national parks on the east coast
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A Guide to 12 Must-Visit National Parks on the East Coast

Discover the unparalleled beauty of the East Coast through its 12 majestic national parks. From the serene Acadia in Maine to the vibrant Everglades in Florida, each park offers a unique glimpse into America’s natural splendor and diverse ecosystems. Embark on a journey to explore these national treasures and immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural world.

Best National Parks on the East Coast

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park

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Acadia National Park, located on the rugged coast of Maine, epitomizes the natural beauty of the Northeastern United States. It encompasses a rich diversity of environments, including ocean shoreline, wooded areas, and mountainous terrain.

The park is particularly known for Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. East Coast, which offers stunning sunrise views. With a mix of geological features, diverse habitats, and cultural history, Acadia is a microcosm of the wild Northeastern landscape.

Things to Do at Acadia National Park

  • Hiking: Traverse over 120 miles of trails, suitable for all levels, from easy strolls to challenging climbs.
  • Scenic Drives: Embark on the 27-mile Park Loop Road, known for its breathtaking coastal, mountain, and forest views.
  • Biking: Explore the historic carriage roads, a network of 45 miles of rustic pathways free of motor vehicles.
  • Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for moose, foxes, seabirds, and a variety of marine life.
  • Photography: Capture the picturesque landscapes, especially during sunrise at Cadillac Mountain.
  • Boating and Kayaking: Take to the waters around the park for a unique view of the coastline and wildlife.
  • Stargazing: Enjoy the clear night skies, especially at Sand Beach and Jordan Pond, away from city lights.

2. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park

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Shenandoah National Park, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, is a land of rolling hills, cascading waterfalls, and serene wooded hollows. The park’s Skyline Drive offers 105 miles of stunning vistas along the crest of the mountains.

Shenandoah is a haven for nature lovers, with its rich biodiversity, including black bears, white-tailed deer, and a myriad of bird species. The park’s changing seasons paint the landscape in vibrant colors, making it a year-round destination for visitors seeking tranquility and natural beauty.

Things to Do at Shenandoah National Park

  • Drive Along Skyline Drive: Experience the 105-mile scenic road that offers breathtaking views and access to trails.
  • Hiking: Choose from over 500 miles of trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail.
  • Waterfall Sightseeing: Visit stunning waterfalls like Dark Hollow Falls and Whiteoak Canyon.
  • Wildlife Watching: Spot deer, black bears, and numerous bird species in their natural habitat.
  • Camping: Immerse yourself in nature by staying at one of the park’s campgrounds.
  • Ranger Programs: Participate in educational programs led by park rangers to learn more about the park’s ecology and history.
  • Photography: Capture the park’s diverse landscapes, especially during autumn foliage.

3. Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park

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Everglades National Park in Florida stands as a remarkable testament to nature’s resilience and diversity. As the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, it’s a sprawling network of wetlands and forests, home to an array of wildlife including alligators, manatees, Florida panthers, and countless bird species.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is crucial for its environmental and ecological value, offering a unique blend of subtropical wilderness that is unlike any other in the country.

Things to Do at Everglades National Park

  • Airboat Tours: Experience the vast wetlands with guided airboat tours, a quintessential Everglades activity.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Spot a variety of wildlife including alligators, manatees, and a diverse array of birdlife.
  • Hiking and Biking: Explore trails like the Anhinga Trail for easy walks or Shark Valley for a longer biking experience.
  • Fishing: Engage in both freshwater and saltwater fishing, following the park’s regulations to preserve its natural balance.
  • Camping: Experience the wilderness by camping at designated grounds or backcountry sites.
  • Ranger-Led Programs: Participate in educational programs to learn about the park’s ecosystems and conservation efforts.

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, rich biodiversity, and deep cultural heritage. As America’s most visited national park, it offers a captivating blend of mist-shrouded mountains, verdant forests, and an array of wildlife.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike, with its well-preserved remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture.

Things to Do at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  • Hiking: With over 800 miles of trails, including sections of the Appalachian Trail, the park caters to hikers of all skill levels.
  • Scenic Drives: Take a drive along the Newfound Gap Road or the Cades Cove Loop Road for breathtaking vistas.
  • Wildlife Watching: Spot black bears, elk, and white-tailed deer in their natural habitat.
  • Historical Exploration: Visit preserved historic buildings and learn about the early settlers’ lifestyle.
  • Waterfall Trails: Explore trails leading to stunning waterfalls, such as Laurel Falls and Abrams Falls.
  • Camping: Choose from various campgrounds or backcountry camping for a full immersion in nature.
  • Ranger-led Programs: Participate in guided walks, talks, and workshops to deepen your understanding of the park.

5. Biscayne National Park, Florida

Biscayne National Park

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Biscayne National Park in Florida is a stunning marine park predominantly underwater, showcasing the vibrant beauty of the northernmost group of living coral reefs in the United States. This unique national park, located just south of Miami, comprises 95% water and features a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and coral reefs teeming with marine life.

It’s a haven for those interested in maritime history, with a wealth of shipwrecks and artifacts telling tales of the region’s past.

Things to Do at Biscayne National Park

  • Snorkeling and Diving: Explore the spectacular coral reefs and witness a myriad of marine life in their natural habitat.
  • Boat Tours: Take guided tours to discover the park’s islands, waterways, and marine life.
  • Kayaking and Canoeing: Paddle through the park’s clear waters, exploring mangrove-fringed shores and peaceful coves.
  • Fishing: Experience both inshore and offshore fishing in designated areas of the park.
  • Wildlife Watching: Spot dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and a variety of bird species.
  • Hiking on Elliott Key: The park’s largest island offers trails through tropical hardwood forests.
  • Visiting Historic Sites: Explore the lighthouse on Boca Chita Key and other historical structures within the park.

6. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park

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Congaree National Park in South Carolina is a hidden gem among the national parks, featuring the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. This park is a sanctuary for biodiversity and boasts some of the tallest trees in the eastern U.S., creating a rich canopy over the lush undergrowth.

The Congaree River flows through the park, supporting a dynamic floodplain ecosystem that is both serene and teeming with life.

Things to Do at Congaree National Park:

  • Boardwalk Loop Trail: Stroll along a 2.4-mile boardwalk through the swampy forest floor, perfect for all ages.
  • Wilderness Canoeing: Paddle through the peaceful backwaters of the Congaree River.
  • Hiking Trails: Explore over 25 miles of hiking trails, ranging from short walks to longer treks.
  • Bird Watching: The park is a haven for bird enthusiasts, with over 200 bird species observed.
  • Nighttime Walks: Join ranger-led programs to experience the unique sounds and sights of the forest at night.
  • Fishing: Fish along the Congaree River or in smaller creeks throughout the park.
  • Camping: Experience the wilderness by camping at the park’s backcountry sites.

7. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park

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Dry Tortugas National Park, located about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, is a remote park known for its crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and abundant marine life. This 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands, including the famous Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th-century forts in the United States.

The park’s isolated location makes it a haven for a diverse range of birds and marine life, offering a unique experience of unspoiled natural beauty and historical significance.

Things to Do at Dry Tortugas National Park

  • Explore Fort Jefferson: Discover the history of one of the largest masonry structures in the Americas.
  • Snorkeling and Diving: Enjoy some of the best snorkeling and diving in North America with vibrant coral and marine life.
  • Bird Watching: The park is a prime spot for birding, especially during migration seasons.
  • Camping: Experience the solitude of camping on a remote island under the stars.
  • Kayaking and Canoeing: Paddle around the park’s clear waters to explore its marine and bird life.
  • Fishing: Fish in designated areas, following the park’s regulations to preserve its natural resources.
  • Guided Tours: Join ranger-led tours to learn more about the park’s natural and historical features.

8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located in northeastern Ohio, offers a refreshing blend of natural, cultural, and historical attractions. This park, nestled between the cities of Cleveland and Akron, presents a diverse landscape of rolling hills, dense forests, and the winding Cuyahoga River. It’s a testament to nature’s resilience, showcasing a rich tapestry of ecological and historical sites, including the Ohio and Erie Canal, lush woodlands, and vibrant wildlife.

Things to Do at Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

  1. Hike the Towpath Trail: Explore the historic Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, a scenic route with rich history.
  2. Visit Brandywine Falls: Admire the 65-foot waterfall, one of the most picturesque spots in the park.
  3. Ride the Scenic Railroad: Experience the park’s beauty aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
  4. Wildlife Watching: Look out for white-tailed deer, beavers, and over 200 bird species.
  5. Kayaking and Canoeing: Paddle along the Cuyahoga River to enjoy the park’s natural scenery from a different perspective.
  6. Cycling: The park offers excellent cycling routes, including the Towpath Trail.
  7. Attend Ranger-led Programs: Join educational programs and guided walks to learn about the park’s natural and cultural history.

9. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

New River Gorge

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New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia is a spectacular landscape carved out by one of the oldest rivers in North America. This park is renowned for its deep canyons, rushing whitewater, and lush forests. It offers an incredible array of outdoor adventures, from world-class whitewater rafting to rock climbing and hiking.

The park’s centerpiece, the New River Gorge Bridge, is an iconic symbol of West Virginia and one of the longest steel arch bridges in the world.

Things to Do at New River Gorge National Park:

  1. Whitewater Rafting: Experience thrilling rafting trips on the New River, suitable for all skill levels.
  2. Rock Climbing: With over 1,400 established rock climbs, the park is a premier destination for climbers.
  3. Hiking Trails: Explore more than 100 miles of hiking trails, offering stunning views of the gorge and river.
  4. Bridge Walk: Walk beneath the New River Gorge Bridge on a guided bridge tour for breathtaking views.
  5. Fishing: Fish in the New River for smallmouth bass and other species.
  6. Camping: Camp in the park to fully immerse yourself in its natural beauty.
  7. Historic Sites: Visit remnants of the area’s coal mining and railroad history, like the ghost town of Thurmond.

10. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave

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Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is home to the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of surveyed passageways. This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a fascinating underground adventure, showcasing intricate limestone formations, vast chambers, and complex ecosystems.

Above ground, the park’s rich forests and rolling hills provide a scenic backdrop for outdoor activities, making it an exceptional destination for both subterranean exploration and surface adventures.

Things to Do at Mammoth Cave National Park

  1. Cave Tours: Join guided tours to explore the extensive cave system, ranging from easy walks to challenging spelunking adventures.
  2. Hiking: The park offers over 70 miles of trails through diverse landscapes, including river valleys and forested hills.
  3. Canoeing and Kayaking: Paddle on the Green River and Nolin River, enjoying the park’s natural beauty from the water.
  4. Horseback Riding: Experience the park’s scenic trails on horseback, with guided tours available.
  5. Camping: Stay at one of the park’s campgrounds or backcountry sites for a full outdoor experience.
  6. Biking: Cycle on designated bike trails or park roads for a different perspective of the park.
  7. Wildlife Watching: Look out for deer, turkeys, and other wildlife that inhabit the park’s surface.

11. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Isle Royale

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Isle Royale National Park, located in the northwest of Lake Superior, is a remote island wilderness far from the sights and sounds of civilization. This rugged, isolated park offers a unique adventure for those seeking solitude and a deep connection with nature.

Known for its pristine natural beauty, the park is a haven for wildlife, including wolves, moose, and a variety of bird species. With its forested landscape, clear inland lakes, and scenic shorelines, Isle Royale is an ideal destination for backpackers, hikers, boaters, and nature enthusiasts.

Things to Do at Isle Royale National Park

  1. Backcountry Hiking and Camping: Explore over 165 miles of trails through pristine wilderness areas.
  2. Canoeing and Kayaking: Paddle through the park’s crystal-clear lakes and along its rugged coastline.
  3. Scuba Diving: Dive into the clear waters to explore shipwrecks and underwater landscapes.
  4. Fishing: Enjoy excellent fishing opportunities in both the inland lakes and Lake Superior.
  5. Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for moose, wolves, loons, and other wildlife.
  6. Boating: Experience the park from the water, with many hidden coves and inlets to explore.
  7. Ranger-led Programs: Participate in educational programs to learn about the park’s unique ecology and history.

12. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park

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Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is a water-based park known for its stunning boreal forests, intricate waterways, and abundant wildlife. This unique park offers visitors the chance to explore a network of interconnected water highways via boat, canoe, or kayak.

It’s a place where water meets wilderness, allowing for an immersive experience in the tranquil beauty of the Northwoods. Voyageurs is not just a destination for water enthusiasts; it’s also a haven for those who enjoy hiking, camping, and experiencing a rich tapestry of natural and cultural history.

Things to Do at Voyageurs National Park

  1. Boating: Navigate the park’s vast network of lakes and waterways.
  2. Kayaking and Canoeing: Paddle through the tranquil waters, exploring secluded bays and inlets.
  3. Fishing: Cast a line for walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass.
  4. Hiking: Trek on land to explore the park’s diverse ecosystems and scenic overlooks.
  5. Wildlife Viewing: Look for beavers, eagles, bears, and moose.
  6. Camping: Stay overnight in one of the many designated campsites accessible only by water.
  7. Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing: In winter, the park transforms into a snowy wonderland, perfect for these activities.

 Conclusion

The national parks on the East Coast are not just areas of natural beauty; they are vibrant ecosystems and historical landmarks that tell the story of America’s natural heritage. As guardians of these treasures, we have the privilege and responsibility to explore, enjoy, and protect them for future generations. These 12 national parks, each with its unique charm and character, invite us to step into a world of natural wonder and rediscover the beauty of the East Coast.

AboutCorinne Switzer

Corinne is an avid reader and takes a keen interest in conspiracy theories. When not busy with her day job, she likes to indulge the writer in her and pens columns on a wide range of topics that cover everything from entertainment, healthy living to healthcare and more.