East Coast National Parks

Sustainability

March 17, 2021

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Wellness comes in many forms: yoga, healthy eating, napping, watching Netflix — the list goes on and on. However, some wellness practices are often overlooked are hiking, forest baths, and being out in nature – especially by those who live in cities. And while the United States offers experiences in unique cities like Washington DC, New Orleans, and San Francisco, our country also offers vast experiences at federally-protected nature reserves.

We’re sticking to the East Coast in this blog post (but don’t worry, we still love the West Coast), but head over the National Park Service for a full list of parks! Although nothing can beat in-person visits to national parks, we understand that that may not yet be a possibility for many people. Here are some to add to your bucket list or to enjoy as a virtual road trip — from north to south — to some of the best national parks in the United States!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Founded in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the entire United States. This reserve stretches across two states — North Carolina and Tennessee — and contains some of the highest eastern North America peaks, including Clingmans Dome, Mount Guyot, and Mount Le Conte. Besides the typical fishing, hunting, and hiking available here, its most famous attraction is Cades Cove, a valley with several historical buildings like log cabins, barns, and churches. No wonder it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983!

Traveler’s tip :: After exploring the vast nature reserve, visit nearby Sevier County, TN, for various tourist attractions, such as Dollywood, Ober Gatlinburg, and Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies!

Learn more about the park on their National Park Service website.

Acadia National Park

Initially established in 1916 under the name Sieur de Monts, Acadia National Park is known as the Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast for its preservation of rocky headlands in Maine. Because it contains the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast — Cadillac Mountain — it is the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise each day. Other unique features of the park include:

  • Exposed granite domes

  • U-shaped valleys

  • Cobble beaches

  • Glacial erratics

Did I mention that the park is also on Mount Desert Island? You can visit parts of the island’s lighthouse, Bass Harbor Head Light, for incredible views of the sea.

Learn more about the park on their National Park Service website.


Photo credit: https://www.nps.gov/acad/learn/photosmultimedia/photogallery.htm

White Mountain National Forest

Founded in 1918, most of White Mountain National Forest lies in New Hampshire, with small portions technically belonging to Maine. While often casually referred to as a park, the federally managed land is a literal forest — its grounds are for hiking and camping and logging, hunting, and fishing. Furthermore, it is one of the most visited outdoor recreation sites east of the Mississippi due to its stunning snowy areas that offer various winter sports. You can ski, snowboard, sled, tube, snowmobile, and snowshoe across the forest!

Learn more about the forest on their U.S. Forest Service website


Photo credit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/whitemountain/home

Green Mountain National Forest

The other national forest site in New England is Green Mountain National Forest, an aptly named area due to its more temperate climate in Vermont. Established in 1932 as a response to uncontrolled overlogging, fire, and flooding, the forest today remains a beautiful destination for wilderness and recreational retreats. The variety in wildlife warrants a trip for sightseeing alone and includes beaver, moose, wild turkey, and white-tailed deer. Then, finish your hike to witness the cascading streams of Vermont’s sixth tallest waterfall: Thundering Falls.

Learn more about the forest on their U.S. Forest Service website.


Photo credit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/gmfl/

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1943, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge includes over 14,000 acres of marsh, beach, dunes, and maritime forest. The majority of the refuge is on Virginian soil (and a small portion in Maryland), with the park’s entirety situated in Assateague Island (shared between both states). The refuge’s purpose is to maintain and preserve animal and plant species and habitats for future generations. That said, visitors can still come to experience the beauty of the island in a diverse number of ways, including:

  • Horseback riding

  • Kayaking & canoeing tours

  • Fishing, clamming, crabbing, hunting (with a license)

  • Bicycling, mopedding, and scootering

  • Swimming (oceanfront and coves)

Fun fact :: Legend has it that the curious Chincoteague pony descended from Spanish horses traveling in galleons shipwrecked off the Virginia coast on their way to Peru in the 16th century!

Learn more about the refuge on their U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Shenandoah National Park

As a native Virginian, I have a special connection with Shenandoah National Park (established in 1935). My family and I used to drive down here every autumn during my childhood, so I have fond memories of the beautiful changing colors and cool, crisp air as we went along the Skyline Drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Besides leaf-peeping, Shenandoah National Park is famous for backcountry camping, comfortable lodging resorts, trails to waterfalls, and its Artist-in-Residence program. Although I may be biased, I consider Shenandoah to be one of the country’s greatest national parks!

Learn more about the park on their National Park Service website.


Photo credit: https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm

Everglades National Park

The Everglades, a network of wetlands and forests fed by a river flowing out of Lake Okeechobee, boasts millennia of history that involved indigenous warfare, Seminole alliances, African slave rebellions, and Spanish colonization. Then, about a century ago, the United States founded the Everglades National Park in 1947. While most national parks preserve unique geographic features, the government established this one to protect a fragile ecosystem (in fact, many animal species remain endangered to this day, like the Florida panther, American crocodile, and West Indian manatee). Because it is the largest tropical wilderness in the country, the Everglades offers visitors a plethora of activities, including:

  • Shark Valley Tram Tours

  • Kayaking tours

  • Ten-Thousand Islands Cruise

  • Airboat tours

Learn more about the park on their National Park Service website.


Photo credit: https://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm


These national parks are all great places to escape the hustle, bustle, and endless noise of the big cities. Thus, we hope that this virtual road trip inspired all of you to take a break and explore the wilderness of our continent. Or maybe just even a city park close by to you. 

And the best part of it all? Because they are all outdoor destinations, it is easy to physically distance yourself from others and still take advantage of their absolute beauty!

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