National Park

9 Best National Parks on the East Coast

There are many things the East Coast is known for, like its mountainous regions in Appalachia that span 13 states, as well as the city that never sleeps, New York. If you’re looking for outdoor activities to do on this side of the country, then you’re in luck. The east coast has several national parks that provide an accessible haven to relax and spend quality time in the arms of nature.

Acadia National Park

Maine Coastal View at Acadia National Park

It’s no secret that Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, receiving 4 million visits a year. This national treasure is located in Maine between Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor, on one of the islands along the state’s coast. It features a unique atmosphere and offers rocky hiking trails with a length of 158 miles, as well as a beautiful beach called Sand Beach, ensuring you will satisfy your thirst for a diverse natural experience.

Shenandoah National Park

Asphalt road with fall foliage - Shenandoah National Park, Virginia United States
Asphalt road with fall foliage – Shenandoah National Park, Virginia United States

Located in Virginia, just 75 miles from the bustling life of Washington, DC, Shenandoah National Park offers a retreat for anyone looking to take a deep breath away from city life. Stretching along the Blue Ridge Mountains, the park is best known for its Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs its length. It is perfect for visitors who enjoy road trips and enjoying the view from the comfort of their vehicle. This park is full of scenic views and rich human history, making it worth more than one visit.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Colorful leaves on Foothills Parkway West in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in late October.
Colorful leaves on Foothills Parkway West in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in late October

Also among the most visited parks in the United States, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located between North Carolina and Tennessee, has 14.1 million recreational visits (2021). Considered the jewel in the crown of the East Coast National Parks, it boasts the beauty of the Appalachians. It is called the Smokies because of the hydrocarbons released from the trees, forming the ever-existing misty fog. The park is surely known for its various plant and animal species that constantly thrive there. It’s a must-see for people looking for a shifting mountainous region to conquer.

Everglades National Park

Long Pine Key Lake at sunset, Everglades National Park, Florida
Long Pine Key Lake at sunset, Everglades National Park, Florida

If you are looking for a flatter landscape, Everglades National Park, located in Florida, is your choice. Billed as the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, its habitat allows many endangered species, like the manatee and American crocodile, to thrive. Although it is made up of distinct environments, it is mainly characterized as a wetland where visitors can make the most of their stay by kayak and boat to visit the park through the mangrove tunnels and the open marshland.

Mammoth Cave National Park

In Mammoth Cave National Park.  Mammoth Cave National Park Adventure
Mammoth Cave National Park

Crowned as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and International Biosphere Reserves, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is home to the oldest cave system in the world. Explorers have mapped more than 420 miles of carved limestone passageways, which began forming millions of years ago. Therefore, the park offers cave tours for the curious and brave adventurers who wish to delve into the massive maze and savor the rock formations and Earth’s history. The park further includes over 1,300 flowering species, hiking trails, and the Green and Nolin rivers, facilitating other outdoor activities beyond cave exploration.

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park Sign
Congaree National Park Sign

Congaree National Park, located in South Carolina, protects one of the most extensive old-growth lowland hardwood forests (also called riverine swamps) in the southeastern region of the United States, primarily due to river courses. nutritious water provided by the Congaree and Wateree Rivers. To observe the animal and plant scene of biodiversity, the boardwalk’s loop path makes it easily accessible to meditate on the trees rising from the water from its elevated view. However, if you’re in the mood for more than walking, kayaking and canoeing through lakes and streams are on hand to enjoy the shade of bald cypress trees in the calm waters.

Biscayne National Park

Boca Chita Key Lighthouse in Biscayne National Park in Florida
Boca Chita Key Lighthouse in Biscayne National Park in Florida

If you are looking for a place that captures the true spirit of summer, Biscayne National Park, located in Florida, is the right choice. The park, just 20 miles south of Miami, offers a more unique experience than the rest of the parks by having 95% of it accessible strictly by boat. It features distinct aquatic ecosystems and coral reefs, making it a home for many species of marine wildlife like manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. You can enjoy the landscapes of shipwrecks and estuaries of mangroves above the water or dive in and savor the sights below the surface.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park, Fort Jefferson.  Florida.  UNITED STATES.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Fort Jefferson, Florida

Also located in Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most unique places to visit. Located about 70 miles west of the island town of Key West, the park is strictly accessible by boat or seaplane. It is home to Fort Jefferson, a magnificent hexagonal-shaped structure. Once used as a prison during the Civil War, the fort now serves as a spacious retreat for visitors yearning for their dose of history and architecture, in addition to the greenery and crystal-clear waters of the area.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Loading River at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Loading River at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Even though it’s fairly close to Cleveland’s urban setting, Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park thrives in its greenery. The history of the park is a source of inspiration for all; the Cuyahoga River was intensely polluted and caught fire 13 times in the second half of the 1900s, but thanks to community-led efforts and rallies, the restoration of the river has been a success, primarily evident in the resurgence of the wildlife there. The most redeeming quality of the park is the accessibility it offers with tamed wilderness rather than an unbridled landscape that would make it physically taxing to navigate. There is also agricultural land on the ground of the park, allowing visitors to buy fresh produce from the markets set up all year round. There are many ways to explore the park, from biking and hiking the kid-friendly Towpath Trail, to taking the train from Rockside Station to Akron.

The East Coast is full of national parks that are home to vital ecosystems and diverse wildlife. They serve as catalysts for the recovery of habitats and animal species, while allowing curious visitors to safely observe these flourishing environments. If you’re looking for a quick getaway after a busy week, these places will definitely help you unwind and connect with nature.