When most people think of the national parks in the United States, the western portion of the country probably comes to mind. People may flock to iconic locations like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are some amazing east coast national parks that shouldn’t be overlooked. Scattered from the northern state of Maine to the most southern state of Florida, the following five parks are sure to inspire wanderlust in just about anybody.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Drawing 11 million visitors every year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the U.S. It’s also home to the oldest mountain chain in the world, The Appalachians, and has been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve. This park borders North Carolina and Tennessee, and expect amazing hikes and views on either side.
Don’t let the crowds deter you from visiting though—there are plenty of off-the-beaten-track trails you can go to escape the crowds. However, there is at least one popular loop that is a must-visit— Cades Cove Loop. Though it’s basically a traffic jam, the loop is home to some of the most beautiful terrain and black bears. We recommend arriving in the evening, when the bears are out foraging in the fields and the crowds have died down.
2. Everglades National Park
The Everglades region is the largest subtropical wilderness in the country and spans 1.5 million acres. There are many different activities and an abundance of wildlife to see within the parks borders. You can kayak among the mangroves, wander the trails under the tropical hammocks, or hop on a boat to spot alligators or manatee.
The wildlife here is absolutely incredible. In fact, it’s the only place in the world where you can find both crocodiles and alligators living in the same waters. Because this park is so large, plan to spend longer than a single day in order to truly experience what the Everglades have to offer.
3. Acadia National Park
Located on the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park is not to be missed. One of the most popular activities is watching the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain—the first point in the continental U.S. to see the sun and the tallest point on the east coast. The park boasts beautiful beaches for swimming in the summer and sightseeing in the colder months. You’ll also find 158 miles of hiking trails that run through the colorful pine trees, carriage roads for biking, and gorgeous vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. Nearby, the town of Bar Harbor is an adorable seaside retreat where you can grab a bite to eat after hiking the trails all day.
4. Shenandoah National Park
Just 75 miles outside of Washington D.C. sits Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This beauty is filled with picturesque wonders like cascading waterfalls, scenic vistas, and thriving fauna. The park has some of the best hiking in the country and boasts over 500 miles of trails. You can even hike a portion of the iconic Appalachian Trail, which winds through the park.
For stunning views from the car, drive along the famous Skyline Drive. This National Scenic Byway traverses the park for 105 gorgeous miles. You’ll see stunning mountain overlooks and creatures like deer, black bear, and wild turkey. At night, witness the stars in all their glory with dark skies free of light pollution.
5. Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas is one of the most unique parks in the U.S. Located about 70 miles off the coast of Key West, a two-hour boat ride brings you to a 19th century fort, amazing white sand beaches, and crystal clear water for snorkeling. Make sure to take a tour of historic Fort Jefferson.
After your tour, rent some snorkeling gear and hit the water. You’ll be swimming among the beautiful fish, sea turtles, nurse sharks, and threatened coral reefs. The island is also an important nesting ground for migrating birds. There have been recordings of nearly 300 different species who travel here! Day tours are available by boat or seaplane, but if you plan to camp overnight, you’re sure to see a spectacular show in the starry skies.
Hit the Road
The east coast may not have as many national parks as the western portion of the country, but what they lack in number, they make up with in beauty. Visit one of these five east coast gems on your next camping adventure to make some memories of a lifetime.
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