11 East Coast National Parks You Want To Visit This Year

Hitting all of the U.S. national parks is a daunting task–even more so when a good handful are spread out across America’s West Coast. That’s why we love exploring the East Coast national parks. They’re close together and you can experience so many different landscapes and ecosystems in a smaller area. 

We’ve collected these 11 national parks on the East Coast of the United States that beckon with sunrise vistas, miles of hiking trails, and on-the-water adventure. The fun lying ahead will make you want to get out and see this diverse part of the country. 

Whether you’re a hiker or a kayaker, leaf-peeper or sunrise enthusiast, you’ll find a park or two you’ll want to add to your road trip planning.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park East Coast National Parks

Biking and birdwatching, stargazing and swimming… there’s something for every kind of traveler at Maine’s Acadia National Park. One of our favorites is taking in the coastal beauty from the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard at Cadillac Mountain. View an iconic sunrise perched upon the mountain’s striking glacier-formed geologic features that look like someone took giant scratches and gouges in the rocks. 

When you’re ready to explore the park’s beauty on a smaller scale, head to the rocky shores where at low tide tidepools reveal colorful marine life and algae. The Schoodic Peninsula offers many different spots for tidepooling, the flat Wonderland Trail aquaints you with a world of barnacles and sea sponges, and Bar Island’s flat land bridge shows off its tiny snails, sea stars, and Jonah crabs. 

History buffs will love stepping back in time at the park’s many monuments, memorials, and lighthouses. Have an iconic Maine moment snapping photos at Baker Island Light Station, Bass Harbor Head Light Station, or Bear Island Light Station.

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More Information on Acadia National Park

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Biscayne National Park

Experience the best of Florida exploring the diverse ecosystems of mangroves, islands, and the third-largest coral reef in the world at Biscayne National Park. One of the best ways to see the park is water kayaking to Biscayne Bay, Boca Chita, or Adams Key. Consider taking a dip into shallow Jones Lagoon where you’ll be delighted by rays and flip-flopping jellyfish.

Wherever you venture, you’ll be amazed by the number of threatened and endangered animals that reside in the park. Osprey, White Ibis, Tricolored Heron, and Brown Pelicans fly overhead. Beneath the surface, you will see Florida manatees and Humpback, North Atlantic right, Sei, and Sperm whales. Swimming up close to a rainbow of Pillar, Elkhorn, and Staghorn coral will surely delight any snorkeler.

Want to experience the land from the sea? Consider taking a boat out to Boca Chita Harbor to see its circa 1930s lighthouse framed by beautiful palm trees.

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Congaree National Park

Take in the beauty of South Carolina by trail, boardwalk, canoe, or kayak in Congaree National Park–one of the most biodiverse forests in the country. Known for its big trees, Congaree boasts the most “champion” (the largest individual tree of its species) trees anywhere in the U.S. 

Exploring on foot, the Boardwalk Loop Trail takes you into the old-growth bottomland hardwood forest to Weston Lake and to connecting trails through the Congaree floodplain while the Firefly Trail shows off a light show of fireflies in the late spring. 

If you’d rather experience Congaree National Park from the water, hop into a canoe or kayak (rentals available in nearby Columbia) and paddle your way through a primeval old-growth forest and swamplands past river otters, deer, turtles, and wading birds.

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park

A short drive from Cleveland, Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a natural retreat of waterfalls, sandstone ledges, and canal trails. One of the most popular spots is Brandywine Falls where a boardwalk, stairs, or 1.4-mile Brandywine Gorge Trail brings you to this 60-foot waterfall tucked in the trees.

Hikers interested in stunning rock formations and the geology of the region will want to hit the Ledges trail. Circle a plateau of massive rock formations where you’ll be treated to views. You’ll get to enjoy a window into the geologic past in this part of the country where the Appalachian mountain-building area meets the plains. 

Or, trade trails for rails all aboard the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. This family-friendly train ride brings you through the valley and along the river as you soak in the scenery watching for eagles, herons, deer, and beavers.

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Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas East Coast National Parks

Get a taste of the tropics at this water-rich national park. Dry Tortugas National Park’s seven islands beckon from aquamarine waters. Snorkeling anyone? A dip into these warm waters of coral reefs shows off elkhorn and staghorn coral, reef fish, and even a shipwreck or two.

On Garden Key, the second largest island, explore the 19th century, 14-acre Fort Jefferson built to protect the vulnerable anchorage and offer ships a place to restock and refit. Take a tour and learn what went into building this structure made of over 16 million bricks–the largest brick structure in the western hemisphere.

Or, kick back and sunbathe on the inviting white sand beaches. You’ll swear you’re on a tropical island far away from the mainland.

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Everglades National Park

Shark Valley Everglades East Coast National Parks

Welcome to the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. From Everglades National Park’s famous wetlands to spotting endangered species, you’ll feel like you’re in another world. Expect to see wildlife such as manatees, crocodiles, and possibly the Florida panther.

We recommend visiting in the dry season. The dry season is from November to March when birds wade through the warm waters. You can comfortably (i.e. fewer bugs!) explore the variety of ecosystems including freshwater sloughs, tropical hammocks, pinelands, cypress, mangrove, coastal lowlands, marine, and estuarine. 

Think water! Renting a boat or kayak is one of the best ways through the mangroves and explore these massive wetlands. If you’d rather spot alligators from dry land, the park offers plenty of biking and walking trails.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains East Coast National Parks

Breathe in the mountain air and bask in the foggy, blue mist of the Blue Ridge Mountains. America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Take the 11-mile loop in Cades Cove mountain-lined green valley. Visit by car or bike to spot some of the park’s iconic wildlife. You may catch a glimpse of a white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, groundhogs, or even turkeys.

Or, get out and explore on foot on one of the many hiking trails to the park’s tallest waterfall, Rainbow Falls, or on a thigh-burning trek to Alum Cave.

Looking for a bit of flower power? Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its wildflower diversity, more than in any other North American national park. Plan your visit for mid-to late- April and experience the peak bloom of spring. You’ll see wildflowers such as lady slipper orchids, showy orchis, crested dwarf iris, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, and violets.

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Hot Springs National Park

Hot Spring East Coast National Parks

History and the healing power of nature combine in the ultimate wellness center tucked away in the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. At this unique national park, you’ll step back into the 1900s in one or more of the eight historic bathhouses.

The Buckstaff Bathhouse, in operation since February 1, 1912, is one of the best-preserved bathhouses. While the oldest bathhouse–Hale Bathhouse–connects to a sauna in a thermal cave carved out of a mountainside. The Quapaw Bathhouse welcomes you with private baths, public pools, and a modern spa. Admire its mosaic-tiled dome decorated with a Native American motif before settling into the baths and experiencing true relaxation.

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More Information on Hot Springs National Park

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Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave East Coast National Parks

Feel like an explorer as you step into the world’s longest known cave system, Mammoth Cave National Park. You’ll love winding through this labyrinth of passageways and canyons that likely extend beyond its already explored 400 miles.

A guided tour of the cave is a must-do! Be cave-ready by securing your tour reservation in advance and dressing for the cave’s cool climate. The deep cave temperature is 54ºF while aboveground summer temperatures can rise above 90ºF. You’ll find a variety of tour options such as narrow passes, sparking gypsum, stalactites, stalagmites. You may even see artifacts and monuments left behind by early visitors of the cave.

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New River Gorge National Park

It may be called “New River,” and is the newest addition to the National Park System, but New River is not new. It is actually one of the oldest rivers on the continent. This national park in West Virginia will take you back in time. Plan a visit to Trump-Lilly or David Hamilton farm where you’ll learn about the early settlers of the area and Appalachian subsistence farming. The area offers picturesque settings lined by white picket fences and stone walls. Or, go for high adventure on a whitewater rafting tour or independent adventure on the Class I-V rapids.

New River Gorge also presents plenty of hiking opportunities. Explore Sandstone Walls Boardwalk to view a sweeping 1500 feet across waterfall that drops from 10 to 25 feet. Or, delve into the forest on the three-mile loop Gwinn Ridge Trail winding though through a ridge top forest. 

One of the park’s most unique features is the African American Heritage tour. The tour is an app-based, self-guided auto tour through seventeen historic sites. Plan to visit Summers, Raleigh, Fayette and Nicholas counties. These counties showcase the history of the African American coal miners, railroad workers, and other community members of the region.

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Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park East Coast National Parks

Get out of the city! Just over an hour’s drive from Washington D.C., Shenandoah National Park offers quiet woods, waterfalls, and fields of wildflowers. 

Be sure to take in the views from the park’s 105-mile Skyline Drive. You’ll be greeted with valley views and exceptional fall foliage from late September to mid-November. With 75 overlooks along the way, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to relish a quiet movement in nature.

Shenandoah National Park offers over 500 miles of hiking trails. What better way to explore the park’s beauty than by putting boots to the ground? Whether you tackle your bucket list trekking the iconic Appalachian Trail, dip in a swimming hole on the Whiteoak Canyon hike, or soak in views of the Shenandoah Valley on the Bearfence Rock Scramble or Blackrock Summit, hiking is one of the best ways to encounter Shenandoah’ Park’s many geologic features.

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11 East Coast National Parks in the United States that beckon with sunrise vistas, miles of hiking trails, and on-the-water adventure.





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