The 10 National Parks of the Eastern United States

The 10 National Parks of the Eastern United States have something for everyone. From mountain landscapes to coral reefs and coniferous deciduous woodlands, tropical wetlands, mangrove swamps, and old-growth woodlands that contain some of the tallest and oldest trees in the region.

Wildlife ranges from bears in the northern states to alligators, crocodiles, sea turtles and colorful tropical fish in the Florida Keys and the Virgin Islands. The avian possibilities from the state of Maine to the Virgin Islands are remarkable.

As if nature was not enough, these parks preserve historic landmarks of Native American cultures, early European settlers, and contemporary Appalachian Communities. Fort Jefferson, in Dry Tortugas National park, is regarded as the most massive brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere.

Read through the quick reference information presented here and follow the link for a more thorough review of each park.

acadia national parkDennis Paul Van Der Werf/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Acadia National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 207-276-3316
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/acad
arrow-icon  Address: Entrance Station, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
arrow-icon  Directions: Choose a Starting Point   

When established on February 26, 1919, Acadia National Park became the only national park in the Northeastern United States and the first east of the Mississippi River. Located southwest of Bar Harbor in the state of Maine, Acadia National Park preserves about half of Mount Desert Island, many adjacent smaller islands, and part of the Schoodic Peninsula on the coast of Maine.

The Algonquian Native American nations inhabited the area that encompasses the park.

The 49,075-acre Acadia National park features an ocean coastline, coniferous and deciduous woodlands, mountains, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. The park also includes Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern coast.

Wildlife in the park includes 37 species of large and small mammals, seven species of reptiles, 11 species of amphibian species, and as many as 331 birds.

READ MOREAcadia National Park: A Visitor’s Guide


biscayne national park
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Biscayne National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 305/230-1144
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/bisc
arrow-icon  Address:  9700 SW 328th Street, Homestead, FL 33033 
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Biscayne National Park covers 172,971 acres of mostly water (95%) and islands formed from the fossilized coral reefs. These islands are found amid one of the most extensive coral reef ecosystems in the world. Besides the coral reefs, the park includes vast mangrove forests.

Biscayne National Park protects the ecosystem and habitats essential for many species of marine and coastal wildlife. Mangrove swamps and shallow waters of Biscayne Bay provide a nursery for larval and juvenile fish, mollusks, and crustaceans.

Shallow waters harbor immature and adult fish, seagrass beds, sponges, soft corals, and manatees. The mangrove swamps have a small population of threatened American crocodiles and a few American alligators.

The coral limestone islands support vegetation found mostly on the Caribbean islands and beaches that provide nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles.

READ MOREBiscayne National Park: A Visitor’s Guide


congaree national park
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Congaree Valley National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 803/776-4396
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/cong
arrow-icon  Address: Harry Hampton Visitor Center, Bluff Rd, Hopkins, South Carolina
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The 26,276-acre Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Located in central South Carolina, the park protects part of the Middle Atlantic coastal forests ecoregion. This forest type is frequently referred to as a swamp. Indeed, it is mostly bottomland subject to periodic inundation by floodwaters from the Congaree River that flows through the park.

The trees growing in this forest are some of the tallest in the eastern United States. The Congaree National Park has one of the largest concentrations of Champion Tree in the world, which are the oldest and tallest trees. Some of the Champion Trees range from 127 to 157 feet tall.

The park also features the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world.

Wildlife in the park includes feral pigs, coyotes, bobcats, deer, armadillos, feral dogs, and otters. Bodies of water of the Congaree River includes ponds and swamps that contain amphibians, turtles, snakes, and many types of fish.

READ MORE:  Congaree National Park: A Visitor’s Guide.


cuyahoga valley national park
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Cuyahoga Valley National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 330/657-2752
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/cuya
arrow-icon  Address: Boston Mill Visitor Center (main visitor center): 6947 Riverview Road, Peninsula 44264
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The 32,572-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park encompasses largely rural landscape along the floodplain and adjacent land of the Cuyahoga River. The park is not only managed by the National Park Service but portions are still private land and urban parks managed by the city.

Cuyahoga is unique in being adjacent to two large urban areas with roads and tows that feature their own attractions.

During the 1870s, the Cuyahoga Valley started to provide recreation for urban dwellers who came from nearby cities. In 1929, Hayward Kendall, a Cleveland businessman, donated 430 acres and a trust fund to the state of Ohio. The area was then called Virginia Kendall Park, in honor of Hayward Kendall’s mother.

Kendall’s will stipulated that the 430 acres donated for the park should be perpetually used for park and recreation purposes. It was not until December 27, 1974, that President Gerald Ford signed the bill establishing the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.

READ MORECuyahoga Valley National Park: A Visitor’s Guide


dry tortugas national park
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Dry Tortugas National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 305/242-7700
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/drto
arrow-icon  Address: Access via boat or Ferry
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Dry Tortugas National Park is located about 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park is composed of 7 islands, known as the Dry Tortugas Islands, which are a continuation of the Florida Keys to the north.

The archipelago’s coral reefs are the least disturbed of the continental United States.

Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park have been declared a Biosphere Reserve, established by UNESCO in 1976 under its Man and the Biosphere Program.

Dry Tortugas features a mixture of undisturbed tropical marine ecosystems and a fascinating history. The most visited island features the colossal Fort Jefferson, which is thought to have used more than 16 million bricks for its construction. Fort Jefferson is the most massive brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere.

Sealife and colorful reef beds abound around the shallow and crystal clear waters that surround Fort Jefferson.

The park is known for its superb and easily accessible snorkeling opportunities right around the fortress.
Some of the islands are important breeding grounds for several seabird species.

Fort Jefferson and its surroundings are noted as an important bird-watching hot spot. Migratory birds returning from the Caribbean islands and Mexico use these islands as a stopover on their way to their breeding grounds in North America.

READ MORE: Dry Tortugas National Park: A Visitor’s Guide


everglades national park
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Everglades National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 305/242-7700
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/ever
arrow-icon  Address: Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, 40001 State Hwy 9336, Homestead, FL 33034
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Everglades National Park is an immense tropical wilderness. The park safeguards the southern twenty percent of the original Everglades in the State of Florida and is globally recognized as Wetlands Ecosystems of International Importance.

In 1976 UNESCO designated the Everglades & Dry Tortugas as a Biosphere Reserve. Moreover, in 1979, Everglades National Park was listed as a World Heritage Site. The Everglades is one of the only three parks or conservation units in the world to appear in all three categories.

The Everglades is composed of extensive wetlands interspersed with forests fed by slow-moving water mainly from Lake Okeechobee southwest into Florida Bay. The park was created to restore and preserve this unique and fragile ecosystem, which constitutes an important breeding ground for wading birds.

The park also features and protects one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere. Up to 36 threatened or protected species inhabit Everglades National Park.

READ MORE: Everglades National Park: A visitor’s Guide.


great smoky mountains national park
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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 865/436-1200
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/grsm
arrow-icon  Address: Sugarlands Visitor Center, 1420 Fighting Creek Gap Rd, Gatlinburg, TN 377380 
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arrow-icon  Address: Oconaluftee Visitor Center, 1194 Newfound Gap Rd, Cherokee, NC 28719
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The 522,426-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses the largest stand of old-growth forest east of the Mississippi River and is considered a global Biosphere Reserve.

The park supports the largest number of black bears per unit area known in the United States. Also, the number of salamander species is only second in diversity after tropical sites.

The park is named after the mountains range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States, which is part of the Appalachian Mountains, and the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province.

The entire mountain range is often known as the Smokies. The name comes from the fog that often suspends over the top of the mountains giving the appearance of smoke clouds from a distance.

Smoky Mountains National Park comprises five historic districts and nine individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places and preserves and maintains 78 structures that were once part of the numerous small Appalachian communities scattered throughout the range’s river valleys and coves.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park was established in the year 1934 and receives approximately 11 million visitors per year.

READ MORE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Visitor’s Guide


mammoth cave national park
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Mammoth Cave National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 270/758-2180
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/maca
arrow-icon  Address: Mammoth Cave Visitor Center, 1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259
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The 52,830-acre Mammoth Cave National Park encompasses portions of Mammoth Cave, which is known as the world’s most extended cave system. When we say the longest cave system, we mean more than 400 miles of surveyed passageways underground, which is nearly twice as long as the second-longest cave system in Mexico’s Sac Actun underwater cave.

As work in the caves continues additional passages and extensions are added every year. The Green River and its tributary Nolin River run through the park.

The park is located in central Kentucky, in Edmonson County, with small areas extending eastward into Hart and Barren counties.

The remarkable stability of the Mammoth Cave system developed in thick Mississippian-aged limestone strata capped by a layer of sandstone. It is one of these underlying massive limestone layers that visitors explore during a visit to the caves.

Mammoth Cave National Park was originally founded on July 1, 1941, and designated a World Heritage Site on October 27, 1981. Subsequently, it was given the status of international Biosphere Reserve on September 26, 1990.

READ MORE: Mammoth Cave National Park: A Visitor’s Guide.


shenandoah national park
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Shenandoah National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 540/999-3500
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/shen
arrow-icon  Address: Front Royal Entrance Station, 17157 Skyline Dr, Front Royal, VA 22630
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arrow-icon  Address: Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, 3655 US-211, Luray, VA 22835
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The 199,223-acre long and narrow Shenandoah National Park includes part of the Shenandoah River, valleys along the river and mountain chains flanking the river valleys.

The park includes part of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and the 4,051-foot hight Hawksbill Mountain.

The 105-mile Skyline Drive scenic road is the main park road and most significant attraction. The drive runs through the upper reaches of the mountains through eight counties and old towns some of which have been abandoned.

The Skyline Drive is a route of historic interest and has been placed in the records of the National Register of Historic Places. The park headquarters are located in Luray.

The network of hiking trails within Shenandoah National Park includes over 500 miles, 101 miles of which are part of the Appalachian Trail. The park also has trails and areas for horseback riding, campgrounds, paved paths for bicycling and several waterfalls.

READ MORE: Shenandoah National Park: A Visitor’s Guide.


virgin islands national park
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Virgin Islands National Park

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 340/776-2601
arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/viis
arrow-icon  Address: Service Headquarters, St John 00830, U.S. Virgin Islands
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The Virgin Islands National Park is a prime snorkeling destination and has miles of hiking trails through tropical rainforest. The park encompasses about 60% of the land area of the Saint John Island and most of the Hassel Island in the US Virgin Islands. Beaches, coral reefs, hiking trails, and natural sites are the park’s main attractions.

The park’s visitor center is located in Cruz Bay, which is the gateway for the park. To access the park, one can take ferries from Red Hook, St. Thomas, from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and from West End, Tortola, twice daily from Jost Van Dyke, and twice weekly from Virgin Gorda.

Virgin Islands National park was devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. The park reopened in December 2017 with all roads, trails, and beaches declared accessible to visitors.

In addition to beaches, coral reefs, hiking trails, and natural sites, the park also protects dozens of historical ruins from the colonial and plantation eras through the 1950s.

READ MORE: Virgin Islands National Park: A Visitor’s Guide.


References:

  • National Park System (U.S. National Park Service)”. March 15, 2018.
  • Annual Visitation by Park Type or Region for: 2017 By Park Type”. Irma.NPS.gov. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  • Lower, Rocío (October 17, 2016). “How many national parks are there?”. nationalparks.org. National Park Foundation. Archived from the original on February 22, 2017. Retrieved February 24, 2017. The National Park System encompasses 417 national parks in the United States…. Within the system, there are 59 sites that include ‘National Park’ as part of their proper name