No matter where you are from, exploring the wilderness is natural. The United States of America has a rich history replete with natural reserves, historical landmarks, and dense foliage. National parks have been acclaimed for their historical value as well as natural wildlife that attracts tourists worldwide.
When we think about national parks, the most notable ones like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon lie on the country’s west coast.
You’ll be surprised to discover the east coast national parks teeming with stunning vistas and rare wildlife. Let’s get into these hidden gems on the east coast without further ado.
National Parks: An Overview
Table of Contents
- National Parks: An Overview
- 9 Best National Parks On The East Coast of the United States
- 1. Acadia National Park, Maine
- 2. Biscayne National Park, Florida
- 3. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
- 4. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- 5. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
- 6. Everglades National Park, Florida
- 7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
- 8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- 9. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
- Final Thoughts
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you have probably explored all the famous national parks on the west coast. These landmarks have become a hotspot for many travelers due to their unique landscapes, subterranean underground caves, and breathtaking views that warrant innumerable visitors throughout the year.
The East Coast is home to many national parks that offer stunning views of the wilderness without the additional crowd. With 14 states forming the coastline along the north Atlantic ocean, this region is especially replete with notable lakes, rivers, mountains, and caves.
Exploring the east coast includes its unique landmarks like Niagara Falls, Shenandoah caverns, and the Great Smoky Mountains, which have a charm of their own. There’s something to offer for every adventurous spirit looking to venture into the east coast.
9 Best National Parks On The East Coast of the United States
National parks have been an attraction for hiking and trekking enthusiasts since time immemorial. With sprawling wetlands, pristine lakes, and scenic environs, these recreation spots are perfect for satisfying the vagabond in you.
These eastern states boast numerous national parks that can be a fair contender to the wild west. From Maine to Florida, these spectacular national parks are going to be on top of your bucket list.
1. Acadia National Park, Maine
Main Attraction: Coastal highs
Best Time To Visit: July and August for warm weather
Entry cost: $30 for a whole week excluding other amenities
When it comes to US national parks on the east coast, Acadia National Park is one of the top tourist attractions.
This rugged and coastal national park borders the rocky shores of Maine, beguiling tourists with a commanding view of the ocean, sprawling mountains, and impeccable coastlines.
This national park covers a staggering 47,000 acres of land with some notable highlights like Cadillac Mountain, Sand Beach, and Thunder Hole.
The itinerary usually commences with a drive on Park Loop Road which spans over 27 miles, circling scenic spots like Otter Cliff. You’ll want to hike to the mesmerizing Thunder Hole and revel in the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore.
Some other attractions include the Schoodic Peninsula, Mount Desert Island, and Isle au Haut. You can climb to the highest point (Cadillac Mountain) and witness the sunrise or sunset, explore the scenic islands, kayak with the bald eagles, and snorkel with the seals off Bar Harbor.
Visiting Acadia National Park is one of the most unique things to do in Maine.
2. Biscayne National Park, Florida
Main Attraction: Coral reefs
Best Time To Visit: Mid-December to Mid-April
Entry cost: No entry fee; however, overnight docking costs $15 per night
Far from the notorious sands of Miami, Biscayne National Park is a coral reef sanctuary for sea lovers. This park is different from the traditional definition of a wildlife park as it is located 95% underwater, so prepare to get your feet–and maybe, your face wet while you explore the park.
Housing shallow waters, mushy mangrove forests, and the third-largest offshore coral reefs in the world, Biscayne national park boasts one of the most diverse ecosystems in the subcontinent.
As the largest marine sanctuary in the U.S. National Parks system, this aquatic paradise is teeming with rare species like Manatees and American crocodiles. You’ll even find a school of technicolor fishes, moray eels, sea turtles, and even more!
Since Biscayne National park is a maritime hub, popular activities like snorkeling, paddleboarding, and kayaking are quite common along the Maritime Heritage Trail.
If you feel adventurous, you can take the ranger-led canoe trip through the mangrove trees to spot other rare species.
Although there is no entry fee, you must book a tour to explore more than the visitor centers. Remember that there is no extra accommodation in the National park, so you must book a room at Homestead or Florida.
We recommend covering Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park in one trip to avoid the detour.
You might enjoy reading my articles on Unique Things to do in Florida, Best Places to Watch the Sunset in Florida and coastal towns in Florida.
3. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Main Attraction: Wildlife
Best Time To Visit: Fall and spring
Entry Cost: No additional fee or charges
Exploring Congaree National Park is like stepping back in time. The ancient cypress trees and remarkable waterways give us a glimpse into what life was like thousands of years ago. This region is perfect for hiking and bird-watching, from towering trees to clandestine trails and vivid waterways.
Since Congaree National Park is spread over 22,000 acres of land and is the least-visited park on the east coast, you won’t have to worry about crowded trails and a noisy ambiance.
This spot is perfect for indulging in strolls and yoga sessions for nature lovers looking for a serene atmosphere.
Some popular things to do in the vicinity include hiking along the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail, marveling at the Champion trees, paddling across the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, and watching the synchronous fireflies when night descends.
It isn’t easy to track down lodging around the park, so you’ll have to book a room in Colombia, South Carolina, which is roughly 30 minutes away from the park.
Beware of the weather changes, as the national park is notorious for its seasonal floods throughout the year.
4. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Main Attraction: Scenic drives
Best Time To Visit: The first week of autumn for the gorgeous fall foliage
Entry Cost: $30 per vehicle for 7 days
The cradle of national parks on the east coast, Shenandoah National Park is a forested area located 75 miles away from Washington DC.
With the enthralling backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains and quiet wooded hallows encompassing the trail, a drive through the woodlands is a treat to the eyes.
The drive takes around 2-3 hours and covers old coverings, craggy granite peaks, and cascading waterfalls, spread out on the entire Shenandoah valley.
Although the area is mostly forested, you can explore popular activities like hiking to the top of Hawksbill Mountain, driving along the scenic byway that spans over 105 miles, rock climbing, and chasing scenic waterfalls.
Since the park boasts around 500 miles of rugged trails, you can explore the farmlands and wildlife that take refuge in these forested areas. Whether you want to hit the road or test your fitness, the versatile trail will not disappoint you.
Shenandoah National Park is home to a few hundred black bears in the state, remember to keep your distance and practice caution in deserted areas.
The good news is that you don’t need to drive miles to find lodging, Big Meadows is situated right in the middle of all the activities.
And when you’re heading to Shenandoah don’t miss visiting the fantastic wineries in Charlottesville VA.
5. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Main attraction: Limestone cave
Best Time To Visit: You can visit the caves throughout the year since the temperatures stay the same (mid-50s F)
Entry Fees: Free of charge
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest-known cave system. Spread over 400 miles; the cave system preserves tight passageways, pristine labyrinths, and grand fragments of amazing rock formations.
Although these caves have been a hotbed of scientific discovery since the 1800s, the first American Indian explorers took refuge in the limestone labyrinth almost 5,000 years ago.
The cave was created by the natural process of limestone erosion that slowly dissolves during rainfall into a vast system of caves.
Once you are in the cave, you’ll be squeezing through twists and turns along the endings and learning the intricate history of the park.
Since Mammoth Cave is a UNESCO world heritage site, you can only explore the limestone interiors with a guided tour–you can make a reservation here.
You’ll be venturing underground and witnessing the dripping stalactites encompassing the entire cave.
If you are looking to explore some hiking trails, the Heritage Trail can be a viable option after exploring the caves. For lodging, you can choose hotels right outside Cave City.
6. Everglades National Park, Florida
Main attraction: Mangrove trees, boat rides through swamps
Best Time to Visit: November-March
Entry fees: $30 per vehicle (for 7 consecutive days)
Sitting right next to the Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park is another remarkable destination on your bucket list.
These two parks make a perfect weekend getaway in South Florida! Everglades was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, as it is a thriving yet fragile ecosystem.
While Biscayne National Park is a maritime paradise, Everglades is a sub-tropical wilderness that preserves various endangered species.
This national park is an intricate network of tropical islands, forests, waterways, swamps, and marshes. It features four visitor centers on the 1.5 million acres of marshy swampland and unwavering saw grass.
This region is also incredibly famous for its alligator sightings, so a boat trip through this subtropical stretch is high on the list. Don’t miss out on the epic Everglades airboat ride to glimpse this horizon-stretching reserve of mangroves and alligators without getting your shoes wet!
This wild ride will remind you of a scene from a movie set in a swampy paradise. Since the park is home to hundreds of other species, do not be surprised to spot turtles, dolphins, or even birds passing through the forested swamps.
7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
Main attraction: Forested getaway
Best Time to Visit: Fall and summer
Entry fees: No entrance fee or annual pass is required
If you’re an outdoorsy person who loves long hikes, wildlife, and waterfall, you’re going to love the next option! Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a haven with evergreen trees, pristine waterfalls, and overlapping mountains.
A scenic drive through the trees, biking, hiking, or water rafting through the meandering New River are some of the most popular activities in the region. Specifically, hiking up Clingmans Dome, a summit observation tower, or exploring the dense foliage by hiking up to Mount LeCounte.
If everything fails, you can always take a detour to Charles Bunion, a rocky outcrop that overlooks the Cades Cove Valley.
If you’re driving through the Cades Cove Valley, look out for black bears that take refuge in this national park. Rumour has it that two bears are spotted per square mile due to this forested enclave’s extensive population (roughly 1500).
When it comes to finding accommodations, there are many options. You can free camp at Niver River Gorge or stay at lodges like the Cabins At Pine Haven and Sleep Inn Beaver.
8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Main attraction: Hiking trails
Best Time to Visit: Fall
Entry fees: Free
Another national park that offers a mix of winding trails, deep forests, rolling hills, and pristine rivers is the Cuyahoga Valley.
Of course, this area is geared towards nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts, as there are no show-stoppers here. You won’t be sighting any rare species nor can you engage in water rafting activities.
The Cuyahoga Valley is home to 949 know species, varying from a diverse range of flora and fauna. It’s the perfect spot for solitary visitors who prefer to immerse themselves in the unparalleled beauty of nature.
There are a lot of shady trees–pine, spruce, maple, and oak amongst others.
You can plan to go hiking or biking along the various trails. Most hiking enthusiasts frequent the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath trail that offers a commanding view of the 60-foot Brandywine Falls, Beaver Marsh, and Boston Shore.
Since the park stretches from Cleveland to Akron, you’ll cross a diverse range of foliage ranging from marshy wetlands, limestone ledges, and iconic waterfalls.
If you’re lucky, you can even glimpse the secret caves that have intrigued travelers for a long time. Take the 2.2-mile moderate trail along Virginia Kendall Ledges to hike through the forested landscape.
There are several nearby towns near the national park, so you can choose from plenty of lodging options. If you want to stay within the park, book your room at Silver Fern Bread and Breakfast or the Inn at Brandywine Falls.
9. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Main attraction: Fort Jefferson, coral reefs
Best Time to Visit: June to November (summer season), December to April (winter season)
Entry fees: $15 per person
Unlike its name, Dry Tortugas National Park is a tropical archipelago in the Gulf of Mexico. The national park is a cluster of 7 islands, offering everything from superlative coral reefs to mangrove snappers and a tour through the ruins.
Located 70 miles west of Key West, you’ll find a unique combination of picturesque blue waters, bedazzling coral reefs, and copious marine life spread across the 100-square-mile park.
Dry Tortugas is famous for its historical Fort Jefferson, an unfinished coastal fortress built to protect fortified deep water anchorages in North America.
It also held over 2500 prisoners back in the time before being converted into a Marine-Hospital Service in 1888-1900. Apart from its rich history, the magnificent park is home to vast marines, including sea turtles and turquoise fishes.
There are innumerable activities to choose from–including snorkeling, sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, bird-watching, touring and so much more!
Since the islands are only accessible by ferry or seaplane, you must plan ahead. As for lodging, you can camp at Garden Key but you won’t always be lucky to get a room.
You can get more information on camping accommodations here. You can also find proper lodging in Key West ( Havana Cabana).
National parks are essential to preserve the natural beauty of the United States. From forested areas and pristine waterfalls to white sand beaches to marshy swamplands, there’s something for everyone to explore!
There is a diverse range of national parks to consider on the east coast that offers their uniqueness and timeless foliage. These selections are perfect for your next getaway!
I covered all of the costs involved in writing this article on the largest lakes in the United States. Just so you know, this post may contain some affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.
Saturday 18th of March 2023
You forgot Isle Royale NP, which is actually the least visited, NOT Congaree. Unlike Congaree though, it’s due to its limited access as an island in Lake Superior. One of the best wolve preserves in our country and beautiful terrain.
Monday 27th of March 2023
Thanks for adding in Isle Royale Tim.