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ALL 8 EAST COAST NATIONAL PARKS Ranked By Experts (2021)

You might be surprised to learn that America’s East Coast is full of adventure-worthy national parks. Here we’ve ranked our top 8 and offered up some helpful tips for visiting them.

East Coast National Parks

acadia national park maine, best east coast national parks
The view from atop Champlain Mountain, Acadia National Park – East Coast National Parks

To many the term “east coast national park” may never have even crossed your mind, but we’re here to tell you that the U.S. east coast is teeming with adventure-worthy parks. We’ve visited every single one and even created films on a few of them!

Everyone should see at least some of these east coast national parks in their life. The fall foliage alone is worth the trip!

Keep on scrolling to discover new destinations that are sure to rival any of the west’s iconic national parks.


The Best East Coast National Parks

1. Acadia National Park

acadia national park maine fall road
Acadia National Park in the Fall | East Coast National Parks

This list wouldn’t be right if we didn’t start with this rugged and beautiful coastal wonder situated on the rocky shores of Maine’s central coast. Bring your bike or your hiking shoes and spend the day exploring the park’s beautiful carriage roads which wind through the woods and are off limits to cars.

Summers here along the north Atlantic coast are mild and punctuated by cool ocean breezes and lobster roll shacks with incredible waterfront views.

Acadia also boasts the opportunity to be the first to see the sun rise in the United States from atop the summit of Cadillac Mountain (which you can drive to). Here you’ll have commanding views of the forests, lakes, and endless ocean stretching out to the horizon.

Check out our comprehensive guide on Acadia National Park here!


2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park MTJP
A road winds through Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Best East Coast National Parks

The nation’s most visited national park, straddling the misty mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, is a true national treasure.

Spared from destructive development by farsighted locals and President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, this Appalachian gem is one of the crown jewels of the National Park System and must visit on any park enthusiasts list.

Summer is the most popular season in the Smokies and can see some serious crowds, but thanks to the park’s sprawling layout there are always places to escape the hustle and bustle.

Autumn brings kaleidoscopic fall color to the park’s old forests and rolling landscapes. Don’t sleep on Spring though as that’s when the synchronous fireflies make their spectacular appearance.

Check out our full guide on Great Smoky Mountains National Park here!


3. Shenandoah National Park

shenandoah national park, best east coast national parks
Shenandoah National Park North Entrance – National Parks in East Coast

Shenandoah National Park is situated high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where old stand of trees, craggy cliffs, and plenty wildlife make their home. Drive the park’s famous Skyline Drive, which takes you along the ridge line of the mountains, for unforgettable views.

Fall brings beautiful leaf-peeping opportunities, while late spring and summer provide a welcome relief from the heat in the valleys and towns down below. And if Skyline Drive wasn’t enough for you, the world famous Blue Ridge Parkway even makes an appearance in the park!


4. Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park Sunset (NPS photo by Miguel Salas) – All East Coast National Parks

We are talking about east coast national parks after all so how could we not mention this rare and ecologically precious national park.

Everglades is home to numerous endangered species like the American Crocodile and the Florida Panther providing them with one of their last sanctuaries on earth.

Exploring this park is like exploring another world and should be a must for any wildlife-lover. Whether you travel by canoe, kayak, boat, or walking some of the park’s many boardwalks, you’re sure to be amazed by this south Florida wildlife paradise.

RELATED: ALL of Florida’s National Parks RANKED (+video)


5. Congaree National Park

east coast national parks, congaree national park
Autumn in Congaree National Park (Photo Credit: jt-fineart.com) – Best East Coast National Parks

Visiting this national park is like stepping foot back in time. Here you’ll discover ancient cypress trees and waterways that once dominated the coastal southern United States but now are found only in a few pockets of protected land.

Congaree happens to be one of the more forgotten parks on the east coast which is great for crowds!

Most people don’t think of South Carolina when think of national parks, but you’ll definitely want to add this magical 26,000 acre park to your bucket list.

Kayaking and canoeing are popular, as are strolling the park’s boardwalks. Avoiding the spring is recommended unless you’re prepared for some serious mosquitoes!


6. Biscayne National Park

east coast national parks, key biscayne national park
Boca Chita Key in Biscayne National Park (NPS photo) – East Coast National Parks

Back to Florida for another truly coastal east coast national park. As you can see in the above photo this park has a lot going for it. Palm trees, white sand beaches, vibrant coral reefs, and crystal clear blue water, what’s not to like?

While you may have heard the common national park slogan “half the park is after dark”, here that should probably be amended to “half the park is underwater”.

It’s true, with snorkeling and paddling opportunities abound, you’ll be truly immersed in beauty at this beachfront national park.


7. New River Gorge National Park

new national park new river gorge
New River Gorge National Park Sunset (NPS Photo John Petro) | East Coast National Parks

This list wouldn’t be complete without the newest member of the national park family, New River Gorge in West Virginia.

While efforts are still underway to create the national park amenities visitors to other parks might be used to, now is the time to visit this relatively unknown and spectacularly beautiful part of West Virginia.

Rafting and rock-climbing are the most popular activities here, along with hiking of course. The weather is mild in the summer and fall brings beautiful color to the surrounding hills and mountains.


8. Dry Tortugas National Park

dry tortugas national park best national parks to escape winter
Dry Tortugas National Park (NPS photo) – East Coast National Parks

What can we say? When it comes to east coast national parks, Florida is flush with them! For our last park on the list we travel to just about as far south as you can go in the United States to find this remote, rugged, and jaw-droppingly beautiful national park.

Here you can explore the red brick ruins of Fort Jefferson, a pre-civil war coastal fortress composed of more than 16 million bricks.

If you can reach it, the park offers unparalleled opportunities for snorkeling, sea kayaking, wildlife viewing, and a completely one-of-a-kind national park experience.


Top 8 Coast National Parks

  1. Acadia National Park
  2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  3. Shenandoah National Park
  4. Everglades National Park
  5. Congaree National Park
  6. Biscayne National Park
  7. New River Gorge National Park
  8. Dry Tortugas National Park

Map of East Coast National Parks


Do You Have a Favorite East Coast National Park?

Leave us a comment below and let us know what your favorite east coast national park is!

Don’t forget to check out our Acadia National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park guides if we’ve convinced you to plan a trip!


More from More Than Just Parks

Jim Pattiz

Co-Founder of More Than Just Parks. Filmmaker, Conservationist, Public Lands Enthusiast

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