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The Best National Parks on the East Coast USA

I love spending time in the great outdoors – and if you’re reading this, I bet you do too.

If you’ll be visiting the Eastern coast of the United States, I highly recommend checking out one of the beautiful US national parks nearby.

Keep reading for my list of the best national parks on the East coast, from Maine all the way down to Florida.

Best National Parks on the east coast

For this post, I only considered national parks on the east coast in the following states:

  1. Connecticut
  2. Delaware
  3. Florida
  4. Georgia
  5. Maine
  6. Maryland
  7. New Hampshire
  8. New Jersey
  9. New York
  10. North Carolina
  11. Pennsylvania
  12. Rhode Island
  13. South Carolina
  14. Vermont
  15. Virginia
  16. West Virginia

While some people may consider any state east of the Mississippi as part of the east coast, I beg to differ!

The National Park Service manages multi-state trails, historical sites and monuments, seashores, and other important landmarks. However, I’m only listing national parks within this list.

With these guidelines, there are 8 national parks on the east coast.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get into this list of the best national parks on the east coast USA.

Acadia National Park

By far my favorite national park on the east coast is Acadia National Park in Maine.

Photo of the Bubble Mountains from across a pond with red trees framing the photo.

This gorgeous New England park holds a special place in my heart, as it is located in the Bar Harbor, Maine area, where my grandmother grew up. 

I’ve spent many family vacations at Acadia – and in fact, as I write this post, I’m preparing for yet another trip in a week.

The park encompasses much of Mount Desert Island, as well as some parts of the nearby mainland. 

Acadia National Park has beaches, rocky coastlines, miles of hiking trails, and epic views from atop Cadillac Mountain. It is also a highly popular park for biking.

For a complete guide on what to do, check out my post on things to do in Acadia National Park.

You can also find the perfect place to rest your head in my post about the best places to stay in Bar Harbor and where to eat in my post about the best restaurants in Bar Harbor.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park in the Florida Keys is great for kayaking, fishing, boating, and other water activities. 

Photo of Boca Chita Key Lighthouse at Biscayne National Park in the Florida Keys.

The most unique thing to do at Biscayne National Park is exploring the Maritime Heritage Trail.

The Maritime Heritage Trail is an underwater trail that links historical shipwrecks and lighthouses.

Yes, that’s right: underwater. Leave your hiking boots at home and pack your scuba gear instead!

Bottom line: If you love being out or in the water, Biscayne National Park is perfect for you. In fact, 95% of this park is water!

Congaree National Park

Located about 30 south of the capital of South Carolina, Columbia, Congaree National Park is filled with hiking trails, water trails for canoeing, and hike-in campsites. 

Photo of a boardwalk-style hiking path through Congaree National Park in South Carolina.

Congaree National Park also includes a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve due to its unique natural resources that have developed one of the highest forests in the world. 

Its long cultural history including indigenous American life, the freedom of enslaved African Americans, and the Revolutionary war was also a major factor in the protection of this land.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is a tiny (100 square miles) park located in the Florida Keys. 

Photo of a walkway parallel to Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.

It is made up of a handful of small islands, with only 1% of the park on dry land. Thus, it can only be reached by seaplane, ferry, or private boat.

Swimming, snorkeling, boating, and fishing are all popular activities at Dry Tortugas. Coral reefs are prevalent in the area, which can be seen when partaking in water activities.

A small campground is also available on Garden Key. Unlike most campgrounds at US national parks, the campground on Garden Key at Dry Tortugas National Park does not accept reservations, except for its group sites. Therefore, it’s first come, first serve!

Lastly, Dry Tortugas National Park is home to Fort Jefferson. Fort Jefferson is a large abandoned fort built in the 19th century as a rest stop of sorts for boats and ships to refuel, protect themselves during storms, or for the US military to launch attacks if needed.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is the last of 3 national parks in Florida. 

Photo of the sun setting behind trees and coastline with water in the foreground at Everglades National Park.

Located in the southern tip of the state, the Everglades is a great spot for hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, bird watching, and camping. 

It is made up of over 1.5 million acres of wetlands and is the third largest national park in the US.

The Everglades is arguably one of the most unique national parks on the east coast, maybe even in all of the National Park Service system!

If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a Florida manatee or Florida panther, both of which are endangered species

Lastly, like Congaree National Park, much of the land in the Everglades is a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park crosses between North Carolina and Tennessee.

It is well known for hiking, camping (both hike-in and car camping), fishing, and landscapes. 

Speaking of landscapes, if you’re ever in the southeastern part of the US in the Fall, head to Great Smoky Mountains National Park for prime Fall foliage viewing.

Photo of the Oconaluftee overlook in the Great Smoky Mountains during sunrise on a cloudy day.

Aside from multiple campgrounds within park grounds, LeConte Lodge provides housing for hikers who reach the top of Mount LeConte.

That said, if you’re not into roughing it, check out the nearby town of Gatlinburg, TN.

Gatlinburg is packed with adorable cabins, bed & breakfasts, and hotels to rest your head.

BONUS: Just 30 minutes north of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Dollywood, a theme park partially owned by Dolly Parton.

Shenandoah National Park

Last up for this list of the best national parks on the east coast is Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. 

Photo of a small waterfall in a wooded area at Shenandoah National Park.

This lovely park is located a little over an hour from Washington, DC, making it an excellent day trip for those visiting the capital of the US

As with other national parks, hiking, fishing, biking, and hike-in camping are all popular activities at Shenandoah National Park.

In addition to camping, rustic cabins and lodges are also available within the park.

Finally, Shenandoah National park is also well-known for its 9 waterfalls.

The east coast isn’t exactly well-known for waterfalls, so this is a rare find on the east coast!

BONUS: The Appalachian Trail

While the Appalachian Trail is not a US national park, it is a national trail. 

Photo overlooking mountains from the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands in North Carolina.

Plus, if you’re interested in national parks on the east coast, then I bet you’ll be interested in learning about this famous trail!

Why, you ask? 

The Appalachian Trail stretches along nearly every state on the east coast, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. 

It is the longest trail in the world, measuring a total of 2,181 miles.

The Appalachian Trail also runs through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. 

TIP: The Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park for approximately 115 miles and 71 miles through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

What is your favorite national park on the east coast?

I hope you’ll be visiting national parks on the east coast sometime soon.

Drop a comment below to let me know which park you’ve visited!

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