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National Parks of the East

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The East offers a wide variety of ecosystems, from the rocky coastline of Maine to the sandy shores of the Virgin Islands. (The stuff in between includes a vast tropical swamp and a 356 mile-long cave system.)

The national parks in the eastern United States are generally smaller and more obscure than their western kin, but there are stand-outs. Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts more people per year than any other park in the system. Whether you're an eastern United State native looking for an adventure close to home or just visiting the region, each of these national parks has something beautiful to offer.

Acadia National Park

Bass Harborhead Lighthouse is a popular attraction at Acadia.
© JBColorado via Flickr
It may be one of the smaller national parks, but Acadia is by far one of the most scenic and picturesque parks in the U.S. Whether you come in the fall to enjoy the stunning foliage, or visit in the summer to swim in the Atlantic Ocean, Maine is a beautiful area to tour. Seaside villages offers shops for antiques, fresh lobster, and homemade fudge, while the national park houses rugged trails for hiking and biking.

Biscayne National Park

Sea Urchin
© tiswango via Flickr

Biscayne offers a complex ecosystem full of brightly colored fish, uniquely-shaped coral, and miles of wavy sea grass. It is the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts who seek aquatic adventures or those tourists looking to simply relax and look out over the bay.

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park
© anoldent via Flickr

Congaree Swamp preserves, in a wilderness state, the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States as well as many other plant and animal species associated with an alluvial floodplain. It features some of the tallest trees in the East with one of the highest canopies in the world. Though not a true swamp, it is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve and National Natural Landmark.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Brandywine Falls
© Birdfreak.com via Flickr

Surprised? Yes, a national park is located in northeastern Ohio. What may be even more surprising is just how beautiful it is. Unlike vast wilderness parks, this national park is full of quiet and isolated trails, tree-covered hills, and serene marshes thriving with beavers and herons. It can be a relaxing getaway, yet offers numerous options for the active.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park
© ricsae via Flickr

In the Gulf of Mexico, located 70 miles west of Key West, lies a seven-mile-long chain of islands – the centerpiece of Dry Tortugas National Park. As a bird and marine life sanctuary, this park contains some of the healthiest coral reefs remaining in North American shores. The area is also known for its legends of pirates, sunken gold, and military past.

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park
© minds-eye via Flickr

Everglades National Park remains one of the most endangered national parks in the country. Buildup of southern Florida has intensified diverting the water of levees and canals. And this creates a problem as watery habitats in the park are shrinking because not enough water is getting into the Everglades.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Bold autumn colors at Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
© Darren Blackburn via Flickr

Great Smoky Mountains is the nation’s busiest park with more than nine million visitors every year. It covers 800 square miles of mountainous land and preserves some of the world’s most stunning deciduous forests.

With 800 miles of hiking trails it is surprising that relatively few visitors actually walk the trails; most choose the scenic view from their cars. But the designated international biosphere reserve is home to an incomparable variety of plants and animals, and is worth a more than a passing by.

Hot Springs National Park

Buckstaff Bath House, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
© Ken Lund via Flickr

While most national parks span hundreds of miles and feel far removed of cities and an industrial lifestyle, Hot Springs National Park challenges the status quo. The smallest of the national parks – at 5,550 acres – Hot Springs actually borders the city that has made a profit out of tapping and distributing the park’s main resource – mineral-rich waters.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park
© Ben+Sam via FLickr

Rising out of the vast Lake Superior is an island that is isolated like no other national park. Instead of visiting for a few hours like some parks, visitors typically stay for three to four days at Isle Royale. And the 45-mile-long island fills up those days with much to do.

Mammoth Cave National Park

The Drapery Room of Mammoth Cave National Park
© Brie79 via Flickr

With more than 365 miles of a five-layered cave system already mapped, it seems unbelievable that new caves continue to be discovered and explored. As the world’s longest cave system, this park has much to offer its visitors. Tours are actually hikes inside the Earth showcasing eroding limestone located 200 to 300 feet below the surface.

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