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Learn more about the best National Parks, National Historical Parks, and on the East Coast of the United States!
The United States is full of amazing National Parks and National Historical Sites! While most people think about the famous National Parks on the West Coast, there are some awesome National Parks east of the Mississippi! These parks offer anything from outdoor adventures to museums to interesting historic sites! Read on to learn about the best East Coast National Parks!
Best National Parks on the East Coast of the United States
Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortuga National Park, Florida
One of the largest brick structures in America, Fort Jefferson is located in Garden Key, in the lower Florida Keys. The Fort was originally built to guard our nation against piracy in the Caribbean. That happened right after the USA bought Florida from Spain in 1824/25. The first structure on the Island was a lighthouse constructed out of brick in 1825/26. But that was replaced in 1877 by a metal lighthouse that is at the Fort now. The Fort is full of history, you can take advantage of 45 minutes narrated tour or just explore on your own with many photo opportunities.
You can get to the Island via charter boat, seaplane, or a ferry, you can pick the one that best suits your budget. The ferry seems to be the most popular option and is going to cost you around $180.00. That includes the entrance to the Dry Tortuga National Park and a continental breakfast and light lunch. It departs promptly at 8 am and returns around 5:15 depending on the water conditions. There is also an option to camp overnight on the island if you are adventurous.
The ferry also provides snorkel gear or you can always bring your own and enjoy the beautiful water and sea life that calls that home, just beware of the jellyfish if you are visiting in the month of June. Definitely a must.
Contributed by Patricia of Travel Fam Life
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of those National Parks that is conveniently located and easily accessible, while still feeling a world away! Located just outside of urban Cleveland, only 30 minutes from the international airport, Cuyahoga Valley is the perfect destination for those in the surrounding region to enjoy a nearby staycation, or for those out of towners looking for a National Park that is easy to fly into! Either way, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is full of scenic boardwalks, forested trails, and some of the most magical waterfalls east of the Mississippi!
Easily one of the top things to see in Cuyahoga Valley National Park is its star hike to Brandywine Falls, one of the best waterfalls in Ohio! This stunning, multi-hued fall cascades gracefully over a forested, cliff enclosed chasm, whose subsequent stream then feeds the surrounding area and neighboring trails of Cuyahoga.
As if one epic waterfall wasn’t enough, Cuyahoga boasts several more impressive waterfall views and hikes. Be sure to check out the daintier Blue Hen Falls, the multi-tiered Bridal Veil Falls, or the most secluded waterfall in the park, Linda Falls. Each of these four resident waterfalls can be accessed by short, yet intriguing, day hikes in Cuyahoga. One more reason to visit Cuyahoga and its waterfall trails – Cuyahoga Valley National Park entrance fees are free!
Contributed by Kristen of Yonderlust Ramblings. Follow along with her on Pinterest
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is one of the best US National Parks for families looking to plan an epic road trip east of the Mississippi! You can enjoy Skyline Drive, a route that goes over one hundred miles through the Blueridge Mountains. Throughout the drive, you’ll find dozens of viewing stations to safely park your car and get out to enjoy the stunning views.
You can visit Shenandoah year-round. While it’s lovely in summer and winter, Shenandoah really shines in autumn when you can look out and see stunning fall foliage. It’s as breathtaking as anything you will find in New England, but not quite as cold! If you have time to enjoy the park at sunset, you can capture the gorgeous painted sky above the trees and mountains. Along the way, there are a few amenities like a restaurant and a public bathroom. However, not everything is open during the offseason, so plan ahead and bring your own snacks just in case.
There is a park entrance fee when you drive in, however, if you have a National Parks Pass it is included. Skyline Drive is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week unless there is a local emergency or inclement weather.
Contributed by Stephanie of the History Fangirl
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park is located in southern Florida, with several separate entrances/regions in different cities. This park is fantastic because of its biodiversity; you can’t walk a few minutes without seeing several different animal species whether it is in the water, on land, or up in the air! The most popular section, Shark Valley, is great for everyone but provides especially convenient opportunities for anyone who has mobility issues. The paved path that leads out to a tall observation tour can be walked, biked, or ridden on a tram with a narrated guide. It’s tough to visit this area and not see alligators laying beside the path!
Wildlife fans will enjoy the opportunity to also see crocodiles in the wild down at the southernmost, Flamingo Visitor Center area along the ocean. Manatees are often spotted here as well and there are several boat tour options that will take you out in the water for a closer look. Along the gulf coast, the Ten Thousand Islands section provides exciting mangrove waterway exploration opportunities in a kayak or a canoe, with a completely different feel than the rest of the park.
In all of the different areas, there are also short hiking trails, often along boardwalks, that provide up-close opportunities to see exotic plants, beautiful birds, and other marine wildlife. Don’t miss the ranger education programs and junior ranger booklets with kids in tow, there is a lot to learn about this region of the United States! No matter what area you choose, read more Everglades National Park tips here before you go.
Contributed by Stephanie of Explore More Clean Less
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park in southeastern Maine encompasses roughly 47,000 acres. While it’s one of the smallest National Parks in the United States, it’s also one of the most visited.
Located on Mount Desert Island, Acadia attracts more than 3 million people each year. It’s best known for its dramatic seaside scenery. Ocean waves crash into rocky boulders lining the shore, mountain trails lead to majestic overlooks, and a sensational sunrise starts your day. With a vast amount of natural beauty, planning what to see in Acadia National Park is a breeze.
Young and old alike enjoy Acadia’s variety of outdoor activities. Biking on the popular motor-free carriage roads, swimming in the ocean water at Sand Beach or the warmer temps at Echo Lake, and hiking up numerous family-friendly mountain trails are just some of the adventures Acadia offers. Risk takers can try their hand at hiking the challenging Beehive or Precipice Trails. On the flip side, if you’re looking for a less active option, take a narrated trolley tour to see the sights.
Whichever way you choose to experience Acadia, one thing not to miss is viewing the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Being the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast, it’s one of the first places in the country to see the sunrise.
The adjacent town of Bar Harbor provides plenty of delectable dining options and a variety of lodging accommodations from luxury inns to rustic cottages to complete your stay.
Contributed by Deanne of Scenic and Savvy. Follow along with her on Facebook.
New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
Great Smoky Mountains Nationals Park
Best National Historical Parks and Battlefields on the East Coast of the United States
Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Pennsylvania
Nestled in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, you’ll find a French and Indian War Battlefield and Fort, Fort Necessity. This fort was established under the command of Colonel George Washington, while he was on his first campaign in North America.
This National Battlefield preserves and interprets the Battle of Fort Necessity, which was only Washington’s only surrender in his military career. The Fort was originally constructed out of the necessity, (Hence the name!) as this fort became a storehouse for essentials like food, rum, and ammunition. The Battle of Fort Necessity subsequently began the French and Indian War,.
During a visit to Fort Necessity, you can visit the Visitors Center, where there is a small museum about the French and Indian War in western Pennsylvania. Once you’re finished at the museum, take the short quarter-mile hike to the battlefield where you can see a reconstruction of the fort. Here, you can observe what the area would have looked like during battle, including the original tree-lines where the French and Native Americans made their attack. At the site, there are numerous hiking trails, some of which follow the path of Braddock’s Road. You can also visit three nearby sites, The Washington Tavern, which was a stagecoach stop along the National Road, Braddocks Grave, and Jumonville Glen.
Read more about a day trip to Fort Necessity and Ohiopyle State Park.
National Mall, Washington DC
Did you know that America’s Frontyard, otherwise known as The National Mall, is part of the National Park Services? I didn’t know this until I moved to DC! Unlike other National Parks that require a park pass, this one is completely open to the public 24/7 and free of charge! I love strolling around the 2 mile stretch that makes up the National Mall to see each and every memorial featured.
To plan a perfect day at the National Mall, there are 2 things you’ll need to do in advance.
1. Reserve a ticket for a tour of the Capitol Building. This tour isn’t actually part of the NPS but still worth a visit! It is 1 hour long and gives you a grand tour of the inside of the Capitol Building. I recommend scheduling this early in the morning and starting your day here.
2. Book your Washington Monument Ticket online in advance. There is a $1 processing fee per ticket and I would suggest planning this for early afternoon.
After those 2 steps, you’re ready for your day at the National Mall. Start with your tour at the Capitol and then walk along the mall and visit any Smithsonian that catches your eye (my favorites are the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. Next enjoy lunch nearby (there are always food trucks available on every street corner) before enjoying your Washington Monument tour to the top of the monument. This will give you a view of where you came from (The Capitol) and where you’re going (The Lincoln Memorial & Tidal Basin)!
Then, head towards the Lincoln Memorial and make stops at the WWII Memorial, Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Memorial. You’ll walk by the Reflection Pond on the way to the Lincoln Memorial which makes for great photo ops! To wrap up your day at the National Mall, head to the left of the Lincoln Memorial towards the Tidal Basin. Here you’ll find the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. I like to finish the day by sitting along the Tidal Basin feeding ducks and watching the sunset.
For more recommendations on what to do in DC, check out a full guide here.
Contributed by Lisa of Wanderlust with Lisa
Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site, Georgia
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prominent leader of the movement for civil rights and racial justice in the US. His life is commemorated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, GA. With the current Black Lives Matter movement, it is even more important today to understand the place MLK, Jr. had in the history of civil rights. The MLK, Jr. NHP is one of the most visited sites in Atlanta, drawing thousands of international and domestic visitors every year.
When you first walk into the visitor center, the very moving Freedom Road Marchers exhibit sets the tone for your visit. You can join the life-size statues of people struggling for freedom marching up an inclined road toward liberation. There is also an exhibit on children in the civil rights movement that is poignant for the whole family.
Other places to visit at the site include the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King and his grandfather and father were ministers, and Dr. and Mrs. King’s Tomb and Eternal Flame. Recordings of the inspirational sermons and speeches of Dr. King shouldn’t be missed. Additionally, an interesting ranger-guided tour of the birth home of MLK, Jr. is offered for free by reservation.
The “I Have A Dream” World Peace Rose Garden with its beautiful fountain and multicolored roses is a wonderful place to reflect on an impactful visit to the historical park.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is open every day except for some holidays and is a fee-free National Park.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
About a 30-minute drive from Philadelphia, Valley Forge National Historical Park offers many fun things to do. For the outdoor lover, the 3500-acre park contains 35 miles of hiking trails, 19 miles of biking trails, and 17 miles of horseback riding trails. If history is more your thing, start at the Visitor Center. The museum inside contains artifacts and information about the 1777-1778 winter encampment of the Continental Army, led by General George Washington.
After exploring the museum, take a tour around the park. You can purchase a CD at the park to give you an audio-guided tour or pick up a complimentary map. Driving your car to each encampment tour stop is the easiest and quickest way to get around. However, some may enjoy riding bikes to each stop as well! The most recognizable monument is the National Memorial Arch. Pack a lunch and enjoy eating at one of the picnic areas while you enjoy the amazing views. The encampment was built on a hill, giving Washington and his army an advantage if the British approached. Valley Forge National Historical Park is free to enter, and hours may vary depending on the season. It is a good idea to check the National Park website before your visit.
Contributed by Lauren of Wild Kids Wander
Colonial National Historic Park, Virginia
For families and history lovers alike, Colonial National Historical Park in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia is a must-visit U.S. National Park. Colonial National Historical Park includes Historic Jamestowne—the site of the first permanent English colony in North America—and Yorktown Battlefield, the site of the last major battle of the American Revolution. The 23-mile-long Colonial Parkway connects the Jamestown and Yorktown parks which provide a fascinating insight into early American history.
Both Jamestown and Yorktown offer a variety of interesting sites and activities including U.S. park ranger-led tours, museum exhibits, special programs, and more. Visitors to Historic Jamestowne will enjoy exploring the site of the original James Fort and the Voorhees Archaearium, which displays important artifacts unearthed from the archeological sites around the park.
A visit to Yorktown Battlefield is best done with the self-guided battlefield driving tour. You can easily use a park map (pick one up at the Visitor Center) and follow the signs. You can also purchase the inexpensive auto tour CD from the Visitor Center gift shop that will guide you through the battlefield and provide important historical information about each stop. The tour includes the reconstructed redoubt captured by Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette as well as Surrender Field, where the British formally laid down their arms.
You can purchase tickets online or onsite. While both Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield could be toured quickly in one day, you will the most out of each site if you take your time to explore all they have to offer.
Contributed by Darcy Vierow from Plan, Ready, Go Follow along on Pinterest
Kingsley Plantation, Florida
Florida’s oldest existing plantation, located in the Jacksonville area, now serves as a reminder and educational tool for the past. Kingsley Plantation dates to the late 1700s and is now managed by the US Park Service. History buffs will enjoy the interactive activities as well as the look back into Florida life for a plantation owner, slave, and slave-turned-owner. Besides this window into the past, the history of Kingsley’s longest owner, Zephaniah Kingsley, and his family is an interesting one that might surprise many.
Kingsley Plantation once encompassed several hundred acres on Fort George Island and is now approximately 60 acres. Visitors to the park can tour the museum, barn, kitchen, garden, waterfront, and take an interpretive 1+ mile hike with audio tour through the grounds and surrounding wooded area. Plan to visit on the weekend for a tour of the plantation house. The house is not open during the week for preservation concerns though the other buildings are open.
To get to the plantation, take Palmetto Avenue where it forks off from Fort George Road. This road winds offers a beautiful tree-lined drive. When leaving the plantation, turn left onto Fort George Road where you’ll find the Ribault Club, once a winter resort and now a visitor’s center, and the historic Fort George Episcopal Church. Kingsley Plantation is open 7 days a week, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.
Contributed by Cris of Wander Florida
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial – Put-in-Bay, South Bass Island, Ohio
On a small island in the great Lake Erie stands a one-of-a kind International Peace Memorial in the National Park Service. A Doric column rises 352 feet (107 meters) high and provides views into Canada. This memorial remembers those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812. It also honors the long-lasting peace between Great Britain, Canada, and the U.S. and lies just 5 miles from the longest undefended border in the world.
Perry’s Monument (as the locals call it) is a great weekend trip from the shores of Lake Erie. The easiest way to get there is by passenger ferry from Sandusky or Port Clinton or take your vehicle (although you may not need it) on the ferry from Catawba Island. Everyone in the family will enjoy the fresh open air on the ferry boat upper deck. You’ll feel your cares slipping away and soon be in vacation mode.
The 25-acre park and Perry’s Monument include a free Visitor Center that teaches about the historic battle and the island. Daily ranger-led walking tours, and Jr. Ranger activities are offered as well. A variety of re-enactments and demonstrations are also offered. The highlight of the visit is sure to be the elevator ride to the top of the monument and gorgeous 360-degree views for miles. The column is taller than the Statue of Liberty! There is a fee to ride to the top and sometimes special sunset times are offered.
The park is usually open daily from mid-May to the end of September, then on weekends in October. Consider staying overnight in the quaint village of Put-in-Bay with endless activities, nightlife, restaurants, entertainment, and water fun too. And if you can’t make it to the park, be sure to enjoy a virtual visit with these videos.
Independence National Historical Park, Pennsylvania
Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park
Best National Seashores on the East Coast
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Cumberland National Seashore, Georgia
Cumberland Island National Seashore is located just off the Georgia mainland. While this national seashore may not be as well known as other national parks, it boasts gorgeous scenery, lovely wildlife, and rich history. The island is remote and only accessible by a 45-minute ferry ride. Cumberland Island can be enjoyed in a day trip or you spend the night on the island. To stay on the island, you can choose between camping or staying at the historical Greyfield Inn, which was originally built by Mr. and Mrs. Carnegie for their daughter.
While exploring, you’ll discover historical buildings, old ruins, maritime forest, and untouched beaches! Some of the historical buildings throughout the island have been turned into small museums that are left open for you to explore during the day. While you’re walking or biking around the island, you might even encounter wild horses, if you’re lucky! At one point in Cumberland’s history, someone released their horses. Now, there have been multiple generations of horses freely roaming the island. If you enjoy hiking and history, you will love visiting Cumberland Island!
Cumberland Island is located just off the mainland of Southeastern Georgia; the ferry leaves from a dock in St. Marys. The island is open year round with varying ferry schedules depending on the season. No matter when you visit, make sure you’re on time for the ferry! It leaves promptly at the scheduled time and it waits for no one! (Yes, this means you could get left on the island overnight if you miss the last ferry out!) When visiting, make sure you bring a backpack with everything you’ll need, including sunscreen, bug spray, and a picnic lunch! Cumberland Island offers so much to see, do, and experience. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to return time and time again!
As you can see, the East Coast is full of amazing National Parks and Historic sites worth visiting. Which of these National Parks east of the Mississippi will you make your next destination?
Start Planning Your Next Trip!
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