for a day trip? Camping out for an entire week? Traveling from the comfort of your favorite armchair? No matter what your passion, sense of adventure, or budget is, you’ll find a state park that suits your needs and represents a powerful lesson in America’s natural and human heritage. It’s one thing to read about America’s story—it’s another thing entirely to actually live it.

So, what’s the best way to get the most out of your visit to these incredible places? There’s no better person to ask than travel journalist Joe Yogerst, a writer for National Geographic Books who has spent his career exploring the amazing natural and historic landmarks on display at state parks. And in The Wonders of America’s State Parks, he guides you on a riveting adventure through more than 100 state wilderness areas stretching from New England to the Pacific Northwest to the Hawaiian Islands. You’ll learn how these state parks came into existence, what makes them such a special part of America’s story, and how to maximize your experience, whether you’re looking for historical insights, panoramic views, or a rejuvenating hike. Mr. Yogerst’s 24 lectures will infuse you with the same enthusiasm he shares for these awesome natural, historical, and recreational wonders.

State Parks: Earth’s “Coolest Destinations”

America’s national parks are iconic for a reason, and they often get the lion’s share of public attention. But many state parks emerged long before the National Park Service made it a mission to preserve and conserve America’s wild spaces.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, while the federal government kept itself busy with transforming America into an industrial powerhouse, state officials took it upon themselves to establish their own parklands. Since their creation, state parks have:

  • Helped save the bison from complete extinction;
  • Preserved California’s majestic, ancient coastal redwoods;
  • Enshrined landmarks like Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace; and
  • Given rise to popular sports including mountain biking.

No wonder Mr. Yogerst describes spots that focus on preserving living history—places like New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, Maryland’s Assateague State Park, Colorado’s Garden Park Fossil Area, and dozens more—as “among the coolest destinations on planet Earth.”

Enjoy Virtual Tours of State Parks

Whether you’re planning your next family vacation or simply want to explore America from the comfort of home, The Wonders of America’s State Parks offers virtual tours unlike anything you can get from a simple travel guide.

With contagious excitement and enthusiasm, Mr. Yogerst weaves history, geology, and culture to create a comprehensive overview of what you’ll find in some of the nation’s most incredible state-owned lands—and why they matter. In lectures that touch on everything from environmental science to geology to biology, you’ll ford rivers, climb mountains, drive through deserts, and snorkel along coral reefs in different regions of the country.

  • Niagara Falls: Established in 1885, Niagara Falls attracts an estimated 10 million visitors each year (as much as Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks combined). The oldest state park in the United States, its falls are arrayed across a 3,400-foot stretch of the Niagara Escarpment between upstate New York and Canada’s Ontario province.
  • The Florida Keys: Comprised of around 1,700 sandy islands, the Florida Keys encompass celebrated spots like Key West and Key Largo as well as sandbar islands like Molasses Key. Stretching 190 miles from south of Miami to the Dry Tortugas, the Florida Keys are the world’s third-longest barrier reef after the ones in Australia and Belize.
  • The Great Lakes: Recent restoration efforts have transformed Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior into can’t-miss state parks that will deepen your appreciation for these geographical marvels. Formed by glaciation during the ice age, the Great Lakes are home to spots including the iconic Mackinac Island State Park.
  • The Alaskan Frontier: Despite being home to astonishing national parks, America’s “last frontier” also contains more than 120 state parks—most of which are unspoiled and uncrowded. Alaska state parks are home to everything from glaciers and tundra to grizzly bears and caribou to relics from the legendary gold rush days.
  • The Mississippi River: Stretching from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River is a 2,320-mile waterway that flows right through the American heartland. Interestingly, very little of the river falls within the boundaries of federal parks. Rather, the majority of its landmarks are found at state parks including Fort Snelling State Park.

For every state park highlighted in this course, you’ll get a list of some of the top things to see and do. Among the many fascinating spots Mr. Yogerst explores are:

  • The Old Man of the Mountain Memorial at Franconia Notch State Park, a roadside stop that helps visitors imagine a much-beloved rock formation that crumbled in 2003;
  • Beaming Barney at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, a towering red-and-white coastal lighthouse erected in 1859 that offers panoramic views of the Jersey Shore;
  • The Porcupine Mountains at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, dubbed by the indigenous Ojibwa people for their resemblance to a crouching porcupine; and
  • Fort Adams in Rhode Island, a massive masonry bastion constructed after the War of 1812 to protect the United States’s Eastern Seaboard from future attacks.

Get a Wealth of Helpful Tips and Recommendations

Overwhelmed by the possibilities that await you at America’s great state parks? Mr. Yogerst’s lectures are the perfect way to organize a future trip. Not only does he provide you with a wealth of historical background, he also includes his own tips and recommendations on what to see—and how to see it.

For example, while Mr. Yogerst doesn’t normally recommend a specific route through a state park, he does suggest you start your visit to the Adirondacks with a drive along State Route 28 through the Upper Hudson Valley for a better look at its gorgeous rivers and lakes. And when visiting the five state parks in the Tidewater region, he suggests renting a car and driving in a circle starting from Assateague Island and ending at Yorktown.

Of course, Mr. Yogerst has his own list of personal favorite parks and sites for you to consider. Chief among them: the little-known and least-visited Garden Park Fossil Area in the Colorado Rockies, which is one of the world’s great dinosaur graveyards.

Embark on a National Treasure Hunt

An added benefit of The Wonders of America’s State Parks: You’ll get so much more engagement than you would from a pamphlet or brochure. Every lecture comes complete with detailed maps and guides designed specifically for this course—not to mention captivating photographs that capture the astounding beauty of the American landscape.

Whether you’re preparing for your next vacation or just want to explore the world alongside an expert travel writer, these lectures are a window into the astounding variety of natural, historical, and recreational treasures right in our nation’s backyard.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 26 minutes each
  • 1
    Niagara Falls: America's Oldest State Park
    Start your tour of some of the most breathtaking state parks in the United States with a look at the nation’s oldest state park: Niagara Falls in Upstate New York. Established in 1885, this state park is home to three majestic falls—American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls—and a rich array of flora and fauna. x
  • 2
    The Pennsylvania Wilds: Wilderness Reborn
    The state parks of north-central Pennsylvania, located within the Pennsylvania Wilds Conversation Landscape Initiative, lure more than 12 million people each year. In this lecture, explore some of the can't-miss features at Cherry Springs State Park, Leonard Harrison State Park, Cook Forest State Park, Sinnemahoning State Park, and more. x
  • 3
    New York’s Adirondacks: “Forever Wild”
    Stretching more than 6 million acres of Upstate New York, Adirondack Park boasts over 3,000 lakes and ponds; 30,000 miles of rivers and streams; and 5,500 campsites. From the “Great Camps” of the Gilded Age’s rich and famous to Lake Placid, learn what makes this large tract of land just as important as the nation’s federal reserves. x
  • 4
    Exploring New Hampshire's White Mountains
    Dive into the adventures within the White Mountain National Forest. There's Franconia Notch, home to the legendary (and defunct) rock formation, the Old Man of the Mountain; Crawford Notch State Park, founded the same year the White Mountain National Forest was established; and Bretton Woods, which lies at the base of Mount Washington. x
  • 5
    The Yankee Coast: Plymouth to Montauk
    Drive just an hour and a half from Plymouth to Newport and you can visit every single state park covered in this lecture. Start with the Pilgrim Memorial (America's most famous rock), then journey to the masonry bastion of Fort Adams in Rhode Island, and end up at Montauk Point and Camp Hero State Parks at the far eastern tip of Long Island. x
  • 6
    New Jersey Pineland Legends and Landscapes
    A lurking, devilish crypto-creature. A ghost town from the 19th century. Towering coastal lights and undeveloped barrier islands. These are just a few of the many fascinating aspects of the state parks found inside New Jersey's Pinelands and the famous Jersey Shore, including Wharton State Forest and Island Beach State Park. x
  • 7
    The Tidewater South: America's Birthplace
    Visit a region of Virginia and Maryland where you can experience more than 400 years of American history, including the Jamestown settlement and the battle of Yorktown. In addition, learn about the unspoiled natural wonders you can find at places like Assateague State Park and the Great Dismal Swamp. x
  • 8
    Georgia and Carolina Islands: Lost in Time
    Get up close and personal with barrier island state parks in Georgia, South Carolina, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Discover the incredible variety of history, culture, and outdoor adventures waiting for you in spots like Reynolds Mansion State Park, Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, and Jockey's Ridge State Park. x
  • 9
    Southern Appalachian Peaks and Valleys
    Get a taste of what you can expect from a state park road trip through the southern Appalachians. Mr. Yogerst reveals the scenic jewels you can find within Alabama’s DeSoto State Park, northwest Georgia’s Fort Mountain, northeast Georgia’s Tullulah Gorge (the “Grand Canyon of the South”), and South Carolina’s Mountain Bridge. x
  • 10
    The Florida Keys: Tropical Paradise Parks
    See what is so special about Florida’s state park system—and the archipelago in which they’re found. Here, dive into several state parks in the Florida Keys, including John Pennekamp State Park, Bahia Honda State Park, Curry Hammock State Park, and the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park. x
  • 11
    West Texas: Where the West Is Still Wild
    Visit two awe-inspiring state parks in West Texas: first, Big Bend Ranch, located on the Rio Grande River and home to a vast backcountry you can only explore on unpaved desert roads, and second, Palo Duro Canyon, a 20-mile-wide canyon that offers the best horseback riding in the Texas Panhandle. x
  • 12
    Adventures in the Ozarks and Ouachitas
    What the Ozarks and Ouachitas—two rugged highland areas separated by the Arkansas River Valley—lack in height they more than make up for in the sheer variety of things to do there. Join Mr. Yogerst on an exploration of spots like the Ozark Folk Center State Park, Onondaga Cave State Park, and Lake Ouachita State Park. x
  • 13
    State Parks along the Mighty Mississippi
    The vast majority of natural and human landmarks along the 2,320-mile stretch of the Mississippi River can be found at state parks. Here, take a trip down Old Man River and hop from Itasca State Park in Minnesota through Columbus-Belmont State Park in Kentucky all the way to Rosedown Plantation in Louisiana. x
  • 14
    Presidential Parks in the Land of Lincoln
    Trace the formative years of Abraham Lincoln's life and learn how history and nature shaped one of the nation's most iconic presidents. You'll visit Lincoln Homestead State Park, Lincoln State Park, Lincoln's New Salem State Park, Brown County State Park, and John James Audubon State Park. x
  • 15
    The Great Lakes: Back from the Brink
    In recent years, the state parks in and around the Great Lakes have benefitted from major restoration efforts, making them must-see places to visit. In this lecture, explore Mackinac Island in Michigan, Indiana Dunes State Park near Chicago, South Bass Island State Park in Ohio's Lake Erie Archipelago, and more. x
  • 16
    The Black Hills: Nature and Native Heritage
    Attend a riveting buffalo auction where prices range as high as $5,000 per animal. Explore 71,000 acres of woodland, prairie, lakes, and mountains. Visit the renowned boomtown of Deadwood. These are just a few of the many adventures on offer in the Black Hills of South Dakota—all of which you’ll learn about here. x
  • 17
    Parks of the Colorado Front Range
    Despite being one of our national treasures, very little of the Colorado Rockies is protected by the National Park Service. Discover why the best way to explore Colorado's mighty mountains is by visiting amazing state parks from State Forest State Park in the far north to Lincoln Park in the heart of Denver to the dinosaur graveyard at Garden Park Fossil Area. x
  • 18
    Southwest Red Rock and Desert Canyon Parks
    From the strange serenity of Cathedral Rock to flaming red sandstone formations in the Valley of Fire to a basin named for the famous Kodachrome slide film, tour the desert canyon landscapes of the American Southwest. It's a grand loop that takes you through 900 miles of scenery and 200 years of geologic history. x
  • 19
    California's Badlands: Anza-Borrego
    Mr. Yogerst gets a little personal in this lecture on California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—which he’s been going to his entire life. Explore the melted landscape of the Borrego Badlands, the sandy trails of Coyote Canyon, the majesty of the Salton Sea, and the natural springs of the Vallecito Valley. x
  • 20
    Big Blue: The Beauty of Lake Tahoe
    Lake Tahoe holds the title of the largest alpine lake in North America, and it's a scenic wonder (and recreational treasure) all year round. Spend some time poking around the lake's iconic state parks, including Emerald Bay on the California side and Sand Harbor on the Nevada shore. x
  • 21
    California's Coastal Redwood Parks
    Northern California's coastal redwoods are among the tallest and oldest living things on the planet. Learn what makes coastal redwoods different from their cousins in the Sierra Nevada, what mobilized federal and state efforts to save the redwoods, and the best ways to see them for yourself at Prairie Creek, Del Norte Coast, and Jedediah Smith state parks. x
  • 22
    Washington's Orca Islands: The San Juans
    Want a fascinating glimpse of quirky American history? Look no further than a journey through the state parks of the San Juan Islands. Tour this mosaic of islands and waterways, home to state parks that reflect the archipelago's bucolic lifestyles, including Lime Kiln Point State Park and Matia Island Marine State Park. x
  • 23
    Alaska's State Parks: The Last Frontier
    Sprawling across 1.6 million acres of wilderness, Wood-Tikchik is one of the largest state parks in the United States (around the same size as Delaware). Chugach, on the other hand, is an easily reachable state park just miles from downtown Anchorage. Both parks—and their can’t-miss sights—are covered here. x
  • 24
    Hawaii's Primeval Napali Coast
    Hawaii's Napali Coast is a vision of paradise on Earth, with remote beaches, rainforest valleys, 40-story waterfalls, ancient villages, and plenty of wildlife. End this course on a tropical note with a look at spots including Ha'ena State Park, Na Pali Natural Area Reserve, and Waimea Canyon State Park. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Ability to download 24 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 256-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 256-page printed course guidebook
  • Photographs
  • Maps
  • Parks list

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Your professor

Joe Yogerst

About Your Professor

Joe Yogerst
Joe Yogerst is a journalist and travel writer. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Oregon. An avid world traveler since his teenage years, Mr. Yogerst has set foot on all seven continents and visited more than 160 countries, colonies, and territories. He has worked as a writer and editor on four continents,...
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The Wonders of America's State Parks is rated 3.5 out of 5 by 41.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of places we want to visit My wife and I are building a teardrop camper and, when North America opens up again, we plan on exploring. This is a wonderful guide to many of the state parks we hope to visit. We were almost dissuaded by the negative reviews, but sure are glad we decided to buy the course. Perhaps the 2nd camera on the narrator is a little distracting as he keeps his gaze steady on the one in front of him, but he does a fine job, and there are many pictures and videos to illustrate the parks' features. A great overview that will help us plan our trips. The guide book will live in the camper.
Date published: 2020-11-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wooden presenter Presenter sits on a bench and reads off a teleprompter. Great Courses program on geology as presented in National Parks was far better.
Date published: 2020-11-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Purchase the book Lecture after lecture an image of a person, same background, seldom making eye contact, except with perhaps the tele-prompter. Other than a few images in color, reading the book has more interest.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT COURSE This course I really loved, and might watch it again, I really learned a lot!
Date published: 2020-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Wonders of America's State Parks I bought this less than a month ago and viewed chapter after chapter. Usually, I have to take a break. But when each park story ended, I wanted to see where I was going next. The instructor doesn't look at the camera every second, true. But, who cares! He gets a five anyway because he is knowledgeable on so many details, easy paced and you could tell he loves this subject and enjoys sharing it. The parks' history, details, geography are covered so you have so much more to the story. He includes historical brushes with the National Park Service explaining why the NPS didn't pick up the places; answers a lot of questions. There are even side chapters on geocaching and leave no trace principles. Good job! This course will be so valuable for my future travel plans. Please do a The Wonders of America's State Parks Part Two.
Date published: 2020-08-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great information for travel in the U.S. After visiting a number of National Parks, this course offers solid information going to state parks. While the narrator is more blessed as a writer than a lecturer, he is engaging with a blend of local and national historical significance. The itineraries he provides for each lecture are practical, and there is an abundance of cultural activities suggested for most of the parks. Although there are many more state parks that he can not address, this course delivers a great primer for planning.
Date published: 2020-08-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Where are the parks? I have viewed four of the sessions and can tell you what the instructor looks like, but not what one of the parks is like at all. A course about state parks should show the parks, not the instructor sitting, talking about them. I am very disappointed that The Great Courses released this program and made me pay for it. It doesn't live up to the title, it doesn't live up to my expectations, and it certainly is not worth paying for. Don't buy it.
Date published: 2020-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Travels I took copious notes as I "traveled" through these State parks, hoping that soon I will be able to do road trips again and go and visit some of them! During this COVID lockdown, this course is a perfect way to still feel that you are on a trip! I loved the details and history included in the description of the parks. One wish: that the presenter would have been filmed facing the camera at all times.
Date published: 2020-07-17
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