There’s something about summer that makes me want to plan a domestic trip where I spend most of the time in the great outdoors. Last time I wrote about National Parks I focused on camping trips to parks out West. But the Eastern part of the US also has amazing national parks and seashores that are completely worth exploring.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the first national parks I ever had the pleasure of visiting. Cades Cove and Cataloochee are two of my favorite areas in the park because of the wildlife viewing opportunities, including deer, elk and bears, and their campgrounds. The park also has excellent hiking, biking, horseback riding, waterfalls, and historic buildings to see. If you love the mountains, start planning your trip to this park. As an added bonus, this is one of few parks that is absolutely free to visitors! [Great Smoky photos by Laura Brown]
Acadia National Park in Maine is such a unique and stunning park. Being from the Southern US, I love the rocky beaches of the park but of course found the water too cold for my taste. Acadia is perfect for camping in the summer since it stays cool, but Bar Harbor and other nearby communities also have other lodging options. You can wake up literally at the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, which is the first place in the US to the see the sun each day (though technically it changes depending on the season). Other activities include hiking, biking and boating. I’m sure the leaves are gorgeous in the fall, but I’ve only been during the summer. [Acadia photo from Mainethingstodo.com]
Shenandoah National Park is easily reached from Washington DC if you want to make a side trip while visiting our nation’s capital. Although, there’s enough to see to warrant it’s own trip as well! There’s plenty of adventure awaiting you along Skyline Drive, the 109 mile scenic roadway that runs the length of the park. Across from the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center on Milepost 51, Big Meadows is perfect for rambling around and viewing wildlife. There are a lot of hikes in varying levels of difficulties, including Bearfence Rock Scramble and Viewpoint at Milepost 56.4, which affords you 360 degree views of the Blue Ridge mountains.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and consists of three barrier islands: Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island. The pristine beaches, fun lighthouse climbs, and hiking trails with wildlife viewing are all big draws. I have many fond childhood memories camping there with my family. There are four campgrounds to choose from and other lodging options outside the park.
The northern entrance of the national seashore is in Nags Head, NC, while the southern entrance is in Okracoke and can only be reached by ferry. The ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands are free while the ferries between Okracoke to the mainland require reservations. Riding the ferry is one of my favorite parts of the Outer Banks experience!
Cumberland Island National Seashore is my favorite beach in my home state. No cars are allowed on the barrier island, so you must take a pedestrian ferry that leaves from St. Mary’s, Georgia. Most people go to Cumberland Island as a day trip, but if you like camping, the gorgeous Sea Camp Campground is pretty amazing with its stunning shade from the live oaks that lean away from the beach. Try to make reservations well in advance since it’s a popular place, and keep in mind that you do have to pack all supplies in and out. There’s also wilderness camping available if you like backpacking.
Once on the island, you can either walk or rent bicycles from the ferry company. The beach is beautiful and unspoiled with white sand and decent waves for bodysurfing. The best part of the island is seeing the wild horses and the Dungeness ruins. The first Dungeness was built by Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene’s widow, while the second Dungeness was built by the Carnegies on the original foundation but burned down in 1959. Plum Orchard Mansion is gorgeously preserved in Georgian Revival style and is open Thursday to Monday. Cumberland Island made the news in 1996 when John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were married in the First African Baptist Church in the Settlement, which is one site I’ve yet to see. Guess that means I’d better plan a trip back to the island soon! [Cumberland Island photos by Laura Brown]
If you’re visiting multiple parks during the year, think about buying the $80 annual pass! Also check out my posts 2 National Parks of the West to Visit, Camping Out West in the US, and A Quick Guide to National Historical Sites for more inspiration on which parks to visit.