east coast National Parks travel

National Parks on the East Coast

The East Coast of the United States is home to 13 different and unique national Parks. From Maine down to Florida and out to the Mississippi River you will fall in love with what they have to offer. From wild open spaces, epic sunsets, picturesque views, and amazing wildlife. All 13 National Parks are special in their own way.

Sadly, each state is not home to a national park. The east is made up of 26 different states and we only have 13 national parks in this region. Some states missed out. However, the rest of them make it up.

Below we list the different national parks that can be found in the eastern United States. We will give you some of the best times of year to visit as well as some of the main draws to each of these locations.  How many have you visited?

Acadia 

Acadia National Park is located in Maine on the Atlantic Coast. Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast of the US. It is one of the first places in the US to see the sun rise on the first day of Summer. 

Acadia National Park was the first National Park east of the Mississippi. The tallest mountain on the east coast, Cadillac Mountain, calls Acadia home. Thunder Hole is another popular location within the park.   

The best time to visit is between Spring and Fall. In fall you will find vibrant colors. In the summer kayaking, fishing, hiking, and biking are all popular activities. Camping is another popular activity here. Just book your site early. They fill up quickly.

Acadia National Park, US National Parks

FOUND: 02/26/1919

LOCATION: Maine

AREA: 49,071 acres

THINGS TO DO: Rock Climbing, Hiking, Camping, kayaking, carriage road loop, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing

TIME TO VISIT: Spring thru Fall

Biscayne

Biscayne National Park is located south of Miami on the northern portion of the Florida Keys.  Ninety-five percent of this National Park is water and protects the offshore barrier reefs and Biscayne Bay. Mangrove forests make up the rest. 

Biscayne National Park, US National Park

Biscayne Bay offers the only underwater archaeological trail within the national park system. Along this trail you will find shipwrecks of the Erl King, Alicia, Mandalay, and more. Most of the tours offered at the park are available in winter.

Biscayne Bay National Park is a great place to spot before you head all the way down to Key West. 

FOUND: 06/28/1980

LOCATION: Florida

AREA: 172,971 acres

THINGS TO DO: Snorkeling, scuba diving, boating, kayaking, fishing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Congaree

Congaree National Park is located along the congaree river in South Carolina. This swampy area is the largest old growth flood plain in the US and home to some of the tallest trees on the East Coast. This park is also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Some of the trees here are over 500 years old.

The Boardwalk Loop is a popular trail to take throughout the park. This 2.4 mile elevated walkway takes you around the swampy environment of the park. Make sure you plan your visit during the summer months when the fireflies (lightning bugs) put on a show in the evenings.

FOUND: 11/10/2003

LOCATION: South Carolina

AREA: 26,692 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, bird watching, canoeing

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Cuyahoga Valley

Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio is a bit different than many of the other National Parks in the US. This park has a dense network of roads and near two large urban areas (Akron & Cleveland). It is also one of three within the Great Lakes Basin.

Around 100 waterfalls can be found within the national park. The most popular one, Brandywine Falls, is 65 feet tall. The most popular trail in the park is a 20 mile stretch of the old Ohio and Erie Canal towpath. A scenic railroad tour is also offered at the park. 

FOUND: 10/11/2000

LOCATION: Ohio

AREA: 32,571 acres

THINGS TO DO: Railroad tour, hiking, historical sites, golf

TIME TO VISIT: Spring thru Fall

Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortuga National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is the most difficult national Park to visit on the East Coast. Located 68 miles west of Key West, this park you can’t drive to. You have to take a boat or seaplane to visit this unique national park.

Fort Jefferson is an unfinished fortress on the island. It is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. The island is also a tropical bird breeding ground. Snorkeling, Diving, fishing, and kayaking are all popular activities here. You can also spend the night in one of the few primitive campsites. 

FOUND: 10/26/1992

LOCATION: Florida

AREA: 64,701 acres

THINGS TO DO: Boating, birdwatching, snorkeling, 

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Everglades

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is located in southern Florida and helps protect 36 different species including the American crocodile and Florida Panther. This park makes up the largest tropical wilderness in the US. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve.

There are four visitor centers within Everglades National Park. Many trails can be found all around the park. Along most of the trails you can find turtles, wading birds, and alligators. Kayaking and canoeing is popular along the 99 mile canoe trail that can be found at the Flamingo Visitor Center. 

Over 300 camping sites can be found within Everglades NP. Long Pine Key Campground has108 sites that are located close by to Homestead Florida. Flamingo campsites are a little further away but offer some of the darkest skies in Florida. This is a great place to spot the Milky Way Galaxy. 

FOUND: 05/30/1934

LOCATION: Florida

AREA: 1,508,938 acres

THINGS TO DO: Wildlife watching, camping, Stargazing, hiking

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is located in both North Carolina and Tennessee. This is the most visited national park in the United States. Afterall, 58% of the US population is east of the Mississippi River. The Great Smoky Mountains NP are both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

Seventy miles of the Appalachian Trail run through the park. The park has a total of 850 miles of unpaved roads and trails for hiking. Hikes to Clingmans Dome and Laurel Falls are some of the most popular within the Park.

Late May and early June is a very popular time to visit Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There are at least 19 species of fireflies that can be found here including the only firefly species that can synchronize their lights.

FOUND: 06/15/1934

LOCATION: Tennessee & North Carolina

AREA: 522,426 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, fishing, firefly watching

TIME TO VISIT: Spring thru Fall

Hot Springs

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park located in Arkansas is very unique. Since a portion of the National Park is located in Downtown Hot Springs, it makes it one of the most accessible national parks. Over 2 million people visited in 2021.

FOUND: 03/04/1921

LOCATION: Arkansas

AREA: 5,554 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hot Springs

TIME TO VISIT: Year Round

Indiana Dunes

Indiana Dunes National Park is located in Indiana along the shores of Lake Michigan. You can find sandy beaches and dunes at this interesting national park. 

What makes this national park so interesting? Well you can find 2,336 different species of plants and animals here. See if you can spot all 18 different species of amphibians or the 41 different mammals that call this place home. 

FOUND: 02/15/2019

LOCATION: Indiana

AREA: 15,349 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, camping, swimming, 

TIME TO VISIT: Spring thru Fall

Isle Royale

Isle Royale National Park is located in Lake Superior in Michigan. One of the biggest draws here is to learn about the unique relationship between the wolf and moose populations that call the island home.

Isle Royale is the least visited contiguous United States national park. Part is due to it being closed all winter. Also it’s not the easiest to get to. You have to get there by boat or some other means since it is an island within Lake Superior. Some trips take as long as 3 ½ hours to get there. 

FOUND: 04/3/1940

LOCATION: Michigan

AREA: 571,790 acres

THINGS TO DO: Wildlife watching, hiking, camping

TIME TO VISIT: Closed from November 1st to April 15th

Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is the world’s largest known cave system. There are over 400 miles worth of passages to discover. Mammoth Cave NP is also a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Also as of 10/28/21 it is an International Dark Sky Park.

Tours of the caves are offered and can range from only an hour up to six hours in length. Most are lighted but some you have to carry your own light. What kind of interesting features will you find while spelunking?

Some people even claim that Mammoth cave is one of the entrances to the center of the earth. That is if you believe hollow earth theory. 

FOUND: 07/1/1941

LOCATION: Kentucky

AREA: 54,016 acres

THINGS TO DO: Tours, Caving, Camping

TIME TO VISIT: Spring thru Fall

New River Gorge

New River Gorge National Park located in West Virginia is the newest national park. It became a national park on December 27, 2020. Even though it is new there are many recreational activities that can be done here.

New River Gorge NP is a great place for whitewater rafting. You can find rapids from class I to class V. Rock climbing is also very popular . In fact it is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in the United States.

Biking, hiking, fishing, and primitive camping are also popular activities at New River Gorge. Once a year hundreds of people come to New River Gorge Bridge to BASE jump and rappel during an annual event.

FOUND: 12/27/2020

LOCATION: West Virginia

AREA: 7,021 acres

THINGS TO DO: Rock Climbing, Hiking, Camping, whitewater rafting, fishing

TIME TO VISIT: Spring thru Fall

Shenandoah

Shenandoah National Park is located in Virginia. The Skyline Drive is part of this narrow but long national park. There are 75 overlooks on this 105 mile long drive.

The Appalachian Trail also runs the entire length of the park. Over 500 miles of hiking trails can be found within the park. They range from short easy hikes to longer and much more challenging ones. Many waterfalls can be found along the many different trails. Dark Hollow Falls is the most popular and closest to the Skyline Drive. 

FOUND: 12/26/1935

LOCATION: Virginia

AREA: 200,192 acres

THINGS TO DO: Hiking, Scenic Drive, wildlife watching, backpacking, Leaf peeping

TIME TO VISIT: Spring thru Fall


As you can see, the East Coast of the United States has some pretty amazing National Parks. They might not be as vast as some of the ones out west. However, they still pack a powerful punch. Be sure to check out our list of all 63 national parks.

Have you visited any of these amazing locations? If so, how many have you seen? Which one was your favorite National Park that you visited? Let us know in the comments below.

This post may contain affiliate links. It is at no extra cost to you for clicking a link, but helps me out. For more info click here.

If you are planning on checking out all or any of these amazing places be sure to pick up a National Parks Passport. You can get your passport stamped at all the different locations within the National park system. Places like Gettysburg, Washington, DC, Independence Hall, Everglades NP, and so much more. 

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