The 12 National Parks East of the Mississippi

There are 12 National Parks east of the Mississippi River. 

From the largest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the smallest, Indiana Dunes National Park, you’re in for an adventure that’s as diverse as thrilling.

Here are all of the National Parks east of the Mississippi, in alphabetical order;

Table of Contents

Acadia National Park (Maine)

The only National Park in New England, Acadia National Park, is the northernmost National Park on the eastern seaboard. A beautiful blend of land and sea, this park is nestled on the rugged coast of Maine, mainly on Mount Desert Island.

Encompassing an impressive 47,000 acres, Acadia features 64 miles (102 kilometers) of stunning coastline, ideal for those who can’t resist the charm of New England landscapes. The park is home to diverse wildlife, pristine beaches, miles of hiking and biking trails, and Cadillac Mountain – the most popular trail in the park.

From mid-October to late March, Cadillac Mountain becomes the first place in the U.S. to watch the sunrise.Established 1919 Visitor Numbers (Annual) Over 3.5 million

Obtain a permit if you want to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain from May 25 through October 22, as it’s required to enjoy the stunning 360-degree views.

Situated on the east coast, Acadia is the oldest National Park east of the Mississippi River. It maintains its status as a beloved destination for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers seeking serenity alike.

Acadia National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Acadia National Park

Biscayne National Park (Florida)

Biscayne National Park, located in southern Florida, is an absolute gem to add to your itinerary. This park, renowned for its scenic beauty, is mainly covered by water.

At 172,971 acres, its underwater sanctuary offers vibrant coral reefs, crystal-clear blue waters, and a fascinating marine ecosystem. 

It’s located near other National Parks, such as Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park. A stay in Homestead, Florida, could allow you to explore Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park in one trip. Established in 1968, it’s a must-visit for anyone wanting to explore the underwater world of Florida’s east coast.

With over half a million visitors annually, Biscayne promises to offer an immersive beauty-packed experience. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or a tranquility seeker – Biscayne National Park doesn’t disappoint.

Biscayne National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Biscayne National Park

Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

For those seeking unique park experiences, Congaree National Park in South Carolina won’t disappoint. This distinctive park spans over 26,276 acres and shelters the largest old-growth forest in North America. Think of it as a massive outdoor museum preserving Southern bottomland hardwood trees. It’s essential to note that although once named the Congaree Swamp National Monument, it isn’t a swamp but a floodplain.

Each year, the Congaree River breathes life into the park, occasionally covering it in water. Here, constant change surrounds you, as it’s typical for flooding phases to wash out hiking trails. Remember to put the Boardwalk Loop Trail and Congaree Synchronous Fireflies on your list of must-see attractions.

The park resides roughly 18 miles southeast of Columbia, the state’s capital, and it’s reachable from Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) and Charlotte Douglass International Airport (CLT).

Interestingly, Congaree National Park doubles as a biosphere reserve, a testament to its environmental significance. The park stands out for its ecological dynamics and biodiversity. It presents a superb opportunity to observe and study nature’s raw beauty. Venture into Congaree National Park, and you’ll be walking amidst a living, breathing testament to the power and grace of nature.

Bonus Content: We recently interviewed the Chief of Visitor Services about the Fireflies. 

Congaree National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Congaree National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)

Between Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers a refreshing escape from urban life. Being the only National Park in Ohio, it’s unique and significant. Surprisingly, it boasts a substantial road network and small towns, thanks to its placement between two cities.

Over 33,000 acres, the park is stretched across the richly scenic world alongside the Cuyahoga River.

On your visit, you can experience Ohio’s tallest waterfall, the Brandywine Falls, adding a distinctive charm to this eastern U.S. National Park. The captivating sight of water gushing down the picturesque fall is a feast for your eyes!

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway Towpath Trail adds a different, awe-inspiring angle to your journey. You can hop on this 3.5-hour scenic ride to explore the park’s beauty rather than tiring your feet. Sit back and enjoy the picturesque scenery unfolding before your eyes.

With exciting features like the Virginia Kendall Hedges hike and the diverse biodiversity, the park invites you to immerse yourself in nature’s profound tranquillity. Remember, your adventure in Cuyahoga Valley National Park awaits your arrival! Take the chance to witness the fusion of urban and natural landscapes, creating a transformative outdoor experience.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Dry Tortugas National Park is undoubtedly a hidden gem on the East Coast. As one of the most secluded national parks in the United States, it’s about 70 miles from Florida’s Key West in the Caribbean. One of the prime features of this park is its series of tiny islands. Transport requires a ferry or seaplane, making access both a journey and a thrill.

Given its location, the park is trendy among boaters, history buffs, snorkelers, and fishermen. The park’s distinct isolation amplifies its appeal, although it could be more expensive and easy to visit. Even though there are challenges to getting there, the rewards are immense, offering an experience that sets it apart from other parks.

Due to its proximity to Florida, it’s an essential part of any trip to the Sunshine State. If you’re considering a road trip, it’s worth adding Dry Tortugas.

Dry Tortugas National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Dry Tortugas National Park

Everglades National Park (Florida)

The famous Everglades National Park in the Sunshine State of Florida is a must-visit stop on your East Coast National Park journey. Established as a national park in 1934, the Everglades spans a vast 1.5 million-acre area.

The park’s tropical wilderness, verdant flora and fauna, and stunning world make it a paradise for nature lovers. This gigantic wilderness holds the record as the largest tropical wilderness in the entire United States.

Notably, Everglades National Park presents a unique ecosystem that houses endangered species such as the Florida panther and the American Crocodile, as well as the American Alligator. Plus, with over 350 species of bird flights, you will always have sights to capture through your lens.

Last year, the park welcomed more than a million visitors. Walking trails are sprawling throughout the park, and guided tram tours are available to help visitors learn more about this fragile ecosystem.

Remember to pre-plan your visit to fully experience the charm of this spectacular east coast national park.

Everglades National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Everglades National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina/Tennessee)

Moving along our East Coast national parks journey, we investigate the fascinating terrain of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is widely known for its densely forested landscape and shares boundary lines between North Carolina and Tennessee. It truly is a jewel amongst national parks.

Regarded as the most visited National Park in the U.S., crowds are a given. With this in mind, booking reservations for camping and lodging in advance is a wise move. Don’t be surprised to find American Black Bears, as this park is home to the largest population of these magnificent creatures in the eastern U.S. Do remember to pack bear spray for your safety.

While there, explore Gatlinburg, a lively tourist destination a few miles outside the park. It boasts a range of unique shopping alternatives, delicious eateries, and engaging outdoor activities for the whole family. Enjoy the fusion of natural beauty and modern conveniences that this destination offers.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)

The Indiana Dunes National Park, located in Northern Indiana, is an impressive testament to nature’s power. With 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, this park offers a unique blend of beach and dunes.

Established in 2019, it has rapidly become a haven for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. You’ll appreciate its diverse ecosystems, which range from wetlands to forests, interspersed with over 50 miles of trails for hiking and exploration.

As a visitor, you’ll be part of a growing number that appreciates the allure of Indiana Dunes. The park boasts nearly 2 million annual visitors looking to soak up its natural beauty.

Visiting Indiana Dunes adds to your East Coast National Parks journey and offers you unique experiences found nowhere else.

Indiana Dunes National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Indiana Dunes National Park

Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

Venture far from the bustling city to Isle Royale National Park, a secluded gem in Michigan. This park is a true adventurer’s paradise with its pristine wilderness and rugged terrain.

Covering an impressive area of 45 miles long and 9 miles wide, Isle Royale National Park offers an abundance of wildlife, lush nature, and breathtaking scenic views. While it might be out of the way, the beauty of this park justifies the journey. After all, exploring an island free of cars has its unique appeal.

To reach this remote park, you’ll need to hop on a ferry or seaplane or charter a private trip. Remember, these options can be costly, so budget accordingly.

Here’s an interesting tidbit – though brimming with beauty, Isle Royale is one of the least visited national parks in the country. With countless hiking trails traversing the park, it’s the perfect spot for those who love to strap on hiking boots and venture into the wild.

Isle Royale National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Isle Royale National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)

In south-central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park sweeps across nearly 53,000 acres. This park holds fame for the world’s most extensive cave system, which is under its care. A dedicated place from 1941, Mammoth Cave has garnered recognition as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1990.

Explorers have thoroughly investigated only about 400 miles of the caves. There, 600 extra miles of subterranean corridors wait, untouched by exploration. But Mammoth Cave is not just a spectacle underground; its allure extends to the surface.

Woven through the area of the park are inviting hiking trails. Explore the backdrop of historic structures embedded in its rolling hills. Fan your adventurous spirit with plenty of activities like kayaking, camping, and horseback riding. Immerse in the Green River Valley’s rhythm as you soak in this natural masterpiece’s beauty.

There’s more to discover, learn, and experience in Mammoth Cave National Park. It’s not just a park—it’s a marvel marked by time, history, and awe-inspiring natural formations.

Mammoth Cave National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Mammoth Cave National Park

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

After living out the historic marvels of the Mammoth Cave National Park, your adventure continues at Shenandoah National Park — a natural spectacle known for its lush vistas and rich biodiversity. This haven resides 75 miles from Washington, D.C., in Virginia’s rolling hills.

The park, established in 1935, sprawled across a vast expanse of wilderness, is the oldest you have visited on this exploration. The draw isn’t just its age but a stunning world that captivates your senses. Here, over 500 miles of mind-awakening trails beckon an adventurous spirit.

Should you prefer motorized travel to winding walks, the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive guarantees awe-inspiring visuals. This National Scenic Byway, cutting through Shenandoah’s heart, promises glimpses of mountain overlooks and varied wildlife. 

At Shenandoah, the experience transcends the trails — it’s an opportunity to connect with towns bordering the park and savor Virginia’s celebrated wines. Shenandoah is more than an iconic National Park; it invites immersion, reflection, and living in the moment. After Shenandoah, the journey will weave toward the remarkable Flight 93 National Memorial (Pennsylvania), remembered for its poignant history and tranquil landscapes.

Shenandoah National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Shenandoah National Park

Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Virgin Islands National Park awaits you on St. John, the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. This park is an unexpected gem way off the East Coast, often overlooked due to its Caribbean location. Traveling there requires a short flight from St. Thomas, the larger and more frequented island next door.

The park is reputable for its underwater snorkeling trails. You’ll journey through vibrant reefs and encounter marine life, such as sea turtles and sharks. Beyond the underwater world, there are substantial jungle trails on land. These paths lead to breathtaking vistas, historic ruins, and petroglyphs. One trail that frequently earns praise is the Caneel Hill Trail.

Serving as more than a relaxing beach retreat, this National Park adds a touch of adventure to your getaway. An impressive fact is that over half of St. John’s land falls within the park’s boundaries.

While absorbing the natural beauty of the Virgin Islands, keep in mind the considerable distances between parks on the East Coast. In the mainland U.S., you’d pass through 14 states along 2165 miles of coastline. Even when nestled in the Caribbean paradise, you remain part of the chain of gems that comprise America’s National Park system.

Virgin Island National Park
National Parks East of the Mississippi Virgin Island National Park

My name is Rich, and I love to hike!

I grew up in Idaho, with plenty of hiking and camping just minutes away from our home. Growing up, we spent summers at the lake and falls in the mountains. Camping and hiking with friends was such a special way to spend time together. I’ve spent a lifetime outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

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