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Explore these incredible National Park lands on the East Coast

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

You may have heard about charming East Coast towns, but this region is also teeming with National Park lands you may not know exist! In addition to the more well known National Parks, there are also Seashores and Recreation Areas to explore and fall in love with. Check out these notable National Park lands along the East Coast for one of your next adventures.

1. Maine- Acadia National Park

Photo: Justin Ritucci

Acadia National Park boasts roughly 47,000 acres of Atlantic coast. You’ll find an array of terrain including beaches, woodlands, and mountainous granite peaks. You’ll also have an opportunity to spot wildlife like seabirds, moose, and whales in the right seasons. The proximity to the popular town of Bar Harbor, which has an abundance of charming shops and restaurants, makes Acadia that much more attractive to visitors. 

While in the area, try hiking around Jordan Pond. This is a loop hike that covers a little over 3 miles at the heart of Mount Desert Island. The pond has an incredible view of “The Bubbles,” two rounded mountains that look like bubbles, hence the name. This adventure is easy to access and is an amazing spot to photograph the sunset.

2. Massachusetts- New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park

Photo: Danielle Sharples

If you’re looking for an opportunity to immerse yourself in history, this is the place for you! This National Historic Park in New Bedford, MA celebrates the rich history of this former worldwide leading whaling port during the nineteenth century. The city was also known to be the richest city per capita in the world at the time! Walk down the streets and pop into the New Bedford Whaling Museum, take part in a guided tour, or check out a nearby adventure on your own after admiring unique whaling artifacts. 

In the nearby town of Westport, Massachusetts lies Gooseberry Island. This quick 1.5-mile loop hike is perfect for watching the sunset over the ocean. There are two abandoned fort towers from World War II and old house foundations hidden beneath the brush. Amid from these remains, you’ll see gooseberries and wildflowers while appreciating beautiful seaside views.

3. New York- Fire Island National Seashore

Photo: Tyler Drake

Fire Island is right off the southern shore of Long Island, a thin strip of protected beaches and summer resort communities. This is a car free environment, meaning people travel around by foot, bike, or golf cart, keeping the land peaceful and pristine.

For a fun beach camping experience and an escape from city life, check out Watch Hill. Be sure to first reserve an overnight permit with the Parks Department. Then you can get going and look for a peaceful spot to spend the evening, selecting a location that won’t disturb the dunes, vegetation, or nesting shorebirds. Find your own sliver of private paradise and enjoy the sea, sand, and sunsets.

4. New Jersey- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Photo: Mike Servedio

This National Recreation Area is located along a stretch of the Delaware River right on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania border. This scenic spot features grassy beaches and beautiful forested mountains. Hikers will not be disappointed as there are many miles of trails to choose from. 

Check out the nearby Indian Ladder Falls! This 2-mile out-and-back hike will take you to the 50-foot Indian Ladder Falls with smaller falls along the way in Hornbecks Creek. Wear suitable shoes for encountering slippery surfaces and a bathing suit if you plan on taking a dip. In addition to views of the cascading falls, you’ll get the chance to see impressive chasms and moss slicked rocks. There are plenty of beautiful vantage points for taking pictures!

5. Maryland- Assateague Island National Seashore

Photo: Spenser Reid

Assateague Island National Seashore is a protected strip on a long barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. You can expect to enjoy beaches and trails that feature marshland, pine forests, and dunes. One of the most unique parts of this island is the wild Chincoteague ponies and bald eagles you can spot at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It’s not everyday you get to see wild beach ponies! 

Camp at Assateague for a one-of-a-kind getaway. Here, you can take part in a wide range of activities like swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, fishing, bird watching, biking, or ocean kayaking. The calmer bayside is a great place to explore more secluded coves via kayak. Talk to one of the park rangers for more information on the best and most secret spots on the island. Remember to keep food out of your tent as the wild horses can smell it and may try to break in! Book your reservation well ahead of time, as the few campsites fill up 6+ months in advance.

6. Virginia- Great Falls National Historical Park

Photo: Nick Palastro

Great Falls Park is a small National Park land situated on roughly 800 acres along the Potomac River. It’s just 15 miles from the nation’s capital and has plenty of opportunities to take in the area’s rich natural beauty and history. 

The Great Falls of the Potomac is a powerful sight to see. The cascading falls are mesmerizing, making many want to whip out their cameras to snap shots of the powerful free flowing water. There are three platforms for viewing the falls which offer panoramic views. Note that there is a $10 entrance fee.

7. North Carolina- Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Photo: Jennifer Carr

This US National Seashore stretches for over 70 miles from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island, a portion of the Outer Banks. Established in 1937, this was the nation’s first national seashore to protect segments of unspoiled barrier islands along North Carolina. 

One of the most notable landmarks of this area is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It’s the tallest brick lighthouse in the country and is known for its black and white stripes. Climb to the top for some of the best views in North Carolina! Try booking tickets during the full moon for an extra special experience. Afterwards, enjoy the rest of the day walking around, fishing, or grabbing a delicious bite to eat at one of the local seafood restaurants.

8. South Carolina- Congaree National Park

Photo: Cassandra Harrison

Located in central South Carolina, this roughly 26,276-acre national park preserves the largest expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the US. The waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers contain nutrients and sediments that nourish the natural ecosystem and support the growth of these impressive trees. Enjoy the biodiversity of this area while exploring. 

Check out this beautiful River Trail right in the park. It’s a pretty extensive trail, but is relatively flat and well-marked. Hike through lots of incredible forest foliage on a winding boardwalk. The trail will eventually lead you to the Congaree River.

9. Georgia- Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Photo: Kelley Le

History lovers will enjoy exploring the roughly 2,965 acres of this historic Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign. The area also features Kennesaw Mountain, originally inhabited by the Cherokee’s ancestors. It’s a great place to hike, observe wildlife, or enjoy a picnic. 

Try hiking the Battlefield and Mountain Loop. On this 11-mile loop hike you can soak in incredible views of Atlanta from the summit of Kennesaw Mountain and explore Civil War battlefields.

10. Florida- Dry Tortugas National Park

Photo: Alex E

Dry Tortugas National Park comprises 7 islands and protected coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico just west of Key West, Florida. It boasts both unique marine landscapes as well as rich history. Explore a 19th Century Fort and snorkel in the stunning blue waters.

After a day of exploring, catch the sunset at the nearby Fort Zachary Taylor. To escape larger crowds and find your own secluded slice of paradise, head to this untouched and not very well-known location in Key West to enjoy the sunset on the beach. Spend some time fishing, snorkeling, or simply sitting and finding some peace and quiet.

Cover photo: Spenser Reid

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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