The 12 Best National Parks on the East Coast to Explore
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The United States is a vast, unforgiving land of intense beauty, wild weather, and endless adventure filled with whatever level of excitement or non-excitement you're looking for.
The "East Coast" is typically considered all the states east of the Appalachian Mountains that have some sort of a shoreline, but Vermont and West Virginia are included as well. West Virginia also just introduced the newest US national park, but you'll have to scroll down further to find out which one it is!
The best national parks on the East Coast of the United States can range from crisp, cold, rocky mountain terrains to hot, tropical sandy beaches, peculiar bewitching swamps and marshes, to endless expanses of entrancing forests. The national parks below showcase all the very best that the East Coast has to offer, and you definitely don't want to miss out on anything.
This national parks in Eastern US guide will give you the best tips on things to do, where to camp or stay, where you can grab a great bite to eat as you discover the East Coast, and more. For an easy view, an East Coast national parks map has been included below for your convenience.
12 Best East Coast National Parks
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- Biscayne National Park, Florida
- Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
- Everglades National Park, Florida
- Congaree National Park, South Carolina
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
- Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
- Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
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United States National Parks Map
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Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, lovingly referred to as The Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast, can be found in the gorgeous state of Maine.
The park sees over 3 million visitors throughout the year and is ranked in the top 10 most popular national parks in the whole of the United States.
What are the best things to do in Acadia National Park?
Acadia has over 158 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage trails, with hundreds of other activities to do all year round. Fishing, stargazing, climbing, boating, and sailing are just some of the other things to do.
One of the number one activities is Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac Mountain's summit is the highest in the park at 1,530 feet and offers enchanting views of the sunrise if you're keen to get up early enough.
You can hike up to the summit via the Cadillac Summit Loop or drive up the access road. Take care as both still get super crowded, and the access road is shut down during the winter months.
When is the best time to visit Acadia National Park?
Since Acadia has adventures year-round, you can visit any time and have fun. Your personal preferences for seasonal activities will determine the best time to visit Acadia National Park.
If you're still unsure of when to go, visiting in the fall is a good choice. The weather is pleasant, although not as hot as in the summer, and crowd levels are reasonable.
What are the facilities at Acadia National Park?
- Visitors centers
- General stores (seasonal)
- Nature center
Where to stay in Acadia National Park?
If you are looking for the total national park experience, you will most likely want to camp. There are four designated campgrounds located within Acadia National Park.
Schoodic Woods, Blackwoods, Seawall, and Duck Harbour are all within the park, but it is important to note that you should make your reservations in advance, and you can only use local firewood here.
There are also loads of places to stay in nearby towns if camping isn't quite your thing.
Where to eat in Acadia National Park?
Not far from one of the campgrounds is a legendary lobster shack known as Charlotte's. Legendary for more than just her food, Charlotte's is known for high-end lobsters, good vibes, and fun times.
There are picnic tables and benches, beach chairs, and even yoga mats to spread out and eat. There are also pet goats on the property for a little extra entertainment.
How many days do you need in Acadia National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Acadia National Park?
From May through October, all visitors require a pass that can easily be bought and printed (online) and is valid for seven days.
- Private Vehicle: $30
- Motorcycle: $25
- Per Person: $15 (not needed if a vehicle pass is purchased)
Top tip for Acadia National Park
Another thing to know about Acadia National Park is that from May to October, ticks are rampant! You should wear long pants and/or high socks, and always check yourself, the kids, and your pets after a hike to see if you collected any along the way!
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Biscayne National Park, located just outside the infamous Miami, Florida, is a world away from the nearby city's crowded beaches and eccentric nightlife. This park is truly unique.
An interesting Florida fact about Biscayne National Park is that it is made up of 95% water, so you're going to get a little wet and wild exploring this alluring waterworld!
What are the best things to do in Biscayne National Park?
Biscayne Park is ideal for water activities like kayaking, fishing, and snorkeling, but you can still get some hiking and camping in as well.
This park has various guided tours you can book to learn about its extensive wildlife, history, and important environmental studies exclusive to this area of FL, all while enjoying a fun adventure.
The Small Group (Snorkel Experience) is one of the best ones to do. Your guide will take you to either a shipwreck or the mangroves to experience the vibrant underwater life.
When is the best time to visit Biscayne National Park?
Although the park and its water are open all year long, the best time to visit is mid-December to mid-April.
What are the facilities at Biscayne National Park?
Dante Fascell Visitor Center
Where to stay in Biscayne National Park?
There are two campgrounds within Biscayne National Park, and both are first come, first serve and can only be reached by boat. Elliot Key is the bigger of the two and has (cold) running water for the toilets, sinks, and showers.
Boca Chita Key is more popular because of its waterfront views. While there are toilets, there are no showers, sinks, or drinking water, so keep that in mind.
Floridian Hotel is a great option to stay in if you don't want to camp. The hotel is super close to the national park and within walking distance of loads of shops, cafes, and bars. There is a pool on-site, and a buffet-style breakfast is included.
Where to eat near Biscayne National Park?
About ten miles outside of Biscayne National Park is a locally known secret, a family-owned backyard BBQ. Shiver's Bar-B-Q is rumored to be the best in the Miami area.
You might be surprised to see BBQ amongst all the seafood joints, but this place is mouthwateringly perfect. No matter what you choose on the menu, everything is made with love, and if you're around during fall, you have to try their pumpkin souffle.
How many days do you need in Biscayne National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Biscayne National Park?
Biscayne National Park does not have an entrance fee.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
You can only get to Dry Tortugas National Park by boat or seaplane, which also goes by the name of Fort Jefferson. The park is home to super clear water, a vibrant coral reef, and abundant sea and bird life. Dry Tortugas is loaded with things to do and wildlife to see.
What are the best things to do in Dry Tortugas National Park?
Snorkeling and diving. By far, the best way to explore Dry Tortugas National Park is underwater. Whether you take a guided tour or have your own gear, getting underwater is magical. The park is remote, and because of this, you'll get the chance to see native creatures in larger, healthier quantities.
When is the best time to visit Dry Tortugas National Park?
November through April
What are the facilities at Dry Tortugas National Park?
- Garden Key Visitor Center
- Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center
Where to stay in Dry Tortugas National Park?
If you enjoy remote camping, you will love Dry Tortugas National Park. Garden Key Campground is described as primitive. Sites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and all campers must bring everything they need. Food, water, tent, sleeping bags, and all other camping essentials, and they must also take everything, including trash, when they leave.
The Laureate is a great place to stay when visiting Dry Tortugas. It has a couple of different options for room sizes to stay in, as well as various amenities and packages.
How many days do you need in Dry Tortugas National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Dry Tortugas National Park?
The entrance fee is $15 dollars and is good for seven days. If you are taking the ferry, it's included in the ticket price.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park is filled with exotic animals, intoxicating sunsets, and alluring adventures. The park has two distinct seasons, the dry season, November to March, and the wet season, April to November.
The Everglades cover 1.5 million acres, nearly all of southern FL. The park includes several ecosystems, extensive flora and fauna, and rare animals.
What are the best things to do in Everglades National Park?
Slough Slogging. If you want to get into it and see some of the park's more elusive creatures, slough slogging is the way to go. Join a park ranger and small group for off-trail hiking deep into the everglades.
Boggy Creek Airboat Ride. If you are visiting Everglades National Park with your family, consider booking an airboat tour in the headwaters of the Everglades. It is one of the best things to do in Orlando besides theme parks and with your family!
When is the best time to visit Everglades National Park?
December through April
What are the facilities at Everglades National Park?
- Flamingo Visitor Center
- Ernest Coe Visitor Center
- Shark Valley Visitor Center
- Gulf Coast Visitor Center
Where to stay in Everglades National Park?
The only two drive-in campgrounds in Everglades National Park are the Longpine Key Campground and the Flamingo Campground. There is also wilderness camping available on beaches and elevated camping platforms. Most of these spots can only be reached by boat or kayak, and a permit is required.
Where to eat in Everglades National Park?
For a great place to eat, White Lion Cafe is an epic little cafe serving up everything from burgers to seafood, and they even have vegetarian options. Located in Homestead, their menu is extensive and has something to tantalize everyone's taste buds.
How many days to spend in Everglades National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Everglades National Park?
An Everglades National Park pass is usually good for seven days and costs the following:
- $30 per vehicle
- Person/cyclist is $15 per person
- Motorcycle is $25
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Located in South Carolina, Congaree National Park is ideal for backcountry camping, canoeing, and fishing. Although Congaree National Park is one of the smaller-sized Eastern US national parks, it is filled with various flora and fauna and is one of the most famous landmarks in South Carolina.
Congaree National Park protects important ecosystems, including "old growth" bottomland hardwood forest. The intact hardwood forest here is the largest in the southern US. Unique to the East Coast of the United States, bottomland hardwood forests are forests or "swamps" that flood seasonally.
There are plenty of paths made from boardwalks, making them enjoyable for wheelchairs and strollers, and you can use the rivers and trail system to explore the park.
What are the best things to do in Congaree National Park?
Canoeing and/or kayaking! Exploring Congaree National park by the river will show you things hiking won't. Following the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail will take you past some of the East Coast's tallest trees.
You'll also get the chance to see some of the locals, including turtles, deer, otters, and sometimes even alligators. You'll either have to rent equipment from local places or bring your own, or you can find guided tours if you're not comfortable going on your own.
When is the best time to visit Congaree National Park?
Spring & Fall
What are the facilities in Congaree National Park?
Harry Hampton Visitor Center
Where to stay in Congaree National Park?
If you're into camping, Congaree is a great national park to visit. There are two designated campgrounds, Longleaf and Bluff. Both sites are walk-in only, and neither have running water.
Longleaf has vault-toilets at the front of the campground. Backcountry camping is also allowed in Congaree National Park, which can only be reached by kayak or hiking.
However, if hiking isn't your thing, there are plenty of places nearby to stay, like the Comfort Suites. With all your basic amenities included, plus extra-comfy beds, an indoor swimming pool, and an excellent full breakfast, you can't go wrong.
How many days to spend in Congaree National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Congaree National Park?
There is no entrance fee at Congaree National Park.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in Ohio and close to the cities of Akron and Cleveland; you would never even know it. Cuyahoga Valley provides you with endless options when it comes to activities and famous Ohio landmarks to visit.
From hiking and biking to horseback riding, stargazing and fishing, there are so many options. The park even has a scenic railroad and outdoor concerts!
What are the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Brandywine Falls and Kendall Ledges Hiking Trail.
- The Brandywine Falls is easy to get to, so no excuses here. You can park right at the car park and follow the wooden boardwalk to the 65-foot falls.
- The Kendall Ledges Hiking Trail is just over 2 miles long and takes you through limestone caves, moss-covered cliffs, and gorgeous canopy-covered trails.
When is the best time to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
What are the facilities in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
- Boston Mill Visitor Center
- Canal Exploration Center
- Hunt House Visitor Center
Where to stay in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
While there is no longer camping allowed within the park grounds, there are heaps of recommended campgrounds nearby. This includes Ottawa Overlook Backcountry Site, Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park, Punderson State Park, Portage Lakes State Park, and West Branch State Park.
There are two lodges on-site that people love to stay at, one being the Stanford House and the other being the Inn at Brandywine Falls. Both are open year-round and offer guests different levels of service depending on what you're looking for.
Where to eat in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
For a great meal, Winking Lizard Tavern is the perfect place to fuel up or refuel after a day in the park. Winking Lizard has pub-style food and hundreds of beers to choose from, making it easy to satisfy any craving.
How many days to spend in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
There is no entrance fee.
New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
New River Gorge National Park is one of the newest eastern national parks, and it is absolutely stunning. Ironically, the New River (the actual river) is one of the oldest in North America. Located in West Virginia, this WV landmark is the premier white water rafting spot on the East Coast.
The park also has hiking trails, fishing spots, rock climbing, and much more. Shrouded by the Appalachian Mountains, you'll be experiencing some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world here.
What are the best things to do in New River Gorge National Park?
White water rafting. There are loads of tours and trips that go out daily on white water rafting trips. Since these rivers have super-hard rapids to navigate, boulders, and other dangers, it is highly recommended you go with a commercial tour.
When is the best time to visit New River Gorge National Park?
The park is open year-round, but the fall is the best time to go for the best weather and "colors."
What are the facilities at New River Gorge National Park?
- Canyon Rim Visitor Center
- Sandstone Visitor Center
- Grandview Visitor Center
- Thurmond View Visitor Center
Where to stay in New River Gorge National Park?
The camping in New River Gorge Park is very primitive. The sites are all along the river and have no water or electrical hookups and no bathrooms.
There are plenty of options to stay at in the park. From cabins to tiny houses and airstreams, you can find something to fit your vibe and style, and some are even pet-friendly.
Where to eat in New River Gorge National Park?
The Secret Sandwich Society is the perfect place to pick up a sandwich for a day of hiking or climbing, or to stop in after and relax. With incredible food and a wide selection of local beers, this place fills you up with good vibes and great food.
How many days to spend in New River Gorge National Park?
What is the entrance fee for New River Gorge National Park?
No entrance fee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
America's most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, can be found binding the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. This park is one of two national parks located within the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Great Smoky Mountains are known worldwide for their diverse flora and fauna. In the park, there are over 65 mammal species, over 200 species of birds, 67 native fish varieties, and more than 80 types of reptiles and amphibians.
What are the best things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Chase waterfalls! Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 11 named waterfalls, and while you might not be able to see them all in one trip, you should definitely make it a priority to see some of them.
Bryson City, the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, is also located within the park and offers loads of fun things to do.
When is the best time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The best time to visit is October.
What are the facilities in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
- Sugarlands Visitor Center
- Oconaluftee Visitor Center
- Cades Cove Visitor Center
- Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station
Where to stay in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ideal for camping. They have several styles of campgrounds, including backcountry, front country, group campgrounds, and horse camps.
There are ten front country campgrounds, 7 "group" campgrounds, and five horse camps available from 4/02-10/31. No matter where you decide to camp, don't forget that the bears are the REAL locals here, so follow all the park rules and regulations.
If you can't get into the whole camping with bears thing, there is one lodge - LeConte Lodge. LeConte Lodge is within park boundaries, and you can hike to it; however, it requires reservations and is not open all year round.
How many days to spend in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
The park doesn't have an entrance fee.
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Arkansas is home to Hot Springs National Park, a tantalizing mix of nature and history, and is considered an "urban park". While you can no longer soak in the springs outdoors, several bathhouses pump in the spring water.
There are also thermal spring fountains located throughout this famous Arkansas landmark where you can fill your water bottle. If you prefer cold water, there are fountains for that as well.
What are the best things to do in Hot Springs National Park?
Hiking. Most people come to Hot Springs National Park to soak in the hot pools, but the hiking here is enchanting. The park has two designated hiking areas, one with shorter interconnecting trails and a separate part where you can follow a path through a more remote park section.
When is the best time to visit Hot Springs National Park?
- August to October
- October to February
What are the facilities at Hot Springs National Park?
Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center and Museum
Where to stay in Hot Springs National Park?
Gulpha Gorge Campground is the park's only camping area, and all the sites have full hookups for RVs. While the campsite has running water and modern bathrooms, they don't have showers.
There are also lodging options on Bathhouse Row is a high-end hotel where you can spoil yourself with a private hot springs tub in each room.
How many days to spend in Hot Springs National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Hot Springs National Park?
Hot Springs National Park has no entrance fees.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
If you're looking for silence and solitude, Isle Royale National Park is the place for you. It is one of the most famous landmarks in Michigan.
Rich in both beauty and wildlife, this national park is ideal for anyone looking to reconnect with nature. The park is rugged and isolated and, as the name suggests, is an island. Engulfed by Lake Superior, this national park is one of a kind.
What are the best things to do in Isle Royale National Park?
Scuba Diving. Whether you're bringing your own gear or taking a guided tour, diving here is totally different than diving in the tropics. The colder waters preserve the shipwrecks in a unique way, allowing you to fully enjoy their eerie beauty.
When is the best time to visit Isle Royale National Park?
The park is only open from April 16 through October 31.
What are the facilities at Isle Royale National Park?
- Houghton Visitor Center
- Rock Harbour Visitor Center
- Windigo Visitor Center
Where to stay in Isle Royale National Park?
Isle Royale is a haven for campers. You can backpack to different campgrounds each day or set up basecamp at one. You can also cruise from dock to dock by boat and tie up each night, and camp that way.
There is also lodging on the island at Rock Harbor Lodge, which is the only full-service lodging on the island. There are cabin options nearby as well.
How many days to spend in Isle Royale National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Isle Royale National Park?
$7 Per person per day, or a season pass costs $60 and will cover up to 4 adults (16 and up), including the pass-holder.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the longest cave system currently known in the world. Located in Kentucky, the park also holds the titles of UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.
There are endless things to do inside this famous Kentucky landmark, and you'll want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to wander around and explore the caves and everything else the park has to offer.
What are the best things to do in Mammoth Cave National Park?
Horseback Riding. There are options to bring your own horse or take guided tours on varying levels of trails. From wide open, easy walking trails to more challenging, narrow paths, spending a day exploring with horses is an incredible experience.
When is the best time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park?
The best time to visit is late fall and early spring.
What are the facilities at Mammoth Cave National Park?
Mammoth Cave Visitor Center
Where to stay in Mammoth Cave National Park?
Mammoth Cave National Park has three front-country campgrounds featuring regular day amenities. Mammoth Cave Campground, Maple Springs, and Houchin Ferry Campground are also close to the park's visitor center.
There are over ten designated backcountry camping areas where you need to hike, ride a horse, or paddle to. All sites require a reservation and a permit.
If you're not into camping, there is still lodging inside the park. The Lodge at Mammoth Cave offers different room sizes and styles and even cottages!
How many days to spend in Mammoth Cave National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Mammoth Cave National Park?
There isn't an entrance fee for Mammoth Cave National Park.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park is conveniently located less than 2 hours from Washington DC. The park has over 200,000 acres of protected lands you can explore, from captivating waterfalls, enticing forests, and wide-open fields of wildflowers. Shenandoah is a true beauty and a famous landmark in Virginia to visit.
What are the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park?
Rock Climbing! Whether you are an expert or just beginning, Shenandoah National Park offers rock climbers of all levels a fun experience. Keep in mind that there are certain areas of the park where climbing is prohibited to protect rare natural resources.
When is the best time to visit Shenandoah National Park?
You don't want to miss out on springtime in Shenandoah. The Skyline Drive hiking trails are bursting with colorful wildflowers, like yellow lady's slipper and wild azaleas.
What are the facilities at Shenandoah National Park?
- Dickey Ridge Visitor Center
- Byrd Visitor Center
Where to stay in Shenandoah National Park?
Shenandoah has five front-country campgrounds, all catering to something slightly different. You can also go backcountry camping in the 196,000+ acres of backcountry. However, remember there are bears, so camp accordingly.
If camping isn't quite your style, you can find cabins, lodges, and even full-service suites within the park boundaries as well.
Where to eat in Shenandoah National Park?
Shenandoah has plenty of dining options within the park to satisfy all of your tastebuds. Elkwallow Wayside, Skyland, Big Meadows Wayside, Big Meadows Lodge, and Loft Mountain Wayside offer everything you need, food and drink-wise.
How many days to spend in Shenandoah National Park?
What is the entrance fee for Shenandoah National Park?
Each pass is good for seven days.
- Single Vehicle - $30.00
- Single Motorcycle - $25.00
- Individual Person - $15.00 (walk-up or bicycling visitors)
Visiting national parks in the east comes with a lot of adventure, but with a lot of adventure also comes a lot of responsibility. Things like always telling someone of your plans and what time you plan to return, whether you're going hiking, trail running, biking, or fishing, is essential. Someone should always know where you'll be.
Always make sure you have the proper gear for your activity of choice, including food and water for you and your dog if you are traveling with one. Be prepared for unexpected weather, too.
Respect the rules that the park sets out, and remember one park might be different from another. One park may allow leashed dogs, while a different one prohibits dogs altogether. The same goes for trash - some parks are considered carry-in, carry-out. So whatever you come in with, you also have to leave with.
Pro Tip: If you plan on camping at parks without showers or toilets, consider packing baby wipes.
Are you planning on exploring national parks on the West Coast as well? Then look no further than this in-depth guide on the best West Coast national parks to visit!
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