Skip to Content

National Parks of the Eastern United States

The national parks located in the states east of the Mississippi River are stunning beautiful with lots of things to do for adventurists of all ages. Check them out and start planning your next national park adventure.


The National Park Service manages parks and properties across seven different administration regions. For this article, we’re covering parks in the Eastern United States from Maine to Florida and inland from Indiana to Arkansas, everything east of the Mississippi River.

If you are looking for a national park in one of the other states, you can read these articles:
Northwest National Parks and Outliers – states include: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
Southwestern National Parks – states include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.


National Parks in the eastern US are most known for their huge variety of wildlife, long multi-state hiking trails, and expansive cave systems. There are also uninhabited islands to explore, a civil war era fort, and architectural wonders found in urban parks.

One of the best things about national parks in the eastern US is their accessibility. Most of these parks are only a short drive from major population centers, and some of them can be found right within the cities themselves. At the same time, a few are in the most remote wilderness with nothing around for miles and miles.

All National Parks List Map

All US National Parks List Map.
Click to open in Google Maps

Free National Park Pass for Fourth Graders!

That’s right, fourth graders are invited to visit the National Parks for free. In the US, fourth graders learn all about the geography and history of the different regions in the USA. The National Park Service wants to help and, at the same time, encourage a love of the outdoors. Fourth grade students should visit the Every Kid Outdoors website to get their pass that will allow free entry for them and their families to all National Parks until August of the next year.

Disclaimer: Some of our articles may contain affiliate links; when you click on these links you’ll have the option to purchase or register for a service at no extra cost to you, but doing so helps us run this blog. That’s awesome!

If you are interested in a particular state, you can jump to that state by clicking on these links:

Arkansas
Florida
Indiana
Kentucky
Maine
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
North Carolina
Ohio
South Carolina
Tennessee
Virginia
West Virginia

Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park.

Hot Springs National Park

#1 reason to go: There are so many reasons to plan a trip to Hot Springs National Park but what draws so many is Bathhouse Row.

Best time to go: If you are looking to avoid the crowds, plan to visit Hot Springs National Park Tuesday thru Friday. Note: most bathhouses are closed on Tuesday.

Should families with kids go? Yes! Hot Springs National Park offers a wide variety of things for all members of the family.

Park Description: Hot Springs National Park offers visitors a wide variety of things to enjoy. Although Hot Springs National Park is the second smallest National Park, that doesn’t stop it from providing a big punch when it comes to things to do. One of the main things that attracts visitors to Hot Springs National Park is Bathhouse Row.

Natural hot springs run under the bathhouse at a temperature of 140 degrees. The bathhouses are the only place to enjoy the benefits of the hot springs. Although you can’t find an open spring to enjoy in nature, the parks are beautiful.

There are miles of walking, hiking paths, and water features for visitors to enjoy. Hot Springs National Park is also an area with a dark past. Hot Springs was where gangsters would vacation and enjoy the mineral-laden water. It was an area filled with gangsters, prostitution, and gambling yet has had very little crime in the recent years.

#1 Tip for visiting: If you are going to camp at Gulpha Gorge arrive early, camp sites are on a first come first serve basis. You need to be 12 years of age or older to visit the Hot Springs Bathhouses.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Gangster Museum of America
  • Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo
  • Hot Springs Haunted Tours
  • Crystal Ridge Distillery
  • Hot Springs Secret Caves

Recommended by: Michelle of Love and our Laptop Lives

Florida

Biscayne NP.

Biscayne National Park

#1 reason to go: To experience the essence of the pure, untouched Caribbean without needing a passport!

Best time to go: It’s best to go in the winter when the temperatures are cool.

Should families with kids go? Absolutely! This unique park is 95% water, so there are endless opportunities to spot sea creatures, do water sports, and even experience uninhabited islands with endless shells and wildlife.

Park Description: When we visited Biscayne it was December, and we stayed in a Harvest Host campsite in our van at a local vineyard. We spent the morning exploring the awesome visitor center, hiked the small trail that takes you down Convoy Point, and had a picnic while we watched kayakers and paddle boarders.

In the early afternoon we boarded a boat and took off for a trip to Boca Chita Key – an uninhabited island with a lighthouse and absolutely amazing seashells. There are also snorkeling, kayaking, and paddle boarding trips out to the islands, so choose which one fits your family!

Biscayne includes the northernmost region of the Florida Reef, one of the largest coral reefs in the world. You can also rent your own boat and camp at one of the islands in the park!

#1 Tip for visiting: The best tip for visiting Biscayne National Park is to book one of the tours offered from the visitor center!

Other things to do in the area:

  • Enjoy Local Wine & Beer at Schnebly Redland (all locally grown fruit!)
  • Visit the famous Coral Castle –
  • Visit Everglades National Park
  • Drive to Miami for Shopping and endless food options
  • Hire a charter and go fishing!

Recommended by: Tavia of Big Brave Nomad

Dry Tortugas National Park.

Dry Tortugas National Park

#1 reason to go: Located 70 miles from the nearest inhabited island, the Dry Tortugas offer a unique opportunity to wander secluded white sand beaches, swim in the crystal clear water, and explore the incredible marine life of these islands steeped in history.

Best time to go: Late Spring to early Summer is the ideal time to visit the Dry Tortugas as the stronger winds of winter are dying down, and hurricane season has not yet arrived, however it’s a tropical destination where really any time will be wonderful.

Should families with kids go? Yes! The Dry Tortugas offer the perfect opportunity for families to connect together outdoors without any digital distractions- there’s no cell phone service or wifi! There are no amenities or stores on the island, but as long as families come prepared kids will love running around the fort and splashing on the calm shores.

Park Description: Located 70 miles by boat or seaplane from Key West, the Dry Tortugas feel truly unique and magical with Fort Jefferson popping up out of the ocean resting only on a small speck of land. If the seaplane isn’t booked up, we think that’s the way to go. Not only are the views incredible, but the travel time is much shorter than the ferry allowing for more time to explore and with just a handful of other visitors.

Make sure to plan plenty of time in the water as the snorkeling is some of the best in the Key West area with plenty of healthy coral and large schools of fish. The consensus of the ferry guides was that the South Dock Pilings is the best, and we completely agree.

Touring Fort Jefferson, the large fort taking up most of the land area of Garden Key, is an absolute must. The views from the top are gorgeous, and the history dating back to the Civil War is incredibly interesting. Make sure to jump in on the tour for at least a little while.

Although nearly everyone traveling to the Dry Tortugas will stay in Key West, you can actually camp on Garden Key. Again, permits are very limited, but your advance planning will be rewarded with one of the most beautiful areas of the world nearly to yourself. With the extra time, you can even kayak over to the super secluded Loggerhead Key.

#1 Tip for visiting: Make sure to book your trip early! The only access to the Dry Tortugas is by one ferry or seaplane unless you book a private boat charter.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Rent a bike and take a self-guided tour of Key West
  • Visit the Butterfly Conservatory and “flamingle” with the Flamingos
  • Visit Bahia Honda State Park and take the snorkel tour to Looe Key

Recommended by: Kristin of Snorkel and Hike

Everglades National Park.

Everglades National Park

#1 reason to go: The sheer diversity of things you can do here and the vast presence of biodiverse flora, birds and especially crocodiles. Also numerous boardwalks for relaxing hikes.

Best time to go: Go between March to May as mosquitoes are less and temperatures pleasant.

Should families with kids go? Yes! Great for families as there are easy to do activities for kids here too such as airboat rides. Kids would also enjoy watching the crocodiles from a distance!

Park Description: I stayed in Miami, as it is just an hour away from the park. There are 4 entrances to the park: The Gulf Coast Visitor Center, Shark Valley Visitor Center, Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, and the Flamingo Visitor Center.

Each of these are located at a different location so it is best to look into convenience stores and gas stations based on which route you plan to take. We took the Ernest F. Coe entrance as there are many stores and stations in the area.

The park is huge and there’s numerous things to do here. My favorite was the airboat ride while keeping an eye out for crocodiles and seasonal birds. Other things worth doing are taking walks on the numerous boardwalks here, canoe and kayak rides, and hike on the Gumbo Limbo trail.

#1 Tip for visiting: Book campgrounds in advance as there are only two (Flamingo and Long Pine Key) and they tend to get filled up easily. Carry a cardigan too as it can get sometimes windy.

Other things to do in the area:

There’s tons of things to do in Miami such as:

  • Visit South Beach in Miami
  • Wynwood Walls
  • Little Havana
  • Lincoln Road
  • Enjoy the fresh seafood!

Recommended by: Lavinia of Continent Hop

Indiana

#1 reason to go: The amazing sand dunes on Lake Michigan.

Best time to go: Summer for beach activities, but you can really enjoy this park all year long.

Should families with kids go? Yes! The best part of this park is enjoying the beach. Kids love the beach!

Park Description: The newest national park in the US, Indiana Sand Dunes is small but packs a pretty good punch. There are lots of trails to walk and beaches to visit.

The campground is huge and has 66 spots, plenty for RVs and tents. We spent two nights there and really enjoyed it. Just make sure to make your reservations as early as you can.

Bring lots of sand toys as you will want to get the most out of the dunes.

#1 Tip for visiting: Take a hike. There’s not much to see from a car, so it’s really a place to get out and walk or at least ride a bike.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Chicago has all kinds of things to do, and it’s only a half hour drive.
  • Cross the border into Michigan and visit Benton Harbor

Recommended by: Jim and Corinne – Have you listened to our podcast yet called Streets and Eats?

Kentucky

Mammoth Caves National Park Tour.
Mammoth Caves.

Mammoth Cave National Park

#1 reason to go: Experience the longest cave system in the world!

Best time to go: November to February has fewer crowds and is a great time to visit because the cave keeps a constant temperature of 54 F degrees year-round.

Should families with kids go? Yes! As long as they are not afraid of the dark! Just pick the right tour. Some tours may be too long for kids and some tours require minimum age of 6 years old.

Park Description: A tour through the world’s longest known cave system is what attracts millions of visitors to Mammoth Caves every year. Consider multiple cave tours as no two tours are the same. With over 400 miles of caves,and new areas still being discovered, there are many unique areas worth exploring.

The Domes and Dripstones section is by far one of the coolest! There are over 23 above-ground scenic hiking and biking trails in the park and opportunities for backcountry camping and horseback riding tours but not much else.

The Lodge at Mammoth Cave offers low-key cabin-style accommodations and three restaurants open seasonally. If you want something with more amenities the inns and budget-friendly hotels in the nearby towns of Cave City or Park City are your best bet.

They also offer activities for families and adventure seekers such as Dinosaur World, The Wildlife Museum, ziplining, Diamond Caverns, and Onyx Cave along with restaurants (El Mazatlan #4 has fantastic Mexican) and some grocery and convenience stores.

If you only have a day, purchase tickets in advance and opt for the longest tour, the 4 hour 4 mile Grand Ave tour which includes sections of the Domes and Dripstones areas to make the most out of your short stay.

#1 Tip for visiting: Schedule a tour in advance! You can only enter the caves with a ticket. Most tours sell out sometimes a week in advance during high season (late spring to early fall) and the last tour of the day starts around 2 pm.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Diamond Caverns
  • Kentucky Action Park
  • Kayak or Canoe on the Green River (Green River Canoeing)
  • Corvette Museum (Bowling Green)

Recommended by: Samantha of Seeing Sam

Maine

Acada National Park.
Scenic view of the awe inspiring nature’s landscape in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

#1 reason to go: Acadia is the only National Park in all of New England and it is home to the tallest mountain on the US Atlantic coastline: Cadillac Mountain.

Best time to go: We recommend you go in September after the summer crowds have gone but the weather is still perfect for hiking.

Should families with kids go? Yes! Acadia is perfect for families, with many easier coastal walking trails and plenty of picnic areas to enjoy quality time together.

Park Description: Acadia National Park holds countless fond memories for me. As the only US National Park in my home region of New England, it was the only accessible one for my whole childhood. And it did not disappoint year after year! Whether you’re taking the kids or not, Acadia offers hiking trails at all levels and lengths so everyone can enjoy the natural beauty.

Hiking up Cadillac Mountain is sort of a rite of passage, and highly recommended since it’s the tallest summit on the US Atlantic coastline. You can drive to the summit instead, but hiking is ideal if you’re able to make it.

Hiking The Beehive is not for the faint of heart; I’ll never forget that trail with its iron rungs and cliffside drops! But it’s absolutely worth it for the views and exhilarating experience.

Even just driving through Acadia is a jaw-dropping journey. Go slowly to truly appreciate the scenery, knowing that this land is protected for future generations to also enjoy.

Covering much of Mount Desert Island, Acadia surrounds Bar Harbor, a beautiful coastal town boasting all the cliché charm you could conjure. And, of course, this being Maine, there are lighthouses aplenty nearby for all you budding photographers.

#1 Tip for visiting: Buy your park pass in advance to avoid extra delays to your plans for the day.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Enjoy a whole fresh lobster at a waterfront restaurant in beautiful Bar Harbor.
  • Go sea kayaking to try to see local wildlife, especially seals and maybe even a bald eagle.
  • Take the high-speed ferry to Nova Scotia!

Recommended by: Amanda of Hey! East Coast USA

Michigan

Isle Royale NP.

Isle Royale National Park

#1 reason to go: The best reason to visit Isle Royale is to be totally immersed in natural beauty.

Best time to go: The park is closed during the harsh winters, so late spring through early fall is the best time to visit Isle Royale.

Should families with kids go? Maybe. Although there is a lodge on the island for staying overnight, we wouldn’t recommend this park to families, especially those with small kids because backpacking is the number one activity.

Park Description: Isle Royale National Park, in the middle of Lake Superior, is not accessible by car. You’ll have to take a ferry or a seaplane to even get to the park. The ferries are cheaper, but the seaplanes provide spectacular views of the rugged terrain upon arrival to the island.

Hiking along the Greenstone Ridge Trail provides spectacular views from the top, but getting down to the Rock Harbor Trail and traversing close to the mighty waves of Lake Superior is a totally different but equally stunning experience.

Get out to some of the campsites in the middle of the island, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the moose roaming the forests. You might just be able to watch one feeding in the water at a distance or hiding in the thick forest cover like we did.

Make sure to pack an extra day or two of food if you’re camping. The weather on Lake Superior can sometimes be unpredictable, delaying the ferries and seaplanes and leaving you stranded on the island, usually for a short time.

#1 Tip for visiting: Don’t be afraid to check out some of the smaller campgrounds. Our most memorable night in Isle Royale was spent in an empty campground at a campsite by the water, and it felt like we were the only people on the entire island.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (MI)
  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (MI)
  • Grand Portage State Park (MN)

Recommended by: Samantha of PA on Pause

Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park.

Voyageurs National Park

#1 reason to go: Experience endless beauty in one of the most remote parts of the US; be on the lookout for eagles, river otters, and if you are lucky, you will be able to spot the glimmer of the Northern Lights.

Best time to go: Although surprising, Voyageurs National Park is open year-round. In the summer months, you can enjoy boating, hiking, and camping. In the winter you can enjoy snowmobiles, snowshoeing, and skiing.

Should families with kids go? Unless you are booking a guided tour, I would not recommend this park to families with young children.

Park Description: Voyageurs National Park will take your breath away! Explore a remote part of the US in Voyageurs National Park. Find your way through the water maze and woodlands in the southern part of the Canadian Shield.

Voyageurs National Park is located in Northern Minnesota. And shares its northern boundary with Canada. There are a total of Three Visitors Centers: Rainy Lake, Kabetogama, and Ash River. Rainy Lake Visitor Center is the most northern and one that is open every day.

Kettle Falls Hotel is one of the only options to lodge in the park. There are also campsites as well as houseboats you can reserve. Unlike most parks, the lodging at Voyageurs is only accessible by water. If you do not wish to camp, International Falls is the nearest town. Here you can find more hotels to book. If you don’t mind the drive, there are more hotel options in Victoria, Duluth, or Minneapolis.

Spectacular hiking is what people come here for. We recommend to hike the trails near Ash Bay. There are some beautiful trails along Blind Ash Bay. If you want an easy walk try out the Oberholtzer Trail. This mile-long path will reward you with a stunning view of Rainy Lake!

#1 Tip for visiting: Being in a remote part of Minnesota, finding restaurants are few and far between. I recommend stopping at a local grocery store before heading to the park.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Kettle Falls – Visit one of the coldest cities in the continental United States
  • Duluth – Experience a delicious meal at the Duluth Grill
  • Route 61 – Drive this scenic route and see stunning views! (Especially during Fall)

Recommended by: Emily of Dalton’s Destinations

Missouri

Gateway Arch National Park.

Gateway Arch National Park

#1 reason to go: Not only is the Gateway Arch National Park the smallest and only urban national park, it’s home to the awe-inspiring Gateway Arch, which, at 623 feet, is the world’s tallest arch!

Best Time to go: Given the Gateway Arch’s location in St. Louis, Missouri, your best chance of having enjoyable weather is the fall (September through October), when the skies are mostly clear, the temperature and humidity are pleasant, and the trees are ablaze with autumnal color.

Should families with kids go? Yes! The newly renovated Museum at the Gateway Arch at the base of the structure is incredibly interactive and perfect for kids. Plus, visitors of any age will love jumping into the spaceship-like trams, riding up the leg of the Arch, and seeing the spectacular views of the Mississippi River at the top.

Park Description: After living in St. Louis for a decade and working less than a block from the Arch for years, I finally prioritized visiting the Gateway Arch National Park when I was moving away from the city. The almost 60 year old Arch was recently designated as a National Park in 2018, and its grounds and museums got a major facelift for the first time in decades.

Upon entering the Arch, you’ll first enter into a wonderfully designed museum, covering topics from the Louisiana Purchase, slavery, and the architecture and construction of the Arch. Once you’re done perusing the exhibits, you can snag tickets to ride the tram to the top of the Arch (starting at $15), to take in incredible views of downtown St. Louis and get a new perspective of the 63-story structure from a birds-eye view.

While most visitors focus mainly on the Arch, the park also includes the Old Courthouse, originally constructed in 1828. The famed Dred Scott case was litigated here, where an enslaved Black man sued for his and his wife’s freedom and was ultimately denied his freedom by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857. This case highlighted the growing tensions in the United States over slavery, which ultimately culminated in the Civil War.

If you don’t happen to live in St. Louis like me and are interested in visiting this unique national park, there’s plenty of hotels and other accommodations in the city’s downtown, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.

#1 Tip for visiting: If you’re interested in taking the tram to the top of the Arch, consider buying your tickets before your visit – it’s not unheard of for rides to sell out, especially on weekends and holidays.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Visit the quirky City Museum, an interactive museum/massive art installation, where kids of all ages can play on found objects.
  • Explore Forest Park, a sprawling 1,326 acre urban park, featuring a world-class art museum and fun science museum (both totally free!).
  • Eat your way through the food scene along South Grand Avenue, which offers cuisine from more nations’ than Epcot Center!
  • Gaze at the massive outdoor sculptures, set against the city’s skyscrapers, in the (totally free!) Citygarden Sculpture Park.

Recommended by: Jessica of Uprooted Traveler

North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

#1 reason to go: Great Smoky is the most biodiverse national park in the USA National Park System with over 200 varieties of birds, over 65 species of mammals, over 60 fish species, and over 80 reptiles and amphibians.

Best time to go: Go during fall because of the cooler temperatures and the beautiful fall foliage.

Should families with kids go? Yes! It is good for families because there are easy hikes for kids to enjoy and they’ll get to see the incredible wildlife.

Park Description: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States and for good reason. The park consists of a vast area of forested mountains and valleys that straddle the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.

The park is home to a wide variety of plants and animals and is a popular destination for hikers, campers, and nature lovers. It has more than 800 miles of trails, making it the perfect place to explore the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.

There are also several visitor centers located in the park, which offer information about the history and ecology of the Smoky Mountains. I first did all of the scenic drives. I stopped at several overlooks to take in the beauty of the mountains.

The best scenic drives are Campbell Overlook, Newfound Gap, Cades Cove Loop Road, Clingmans Dome Parking Area, and Chimney Tops Overlook. I also hiked some trails to see a few of the 100+ waterfalls within the park and walked a bit of the Appalachian Trail.

I stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Gatlinburg. My favorite things about the park are that the entrance is free and the summit to Clingman’s Dome, which is an observation tower that provides stunning views of the mountains.

#1 Tip for visiting: Go on a scenic drive through the park during sunrise. Stop at one of the overlooks and admire the incredible colors and the morning fog that gives the mountains a smoky look.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Walk the SkyBridge at Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
  • Explore Old Mill Square in Pigeon
  • Forge Visit Dollywood

Recommended by: Disha of Disha Discovers

Ohio

Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

#1 reason to go: Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) is considered to be an “urban park” (being located halfway between Cleveland and Akron in Ohio) and is an excellent place to be out in nature without having to drive far from either city.

Best time to go: Cuyahoga Valley is a year-round national park, but summer and fall are the most popular times to visit for hiking and outdoor activities – and of course pretty foliage in the fall.

Should families with kids go? Yes! CVNP is very family-friendly, including being dog-friendly! There are hiking and biking trails suitable for all ages and abilities, and even a train (the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad) that offers tours through the park.

Park Description: Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) is the only national park in the state of Ohio. It stretches between Cleveland and Akron, following the Cuyahoga River through some beautiful sections of deciduous forest.

My favorite things to do in CVNP include seeing waterfalls like Brandywine Falls, hiking among limestone cliffs and ledges at Virginia Kendall Ledges, biking on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, and going for rides on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (it’s especially pretty in the fall!).

While summer is the most popular time to go hiking and waterfall-seeking in the park, it’s also great in other seasons. In the spring, you can look for Virginia bluebells and daffodils blooming along the trails, and in the winter you might have a chance to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

The park is easy to reach from both Cleveland and Akron, and visitors can also stay in smaller nearby towns like Peninsula or Macedonia. There are no hotels or campsites within the park, but plenty of options just outside it. And the best part? Cuyahoga Valley National Park is completely free to visit!

CVNP isn’t as flashy of a national park as some others in the US, but it’s a very “lived-in” park that locals love and frequently visit.

#1 Tip for visiting: CVNP is full of history as well as pretty nature. Stop in to the Canal Exploration Center to learn about how important the Ohio & Erie Canal and Cuyahoga River were to the history of this part of the country.

Other things to do in the area:

  • See the Cleveland Orchestra perform outdoors in the summer at Blossom Music Center.
  • Spend the day at Edgewater Beach on Lake Erie in Cleveland.
  • Go to a concert, farmer’s market, or other event at Lock 3 Park in Akron.

Recommended by: Amanda of Cleveland Traveler

South Carolina

Congaree National Park.

Congaree National Park

#1 reason to go: The number 1 reason to go to Congaree National Park is to experience the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.

Best time to go: Between mid-May and mid-June is the best time visit and to experience the synchronous fireflies that display a synchronous flashing while the fireflies search for a mate! This is a once in a lifetime experience!

Should families with kids go? Yes! Congaree National Park is amazing for families. They have easy, raised boardwalk trails through the old growth that is perfect for any ability, a very educational visitor center, as well as canoeing and fishing through out the park.

Park Description: While visiting Congaree National Park, we stayed in nearby Columbia, South Carolina’s capitol. We chose a centralized hotel so that when we weren’t exploring the park, we could explore all that Columbia has to offer.

However, both campgrounds inside the park are very nice and convenient. Our absolute favorite part of the park was walking the boardwalks through the old growth groves. Seeing these massive trees rising up out of the water was amazing.

We went in January, so the water levels were very high and went over the boardwalk in many areas. A visit in the summer will have lower water levels and the boardwalks will be more accessible. The next time we visit, we will rent canoes and spend some time exploring the park from the shores of the Columbia River.

#1 Tip for visiting: When you visit Congaree National Park be sure to bring the right kind of hiking gear! Certain times of year may leave you with wet feet, so be sure you check the NPS page for current conditions! And definitely bring bug spray!

Other things to do in the area:

  • Take an overnight canoe trip down the Columbia River from Columbia down into the park
  • Visit Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
  • Visit the Capitol Building of South Carolina
  • Visit the Soda City Farmer’s Market in Downtown Columbia
  • Visit the Riverbank’s Zoo and Botanical Gardens for a deeper look at South Carolina’s biodiversity
  • EdVenture’s Children’s Museum in Columbia is excellent

Recommended by: Tavia of Big Brave Nomad

Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Virginia

Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah National Park

#1 reason to go: It is a paradise for hikers of all levels thanks to more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Best time to go: Plan a visit for October or November when vibrant splashes of golden yellow and fiery orange light up the mountains and valleys across this national park.

Should families with kids go? Four campgrounds and numerous kid-friendly hiking trails, like the fully-accessible Limberlost Trail and Dark Hollow Falls Trail, which leads to a magnificent tumbling waterfall, make Shenandoah National Park a great choice for families.

Park Description: Begin your exploration of Shenandoah National Park with a drive along the park’s famed Skyline Drive, a 105-mile scenic byway that meanders north to south across the park. More than 75 overlooks implore visitors to stop and savor the views.

Two of our favorite overlooks include Signal Knob Overlook (milepost 5.5) and Rockytop Overlook (milepost 78). There are two visitor centers along Skyline Drive: Dickey Ridge Visitor Center and Harry S. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center. Both are great resources for learning about the park by way of short films and historic artifacts and photos.

We also picked up Junior Ranger activity booklets for my kids to complete and earn badges as newly-minted Junior Rangers. We live close to Shenandoah National Park – less than two hours away – but were eager to stay the weekend so we booked a cabin at Skyland, one of two in-park lodges.

There is a restaurant, an outdoor terrace with sunset views, and easy access to popular Skyline Drive hiking trails, like the Stony Man and Little Stony Man Cliffs. While at the national park, we made sure to sample the park’s signature mile-high blackberry ice cream pie. It’s on the menu at both of the in-park restaurants. This may have been our favorite part of our visit to Shenandoah National Park. Delicious.

#1 Tip for visiting: Get to trailheads early if you plan to tackle popular hikes. Most parking lots are rather small and can fill up quickly, especially on fall weekends.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Visit Luray Caverns, the largest caverns in the eastern United States.
  • Go paddling or tubing on the Shenandoah River.
  • Sample reds and whites along the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail.
  • Go horseback riding at Royal Horseshoe Farm in Front Royal.
  • Enjoy a scenic drive along the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway.

Recommended by: Erin of Go Hike Virginia

West Virginia

New River Gorge National park - bridge.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

#1 reason to go: To white water raft down one of the oldest rivers in the world.

Best time to go: Fall is the best time to visit New River Gorge as the changing fall colors turn the gorge into a splendor of color and change.

Should families with kids go? Yes! With its relatively easy hikes and family friendly rafting trips, a visit to New River Gorge would be great for a family adventure.

Park Description: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a gorgeous park with bright green colors in Spring and Summer and a kaleidoscope of colors in Fall. This park is for adventure seekers with world class whitewater rafting and rock climbing. But also a great family park with coal mine ruins to explore and many family friendly hikes.

The stunning New River Bridge is a man-made marvel where you can get up close and personal. There are hikes and drives that take you under and over the bridge but for an even better view, the Bridgewalk is an experience you won’t forget.

On our stay, we camped in our campervan. A few nights were spent on a sheep farm north of New River Gorge, Tawney Farm. And another two nights in Babcock State Park. Our favorite part of the park was our thrilling whitewater rafting trip.

#1 Tip for visiting: Hit the hiking trails early to secure a parking spot.. The parking lots at most trailheads are small and only hold a few cars.

Other things to do in the area:

  • Aerial Tram and Jet Boat Ride in Hawks Nest State Park
  • Check out the Mystery Hole in Ansted, WV
  • Mountain Bike at Arrowhead Bike Farm
  • Babcock State Park
  • Check out Summerville Lake

Recommended by: Wendy of The Winding Road Tripper

Author Bio – Corinne is an avid camper and traveler. She’s been to all 50 of the US states and has four more Canadian provinces to visit. However, she’s not stopping yet. There’s always more to see of this great continent! Corinne loves local foods, getting outdoors, landscape photography, and road trips.