15 Best National Parks on the East Coast for Hiking

There are a number of fantastic national parks on the east coast of the United States that are perfect for hiking. In this post, I’ll introduce you to 15 of the best national parks on the east coast for hiking. Just remember this list is somewhat subjective and will depend on personal preferences like desired difficulty, distance, and scenery.

best national parks on the east coast for hiking

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Nestled on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park is a true gem and undeniably one of the best national parks on the east coast. Known for its strikingly beautiful coastline, impressive mountains, and dense forests, it offers an adventure to everyone from novice hikers to experienced adventurers. One of the unique features of Acadia is that it offers both mountain and sea views, giving you a mix of terrain that’s hard to beat.

The park boasts over 120 miles of trails, so there’s plenty to explore. You’ll find a wide range of difficulty levels, from easy strolls to challenging hikes, which means it caters to all levels of fitness and experience. Some of these trails take you along the rugged coastline, others weave through woodlands, and some even ascend to the park’s peaks. This diversity in landscape is what truly sets Acadia apart, cementing its status as one of the top destinations for hikers on the east coast.

acadia national park hiking

The crown jewel of Acadia is arguably Cadillac Mountain. Standing at over 1,500 feet, it’s the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard of the United States. The hike to the summit is popular not just for the panoramic views, but particularly for the incredible sunrises and sunsets. In fact, it’s often the first place to see sunrise in the United States, and trust me, it’s a sight you won’t forget.

Whether you’re lacing up your hiking boots for the panoramic views atop Cadillac Mountain, looking forward to a serene walk by Jordan Pond, or exploring the park’s rocky coastline, Acadia National Park is sure to leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

Check out the best Acadia National Park hiking trails!

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a true hiker’s paradise, and for good reason—it’s not just the most visited national park in the U.S., but it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This park will mesmerize you with its diverse plant and animal life, its ancient mountains, and its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture.

Boasting over 800 miles of trails, the park offers a wide range of hikes from tranquil forest strolls to challenging treks across rugged terrain. There’s truly something for everyone, regardless of their hiking experience or fitness level. The trails wind their way through lush forests, past tumbling waterfalls, and up to breathtaking overlooks.

smoky mountain hiking trail

One of the reasons this park is considered one of the best national parks on the east coast for hiking is the park’s section of the famous Appalachian Trail. For some, hiking this iconic trail is a rite of passage, while for others, it’s a chance to experience a small part of a much larger journey. As you hike along this famous footpath, you’re rewarded with stunning views of the park’s rolling, mist-covered mountains, hence the “Smoky” in its name.

So, whether you’re standing atop Clingmans Dome, exploring the historic buildings of Cades Cove, or spotting wildlife along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers an unforgettable experience. One visit and you’ll understand why it’s such a beloved national treasure.

3. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Located in the heart of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is a real treat for nature lovers and rightfully ranks among the best national parks on the east coast. It’s known for its stunning vistas, serene woodlands, and cascading waterfalls, all nestled within the rolling peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a great escape for city dwellers, since it’s only a short drive from Washington D.C.

The park is home to over 500 miles of trails, and there’s no shortage of hikes to choose from. From gentle family-friendly strolls to more strenuous ascents, there’s something to fit every hiker’s comfort level. A lot of these trails will take you to some of the most beautiful overlooks you’ll ever see, offering panoramic views of the Shenandoah Valley and the surrounding mountains. This blend of accessibility and natural splendor makes Shenandoah an absolute standout on the list of top east coast national parks for hiking.

shenandoah national park

What’s really special about Shenandoah is its 100-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Walking along this legendary trail, you’ll get a real sense of the vast beauty of the American wilderness. It’s not uncommon to see wildlife along the way, including deer, black bears, and countless bird species.

But it’s not just about the hikes. Shenandoah is also about slowing down and soaking in the beauty of nature. You might find yourself picnicking by a babbling brook, or simply sitting quietly as the sun sets, casting a golden glow over the mountains. Whatever your pace, Shenandoah National Park offers an incredible escape into the great outdoors.

4. Everglades National Park, Florida

Situated in the Sunshine State of Florida, Everglades National Park is a vibrant and diverse ecosystem like no other. It’s a labyrinth of marshlands, mangrove forests, and tropical hardwood hammocks, teeming with a variety of wildlife. The park is a testament to nature’s resilience and adaptability, providing sanctuary for numerous threatened and endangered species.

Hiking in the Everglades is a unique experience. The park’s trails, predominantly flat, cut through the wetlands and forests, giving visitors an up-close and personal look at this unique ecosystem. You won’t find towering mountains or deep valleys here, but what you will find is a landscape teeming with life.

everglades national park hiking boardwalk

The Anhinga Trail and the Pinelands Trail are among the park’s most popular hikes. The Anhinga Trail, named after the water bird often seen in the area, is a short trail with boardwalks and paved paths, which allow you to safely navigate through the marshy terrain. You’re likely to spot alligators, turtles, and a variety of bird species.

The Pinelands Trail, on the other hand, takes you through one of the last remaining pine rockland habitats in South Florida. Here, you’re surrounded by towering slash pines, colorful wildflowers, and the sounds of nature.

Exploring Everglades National Park gives you a sense of the raw beauty and diversity of nature. It’s a truly unique hiking experience that leaves you with a deeper appreciation of the intricacies of our natural world.

5. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Tucked away in South Carolina, Congaree National Park is a hidden gem. It houses the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States, a remnant of the vast floodplain forests that once covered this part of the country. It’s a place of towering trees, diverse wildlife, and a quiet tranquility that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

The park offers a wealth of hiking trails, which meander through this ancient forest, along sloughs, and beside oxbow lakes. As you wander along these paths, you’re immersed in a world of colossal trees and lush vegetation, and if you’re lucky, you might spot some of the park’s resident wildlife, like deer, wild pigs, and even otters.

congaree national park hiking in forest

Congaree National Park, with its impressive tall trees and serene ambiance, is truly one of the best national parks on the east coast. One of the highlights of Congaree is the 2.4 mile boardwalk loop trail. Raised above the forest floor, the boardwalk provides an exceptional vantage point from which to admire the park’s unique ecosystem. Along the way, you’ll see some of the tallest trees in the East, some of which reach staggering heights of over 160 feet.

Congaree is not just about the size of its trees, but also the quiet simplicity of its nature. It’s a place to slow down, to appreciate the ancient beauty of the forest, and to immerse yourself in a landscape largely untouched by human hands. The park’s distinct allure and tranquility have earned it a solid reputation among outdoor enthusiasts and casual nature lovers alike, making it a standout in the roster of top east coast national parks. Whether you’re a dedicated hiker or just someone seeking a peaceful retreat, Congaree National Park offers a memorable wilderness experience.

6. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Set in the rolling hills of Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park is a place of dual exploration – both above and below ground. Known for housing the world’s longest known cave system, the park is an explorer’s dream. But its beauty isn’t limited to its subterranean wonders. Above ground, the park boasts over 70 miles of backcountry trails.

The surface trails wind their way through the verdant, forested landscape of the Kentucky hills, and offer hikers a chance to explore the park’s diverse flora and fauna. Whether you’re following a riverside trail, climbing a hill for a panoramic view, or winding your way through a tranquil forest, the park’s scenic beauty and tranquility are captivating.

mammoth cave national park

However, it’s below ground where Mammoth Cave truly shines. The park offers unique “hiking” opportunities through its extensive cave system, with miles of subterranean paths waiting to be explored. You can marvel at the intricate formations of stalactites and stalagmites, navigate through vast chambers, and experience the awe-inspiring silence of the caves. It’s a unique adventure that adds a completely different dimension to the typical hiking experience.

Whether you’re hiking under the broad canopy of Kentucky trees or beneath the earth in the silent world of the caves, Mammoth Cave National Park offers an array of experiences that will captivate nature lovers and adventurers alike. It’s a place where you can enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors, both above and below the surface.

7. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

Situated in the heart of West Virginia, New River Gorge National Park is one of the country’s newest national parks and easily stakes its claim as one of the best national parks on the east coast. The park features the mighty New River, known for its white-water rafting, and the majestic Appalachian Mountains, providing a stunning backdrop to any adventure.

The park has a bounty of trails waiting to be explored. These trails follow along the river, wind up the mountains, and weave through the lush, dense forests that the Appalachians are known for. Each trail brings with it a new view, a new experience, and a new opportunity to connect with the wild beauty of West Virginia. With its breathtaking views and variety of trails, New River Gorge National Park is a compelling addition to the top national parks in the eastern United States, creating an unforgettable hiking experience for those who visit.

new river gorge national park

The river itself is a big draw, cutting a dramatic gorge through the mountains and creating some of the most exciting white-water rafting in the country. But even if rafting isn’t your thing, the river also provides fantastic fishing, rock climbing, and just some beautiful spots to take a breather and soak in the view.

Being in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, the park is a place of rugged beauty. Whether you’re hiking a challenging trail to a high overlook, strolling along the river, or discovering the unique flora and fauna, New River Gorge National Park is a testament to the enduring appeal of nature’s untamed beauty. You’re sure to leave with lasting memories of this truly special place.

8. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Situated in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park, although not technically on the east coast, is indeed part of the eastern U.S. and is truly a hiker’s paradise. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park’s isolation adds to its charm and allure, offering an experience that’s both tranquil and invigorating.

The park is crisscrossed with rugged backcountry trails that traverse ancient glacially sculpted landscapes, wind through dense forests, and skirt along scenic lakeshores. These trails cater to both casual hikers looking for an enjoyable day out, as well as more seasoned adventurers seeking multi-day backpacking trips.

For those looking for a day hike, trails like the Scoville Point Loop offer beautiful views and a taste of the island’s wilderness. However, for the more adventurous, the Greenstone Ridge Trail, which spans the length of the island, provides a challenging and rewarding multi-day trek. Here, you’ll find yourself immersed in the solitude and raw beauty of the park.

isle royale national park

One of the unique aspects of Isle Royale is the chance to spot some of its resident wildlife. The park is known for its moose and wolf populations, although seeing them is always a matter of luck. What’s guaranteed, though, is a sense of connection with the wilderness that is increasingly rare in our modern world.

All in all, Isle Royale National Park offers a truly exceptional outdoor experience. Its remote trails, stunning landscapes, and the immersive quiet of the wilderness make it a dream destination for hiking enthusiasts.

9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Nestled between Cleveland and Akron in Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, while not exactly on the coast, is indeed a jewel of the Eastern U.S. The park stands as a testament to nature’s resilience, transforming from farmland to a lush, green escape right in the heart of urban development.

What sets Cuyahoga Valley apart is its remarkably diverse range of hiking trails. These trails guide you through dense forests, across rolling hills, and along the scenic Cuyahoga River. Each hike in this park is an opportunity to discover something new, whether it’s a rare bird species, a beautiful waterfall, or a stunning vista over the valley.

cuyahoga valley national park

The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail is one of the park’s best-known trails. It follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal and offers a gentle, scenic stroll along the Cuyahoga River. It’s not only a hike, but also a journey through history.

Then there’s the Ledges Trail, which takes you through a world of towering rock formations and deep forests. The trail offers an amazing view from the overlook, a sight that simply takes your breath away.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is more than just a hiking destination—it’s a sanctuary where you can reconnect with nature right in the middle of urban Ohio. The park’s diverse landscapes, rich history, and the ever-changing beauty of the Cuyahoga River make it a true treasure for outdoor enthusiasts.

10. Biscayne National Park, Florida

Resting just off the coast of Miami, Florida, Biscayne National Park is a unique gem and undoubtedly one of the best national parks on the east coast. Mostly water, the park is famed for its vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have something for the hikers. Although the hiking trails here may be short, they offer something quite different from the norm—a chance to explore the subtropical beauty of the park’s keys.

Each of the park’s trails gives you a different taste of this unique ecosystem. You could find yourself hiking through a lush mangrove forest on the Jetty Trail, or exploring the coastal hammock ecosystem on the short, but scenic, Spite Highway Trail.

One of the best trails for hikers is the Elliott Key Trail, which takes you through different habitats of the island, from the Biscayne Bay side to the Atlantic Ocean side. The island’s subtropical terrain includes hardwood hammocks, mangrove forests, and even a touch of tropical savanna. With its remarkable blend of marine and terrestrial beauty, Biscayne holds a distinctive position among the top national parks for hiking on the east coast.

biscayne national park

What’s more, when you’re done with your hike, you can cool off with a swim, go snorkeling, or just sit back and enjoy the stunning water views. You might even spot some of the park’s abundant wildlife, from dolphins and turtles to a variety of tropical birds.

In essence, Biscayne National Park offers a distinct hiking experience. It’s a place where the beauty of the trails is matched only by the beauty of the surrounding waters, making for a truly unique subtropical adventure.

11. Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Perched on the eastern edge of Massachusetts, Cape Cod National Seashore is a stretch of coastline that’s truly a slice of heaven. Although not officially named a “National Park,” it’s maintained by the National Park Service and offers all the natural beauty and adventure you’d expect from such a place.

The national seashore spans 40 miles of pristine sandy beaches, dunes, and woodlands. It’s a haven for hikers, with a wealth of trails that provide stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, the chance to explore local flora and fauna, and ample opportunity to soak up the serene, coastal atmosphere.

Take the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, for instance. This unique hike takes you through a mature woodland, offering an enchanting mix of quietude and biodiversity. Or there’s the Great Island Trail, which offers a more challenging hike with the reward of panoramic views of Cape Cod Bay.

cape cod national park

But it’s not just about the hikes. Cape Cod National Seashore is also a place for reflection, a place to feel the sand beneath your feet, the ocean breeze on your face, and to be lulled by the rhythmic sounds of the surf. The seashore is home to a variety of wildlife, including seals and a plethora of bird species, so it’s not uncommon to have a wildlife sighting during your visit.

In a nutshell, Cape Cod National Seashore is a coastal jewel offering both tranquility and adventure. Whether you’re up for a vigorous hike or a relaxing stroll, this national seashore has a trail that will lead you to the heart of Cape Cod’s enduring charm.

12. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

A trip to Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida is not your average hiking journey, it’s more like stepping into an adventure novel. With pirate legends, abundant marine life, and the impressive Fort Jefferson, the park offers an experience that’s truly unparalleled.

Reaching Dry Tortugas is an adventure in itself, as the park is accessible only by boat or seaplane. Once you’re there, the sight of the enormous Fort Jefferson, the largest all-masonry fort in the United States, is awe-inspiring. The fort’s history is as captivating as its architecture, filled with stories of soldiers, prisoners, and tales of piracy.

dry tortugas national park

While the park isn’t sprawling with hiking trails due to its small size and location, it makes up for it with unique experiences. You can walk along the fort’s massive walls, taking in the stunning views of the azure waters surrounding the island. The beaches offer tranquil walks and are great for bird-watching, especially during migration season.

But it’s beneath the water’s surface where Dry Tortugas really shines. The park is surrounded by vibrant coral reefs teeming with a diverse array of marine life. Snorkeling here is considered some of the best in North America, with the clear waters providing perfect conditions for viewing the colorful spectacle beneath the waves.

In essence, Dry Tortugas National Park might not be a traditional hiking destination, but what it offers is an unforgettable experience. From the impressive history of Fort Jefferson to the incredible underwater world, it’s a place that transports you into a world that feels a world away from the ordinary.

13. Gateway National Recreation Area, New York/New Jersey

Spread across two states, Gateway National Recreation Area is an oasis of green amidst the bustling urban expanse of New York and New Jersey. This park is unique in that it provides urban hiking opportunities, blending natural beauty with the metropolitan backdrop in a way that’s rare and quite special.

Over in New Jersey, you’ve got the trails at Sandy Hook. Here, you can walk through the maritime holly forest, climb to the top of the historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse for a breathtaking view, or just enjoy a stroll along the scenic beach. The multi-use pathway that runs the length of the peninsula is perfect for a leisurely hike, bike ride, or even a run.

gateway national recreation area

In New York, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge offers a very different but equally enjoyable experience. It’s considered one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the northeastern United States, boasting an impressive list of bird species that stop here during migration. The park’s trails take you through a variety of habitats, including salt marsh, upland field, and woods. It’s a wonderful place for nature lovers and bird watchers.

Despite its location within one of the most densely populated areas in the U.S., Gateway National Recreation Area manages to maintain a sense of tranquility. Whether you’re taking in the views of the New York skyline from Sandy Hook or spotting rare bird species at Jamaica Bay, Gateway offers an escape from the urban hustle and an opportunity to reconnect with nature right in the heart of the city.

14. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania/New Jersey

Straddling the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a sanctuary of natural beauty nestled around the scenic Delaware Water Gap. Here, the Delaware River cuts an impressive path through the Appalachian Mountains, creating a landscape that’s as dramatic as it is serene.

The park offers a wide range of hiking opportunities, thanks to its diverse terrain. You’ll find everything from leisurely riverside strolls to challenging climbs up the Appalachian Mountains. The park also includes a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail, providing a chance to tread the same path as long-distance hikers from around the world.

delaware water gap national recreation area

Among the park’s most popular trails are those that lead to waterfalls, like the Dingmans Falls and Raymondskill Falls, both of which offer easy hikes ending at beautiful cascades. For a more challenging climb, Mount Tammany Trail leads you to a lookout with an incredible view of the Delaware Water Gap.

But no matter the difficulty level, all trails in the park offer spectacular views and the chance to encounter the park’s diverse wildlife, from black bears and bald eagles to countless species of fish and wildflowers.

In essence, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a haven for hikers. Whether you’re chasing the thrill of reaching a mountaintop lookout, the tranquility of a riverside walk, or the simple joy of being immersed in nature, this park delivers on all fronts.

15. Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia/North Carolina

Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway, while not a national park itself, is indeed managed by the National Park Service and connects two of the East Coast’s most renowned parks: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. Winding through some of the most picturesque landscapes in the Appalachian Mountains, the parkway isn’t just for motorists; it offers a plethora of hiking opportunities.

Along the 469-mile route, there are numerous trails to explore. Some paths delve into the rich ecosystems of the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks, while others are unique to the parkway. From leisurely strolls to challenging climbs with hiking scrambles, these trails cater to all hiking levels and offer a vast range of views.

blue ridge parkway hiking trails

One standout is the Humpback Rocks trail, near the northern end of the parkway. It’s a steep climb, but the panoramic view from the top is well worth the effort. Another notable trail is the Tanawha Trail, running alongside the parkway’s Linn Cove Viaduct, where you can marvel at both natural beauty and engineering ingenuity.

The parkway also serves as a route into the heart of Appalachian culture. Along the way, you’ll find museums, historic sites, and cultural exhibits, adding an enriching layer to your hiking adventure.

To put it simply, the Blue Ridge Parkway is more than just a scenic drive—it’s a journey into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. With its diverse trails and stunning views, it offers a hiking experience that’s as rich and varied as the landscapes it traverses.

In Closing

I hope you enjoyed this list of the 15 best national parks on the east coast for hiking. Remember to always check the latest information about trail conditions and park services before heading out for your hike, as conditions can change rapidly. Also, be prepared with proper hiking gear, sufficient food and water, and knowledge of hiking safety guidelines.

Jim Murphy

Jim's love for camping started at an early age. His parents would take him camping every summer, where he'd spend his days getting quality time in with his dad and his nights eating too many smores.

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