The Best National Parks East Coast USA Has For Your Travel Bucket List

After growing up in New England and eventually living in the Southeast for several years, the East Coast will always feel like home to us.

Even now as full-time RVers exploring new places all over North America, there is always something that feels special and a bit nostalgic about returning to the East Coast.

National Parks on the East Coast have a completely different feel than their vast West Coast counterparts, and honestly, that is what makes them so worthwhile.

As National Park enthusiasts who have visited National Parks all over the U.S. and Canada, we are breaking down the best National Parks East Coast USA has to offer that are definitely worth a few spots on your travel bucket list.

Save these East Coast parks and use the tips and resources below as your one-stop shop for trip planning!

The Best National Parks On The East Coast

With 63 major National Parks and hundreds of other National Park sites around the U.S., exactly how many National Parks are on the East Coast?

There are 7 major National Parks that we would consider “on the East Coast” (even though they are not all coastal), as well as a few additional National Parks in the eastern U.S. that are also worth a visit!

And if you are an RVer like us, you might also consider these amazing East Coast RV trips, many of which include stops at these wonderful East Coast parks!

Here’s a rundown of the great parks that call the East Coast home:

Acadia National Park, Maine

The rocky coastline of Acadia's Otter Cliffs along the Ocean Path in the orange glow of a morning sunrise

Tucked up in the Northeast on the spectacular rocky coast of Maine, Acadia National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the country.

With bustling Bar Harbor full of shops and restaurants, romantic carriage roads for biking, winding scenic drives with stunning ocean views, and plenty of hiking trails, Acadia is one of our favorite parks.

During your visit, you will definitely want to head up to Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, get some local seafood or a lobster roll (and something made with Maine blueberries), take a day trip over to the quiet and peaceful Schoodic Peninsula, and hike at least a few of these top Acadia hiking trails.

We love that the small size of this park means that it is easy to get around and fit a lot into just a short amount of time. And it’s only just over 4 hours from the city of Boston, Massachusetts, and 3 hours from the foodie heaven that is Portland Maine.

A hiking couple smiling standing on a rock overlooking the blue waters and small tree covered islands surrounding Acadia National Park on the east coast of the US

Plan Your Trip To Acadia National Park

Best time to visit: Summer is the peak season with great weather and the largest crowds. Our favorite time to visit is in the spring before the summer crowds and in the fall for the gorgeous fall foliage

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), sparkling blue waters that are out of this world, and a section of the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world.

Sparkling bright blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico surrounding the moat and fort at Dry Tortugas National Park

The best snorkeling we have ever done was at the Dry Tortugas National Park. Not only was the water extremely clear, but we couldn’t swim more than a few feet without finding ourselves surrounded by schools of colorful fish. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the goliath grouper that trolls around the fort’s moat!

While this trip is expensive compared to most National Parks, it is worth the visit if you want to visit a truly remote park and are looking for a great opportunity to snorkel with an abundance of marine life.

Vibrant blue waters surrounding historic Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park off the coast of Key West Florida

Plan Your Trip To Dry Tortugas National Park

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: Plan Your Perfect Day Trip To The Dry Tortugas

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

Plan Your Trip To Dry Tortugas National Park

READ MORE: How To Book Competitive Florida Keys State Park Campgrounds

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).

Our favorite experiences in the park included biking in Shark Valley past all of the birds and alligators (sometimes a bit too close for comfort), gliding through the swamp while taking an iconic airboat ride, and watching the manatees and crocodiles in the Flamingo Marina.

If you can handle the true wilderness found in the Florida swamps (snakes, bugs, gators, etc.), there is plenty of adventure to be had in the Everglades!

Plan Your Visit To Everglades National Park

Best Time To Visit: Dry season (December through April) for cooler temperatures and manageable numbers of mosquitos

READ MORE: One Day In Everglades National Park

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.

Biscayne National Park is less than an hour from Key Largo, making it a great addition to a Florida Keys vacation. If you have made your way down to this part of south Florida, it can be a great opportunity to visit all 3 National Parks in Florida (Biscayne, Everglades, and Dry Tortugas).

Plan Your Trip to Biscayne National Park

Best Time To Visit: October through April

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! Seeing the Cypress knees helping the trees thrive in a water-logged environment was fascinating and although we didn’t see one we heard you can even spot otters in the waterways!

We highly recommend getting out for a paddle or planning your visit around the synchronous firefly event in May/June of each year (you can enter the lottery for the firefly event here).

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

Plan Your Trip To Congaree National Park

Best Time To Visit: Fall or Spring (flooding is common in winter and we experienced some trail closures during our February visit)

Only 2 hours away on the coast, historic Charleston is a great addition to a trip to Congaree National Park! We headed from Congaree National Park to Edisto Beach South Carolina to camp on the coast (this area felt like a hidden gem to us!) and loved venturing into Charleston for a day of history and iconic architecture followed by a dreamy sunset on Folly Beach!

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, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a beautiful park known for its misty, fog-covered mountains, synchronous fireflies (enter the firefly viewing lottery here), and abundance of wildlife.

This is consistently 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!

Our favorite hikes in the park that we highly recommend include Clingman’s Dome, Andrews Bald, and Abrams Falls.

Plan Your Visit To Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

A female hiker in blue pants and a beige coat standing atop a pile of rocks with her arms held high overlooking the layers of mountains in Shenandoah National Park on the east coast of the US

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. We highly recommend snagging a permit to hike Old Rag, one of the most fun hikes in the park!

READ MORE: Shenandoah’s Best Waterfall Hikes

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

Plan Your Visit To Shenandoah National Park

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

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. There are also great opportunities for rafting here if you are looking for an even bigger adventure!

View from below the New River Gorge Bridge while driving Fayette Station Road

Just be sure not to miss the Fayette Station Road Scenic Drive, the views from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, and the Long Point Trail! A stop for a bite to eat and a drink with the goats (or RV stay) at the Arrowhead Bicycle farm is also a must!

Plan Your Trip To New River Gorge National Park

Best Time To Visit: Spring and fall for smaller crowds

Other National Parks In The Eastern United States

If you are willing to venture a bit more inland from the East Coast, you will find a few other great National Parks on the eastern side of the U.S.!

  • Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky: Home to the world’s longest-known cave system, offering underground wonders and above-ground hiking trails
  • Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas: Famous for its thermal waters, this park features historic bathhouses (an experience you won’t want to miss), and scenic trails and viewpoints in the Ouachita Mountains
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio: A diverse landscape of forests, wetlands, and waterfalls, with opportunities for hiking, biking, and exploring historic sites along the scenic Cuyahoga River
  • Indiana Dunes, Indiana: Boasting sandy shores along Lake Michigan, this park features diverse ecosystems, including dunes, wetlands, and forests, perfect for hiking, birdwatching, and beach activities
  • Gateway Arch, Missouri: Iconic symbol of St. Louis, this park encompasses the famous Gateway Arch, offering visitors a chance to explore the monument, its museum, and the surrounding grounds rich in history and scenic views of the Mississippi River ( if you want to ride to the top of the arch be sure to reserve your tram tickets in advance)

Map Of East Coast National Parks

Use this map to help you plan your trips to the USA National Parks on the east coast!

There are some parks that easily go well together for a larger trip where you visit multiple parks (like the Florida National Parks, or Shenandoah National Park and New River Gorge National Park).

There are also great opportunities to build other bucket list worthy destinations into your national park trip! Such as visiting Portland Maine and Boston on a trip to Acadia, Nashville and the Blue Ridge Parkway along with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or Charleston and even the Outer Banks and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore as well as the Cape Lookout National Seashore along with a trip to Congaree National Park.

Resources For Planning Your Next National Park Trip

Looking for more inspiration for your next National Park destination or epic road trip? Check out these resources:

If you plan to fly in and explore a National Park, your best bet will be to rent a car so that you can have the freedom to explore at your own pace.

Or consider renting an RV through RV Share to get more time out in nature, with all the comforts of home!

If you plan to visit more than 2 or 3 National Park sites in a year, a National Parks Pass will save you a lot of money!

Our Go-To 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
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