When you think of national parks, most people think of going out west to explore Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon. Few think to look East. Here are some of the Best East Coast National Parks In The USA for your next road trip. Many East Coast National Parks are just as beautiful and are often overlooked. The national park system is massive, and manages not only 63 national parks, but also hundreds of national monuments, historical sites, seashores, and forests. If you don’t want to be in huge crowds, then checking out some of the east coast national parks could be the answer for you.
From out of this world scenic drives, pristine coastline, underwater coral playgrounds, serene forests, and as far as the eye can see wetlands, these are just some reasons to visit the best East Coast National Parks.
Best East Coast National Parks: How am I defining the East
Basically this is focused on National Parks and historical sites/memorials that are run by National Park Service. This list is not in any particular order, but it is perfect to start exploring some of the natural beauty and history of the Eastern USA.
Newest National Park: New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia
First I would love to bring attention to the USA’s newest national park in West Virginia.The New River Gorge National Park recently was announced as a national park. The USA is welcoming its’ 63rd National Park, with over 70,000 acres, a 53 mile gorge, waterfall, and Appalachian Culture. This area has been a well kept secret for adventure travelers, with rock climbing, white water rafting, and hiking enthusiasts. Every year in the fall there is Gauley River Fest, a huge white water river festival, and the New River Gorge Bridge Festival that brings in a crowd. The closest city is Fayetteville has a small town feel, with outdoor outfitters leading trips to explore the outdoors of this national park this place would be great for all levels of explorers.
Be sure to not miss the most photographed location in West Virginia, Babcock State Park to see a historic mill on the side of a bubbling brook. There are so many things to do and the best thing about this park is that you will be one of the first visitors to the new national park! Also, there are so many things to do in West Virginia it makes for a great road trip (learn more in my guide to West Virginia).
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas is one of the best National Parks on the East Coast of the USA. It is actually the most secluded National Park located 70 miles from Florida’s Key West in the Caribbean. Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a series of tiny islands. This East Coast National Park is remote and is not cheap or easy to visit. But it is one of the top National Parks in the United States. It is popular amongst boaters, and is frequently visited by history-buffs, snorkelers, and fishermen alike.
The islands of Dry Tortugas were discovered back in 1513 by Ponce de Leon. With the islands’ strategic position on the most strategic deepwater anchorages in North America, the United States quickly constructed Fort Jefferson to protect the American heartland. Now, those visiting this beautiful National Park can happily stroll the beautiful historic fort, snorkel the surrounding reef, and enjoy excellent fishing conditions.
How to get there?
Dry Tortugas is not as easy to get to as the other East Coast National Parks, mostly because of its secluded location only accessible through ferry, boat charter, or seaplane. Most visitors take the Yankee Freedom III ferry departing from the Key West Ferry Terminal to spend a day at Dry Tortugas. If you are arriving on your own, stay clear of the afternoon to avoid tours. While there are a ton of amazing beaches in the Florida Keys, this is worth the journey for one of the best beaches in the Florida Keys.
The majority of people visiting Dry Tortugas National Park enjoy a day trip from Key West into the park, leaving around dusk. However, for those looking to stay on the island, Dry Tortugas offers a camping site at Fort Jefferson. This camping site is a great affordable option but is technically a primitive campsite requiring guests to bring everything they could need. Where to stay? Wild camp on Dry Tortugas, or find a great place to stay in Key West, Florida.
Ellie from Ellie’s Travel Tips: https://www.elliestraveltips.com/
Acadia National Park
A visit to Acadia National Park is the perfect New England experience. The national park is spread over several islands and peninsulas, and surrounded by water. There are dozens of amazing hiking trails, many of which go to peaks with sensational views over the surrounding seas and islands. Two famous – and challenging – hikes are the Beehive and the Precipice Trails. Both of these have some technical sections with iron ladders and rungs in the cliff face, but both of their peaks can be reached by easier trails around the backs of the hills, if this seems too daunting. There are also miles and miles of old carriage roads throughout the park, which are great for cycling.
The gateway town to Acadia is Bar Harbor, which is just outside the main Mount Desert Island section of the park. You can drive or take a bus to Bar Harbor. Once you are there, there are frequent seasonal shuttles through the park.
Most people stay in Bar Harbor or other nearby towns; however, if you are looking to save money, there are also plenty of campgrounds in and near the park.
Best Tips For Visiting Acadia
The scenic park loop drive is a great way to discover many of the scenic spots within the park. People looking to relax can enjoy popovers (a New England specialty) al fresco at Jordan Pond House or dine on fresh lobster at a lobster shack.
For those who want to get out on the water, there is kayaking, sailing, taking a sunset cruise, or catching the local ferry to the nearby Cranberry islands. This is a perfect place to explore tiny coastal fishing villages. There are also beaches at Sand Beach and Echo Lake. The best times to visit Acadia is in summer, when visitors can enjoy all of the activities. However, fall is popular for the famous New England fall foliage. A week is perfect for visitors looking to explore the park in its’ entirety.
Be aware that the drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak in the park, gets very crowded and there is now a reservation system to drive up for sunrise and sunsets. For less crowded areas of the park, head to the Schoodic Peninsula area of the park.
James Ian from Parks Collecting https://parkscollecting.com/
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, and also, one of the largest protected areas in the country, with over 500,000 acres of land. The park offers incredible opportunities for road trips from some major cities, and it has also easy access from a number of airports. The National Park takes part of Tennessee and North Caroline states.
One of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains is to go hike with over 150 hiking trails to choose from, from easy to strenuous levels, it is a paradise for any outdoor lover. Here you have the opportunity to be very close to nature, with lots of wildlife viewing, including black bear, elk, and many other animals.
The best way to explore the mountains is to have your own car to visit different areas of the Mountains, waterfalls, and the charming mountain towns. A popular lodging while visiting is to rent a cabin in the mountains, and there are several options to choose from, it depends on your preference and budget.
The Great Smoky Mountain is open all year round, and you don’t have to pay an entry fee to visit. The best time to visit is between Spring and Fall – during Spring the trees, flowers, and the wildlife are waking from winter, and during Fall is the peak season as the air is cooler and it is when you can see the stunning colors across the forest.
Paula Martinelli from Paula Pins the Planet – https://www.paulapinstheplanet.com/
Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP), situated between Cleveland and Akron in northeast Ohio, is a great weekend road trip destination. The park boasts beautiful waterfalls and rock ledges along the trails, as well as historical significance. The highlights could be covered in a day trip, but two to three days will allow a much deeper dive into more unexplored corners. CVNP is open year-round to visitors, but spring and fall offer the most appealing views. In the spring, the waterfalls are likely flowing at their most powerful. In fall, the foliage adds an extra dimension to the beauty of the landscapes.
The parkis extremely popular with people looking to get out of the nearby urban areas for some fresh air. The most popular and most crowded trails, though for good reason, are the Ledges and Brandywine Falls. Looking for something a little less touristy? Check out the Towpath Trail through the park. A portion of this much longer bike trail travels through CVNP, giving views of the Cuyahoga River, Ohio & Erie Canal, and surrounding hillsides.
How to get there and where to stay?
Getting to and around in CVNP requires a car; some of the more popular sights and landmarks have over ten miles between them. The most convenient lodging is the Inn at Brandywine Falls, a few hundred yards from the waterfall. Looking for a more cost-effective place to stay? Consider camping in Stow, about ten miles away, at Silver Springs Campground. Campsites offer electricity and only cost $15 per night, but be sure to reserve ahead of time.
Samantha Meabon Owner & Creator PAonPause.com
Biscayne National Park – Florida
Biscayne National Park is located in Florida’s far southern tip just a short drive from Miami, making it a great stop on a road trip to the Keys. Though it has a visitor center on land, the vast majority of the park is protected ocean water. Though you can see some wildlife – colorful fish, birds, and manatees are common – from the shore, the best way to experience Biscayne is by getting out on the water.
Kayak rentals are available for paddling around the lagoon, which is a great spot to see manatees. There is a pathway leading out to a breakwater where fish can commonly be seen right by the visitor center. The park also offers daily boat tours. Biscayne is famous for its snorkeling and diving, with numerous coral reefs surrounded by tropical fish and a surprising amount of shipwrecks below the surface. Visitors can book a snorkeling tour that will take them to one or more of the many popular locations to get up close to the reefs or sunken ships.
Where to stay and for how long?
The park features two campgrounds, but both are on islands and require a boat to access. For hotel lodging, nearby Florida City and Homestead are the closest, or Biscayne is approximately a 45-minute drive from downtown Miami. Boaters can also access its waters freely. The park is open year round (just be careful for hurricane season). The waters will be slightly warmer in the summer, but it’s also peak bug season. Avid snorkelers or divers could spend several days exploring, but casual visitors should only plan to spend half a day if taking one of the tours. If not, an hour or two would be sufficient for a stop in the visitor center and walk out on the breakwater.
Kris – Nomad by Trade www.nomadbytrade.com
Everglades National Park – Florida
When you think of Everglades National Park, what is the first thought that comes to mind? Alligators? While it is a thrill to have an alligator sighting, there is so much more to the Everglades than just Alligators. It is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles are able to co-exist. It is also home to several threatened species, including the American Crocodile and surprisingly, the Florida Panther!
Everglades National Park is important for many reasons. The park is one of the great biological wonders of the world, it is a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, Wetland of International importance and the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States with its 1.5 million acre wetland preserve.
The best time of year to visit the Everglades is December through April. The combination of low humidity and the dry season make it a great time to explore the Everglades. You will want at least a couple of days to be able to get a good feel for the park. Driving is the easiest way to explore the park, but there are also several day trips from the nearest cities, like Miami.
One of the most popular activities is to take an airboat ride through the Everglades, where you glide over the sawgrass in search of alligators. There are also several hiking and biking trails, wildlife viewing, bird watching, boating and camping opportunities. If you aren’t a camper, staying in Everglades City is convenient as it sits on the park’s western border and offers some affordable inn and motel options.
Contributed by Debbie Fettback from WorldAdventurists.com.
Shenandoah National Park – Virginia
One of the best national parks on the East Coast to visit is the gorgeous Shenandoah National Park in the western part of Virginia.
This narrow national park is famous for Skyline Drive, a 105-mile parkway that has several stops where you can park and go hiking or admire the vistas over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
There are so many amazing reasons to visit Shenandoah National Park – starting with the park’s many waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park are accessible and easy to hike to. Some of the most popular trails are Jones Run Falls, Overall Run Falls (the highest waterfall in the park), and Doyles Falls.
There are several other popular hikes and mountains such as Hawksbill and Old Rag. Another popular thing to do in Shenandoah is to visit some of the small towns surrounding it (and the many Virginia wineries)! Luray is a worthwhile stop as it is home to the famous Luray Caverns, one of the most renowned natural sights in Virginia.
The best time to visit Shenandoah National Park is in summer or fall. Winter can be cold and roads can be closed despite backcountry camping being permitted. You can easily see a lot in Shenandoah in one day, but it is recommended to spend an entire weekend exploring the park and its many offerings.
One thing to make a note of is that bears are prevalent in the park and they are always on the hunt for food… so be sure to be responsible when there and not leave anything around that may attract them.
Megan Starr From Virginia Travel Tips: https://virginiatraveltips.com/
Cape Cod National Seashore
If you decide to take a road trip to Cape Cod to see the quaint New England towns, and head up the coast towards Provincetown, you will find the jaw dropping beauty of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Picturesque lighthouses, bike paths, sand dunes, and amazing views can be found on the coastline of Cape Cod. Forty miles of pristine beach, marshes, ponds, lakes, and wildlife are protected by the National Park Service.
Don’t miss the ranger lead canoe trips and tours that leave from the Salt Pond Visitor Center. If you are brave, walk to the tip of Massachusetts at Long Point Light. While there is no camping on Cape Cod National Seashore, there are plenty of vacation rentals, Truro Hostel, and beautiful inns, hotels, and Bed and Breakfasts. If you want to learn more check out my extensive travel guide to Cape Cod for planning your trip.
Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina
America’s favorite drive- the Blue Ridge Parkway- is a beautiful drive that stretches from Virginia through to North Carolina. With mountain vistas, rugged mountains, and a high elevation drive, this parkway run by the National Park Service is perfect for fall leaf peeping road trip. The most popular stretch goes from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, to Asheville, North Carolina. Here road trippers can visit Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Linville Gorge and Falls, and hike at places like Chimney Rock.
The parkway’s speed limit is 45 mph, but it is perfect to take it slow. Make sure you don’t miss anything along America’s most scenic drive! My tip is to pull off at lookouts as much as possible. Don’t miss taking a picture with the Linn Cove Viaduct, an iconic stretch of highway. Then enjoy the beauty of Asheville and the Biltmore Estate. From history, to natural beauty this is definitely one of the best National Park Service run areas on the East Coast.
DC National Mall
The National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington D.C. is not your typical national park. But it is managed by the National Park Service and is worth a visit on the United States’ east coast! Washington D.C. is perfect for those who love history and perfect for walking around to explore the National Mall memorials. There is limited parking at the National Mall. However, the DC Metro has a few stops making it easy to access. The Smithsonian stop drops visitors off directly at the National Mall.
The National Mall and Memorial Parks takes up over 1,000 acres of parkland in the city. If you like to enjoy the outdoors, walking around the perimeter of the National Mall is perfect. Popular stops include the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial and the Washington Monument. At the end of March and April, D.C. starts to enter its’ full bloom with the Cherry Blossom Festival. Cherry Blossom trees begin to bloom in the spring and draw millions of tourists to the National Mall and Memorial Parks every year.
Check Out DC Museums and the Smithsonian!
In addition to all of the monuments and memorials along the mall, there are also a variety of museums that offer something up to every visitor! Traveling with kids? Check out the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum. Looking to brush up on American history? Explore the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Looking for something a little less crowded? Try the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden or the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. An added bonus is that all of the Smithsonian museums have free entry!
Sarah Seiler from www.roadmapsandrestaurants.com
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What are your favorite National Parks on the East Coast? There are more on my list, such as Hot Springs National Park, and Mammoth Cave National Park to see. However, these are some favorite east coast national parks by travel creators and bloggers. Let me know in the comments your tips and highlights of your trips to National Parks in the Eastern USA.
Great list – I have been to a couple of these amazing National Parks, but still need to visit a lot more. The US is definitely a very diverse place, and I love the inspiration on this post. Thanks for sharing it.