From the pristine coastlines of Acadia National Park to the charming valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the East Coast has endless incredible landscapes. Whether you’re into history, the vibrant underwater world, expansive caves, quiet forest trails, or a bit of each, these 20 Best East Coast National Parks have the perfect adventure.
Lose track of time as you walk amongst Congaree National Park’s expansive old-growth forests, set out for an adventure of a lifetime on the Appalachian Trail, or see for yourself the hype of the Statue of Liberty. Set foot on remote islands and spend days immersed in nature, or take a break from the city and fill your afternoon with tree-lined trails and playful wildlife.
No matter what your ideal National Park vacation may be, the East Coast National Parks will surprise you with their peaceful nature, pristine lakes, and friendly rangers always happy to share their knowledge. If you’re keen to put some miles on your hiking shoes while discovering fascinating history, look no further than these awe-inspiring East Coast National Parks.
- US National Parks
- 20 National Parks – East Coast
- 1- Acadia National Park
- 2- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- 3- Congaree National Park
- 4- Mammoth Cave National Park
- 5- Everglades National Park
- 6- Shenandoah National Park
- 7- Cape Cod National Seashore
- 8- Biscayne National Park
- 9- New River Gorge National Park
- 10- Isle Royal National Park
- 11- Hot Springs National Park
- 12- Dry Tortugas National Park
- 13- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- 14- Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
- 15- Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie National Historical Park
- 16- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- 17- Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
- 18- Wright Brothers National Memorial
- 19- Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
- 20- Statue of Liberty National Monument
- 20 National Parks – East Coast
US National Parks
20 National Parks – East Coast
1- Acadia National Park
Known For: Rugged coastlines
The crown jewel of National Parks on the East Coast, Acadia National Park features 64 miles (102 kilometres) of stunning coastline, diverse wildlife, pristine beaches and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Cadillac Mountain is the most popular trail in the park, and for good reason.
Not only are the 360-degree views incredible, but for half the year between October and March, the summit is the first place in the U.S. to see the sun.
Or, if you prefer something less challenging, drive the 27-mile (43-kilometre) Park Loop Road to see many of Acadia National Park’s highlights.
Address: Hulls Cove Visitor Center, the main visitor centre to Acadia National Park, is at 25 Visitor Center Road, Bar Harbor, ME 04609.
2- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Tennessee & North Carolina
Known For: Impressive waterfalls and autumn colours
From the cascading waters of Abrams Falls and picturesque Fontana Lake to the jaw-dropping views atop Mount Guyot’s 6,621 feet (2,018 metres) summit, Great Smoky Mountains National Park has no shortage of adventure.
Word has undoubtedly got out as the National Park sees over 10 million visitors annually.
However, with 800 miles (1287 kilometres) of hiking trails, you can easily find your own slice of paradise – just be sure to stay off the main Cades Cove Loop Drive in the summer!
Address: The best place to begin your Great Smokey Mountain adventure is at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, located at 1194 Newfound Gap Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719.
3- Congaree National Park
Location: South Carolina
Known For: Magnificent old-growth forest
In the middle of South Carolina, in Congaree National Park, you’ll find the largest old-growth forest in North America.
Hike along the 20 miles (32 kilometres) of backcountry trails, or stick to the shorter 2.4-mile (3.7-kilometre) boardwalk, which meanders through the charming forest.
Another great way to experience the park is with a canoe trip down the Congaree River, where you’ll have the best chance to spot deer, otters, turtles, bobcats and many types of fish.
Address: Start your Congaree National Park adventure at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center, at 100 National Park rd, Hopkins, SC 29061.
4- Mammoth Cave National Park
Known For: World’s longest known cave system
Above ground, lush forests, gentle rivers, and lengthy hiking and biking trails wait to be discovered in Mammoth Cave National Park.
Yet, the incredible world below ground is what draws visitors from near and far to this Kentucky National Park.
Explore the world’s longest-known cave system with a guided tour and see the amazing chambers and rock tunnels Mammoth Cave is known for.
Book your tour in advance as it’s very popular, especially during the summer.
Address: Mammoth Cave Visitor Center is at 1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259.
5- Everglades National Park
Known For: Everglades tropical wilderness and abundant wildlife
Welcoming over one million visitors a year, Everglades National Park is a must-visit if you’re in the area and the USA’s largest tropical wilderness.
Visitors can explore the endless walking trails, take a guided tram tour to learn about the fragile ecosystem, or find the perfect spot to watch for wildlife.
Everglades National Park is home to the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and over 350 species of birds, so you’ll want to always have your camera on hand.
Address: Start your Everglades National Park trip at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at 40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034.
6- Shenandoah National Park
Known For: Skyline Drive and incredible hiking
For some of the best hiking on the East Coast, head to Shenandoah National Park.
Home to over 500 miles (800 kilometres) of trails, of which 101 miles (162 kilometres) make up part of the Appalachian Trail, you’ll be awestruck by the numerous waterfalls, old-growth forests, expansive views and plentiful wildlife.
Even if you prefer to explore from the comfort of a vehicle, Skyline Drive travels over 100 miles (161 kilometres) through the park and offers 70 scenic overlooks to pull over and enjoy the view.
Address: The Shenandoah National Park Headquarters is at 3655 US-211, Luray, VA 22835.
7- Cape Cod National Seashore
Known For: Expansive sea views and diverse shoreline
While Cape Cod may be known for its delicious food, upmarket stores, and sandy beaches, Cape Cod National Seashore is all about wild nature.
Stretching 40 miles (64 kilometres) along the coast and encompassing over 40,000 acres (16,187 hectares), visitors can enjoy everything from surfing and canoeing to hiking and wildlife spotting.
Autumn is an especially scenic time to head to Cape Cod, as red and orange hues dot the shoreline and water temperatures are perfect for swimming.
Address: Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center is at 50 Nauset Rd, Eastham, MA 02642.
8- Biscayne National Park
Known For: Living coral barrier reef and thriving mangrove forests
An incredible 95% of Biscayne National Park is underwater, making it the largest marine sanctuary looked after by the National Park Service.
If you’re a fan of taking to the seas to explore via scuba diving, snorkelling, or boating – you’ll want to add this East Coast National Park to your list.
The park has many endangered species, so going guided is the way to go.
You’ll learn about the many sharks, stingrays, turtles, and other wildlife found here while ensuring you’re not negatively impacting the environment.
Address: Dante Fascell Visitor Center is at 9700 SW 328th St, Homestead, FL 33033.
9- New River Gorge National Park
Location: West Virginia
Known For: World-class rock climbing and white water rafting
Hidden in the forests of West Virginia, you’ll find the scenic and hardly known New River Gorge National Park.
Somehow this park has been kept out of the spotlight, making it a paradise for those who want to explore nature without the crowds.
New River Gorge is especially great for climbers, with over 1,400 established climbs ranging from 30 to 120 feet (9 to 36 metres) high.
Or, to see the expansiveness of the National Park, head out on a guided rafting trip to wind your way through dramatic cliffs and lush forests.
Address: New River Gorge National Park headquarters are located at 104 Main Street, Glen Jean, WV 25846, United States.
10- Isle Royal National Park
Known For: Remote nature and pristine lakes
An island National Park found on northern Lake Superior and reachable only by ferry or seaplane, Isle Royal is one of the least visited National Parks in the United States.
However, for those ready for an adventure, they won’t soon forget, Isle Royal National Park promises quiet trails, stunning vistas and complete immersion into nature.
As it can take 1.5 to five hours to reach the island by ferry, you’ll want to stay for a few nights in one of the remote campsites or book a cabin far in advance.
For a grand adventure, pack a backpack and tent and traverse the 43-mile (69-kilometre) Greenstone Ridge Trail.
Address: Isle Royal National parks mainland headquarters is at 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, MI 49931.
11- Hot Springs National Park
Known For: Thermal Springs and rich historical past
Established in April 1832, Hot Springs National Park is the nation’s oldest National Park and still, today, is home to plentiful hot springs, abundant creeks, and charming forests.
Throughout the park, nine historic bathhouses awe visitors with their grand architecture and numerous trails set in the Ouachita Mountains provide day hikes for novices and expert hikers.
To enjoy the park to its fullest, head out for a hike to see the natural hot pools up close, then spend the afternoon at one of the two bathhouses available for soaking.
Address: Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center is at 369 Central Avenue, Hot Springs, AR 71901.
12- Dry Tortugas National Park
Known For: Fort Jefferson, great snorkelling and scuba diving
Like Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park is mainly open water and protects the many coral reefs and marine life.
However, the National Park also offers a unique glimpse into America’s past, including the picturesque Fort Jefferson used in the Civil War and even imprisoned Dr Samuel Mudd for his involvement in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
The best way to discover the island’s natural delights is to book a boat tour, which will take you around the seven islands.
Or, if you’d like to explore the underwater world, the blue waters and bustling coral reefs make for excellent scuba and snorkelling.
Address: Fort Jefferson Visitor Center is at Fort Jefferson, Key West, FL 33040, United States
13- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Location: Maine to Georgia, crossing 14 states
Known For: Longest hiking-only trail in the world
While not technically a National Park, it would be wrong not to include the Appalachian National Scenic Trail on this list of the best East Coast National Parks.
Stretching 2,180 miles (3,500 kilometres) from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katharine in Maine, the Appalachian Trail brings hikers through forests, over mountain passes, alongside rivers and through farms and towns.
While about 3,000 people attempt to traverse the trail each year, only an average of 25% complete it.
Even if you’re not prepared to spend a few months out hiking, it’s well worth exploring one of the many smaller sections dotted along the East Coast.
Address: The Appalachian National Scenic Trail headquarters is at 799 Washington St, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425
14- Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Location: Border of Kentucky, Tennesse and Virginia
Known For: Rich history as the gateway to the west
Once used by Native Americans and settlers as a gateway to the west, Cumberland Gap is rich in history and nature, with beautiful overlooks, thundering waterfalls and abundant wildlife.
The best way to explore the park is by foot on the 70 miles (112.6 kilometres) of interconnected trails winding through Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
There’s something for everyone, from easy 20-minute walks to all-day hikes.
Also, be sure to book a tour of Gap Cave to see the incredible world just below ground.
Address: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is at 91 Bartlett Park Road, Middlesboro, KY 40965.
15- Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie National Historical Park
Location: South Carolina
Known For: Civil War and Revolutionary War history
Unlike many of the other East Coast National Parks on this list, Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie National Historical Park is less about nature and more about its essential role during the Civil War and Revolutionary War.
In fact, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter and still today, you can see artefacts from the long Siege of Charleston.
If you’re interested in America’s early days, stop at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center, take a guided ferry, and tour out to Fort Sumter itself.
Address: The park headquarters is at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482.
16- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Known For: Numerous waterfalls and scenic railroad
Set between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is the perfect getaway to escape city life and reconnect with nature.
While the National Park Service looks after the park, numerous private and public businesses operate within the region, allowing for exciting activities and unique programs.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is especially fun, and you can either ride the entire length of the railroad or hike or bike the Towpath Trail, then catch the train instead of hiking back.
Address: Boston Mill Visitor Center is at 6947 Riverview Rd, Peninsula, OH 44264.
17- Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Location: Along the border of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland
Known For: Site of John Brown’s Raid
Set in the charming town of Harpers Ferry, Harpers Ferry National Park combines history, nature, adventure and culture to create a perfect weekend getaway.
It may not offer the hundreds of miles of remote trails like other East Coast National Parks, but the 22 miles (35 kilometres) of easy to moderate trails in the Blue Ridge mountains are well worth exploring.
Or, head to one of the numerous museums to learn about John Brown’s Raid, which in part ignited the Civil War.
Address: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is at 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425.
18- Wright Brothers National Memorial
Location: North Carolina
Known For: Location of first successful aeroplane flight
Step back in time and discover Wilbur and Orville Wright’s passion for flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
On December 17, 1903, the brothers fulfilled their dreams of flight and successfully flew an aeroplane 120 feet (36 metres) along an open field.
A robust Visitor Center takes you on a journey with the brothers and showcases a replica of the plane and other flight-related exhibits.
Address: Wright Brothers National Memorial is at 1000 North Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27947.
19- Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Location: Border of Kentucky and Tennessee
Known For: Impressive gorges along Cumberland River
Another impressive wilderness area that’s remained off the radar is the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Sitting right on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, with 125,000 acres (50,600 hectares) of protected land along the Cumberland River, you’ll be spoilt for choice for beautiful hikes to tick off.
Big South Fork is also a stunning whitewater rafting location, with a range of flat water sections to Class IV rapids meandering throw cliff-lined gorges.
Address: The Visitor Center is at 176 River Otter Dr, Crossville, TN 38571, United States.
20- Statue of Liberty National Monument
Location: New York
Known For: Statue of Liberty
You’ve likely heard of the Statue of Liberty, but did you know the National Park Service looks after it?
With an average of 24,000 visitors a day or 8.7 million visitors a year, it’s one of the most recognised and most visited of all National Parks in the United States and comprises of the Statue of Liberty, the Statue of Liberty Museum and the former immigration station on Ellis Island.
We’re sure we don’t have to tell you twice to book your tickets early for this tour!
Address: Liberty Island, New York, NY 10004.