10 Stunning East Coast National Parks You Need To Visit This Year


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Looking for fun, adventure, and relaxation in the middle of nature? Then you arrived at the right place! We are about to take you on an inspiring journey through the breathtaking beauty of United States East Coast National Parks.

If you look at the USA National Parks Map you see that the east coast is home to some of the most remarkable parks – maybe not as famous as the ones on the west, but each with its own unique charm and natural wonders waiting to be explored.

Whether you’re looking for miles of hiking trails, fields of wildflowers to admire, wildlife observation, or simply seeking tranquility amidst stunning landscapes on a sand beach, the National Parks on the East Coast have got you covered.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse at sunset, in Acadia National Park, Maine. This is the northmost east coast national park in the USA.
What a stunning way to end the day in an East Coast National Park.

This practical guide will take you to the 10 best National Parks on the East Coast. Here you will find info about the parks, what to do and see there, plus suggestions for tours, activities, and where to stay near the park.

Be ready to experience the rugged beauty of Acadia, the ancient forests of the Great Smoky Mountains, stunning sea views, and much more.

But before we start listing the best East Coast National Parks, let me share an important piece of advice.

Travel Advice:

Don’t forget your Travel Insurance! You don’t want anything to ruin your trip, right? So don’t take the risk! Reliable travel insurance can help you in case of travel issues, from accidents to health problems, travel delays, and lost luggage.

There are many insurances in the market, our picks are HeyMondo and SafetyWing. We used both and always had a good experience. Click on the insurance names to get a quote.

Now let’s go to our list of the top National Parks on the East Coast, USA.

National Parks on the East Coast worth visiting


Photo of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine, USA. It shows the body of water surrounded by hills.
One of the many beautiful places to visit in the Acadia National Park.

Acadia National Park

Location: Maine

Most of this park (formerly known as Lafayette National Park) is on an island. It is also interesting for a unique claim to fame. Cadillac Mountain is the first piece of land in the US to see the sun for at least half the year. If that isn’t enough to get you hiking before dawn, nothing is.

The northernmost national park on the East Coast is located in 3 areas: on Mount Desert Island (Bar Harbor is the nearest town), on the Isle au Haut, and Schoodic Peninsula.

The park is roughly 47,000 acres and offers some of the best New England greenery to be seen. The bike trails used to be carriage trails that became disused once cars became more fashionable.

The Park Loop Road is highly recommended, offering an all-around experience of the park’s many attractions and scenic views. Be advised that some parts of the park are closed in winter due to adverse weather conditions.

Here is a good Acadia National Park Self-Guided Driving Tour that you can buy and download to use during your trip to the park. It has an audio guide, park map, and other tips to help you make the most of your scenic drive in this incredible East Coast National Park.

Acadia National Park Fee:

Acadia National Park fees are $30 per vehicle and $15 per person (on foot). The entry tickets are valid for a week. Permits can be pre-arranged online.

What to do at Acadia National Park?

These are three activities worth checking out:

Where to stay to visit the Acadia National Park?

Bar Harbor Villager Motel, is located 2 miles from the park and offers comfy rooms, and a swimming pool. Guests reviewed it as superb accommodation near the park.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Aerial Views in Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, United States. It shows the crystal clear sea and Fort Jefferson. This is one of the top national parks on the US east coast.
Tortuga will give you amazing views and abundant sea life.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Location: Florida

Fun fact: ‘tortuga’ means ‘turtle’ in Spanish. And a key attraction to this aptly named island cluster national park is the opportunity to spot five different species of turtles. Appropriately, you can only access the park by boat, ferry, or seaplane.

Tortugas span seven adjacent islands in all. There is only one formal building within the park, Fort Jefferson. This was a military fort built in the 1800s but never fully completed.

Among other things, it may be the largest brick structure in the Americas, with over 16 million bricks in its current structure (another interesting fact about this east coast park).

Although it is a perfect day trip to take, some choose to spend up to three days on the islands. Remember that there are no amenities on the islands, so everything needs to be brought with you.

Be sure to explore the white sand beaches, coral reefs, and abundant marine life while you’re here.

Dry Tortugas National Park Fee:

Dry Tortugas National Park entrance fee is $15 per person. Keep in mind that some islands may close for some parts of the year due to nesting turtles and other wildlife considerations.

Where to stay to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park?

Simonton Court Historic Inn & Cottages in Key West is our suggestion. A cozy hotel with lovely rooms and breakfast included in the rates. Guests have access to the swimming pool and bicycle rent.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Florida Travel Tips:

For those traveling around Florida, here are more tips and travel guides.

Photo taken at Anhinga Trail Alligators in Everglades National Park in Florida, United States.
Watch out for Everglades locals!

Everglades National Park

Location: Florida

One main claim to fame for the Everglades National Park is the very unusual cohabitation status of the two inhabitants. This is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles are known to live side by side.

This enormous park spans 1.5 million acres; certainly one of the biggest and best national parks on the east coast.

All kinds of wildlife are abundant here, from amphibians to birds, wild cats, and fish. Most of the park is dominated by waterways, so it makes sense that the way to see it is by boat.

You can, however, scuba dive in various locations across the park. There are also bike routes, hikes (Anhinga Trail is a must), and educational tours. 

The best time to visit Everglade is between December and March (dry season), as the weather is cooler and more bearable.

Everglades National Park Fee:

Entrance to the Everglades National Park is $230 per vehicle or $15 per individual.

Things to do at Everglades National Park:

There are many activities and tours at Everglades National Park, and many of them have different starting points. 

So, if you decide to stay in a nearby town, you can still book a tour with a pick-up service and enjoy the park hassle-free.

Here are some recommended tours at Everglades Park:

Where to stay to visit Everglades National Park?

Holiday Inn Express Doral Miami is our pick for staying close to the park. There are lots of hotels in Miami, and among the 3-star range, the Holiday Inn offers good rooms, fair prices, and good reviews.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Sunset or sunrise at the Great Smoky Mountains, one of the most important mountain ranges and nationla parks in the United States.
The hypnotizing vastness of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: North Carolina/Tennessee

Many music lovers associate the Smoky Mountains with country music icon Dolly Parton. The name was given because of the mysterious cloudy blue “smoke” that often graces the mountain tops and valleys.

The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in the US, welcoming more than 10 million visitors annually. It also helps that there is no admission fee.

The park is huge, with 800 miles of trails to hike from short ones to multi-day hikes. It sits in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the US, and visitors can also see some popular waterfalls (Rainbow Falls is the biggest), caves, and wildlife.

One of the unique attractions is the firefly display during their reproductive season. They provide a spectacular light show for those who venture out to see it around May.

Bear in mind that during winter, several camping areas are closed.

Here is a Great Smoky Mountains Park Self-Driving Tour worth buying. More than directions, the audio guide tells stories about the past and present of this important East Coast National Park. 

You can listen to Cherokee’s rich history and ancestral legends, and find the park’s most vibrant natural wonders and mountain views as you go through your scenic drives.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fee:

The Great Smoky Mountains Park does not have an entrance fee per person. What you will have to buy is the parking tag for your vehicle. The price for a daily tag is $5, a weekly tag is $15, and an annual tag is $40.

Where to stay at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

Historic Tapoco Lodge sits in the middle of the green and it’s close to several hiking trails. The rooms are lovely and guests review it as superb accommodation near the Great Smoky Mountains.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

North Carolina Travel Tips:

The Cuyahoga River National Park is approximately 51 square miles in size. It's one of the must-visit east coast national parks.
So beautiful that looks unreal.

Cuyahoga River National Park

Location: Ohio

Cuyahoga River National Park, 22 miles south of Cleveland, actually played a role in forming what we know today as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

The area used to be a site for the illegal dumping of toxic waste, leading to several environmental disasters. In 1969, a disastrous fire led to action being taken to form the agency to prevent future disasters.

Today the area around the Cuyahoga River (Mohawk for “Crooked River”) is called the Cuyahoga River National Park and is approximately 51 square miles in size.

Several of these hiking trails used to be towpath trails for boats. Interestingly, mules were used to tow the boats to various points within the park. These canals are now disused but still form the basis for interesting routes through the valley.

Cuyahoga River National Park Fee:

The entrance to the Cuyahoga River Park is free.

Where to stay at Cuyahoga River National Park?

Staybridge Suites Akron-Stow-Cuyahoga Falls is a good option for accommodation as it’s a few minutes’ drive to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and close to many trails. It’s a 3-star hotel so you know you will have all the amenities you need for a comfy stay.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Shenandoah National Park during the fall season. A couple standing by the road appreciates a mountain view with trees covered in red leaves.
Shenandoah Park with mild temperatures and stunning views during Autumn.

Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

Welcome to black bear country. This park boasts the highest concentration of black bears to be found anywhere in the US.

Part of the park is also significantly historic, as the Appalachian wandered through these parts. Several of the hiking trails follow or are part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

This park is relatively large, with more than 500 miles of trails to hike. There’s an abundance of natural wonders to explore, from rivers and creeks to waterfalls, wildlife, mountains, and caves.

I recommend you take the 105-mile Skyline Drive to viewpoints. If done properly, with many stops, you can easily spend an entire day simply admiring the park’s bountiful attractions. Here is an audio guide you can download to take you to the best spots on the incredible east coast park.

Important advice, be(ar) aware of your surroundings and learn the basics of bear safety before starting any trail.

Shenandoah National Park Fee:

Entry to the Shenandoah National Park costs $30 per vehicle or $15 per individual on foot. Campgrounds and picnic areas are available throughout the park.

Where to stay at Shenandoah National Park?

Bluegreen Vacations Shenandoah Crossing is a beautiful hotel located on 1,000 acres of private land, offering indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, and of course, spacious and comfy rooms.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Photo of a Board Walk in Congaree National Park. The walk is surrounded by green forest. The park has the largest hardwood forest remaining on the East Coast of the US.
Let’s go for a walk!

Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Very tall and large trees are what you’ll find at Congaree. This is where you are likely to see the largest hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern part of the United States. 

This claim is already a reason to add Congaree to the list of best national parks in the eastern US, don’t you think?

A trail to consider is the Kingsnake Trail, a popular and relatively easy 12-mile walk. Canoes can be rented nearby in Columbia, or you can bring your own if you want to travel the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail in style.

Congaree National Park Fee:

Entrance to Congaree Park is free, although pre-booking for camping is essential and required. Camping in the designated campground areas costs between $5 and $20 per night, depending on the size of the lot required.

Where to stay at Congaree National Park?

Cambria Hotel Columbia Downtown the Vista, Columbia. This lovely hotel is centrally located and has easy access to the park. It has bright and comfy rooms and offers free bikes, private parking, and a fitness center.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Railroad bridge over the New River, in New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia.
New River Gorger is one of the newest parks in the US.

New River Gorge National Park

Location: West Virginia

New River Gorge National Park is a brand new addition to the US National Park system, officially designated in 2020. It seems a natural process, as the area has been a popular recreational spot for many years, just without national park status.

The New River, ironically, is estimated to be 360 million years old, one of the oldest in the continental US. This river is perfect for whitewater rafting enthusiasts. It offers more than 50 miles of rapids, some of which may not be for beginners, especially on the lower half of the river.

Endless Wall Trail is a 2.5-mile hike that is simply breathtaking. It winds through the forest and travels along the cliffs next to the river. The trail eventually leads to the River Gorge Bridge, a popular lookout point for visitors.

For a longer walk, try the Glade Creek Hike. It’s a 12-mile sling and can easily be stretched to a full day, provided you plan for a picnic along the way. There are also numerous biking tails for wheel enthusiasts.

An 83-mile drive is recommended for those who simply want to explore the best vistas quickly, and you can also have fun at one of the classic climbing spots along the rocky cliffs.

New River Gorge National Park Fee:

Entrance to the park, as well as ranger-led hikes and camping, are free.

Where to stay at New River Gorge National Park?

La Quinta Inn & Suites, New River Gorge National Park. It’s a 3-star hotel located in Summersville and a great base to explore the park. It offers nice rooms, a fitness center, and an indoor pool.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Photo of a cave at Mammoth Cave National Park, East Coast, US.
Mammoth Cave is impressive.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Location: Kentucky

Mammoth Cave, in addition to being an official federal national park, is also a UNESCO world heritage site. The reason for this important recognition is the limestone cave system, which is about 400 miles long. This makes it one of the longest in the world.

Mammoth Cave National Park can only be explored as part of a guided tour. Also, it is highly recommended you book your tour well in advance. Several tour options exist, tailor-made for various requirements like kid-friendly, wheelchair-accessible, and adventure tours.

Before or after visiting the park, you can also check out Cave City.

Mammoth Cave National Park Fee:

Entrance to the Mammoth Cave Park is free, although charges for the cave tour and camping apply.

Where to stay near the Mammoth Cave National Park?

Grand Victorian Inn, Park City. The hotel is in a historic building and offers rooms beautifully decorated in Victorian style. The hotel is located near the park and also to The Golf Course at Riverview. 

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Photo taken at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. An old bridge, the river, and a hill in the background.
Harpers Ferry is a mix of nature and history.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Location: West Virginia /Virginia /Maryland

This East Coast National Park is the perfect spot for history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts. Located where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge, the park displays attractions that have historical significance, so you learn while visiting the park. 

The area tells stories of significant figures like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. and about the abolitionist John Brown’s raid and the Civil War.

The park settings and lower town are designed to offer a slice of colonial life, a real trip to the US past. Apart from the museum and historical buildings, there are several hikes and sites of battles or other historical occurrences you can explore while enjoying the outdoors.

Harpers Ferry National Park Fee:

Entry to the Harpers Ferry National Park is $20 per vehicle or $15 for single-person entry. The Lower Town is accessible by shuttle bus from the visitor center. From here, you can sign up for a ghost tour, go hiking, or bike riding.

No motorized vehicles or camping is allowed in the historical park itself.

Where to stay near the Harpers Ferry National Park?

Cantuta Inn, Harpers Ferry. This Inn offers cozy rooms with private bathrooms, the perfect base for those who will spend the day out and about and need a no-frills comfy place to stay. Spect home-cooked breakfast on weekends.

(click on the hotel name to see the rooms and rates)

Things you need to consider before visiting the East Coast National Park

When to visit the East Coast National Parks?

It doesn’t matter if you are going for a weekend getaway or if your visit to the park is part of a month-long vacation, thinking of when to visit the parks is very important.

The weather and crowds can vary significantly throughout the year. Before planning your trip check the weather forecast, especially because some popular activities might not be open or running through all the months.

The summer months (June to August) generally offer pleasant weather and longer days, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities. However, keep in mind that these months are also peak tourist season.

Be prepared for larger summer crowds and make sure to book accommodations and camping sites well in advance.

Spring and fall can be great alternatives, as the weather is usually mild, and some parks have stunning colorful foliage during the fall season. 

When planning your trip consider that mid or late Spring will be less busy, and at the start of Autumn, temperatures are more pleasant.

Winter is the quieter time to visit the east coast parks, but do check for park closures and limited services due to weather conditions.

How long should you stay?

This is a tricky question. It all depends on how much time you have and what you want to do in the parks.

Planning is the key to deciding how many days you should stay. Some parks, like Acadia National Park in Maine, or Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, can be explored thoroughly within a few days.

However, if you want to fully immerse yourself in the larger parks, such as Everglades National Park in Florida or Great Smoky Mountains National Park spanning Tennessee and North Carolina, consider allocating a week or more to truly appreciate their vastness.

It’s not only the size of the park that you should consider, but also the number of activities it offers and which ones you want to do. My suggestion is to research and plan the specific trails or landmarks you’d like to visit, and even book in advance the tours you want to join. 

This can help you make the most of your time and ensure you don’t miss out on any must-see attractions.

Lastly, if you are visiting a few parks on the same day or week, don’t forget to factor in travel time between parks. The same for those who are staying a bit far away from the parks. 

Always allow some flexibility in your schedule to account for unforeseen circumstances or spontaneous adventures.

What do you need to do before getting to the park?

Even with everything planned, before visiting a national park you should always check the weather forecast and the National Park Service website.

This way you avoid any risk, and you know what is happening in the park. 

Weather can be very unpredictable on the mountain peaks, rain can cause damage to the network of hiking trails, and even flat trails can be closed because of maintenance or bad weather the night before.

Visiting a natural wonder requires an adventurous spirit and also respect.

Also, if you are a tourist traveling in the US, don’t forget to have trustworthy and reliable travel insurance. Check Safety Wing and HeyMondo policies and choose the one that matches your travel style. 

What about the US National Parks fees?

If you are an adventure traveler, or just passionate about natural parks, then you should consider buying the National Parks Pass. Depending on how many parks and recreational areas you are planning to visit in a year, it can be a money-saving option.

And if you are planning to visit many of the US parks, then you should read our guide to the Top 10 National Parks on the West Coast.

Beautiful National Parks on the East Coast Wrap Up

There’s no need to travel abroad to see fabulous nature and feel the adrenaline of conquering forested hikes, admiring hot springs, and being mesmerized by the blue water of the sea. These ten eastern US national parks we listed will easily satisfy your need to see all these and much more.

Why not consider one of these parks for your next holiday or east coast weekend getaway?

Pack your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready to immerse yourself in the natural splendor that awaits.

Love these East Coast National Parks? Pin it for later!

The best National Parks on the US East Coast, from the vast forest of the Great Smoky Mountains to the crystal clear water of  Dry Tortugas National Park, we covered it all. This guide to East Coast National Parks includes what makes each park unique, why you should visit, what to do there, where to stay near the park, and everything you need to consider when planning your visit to a US national park. National Parks in the US | National Parks East Coast | National Parks on the East Coast