When most of us think of National Parks, we think of red sandstone, dusty arches, and sprawling canyons. Long story short, we think of the West. It’s understandable; they have all the “big names,” but limiting your knowledge of National Parks to Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon can cause you to miss out on the variety our National Parks System has to offer.
The National Parks of the East are teeming with wooded pathways through autumn trees; misty, blue mountain views; and of course, idyllic, expansive seashores.
Here is our guide to Eastern National Parks, from North to South:
Acadia National Park is a New England gem, with rocky shorelines, mountain hikes, and endless coastal views. Within the park sits one of Maine’s most iconic lighthouses, a top-rated restaurant to experience Maine’s fresh-seafood, and old-time carriage rides over stone bridges and between majestic ponds and mountainsides. Acadia has designated swimming beaches, rock climbing spots, and thrilling high altitude hikes. The neighboring town of Bar Harbor is perfect for relaxation after a long day in the park, and features tons of shopping and dining options.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping in Acadia National Park.
2. Fire Island
Ocean Beach, New York
Fire Island is a summertime getaway where visitors can hike nature trails, enjoy life-guarded beaches, and paddle along the salt marshes in kayaks and canoes. One popular hike in the park, The Sunken Forest, is a densely wooded 45-minute walk, but boardwalks make the trek through the spindly trees and rare flora painless and beautiful. Go surf fishing or cast a line from one of the park’s authorized docks and piers and reel in a Striped Bass, Bluefish, or Fluke. Peaceful surrounding communities like Saltaire, Cherry Grove, and The Pines are perfect for quiet and relaxation, while bustling Ocean Beach is the place to be for shopping and restaurants.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping on Fire Island National Seashore.
3. Boston Harbor Islands
National Recreation Area
Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area is both a National and State Park, and is made up 34 islands, 8 of which are accessible to the public! Georges Island is home to historical Fort Warren, a Civil War era fort, while Little Brewster Island features the iconic Boston Light. Explorers can camp on the beach on Lovells Island, or take in the Boston skyline from the shores of Spectacle Island. The islands are just a twenty minute ferry ride out from Boston, making them the perfect getaway from the city.
Boston Harbor Islands’ Website has all of your information about camping on The Boston Harbor Islands.
4. Delaware Water Gap
National Recreation Area
A peaceful, riverside oasis waits nestled between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Unwind on the river, fishing, swimming, and paddling to your heart’s content. Or, find one of the area’s many overlooks for a stunning view of the water gap! Hikers can experience 28 miles of the Appalachian Trail within the Park’s borders. Keep an eye and ear out for one of the 8 rushing waterfalls in the area, and for any of the Delaware Water Gap’s natural wildlife, including Otters, Heron, Deer, Wild Turkey, and even Black Bears!
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping on The Delaware Water Gap.
5. Catoctin Mountain
Catoctin Mountain has something for every outdoor enthusiast, not matter what the season. The mountain’s catch-and-return trout streams are popular among anglers, and six miles of horseback riding trails are available to equestrians of all skill-levels, and climbers can secure permits to climb Wolf Rock. In the winter, roads closed for snow are open for cross-country skiers. Trails range from easy to strenuous, and hikers are able to access Cunningham Falls, and well as other natural landmarks.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping on Catoctin Mountain.
Greenbelt Park is an escape from the bustle of Washington D.C. Only twelve miles from many D.C. historical monuments, Greenbelt is the best of both worlds. One trail in the park even leads to a metro station, giving hikers access to the city. The park boasts beautiful views every season, with it’s vibrant Fall foliage and Spring wildflowers. With four hiking trails, a picnic area, a playground for the kids, and camping all-year-round, Greenbelt is a hidden gem in an otherwise urban area.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping in Greenbelt Park.
Soft sand, rolling waves, and Wild Horses make up the romantic allure of Assateague Island National Seashore. The island’s coast is unique in it’s natural wilderness, having been preserved by three U.S. agencies over the years. Wild Horses roam the Maryland side of the island, and visitors can ever go horseback riding along the coast on the Virginia side. Lifeguarded areas a perfect for beaching and swimming, and the unrestricted areas allow for surfing and surf fishing. The bay side of the island is unmatched for escaping the crowds with your kayak or paddle board. Bike paths crisscross the island, giving riders plenty of ground to cover.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping on Assateague National Seashore.
Winding rivers, cascading waterfalls, and misty blue mountains are just the beginning of the beauty at Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the east. Over 500 Miles of hiking trail, 90 perennial streams, and waterfalls up to 90 feet high make Shenandoah a hiker’s dream. Visitors who want to experience stunning views without the footwork can enjoy a drive or bike cruise down Skyline Drive. With over 70 overlooks, the journey is sure to be breathtaking.
Shenandoah’s Official Website has all of your information about camping in Shenandoah National Park.
9. Gauley River
National Recreation Area
Adventure-seekers will find thrills and beautiful sights all along the Gauley River. The river boasts swiftly moving waters, winding corners, huge waves, and surging rapids, making it one of the most sought-after Whitewater runs in the country. Every year during the third weekend of September, Whitewater enthusiasts can look forward to Gauley Fest, one of the largest paddling festivals in the world. Gauley also has a number of public fishing spots, which offer anglers the chance to catch trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, and muskellunge.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping in the Gauley River Recreation Area.
10. Cape Hatteras
Sun and sand are just the beginning at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Relax on the life-guarded beaches, surf an ocean of diverse currents, or bond around a beach bonfire under the stars. For a peaceful experience, canoe or kayak through the salt marshes of the the Pamlico Sound. Three hiking trails loop through the wilderness of Cape Hatteras. Hikers will find views of the sea and sound, and an up-close look at the Cape’s maritime forestry. Or climb two of the three lighthouses located within Cape Hatteras for a truly nautical experience!
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
11. Cape Lookout
Cape Lookout is the remote, natural beach experience you’ve always dreamed of. Undeveloped, wild, and free from tourist traps, Cape Lookout’s beaches are the ultimate for a quiet, relaxing getaway. Climb the Cape Lookout lighthouse or spot wild horses on the Shakleford Banks for added fun, or go for a scenic kayak or canoe ride around the island. The majority of the beach and sounds are open to surf fishers, and the fall and spring are said to be the best times for anglers on the island.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping in the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
12. Great Smoky Mountains
North Carolina/ Tennessee
On the border of North Carolina and Tennessee sits zigzags of blue ridges, cascading waterfalls, and unique hiking trails. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the country, with 11 Million visitors stopping by annually. The park has endless sights to offer, from brilliant fall colors, to dense forests, to ancient burial grounds and historic log buildings. There is also a popular bike loop, multiple horseback riding stables, and streams and brooks for fishing.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Gentle waterways, towering forest canopies, and the dense vegetation of the South Carolina swamp system are some of the highlights of Congaree National Park. The ways to explore the diverse wilderness of Congaree are endless. Hikers can navigate through 25 miles of trails, walkers can stroll on a boardwalk nature trail, and paddlers can explore Cedar Creek on a marked canoe trail. Recreational fishing is permitted in most areas of the park, except in the area of the Weston Lake Overlook.
The National Park Service’s Website has all of your information about camping in Congaree National Park.
National Scenic Trail
CT, GA, MA, MD, ME, NC, NH, NJ, NY, PA, TN, VA, VT, WV
Adventurers from all over seek out the Appalachian Trail for the journey of a lifetime. The Appalachian Trail is a national hiking trail that weaves through more than 2,100 miles of Appalachian Mountain ridgelines. The trail spans miles of land from Maine and Georgia, covering most of the east coast. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, a feat that usually takes 5-7 months. The Appalachian Trail is considered one of the most biodiverse entities in the US National Park System.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Website has all of your information about camping along The Appalachian Trail.