An Insider’s Guide toNational Parks in the East

From the Atlantic Coastal Plain, to the Piedmont plateau, to the weathered spine of the Eastern Continental Divide, America’s eight national parks east of the Mississippi River encompass a diverse and dynamic mix of wilderness. And their story tells a tale of preservation and protection amidst hundreds of years of human impact; of great billowing cities being erected; of wars being won and lost; of land being stripped and molded by the hands (and machines and explosives) of humans even to this day. Yet somehow—whether from an inability to tame them or from a deep reverence for them—these eight parks have remained mostly pristine and untouched.

Along the rocky coastline of Maine, where the rolling mountains of the North Atlantic Seaboard meet the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean, Acadia is the only national park in the Northeast. Composed of 47,000 acres and home to some of the highest peaks on the Atlantic seaboard, the park’s rugged beauty and accessible scenic areas attract over two million visitors each year. With more than 127 miles of hiking trails, on-land adventures are in no short supply here. But to gain an especially intimate grasp of this national park, a paddling excursion through the many inlets, coves, and channels and among the Porcupine Islands that dot the coastline is an absolute must.

Alum Cave Creek
Alum Cave Creek Stewart Photography

The mountainous Southeast is home to three national parks of varying character. In Kentucky, there lies the magical subterranean world of Mammoth Cave National Park—the world’s longest known cave system. With over 365 miles and five levels that have already been mapped, as well as an unknown labyrinth of caverns still to be investigated, Mammoth Cave is unlike any other national park you’ll find in the country. In neighboring Virginia, the skinny strip of Shenandoah National Park comes slicing down the Blue Ridge Escarpment for roughly 100 miles, forming an adventure mecca home to a number of waterfalls, endless panoramas, the scenic Skyline Drive, and over 500 miles of hiking trails. And then there’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina—arguably the crown jewel of eastern national parks as well as the most visited national park in the country. Home to high misty mountains, dense southern spruce-fir forests, and roughly 800 miles of trails, the “Smokies”—as they're affectionately known—are spilling over with scenic splendor and world-class recreational opportunities.

Smoky Mountains
Smoky Mountains Stewart Photography

In the heart of South Carolina, Congaree is the first, and only, national park in the Palmetto State, and it’s home to the largest stand of bottomland hardwoods in the US. There are two ways to explore the park: by foot or by boat. Twenty-five miles of mostly flat hiking trails, including 2.4 miles of boardwalk, work their way throughout the park. But perhaps the best way to get personal with the environment is from a canoe or kayak, navigating waterways that are home to a diverse range of avian and amphibian residents and surrounded by trees that rank among the tallest in the country.

Further south, Florida is home to an impressive three national parks. First, there’s the Everglades, the largest tropical wilderness in the United States and the third largest national park in lower 48. It’s a behemoth of wetlands and forests, incredible biodiversity, and thousands of acres of untouched, primordial jungle. Venture towards the Keys and you’ll find Biscayne National Park, a place defined by four distinct ecosystems: the mangrove swamp near the shore, the shallow Biscayne Bay, the coral limestone keys, and the offshore Florida reef. Finally, there’s Dry Tortugas National Park, North America’s only barrier reef and the only national park that’s comprised of 99% open water.

Fire flies at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Fire flies at Great Smoky Mountains National Park Stewart Photography

All in all, America’s eastern national parks are wonderful places to experience diverse and distinct wilderness regions unlike anything else found in the country.

Featured photo by Stewart Photography.

Fall in Love With The Outside Road Tour

RootsRated and Marmot are teaming up to celebrate the Outside by hosting Pint Nights in speciality retailers across the country. At each Fall In Love With The Outside Road Tour event, we will raise money for local conservation groups, while playing live music, pouring cold brews, hosting tent pitching contests, playing outdoor trivia, and having conversations about where to go outdoors and all things we love outside.

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Fall in Love With The Outside Road Tour