16 Best National Parks In The Southeast U.S. To Visit This Year

The United States National Park Service is most well known for its 63 National Parks, but did you know there are actually over 400 National Park Service Sites around the country?

In this list, we provide our top choices of National Parks in the southeast United States, as full-time RVers who have been traveling around the U.S. and Canada since 2021.

A bit of National Park bucket list inspiration for you 🤩 and some well-deserved love for the East Coast!

If you are headed south and ready to explore, you won’t want to miss these 16 National Parks and National Park Service sites in the southeast!

16 Must-See National Parks In The Southeast

This list provides a rundown of the very best National Parks in the southeast United States, with a few extras technically located in the “south” region of the U.S. that would make for easy trips from most states in the southeast!

Let’s dive in!

1. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Crystal-clear blue waters along a pristine white sand beach leading to the brick fort at Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park

Visiting Dry Tortugas National Park is truly a bucket list experience and typically books out months in advance.

The park is located 70 miles from Key West in the Gulf Of Mexico and features Fort Jefferson (one of the nation’s largest 19th-century forts) and blue waters that are out of this world and perfect for snorkeling around the abundance of marine life living in this section of the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world.

There are 3 ways to arrive at Dry Tortugas National Park:

  • A Ferry: The Yankee Freedom is a 2.5-hour ferry ride each way that includes entry to the park, snorkel gear, and breakfast and lunch. Trips leave from the Key West Ferry Terminal at 8 am and arrive back in Key West around 5:30 pm. The ferry costs $210/person ($195/person if you have a National Parks Pass).
    • We chose this option for visiting and had a perfect day exploring Fort Jefferson and snorkeling
  • A seaplane ride: Key West Seaplane Adventures offers morning, afternoon, or full-day tours to Dry Tortugas National Park. Travel time is cut down from 2.5 hours to just 40 minutes and rates range from $450-$792/adult for half and full-day tours.
  • Private boat: You will need to receive permits from the NPS to dock at Dry Tortugas National Park, but if you have the means visiting here with your own boat can give you much more flexibility.

READ MORE: The Perfect Day Trip To The Dry Tortugas

Best Time To Visit: Spring (April-June), although we visited in December and got lucky with calm waters and perfect weather

Looking for more time in nature, but don’t want to take the trip to Dry Tortugas? There are plenty of State Parks to explore in the Florida Keys as well.

A list of State Parks you can visit in the Florida Keys:

  • Long Key State Park
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (offers snorkeling and diving tours)
  • Indian Key Historic State Park (requires a boat ride; Robbie’s offers tours)
  • Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park (requires a boat ride; Robbie’s offers tours)
  • Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park
  • Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
  • Curry Hammock State Park
  • Bahia Honda State Park (a great spot for snorkeling and diving)
  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (another great spot for snorkeling from the beach)
Vibrant blue waters surrounding historic Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park off the coast of Key West Florida

READ MORE: Complete Guide To RVing The Florida Keys

2. Everglades National Park, Florida

Large scaly alligator lurking in green grass on the edge of the water

Everglades National Park protects the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States on the southern tip of Florida.

From manatees to crocodiles to panthers and over 300 species of birds, the park is an oasis where you truly feel like you are experiencing the “real” Florida.

Covering over 2,300 square miles (1.5 million acres) of wetlands, there are multiple entrances and distinct districts in Everglades National Park (part of which has been deemed a World Heritage Site).

Top Things To Do In The Park:

  • Camping in Everglades National Park
  • Hiking & Wildlife Viewing (including alligators, crocodiles, manatees, and bird watching)
  • Shark Valley & The Observation Tower
  • Boat Tours from the Flamingo Marina
  • Airboat Ride

Best Time To Visit: Dry season (December through April)

READ MORE: Everglades National Park Itinerary

3. Biscayne National Park, Florida

This park is 95% water, meaning some of the best ways to explore are either in or on the water!

Consider a guided boat tour or hop in a kayak or on a paddleboard to experience the park.

To get up close and personal with the marine life and coral reefs the park protects, opt for a scuba diving or snorkeling excursion.

If you are short on time, you can still appreciate and learn more about the park by exploring the Visitor Center and walking the Convoy Point Jetty Walk along the water, with views of the Miami skyline.

Top Things To Do In The Park:

  • Snorkel Tours & Scuba trips: Guided tours depart from the Dante Fiscell Visitor Center
    • See coral reefs and remnants of a shipwreck on the Biscayne Maritime Heritage Trail
  • Convoy Point Jetty Walk
  • Boca Chita Key & Lighthouse and Biscayne Bay (via a boat tour, boat rental, or your private boat)
  • Boating, Canoeing, Kayaking

Best Time To Visit: October through April

4. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Green moss covered trees in the floodplain of Congaree National Park

South Carolina’s Congaree National Park is a unique and diverse wilderness that preserves one of the largest intact expanses of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, with 11,000 acres left after 35 million acres were lost as trees were cut and floodplains drained.

Covering an area of over 26,000 acres, the park is characterized by towering trees, scenic waterways, and an abundance of wildlife. Congaree National Park is home to some of the tallest trees in the state, on the East Coast, and even in the nation. Dubbed champion trees, you can find a variety of these towering trees, including pawpaw, loblolly pines, and sweetgum.

We spotted lots of different birds along our hikes in this park – be sure to bring your binoculars and a telephoto lens!

Top Things To Do In The Park:

  • Explore the 2 main park sections – the floodplains and the uplands
  • See the Cypress knees
  • Hike the Boardwalk Loop Trail
  • Synchronous firefly event in May/June
  • Canoe or Kayak on the Congaree River

Best Time To Visit: Fall or Spring (flooding is common in winter)

READ MORE: Congaree National Park Trails You Don’t Want To Miss

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee

Layers of mountains in the clouds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Spanning across the border of two states, Smoky Mountains National Park is a beautiful park known for its misty, fog-covered mountains, synchronous fireflies, and abundance of wildlife.

This is the most visited National Park in America and once you catch a glimpse of the never-ending layers of blue-green mountains, you will surely see why! We were lucky to have this park in our backyard when living both in Knoxville Tennesee, and in western North Carolina!

Top Things To Do In The Park:

  • Hike to Clingmans Dome
  • Newfound Gap Overlook
  • Hike to Andrews Bald
  • Hike to Chimney Tops
  • Abrams Falls
  • Synchronous Fireflies (May/June)
  • Bonus points if you can visit in the fall for beautiful foliage!

Best Time To Visit: Summer and fall (great foliage here!)

6. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

A beautiful curve of Skyline Drive in Virginia with views of layers of mountains and green trees beyond a short stone wall

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful natural paradise located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, USA. Only 75 miles from the hustle and bustle of Washington D.C., the park boasts a diverse range of landscapes, including scenic mountain vistas of the Shenandoah Valley, lush forests, and cascading waterfalls.

You can explore the park through its 500 miles of hiking trails, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail, or take a scenic drive along Skyline Drive, which runs the length of the park’s ridgeline. The park is also home to a rich variety of wildlife, including black bears, deer, and numerous bird species.

Our spring visit brought a quiet park filled with gushing waterfalls and beautiful wildflowers! We even saw a foraging black bear along one of our hikes.

Male hiker standing with his arms up in the middle of the bright white Upper Doyles River waterfall in Shenandoah National Park

Top Things To Do In The Park:

Best Time To Visit: Spring, summer, and fall (great foliage here as well!)

READ MORE: Amazing Trails Along Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive

7. Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina

Cape Lookout National Seashore comprises three different islands: North Core Banks, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks.

With a boat ride just 3 miles offshore to these barrier islands you can enjoy pristine beaches, shelling, beach camping, and bright blue waters that will make you feel miles away from the stress of everyday life.

We were blown away by the amazing shelling opportunities on the huge stretches of beach and loved all of the wildlife you can spot here (keep your eyes open for dolphins)!

A wild horse poses for the camera on Shackleford Banks in front of the Cape Lookout lighthouse.
Wild horse on Shackleford Banks with the Cape Lookout Lighthouse in the distance

Top Things To Do:

Best Time To Visit: Spring, Summer, and Fall (Summer is peak season, we needed jackets during our spring visit but basically had the place to ourselves)

READ MORE: 6 Amazing Things To Do On The Cape Lookout National Seashore

8. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

A female standing on a wooden walkway looking up at the black and white striped Bodie Island Lighthouse in the Outer Banks

Cape Hatteras was designated the first National Seashore by Congress in 1937, although it didn’t have the money and resources to welcome visitors officially until 1953. Today it welcomes over 3 million visitors a year to its pristine beaches and wind-swept dunes.

Sitting at the southern end of the Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras is connected to the northern section of the Outer Banks via the Basnight Bridge, while the only way to travel south to Ocracoke Island is by ferry, as no bridge crosses over the Hatteras Inlet.

We found Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks to have the perfect mix of untouched nature, history, and modern conveniences to make for the perfect vacation destination,

Top Things To Do:

  • Bodie Island Light Station
  • Cape Hatteras Light Station
  • Ocracoke Island
  • Bonner Bridge Pier

Best Time To Visit: Summer (peak season). Early fall/ late spring are nice and quiet if you are okay with mild to cool weather

READ MORE: Best Things To Do in Cape Hatteras & The Outer Banks

9. Wright Brothers National Memorial, North Carolina

Large stone memorial for the Wright Brothers standing on top of the hill where they practiced their flying on the Outer Banks
It is worth the climb up the large hill to reach the monument that sits where the Wright Brother climbed up countless times while experimenting with their designs

A  historic landmark located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers National Memorial commemorates the first successful powered flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903. It features a visitor’s center with exhibits and artifacts related to the history of flight, as well as outdoor exhibits where the flights took place.

We loved learning about the Wright brothers’ journey to achieving their dream and all of the iterations they went through while persevering through the many challenges they endured.

This is a well-manicured monument with vast outside areas to explore where the first flights took place, as well as an indoor museum with additional artifacts and education.

Best Time To Visit: This park is open year-round from 9am-5pm, and is a great addition to your visit to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Outer Banks!

10. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia

A couple standing in front of layers of green and blue mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
A 2017 throwback to visiting the Blue Ridge Parkway before we started our RV travel adventures

The Blue Ridge Parkway holds a special place in our hearts. It is where we spent a lot of time while dating and living apart in North Carolina and Tennessee, it’s where we went on our first overnight camping trip on Max Patch, and it was even part of our engagement!

This stunning parkway is one of the best drives in America, spanning nearly 470 miles of winding roads with panoramic mountain views. This drive is best done with your windows down and the crisp mountain air blowing through your hair and the sun on your face.

Top Things To Do:

  • Drive the parkway in autumn for beautiful colors
  • Mount Pisgah
  • Linville Falls

Best Time To Visit: Fall is the peak time to visit with epic fall colors that go on for miles

11. Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Georgia to Maine

A male hiker holding a wet brown dog in front of a waterfall on the Appalachian Trail
Azalea hiked along her first bit of the Appalachian Trail at 6 months old

The Appalachian Trail spans over 2,000 miles between Georgia and Maine.

Built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, the trail is managed by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies, and thousands of volunteers.

While you might not be up for the challenge of a thru-hike, there are many great sections of the trail to discover while traveling through the Southeast!

Places you can hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT):

  • Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina
  • Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

12. Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia & Maryland

Wild horses grazing in a campsite at Assateague Island National Seashore alongside a large fifth wheel RV
At Assateague Island National Seashore, wild horses roam among the campsites

Located off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia, the Assateague Island National Seashore is a barrier island that not only offers a beautiful stretch of beach along the Atlantic Ocean but also unique opportunities to camp with some special wildlife.

Spanning over 41,000 acres and 37 miles in length, at the Assateague Island National Seashore you can witness the first steps of the season’s new foals, catch Osprey fishing in the waters surrounding the island, and stroll along miles of bright white sand.

While visiting Assateague Island National Seashore we spent every morning admiring the horses and every evening biking to the beach – it was the perfect stay!

Top Things To Do:

  • Nature trails
  • Spend the day at the beach
  • Shore fishing
  • Camp with the wild horses
  • Wildlife photography

Best Time To Visit: Late spring and early fall (shoulder season), summer (peak season)

READ MORE: Complete Guide To Camping On The Assateague Island National Seashore

13. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

A hiker and her dog viewing the New River Gorge Bridge at New River Gorge National Park from the Long Point Trail

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia became the United States’ newest National Park in 2020 (number 63! Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, New River Gorge National Park and the New River itself is a popular destination for climbing, hiking, and white water rafting.

Here, the water of the New River, one of the oldest rivers in North America, continues to carve out this impressive gorge where bustling railway and coal mining communities once called home, long before the New River Gorge Bridge was constructed.

We loved seeing how the views changed from the bottom at the river’s edge all the way up to the bridge, 875 feet above.

Top Things To Do In The Park:

  • Fayette Station Road Scenic Drive
  • New River Gorge Bridge Overlook
  • Canyon Rim Visitor Center
  • Hike the Long Point Trail

Best Time To Visit: Spring and fall for smaller crowds

READ MORE: Fayette Station Road Scenic Drive in New River Gorge National Park

14. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Blue and white striped awnings cover the windows at the Buckstaff Baths bathhouse in Hot Springs National Park Arkansas

With thermal springs in natural landscapes, mountain views, and an entire row of stunning architecture home to historic bathhouses that were once the hallmark of this place of healing, Hot Springs National Park is the perfect destination for nature lovers and avid historians.

We loved camping along the creek just minutes from the park! It was also a treat to be able to explore a National Park in an urban setting, with plenty of opportunities to dine out and even enjoy beverages made with the local hot spring water!

We highly recommend paying the $40 for a traditional bathhouse experience at Buckstaff Baths (if you are planning to go on a weekend be sure to get there early (just before or right at opening) to avoid long lines and wait times!

Top Things To Do In The Park:

  • Get a traditional bath at the Buckstaff Baths
  • Drink the hot spring water
  • Walk the promenade and Bathhouse Row
  • Camp on the stream at Gulpha Gorge Campground
  • Hot Springs Mountain Tower
  • Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center
  • Hot Springs Mountain Scenic Drive

Best Time To Visit: Spring and Fall

15. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Home to the longest cave system in the world, this park is the perfect place to explore underground!

In addition to touring the cave system, the park also has plenty of opportunities to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine with camping, hiking, biking, and canoeing all within the park’s boundaries.

There are 7+ tours offered (availability dependent on the time of year) that you can book on recreation.gov

We had no idea how much we would enjoy exploring the caves of the United States until we traveled through South Dakota and visited Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument! The sense of exploration and adventure traveling down below the earth’s surface is unmatched.

From that trip on, we were hooked on visiting caves all over the country!

Best Time To Visit: Winter (the quiet season with smaller crowds)

16. Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida & Mississippi

Sitting right on the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this National Seashore has bright white sandy beaches bordered by marsh.

The best way to explore the seashore is of course, on the water! Snorkel, dive, swim, boat, and fish. Once you are ready to explore on land, there are plenty of hiking, biking, and historic landmarks to discover as well!

Islands To Explore:

  • In Florida: Naval Live Oaks, Fort Barrancas, Fort Pickens, Okaloosa, Perdido Key Area, Santa Rosa Area
  • In Mississippi: Cat Island, Davis Bayou Area, Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, West Petit Bois Island, Ship Island

Best Time To Visit: Fall, Winter, or Spring for mild weather


Below are all of the 16 National Parks in the southeast mentioned above on a map to help you with your trip planning!

We have laid out exactly how we visited many of these parks in our Guide To The Best RV Road Trips On The East Coast if you are looking for a bit more inspiration!

You can also check out a complete list of the 428 National Park Service Sites here!

Resources For Planning Your Next National Park RV Trip

Looking for more inspiration or pre-planned RV trip itineraries?

Or use this helping hand for planning your own:

Campground & Campsite Resources:

  • Harvest Host: For finding unique experiences and convenient overnight stays at breweries, vineyards, farms, and more! Perfect for a fun weekend getaway or stopover during a long travel stretch.
  • Campspot: For finding and booking great campgrounds and RV parks conveniently and easily all in one place!
  • RV Life: RV safe GPS, RV Trip Wizard route planning, maintenance tracker, campground reviews, and more. Everything any RVer needs, all in one place!
  • Campendium & iOverlander: For finding campgrounds & free camping spots

Internet For RV Travel:

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