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15 Best National Parks on The East Coast to Visit

If you look for a literal list of the best national parks on the east coast, there’s a good chance you won’t find that many. But the further inland you expand your search, the more amazing options you’ll find and fortunately I’ve already done that and:

I’ve come up with a list of the 15 best national parks on the east coast that include:

  • Options that are on the shore (10).
  • As well as options that are further inland, but still in the eastern states (5).

Here are the 15 best national parks on the east coast:

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  1. Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts).
  2. New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia).
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Between North Carolina and Tennessee).
  4. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia).
  5. Congaree National Park (South Carolina).
  6. Biscayne National Park (Florida).
  7. Acadia National Park (Maine).
  8. Everglades National Park (Florida).
  9. Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida).
  10. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky).
  11. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio).
  12. Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia).
  13. Fire Island National Seashore (New York).
  14. Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland).
  15. Croatan National Forest (North Carolina).

Every single one of these national parks has unique features and reasons to visit them and I’ll be explaining all of that further below, as well as when to best visit them. 

Cape Cod National Seashore: 

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East coast, specifically in Massachusetts State. 

What makes this national park so special?

This area is very iconic in general and has an incredible mix of amazing beaches, sunsets, numerous lighthouses and more to see. Pretty much anyone who lives in the New England States (add New York to that) has heard of Cape Cod National Seashore.

It’s a very beautiful area for vacationing and exploring the eastern shoreline of the US. It has tons of photogenic sights, things to do and is probably one of the top places to visit in the entire east coast.

Things to do:

  • There’s some hiking trails.
  • Boating is very popular in Cape Cod. 
  • Lighthouse explorations (if you like this, then I also recommend my post on lighthouses on the Oregon Coast as well).
  • There’s also historic areas there as well.
  • And much more.

2) New River Gorge National Park:

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West Virginia.

What makes this national park so special?

The big standout feature of this park is the giant bridge that goes over it and it’s one of the highest in the US. Beyond that, there are also amazing nature spots right underneath it to explore.

I’ve been to New River Gorge National Park before and I have to say it’s an amazing place to visit for both outdoor people and families. The gigantic bridge that is the main icon of this place is certainly an incredible sight, but what I highly recommend you do is explore the park underneath that bridge because that’s where you’ll find the best activities (I’ll be adding a new article on that soon)!

Things to do:

  • There’s many hiking trails in New River Gorge.
  • There’s an awesome scenic drive over and under the bridge.
  • There’s a scenic train ride in the area too.
  • You can do white water rafting here.
  • There’s also great spots for camping here.

3) Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

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This park actually cross 2 states: Tennessee and North Carolina.

What makes this national park so special?

Other than there being many mountains and historic sights, this park is also very popular for having clouds pass over it’s mountains and you can see experience that on many of it’s overlooks. 

I’ve visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park 2 times before and this is a good park to see if you’re into east coast hikes, driving on mountain roads and experiencing the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains (where Smoky Mountains are the most famous area in it).

Things to do:

  • Great Smoky Mountains has many hikes (Appalachian trail is the most popular).
  • I recommend seeing Gatlinburg (and staying there).
  • See the clouds passing over the mountains (do this in the morning).
  • Go here during fall!

4) Shenandoah National Park:

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What makes this national park so special?

I would say this park is just as good as Smoky Mountains National Park and worth visiting if you have not been to Smoky Mountain before or are only able to explore Virginia. There’s tons of awesome mountain overlooks which are great if you’re into hiking and seeing sunsets.

Things to do:

  • Obviously there’s many beautiful hikes here.
  • There’s many historic sights and trails here too.

5) Congaree National Park:

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South Carolina, close to the east coast.

What makes this national park so special?

There’s a lot of beautiful marsh hikes and wildlife (including different plants and mangroves) in this park to see. Additionally you can also explore much of this park on kayaks.

Things to do:

  • Hiking and kayaking the marshes is what I’d recommend most in this park.

6) Biscayne National Park:

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Florida (east coast area near Miami).

What makes this national park so special?

Other than being very beautiful and great for swimming, camping, fishing and more, this place is only accessible by boat and just as well, I would recommend coming here if you can during sunrise! 

Things to do:

Pretty much anything you do in most Florida beaches and destinations, you can do here as well (fishing, camping, swimming and tanning), but because it’s a national park, you will also see a famous lighthouse here and historical sights.

7) Acadia National Park (one of the best national parks on the east coast):

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Maine (east coast Bar Harbor).

What makes this national park so special?

I’ve seen a lot of coastal parks and when it comes to the east coast, Acadia is in my opinion the best for many reasons:

  • It’s incredibly beautiful and there are awesome mixes of mountains and beautiful seashores.
  • There are also a lot of beautiful towns around the area to stay at, particularly Bar Harbor. I have a post on the closest airports to Acadia National Park which you may also find helpful if you’re not planning to drive there.

Things to do:

  • Hiking is the top activity in Acadia National Park (there’s incredible trails there).
  • Exploring Bar Harbor.
  • There is a famous area in that park for sunrises I recommend seeing.
  • There’s also amazing Maine lighthouses near the park to see as well.
  • In a somewhat related thing, I would recommend you visit Canada which is nearby and check out Bay of Fundy if you have a few more days (it’s also an incredible place).

8) Everglades National Park:

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Florida (east coast but it’s by the Gulf of Mexico).

What makes this national park so special?

There are tons of largest marshes in the world and has many different animals to see here (especially alligators). You can also hike here and do airboat tours.

Things to do:

  • Riding an airboat would be the top thing I’d recommend.
  • You can hike in Everglades National Park as well.
  • You can even camp here in certain places which go out into the Gulf of Mexico.

9) Dry Tortugas National Park:

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Florida (east coast, specifically south of Miami).

What makes this national park so special?

This park is very historic and also requires you to get there by boat. There’s an old fort in this area and amazing views, sights, and hikes to check out. I would say this park is a better place to visit instead of Biscayne National Park (which is only 1 hour from this area).

Things to do:

  • Boating to the park is an incredible experience in my opinion.
  • Exploring the fort in the park.
  • Swimming is popular (scuba diving as well).
  • To my knowledge there is also camping allowed in certain spots there.
  • I also have a post on exotic places to visit in Florida and while this place is one of them, there are other amazing places that look completely different than the traditional stuff you’d see in Florida (beaches, marshes).

10) Cumberland Gap National Historical Park:

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This park actually is within 3 states: Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. 

What makes this national park so special?

The first thing is that it’s the only park that I have ever heard of that actually crosses 3 different states! I’ve also been to this park before and it has great overlooks. There’s a scenic drive in the area to take you to the top of it and a few hikes around the park, one of which is a sandstone cave.

Things to do:

  • Going to the overlook area where you see the 3 states.
  • There’s also some decent hiking trails, but again the sandstone one is the best (it’s also 10+ miles).
  • I also recommend the scenic drive in the park which is most amazing during fall.

11) Cuyahoga Valley National Park:

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Ohio (eastern US).

What makes this national park so special?

There’s caves, scenic train rides, kayaking and awesome hikes to check out. This was the first park I ever saw in Ohio and while it’s not near the east coast, it is still an eastern National Park and worth seeing in my opinion!

Things to do:

12) Cumberland Island National Seashore:

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Georgia (on the east coast).

What makes this national park so special?

The mix of beautiful beaches with incredible marshes and mangrove hikes you can take there is one of the reasons why this park is so beautiful and worth exploring. There’s also old ruins and historic houses around the area also worth seeing.

Things to do:

  • There’s amazing family friendly hikes here.
  • The beach views and sunsets are also amazing here.

13) Fire Island National Seashore:

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Long Island New York (east coast).

What makes this national park so special?

This place has a Virginia beach feel to it in that there’s beautiful beaches, a lighthouse, nice towns to see and overall the area is just a very popular spot for NYC residents to visit for weekend trips. I wouldn’t say that it’s as beautiful as places like Acadia National Park or Cape Cod, but it’s one of the best coastal places on the NY coastal border to see in my opinon.

Things to do:

  • There are beach home rentals here you can get.
  • Boating is also very popular at Fire Island (fishing as well).
  • There’s good tourist attractions here like seeing lighthouses and nice sunsets.

14) Assateague Island National Seashore:

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Maryland (east coast).

What makes this national park so special?

The main attraction is that there’s a lot of wild horses that freely walk around this park and you can drive up to them, walk past them and more. There’s also a very long and scenic beach area to explore.

Things to do:

  • Check out the wild horses there.
  • This is also a great area for beach activities.

15) Croatan National Forest:

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North Carolina (east coast).

What makes this national park so special?

The reason I decided to include this place is because of how beautiful it is. It’s got a great mix of beautiful beaches with mangroves, marshes and really neat hikes over small islands you can explore. There’s just a lot of beautiful photogenic spots in Croatan National Forest to explore.

Normally I wouldn’t include national forests on this list (because they are technically not the same as national parks, just classified as them) but this place is on the east coast and is too beautiful to not include! You can also find a lot of other similar places on the official NPS website here.

Things to do:

  • Kayaking is very popular in Croatan National Park (boating too).
  • There’s several nice scenic hikes here too.

More common questions about national parks on the east coast:

How many national parks are on the east coast?

Officially there’s only 5 national parks on the east coast and the most popular are Acadia and Everglades National Park.

Are there any national parks in the eastern United States?

There are at least 10 major national parks throughout the eastern United States and the most popular is Smoky Mountains National Park.

What national parks are in Maine?

The only national park in Maine is Acadia National Park.

Here’s an east coast national parks map (the entire list):

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Related: Want to see a list of the best national parks on the west coast?

I recently made a new list that shares the best national parks on the west coast. There’s over 20 different parks there including places like Death Valley National Park and Sequioa National Park (among others) and it’s also worth checking out too!

To conclude, as I said earlier the list above includes both national parks on the east coast and a few more inland worth exploring in my opinion. If you have any questions about visiting these places or think there’s another national park worth adding to this list that I missed, let me know!

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    1. Hi Matt that particular park is more in the city and I preffered to keep this list to more open nature type national parks.

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