5 Northeast Nature Lover’s Dream Destinations For Your National Parks Bucket List

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Pack your bags for an epic outdoor getaway in the Northeast! From Acadia's rocky coast to Shenandoah's mountain trails, these five breathtaking national parks offer adventure, natural beauty, and memories to last a lifetime.

Here are five can't-miss destinations in the Northeast that you need to add to your travel plans:

  1. Acadia National Park (Maine)
  2. Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
  3. New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia)
  4. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania/New Jersey)
  5. Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Add these incredible Northeast destinations to your national parks bucket list and prepare for an unforgettable outdoor adventure.

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Historic Lighthouse, Acadia National Park

On Maine's Mount Desert Island, Acadia welcomes campers to its lush terrain with campgrounds like Blackwoods and Seawall, which are available for reservation.

Visitors appreciated the clean facilities, proximity to water, and access to major attractions like Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain, and Sand Beach.

Acadia's camping options are two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island (Blackwoods and Seawall), one on the Schoodic Peninsula (Schoodic Woods), and five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut (Duck Harbor).

Hiking Trails

Acadia National Park boasts over 150 miles of hiking trails with varying difficulty levels. For those seeking a challenge, the Precipice Trail offers cliffs and iron rungs for navigating rocky terrain.

The Jordan Pond Path, on the other hand, provides a more leisurely hike along the shore of Jordan Pond, one of Acadia’s most iconic landscapes. Wading and swimming in Jordan Pond are prohibited, as it is a designated public water supply.

Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain, a key attraction in Acadia National Park, is known for its stunning views of the park and surrounding ocean.

It is accessible by car and has the highest point on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. For a memorable experience, you can drive or hike to the summit to catch the sunrise.

The summit offers parking, but it's recommended to arrive an hour before sunrise due to its popularity. For hikers, trails like the Cadillac North Ridge Trail and Cadillac South Ridge Trail lead to the summit.

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor is just outside Acadia National Park, a charming town worth exploring. Visitors can stroll down Main Street to explore local shops and restaurants or head to the harbor to observe the bustling boat activity.


Acadia National Park has various wildlife, including moose, black bears, and puffins. Keep your eyes peeled as you explore the park — you never know what you might spot!

Here are bonus tips and stops according to TripAdvisor forums:

  • Stop at the roadside pullouts along the 27-mile Park Loop Road for breathtaking panoramas of the rocky beaches, waves, and boats.
  • Visit Bass Harbor Lighthouse for sunset views. It offers the perfect vantage point to watch the sunset over the harbor.
  • Relax, swim, or picnic at Sandy Sand Beach on Mount Desert Island with crystal clear waters.
  • Hike the Bubbles, two small mountains, for panoramic views over Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake.
  • Enjoy a picnic at The Bowl, an ideal setting below the Beehive summit for a peaceful picnic surrounded by nature.
  • Walk, jog, or bike along the hand-crafted Carriage Roads and bridges commissioned by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

2. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive seen from Stony Man, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is a camper's haven, with Big Meadows Campground as one of the most notable spots.

Central to many of the park's attractions, like Dark Hollow Falls, it offers well-equipped campsites for tents or RVs​​.

While reservations are advised, particularly at Big Meadows Campground, the park welcomes backcountry camping for the more adventurous soul.

With over 200,000 acres of protected lands, Shenandoah is a sanctuary for deer, songbirds, and black bears, offering a serene retreat from the urban jungle​​.

Skyline Drive

Your adventure begins on Skyline Drive, the backbone of Shenandoah, stretching along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This 105-mile scenic route invites you to pause at the numerous overlooks, pick trails from 500 miles of hiking opportunities, explore historic sites, and soak in the nature-infused ambiance.

Some must-visit overlooks include Range View Overlook, Buck Hollow Overlook, and Crescent Rock, each offering a unique perspective of the park's beauty.

For more stunning national park sights, check out our list: 9 Most Scenic U.S. National Parks for Stunning Photography

Hiking to Waterfalls

Shenandoah is a haven for hikers, and a trek to Dark Hollow Falls is a must. This relatively easy trail leads you to one of the park's tallest waterfalls.

The 1.4-mile round trip is family-friendly, blending nature’s sounds and sights as you wade through the woods to the waterfall's base​.

Conquering Bearfence Mountain

Craving a bit of thrill? The hike to Bearfence Mountain is short, sweet, and exciting. It’s a 1.1-mile round trip that engages you in a fun rock scramble to the summit and panoramic views.

Stony Man Mountain

The trail to Stony Man Mountain is another gem in Shenandoah. Despite being a short 1.4-mile hike, the views from the summit are mesmerizing.

Engage in Ranger Programs

Ranger programs provide a deeper understanding of the park's ecology, making your adventure fun and educational​​.

Fly-Fishing and Rafting

Dive into the serene waters of Shenandoah by indulging in fly fishing or rafting, adding a splash of adventure to your trip.

Here are bonus quests to try on your visit to Shenandoah:

  • Old Rag Mountain Hike features a unique geological feature with boulders and is a standout trail in the park.
  • Hawksbill Mountain, the highest peak in the park, offers several trails to its summit, with the Upper Hawksbill Trail being the quickest and easiest.
  • Rose River Falls is a 4-mile loop hike known for passing several waterfalls and pools, perfect for waterfall enthusiasts.
  • Marys Rock provides one of the best viewpoints in the park and can be reached via two different trails.
  • The Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park, allowing visitors to hike all or part of its 101-mile section.

3. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

The New River Gorge Bridge, seen from Fayette Station Road, at the New River Gorge National River, West Virginia.

In West Virginia, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve allows for primitive camping along the river, with no developed campgrounds within the park itself.

For more amenities, nearby state parks and private campgrounds offer sites for tents and RVs, some with full hookups.

Specific campgrounds in the park, like Glade Creek and Army Camp, offer a mix of walk-in tent sites and drive-in sites for small to medium RVs, campers, or tents, while Stone Cliff is a tent-only campground with walk-in sites.

Rock Climbing

Known for its rock climbing opportunities, New River Gorge is one of the most popular climbing areas in the country, with over 1,400 established rock climbs in the park.

The surrounding region, including the New, the Gauley, and the Meadow River gorges, extends this number to over 3,000 routes across 60 miles of cliff line, offering everything from bouldering to traditional climbing.

Bridge Walk on the New River Gorge Bridge

The Bridge Walk is a guided 2-3 hour tour along the catwalk beneath the New River Gorge Bridge, providing breathtaking views of the gorge below.

The New River Gorge Bridge, one of North America's highest and longest steel arch bridges, offers a unique and thrilling perspective 850 feet above the river.

Whitewater Rafting

The New River provides some of the best whitewater rafting experiences in the country, particularly in the Lower New River section.

This section is known for its large volume, shelf drops, boulders, and class IV+ rapids, offering an adventurous journey through the New River Gorge National Park.

Rafting trips typically cover 8-12 miles and can last from 4 to 6 hours, depending on water levels, allowing rafters to appreciate the rugged beauty of the gorge fully.

Here are other to-dos that you could try:

  1. Hike the Endless Wall Trail to overlook the gorge's iconic sandstone cliffs, perfect for rock climbing from April to October.
  2. Choose from scenic trails like the Long Point Trail for gorgeous bridge views or the strenuous Kaymoor Miners Trail to a historic coal mine.
  3. Explore the historic Nuttallburg coal mining complex to learn about the area’s industrial past.
  4. Take the narrow, winding Fayette Station Road down to the river for sights of the bridge and river.
  5. Raft the mild rapids of the Upper New River or dare the big rapids ranging up to Class V in the Lower Gorge.
  6. Ride the Arrowhead Trails, an excellent mountain biking network with 13 miles of pathways.

4. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Pennsylvania/New Jersey

Mountain peak view with blue sky, river and trees from Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area introduces a zonal reservation system for primitive river campsites, allowing for a more organized camping experience.

Developed campgrounds like Dingmans Campground and several group campgrounds like Valley View Group Campground offer different camping setups for visitors.


The area offers over 150 miles of trails with varying difficulty levels, providing opportunities for novice and experienced hikers to explore the region's scenic beauty.

Delaware Water Gap panorama in Autumn with colorful foliage with forest and mountain over river.

One of the most praised trails by visitors is the Mount Tammany trail, known for its challenging route and outstanding views of the Delaware Water Gap from Mt. Tammany.

Additionally, the Buttermilk Falls Trail begins with a climb to one of New Jersey's tallest waterfalls, continuing with a steep ascent to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail for spectacular valley views.

Water Activities

Delaware Water Gap is a hub for water enthusiasts, offering a variety of activities such as kayaking, canoeing, and boating on the Delaware River.

Visitors can also relax at one of the three river beaches or launch their boat for a day of exploration on the water.

Floating down the river in kayaks or canoes is a popular choice, and the spacious sites along the banks of the Delaware River are picturesque.


Angling enthusiasts will find the Delaware Water Gap a haven for fishing, with 61 identified species in the park.

For more notable fishing spots, read: The Best Fishing Spots in Florida’s National Parks

Here are other activities to try out during your visit:

  1. Hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail to Mt. Minsi for views of the gap, river, state forests, and potential wildlife sightings. Bring food, water, and appropriate footwear.
  2. Challenge yourself on the Mount Minsi Loop trail. This strenuous hike requires hiking poles, plenty of water, and close attention to trail markers.
  3. Try the interconnected Red Dot and Blue Dot Trails loop to see diverse landscapes. While steep, people in moderate physical condition can handle it.
  4. Ask park rangers for the best areas to explore based on your interests and abilities.

5. Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Highland Light, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod's pristine shores offer a unique camping experience, mainly through Self-Contained-Vehicle (SCV) Camping along the Off-Road Vehicle Corridor for those who love beach camping.

Embrace the Hiking Trails

Begin your exploration by hiking the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail in Wellfleet. This 1.2-mile trail is a natural escape where white cedar trees are beautiful during the fall foliage season from mid-September through late October​​.

The trail, described as one of the favorite hikes in New England, offers a surreal experience amidst scenic woods and swampland​​.

Sunset Magic

A setting sun from Bound Brook Island Beach in Wellfleet comes highly recommended. The secluded beaches of Cape Cod National Seashore are a perfect canvas for dramatic sunset​​s.

Pedal Along

The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a known cycling path. Starting in Dennis and stretching up to Wellfleet, this roughly 25-mile trail that was once a railroad is now paving the way for bikers, walkers, and skaters.

Blooms and Blossoms

Early June brings a floral spectacle with lupines painting the seashore in bright purple.

Fort Hill in Eastham is recommended to capture the perfect Lupine photo during sunrise as the sky colors complement the bloom, creating a picturesque sight​.

Lighthouse Charm

Nauset Light, Highland Light, and Three Sisters Lighthouses are silent narrators of the past, each unique and accessible to the public.

Beaches, Surfing, and Wildlife

The 40 miles of pristine sandy beach are your playground for swimming, surfing, and wildlife spotting.

Historic Exploration

Discover the seashore's historical essence by exploring a whaling captain's house and delving into the cultural landscapes that add a rich texture to Cape Cod's narrative​.

Here are a few trusty travel tips to consider during your visit:

  1. Enjoy less crowded beaches and seaside towns perfect for beachcombing by visiting in October.
  2. Explore over 40 miles of beaches stretching from Chatham to Provincetown. Notable beaches include Nauset, Marconi, and Race Point.
  3. Find more private beach areas by walking a short distance from public entrances.
  4. See interesting displays and films at the Salt Marsh Visitor Center museum. Nearby beaches like Coast Guard Beach offer wildlife sightings.

Ready, Set, Explore!

So, there you have it — five incredible Northeastern destinations deserve a spot on your national parks bucket list.

From the rugged beauty of Acadia National Park in Maine to the wild adventures of New River Gorge in West Virginia, these places offer diverse experiences.

As you plan your trip, remember to book early, check the weather, and respect park rules. These natural wonders are more than just names on a list; they're gateways to unforgettable adventures and cherished memories.

So, gather your loved ones, pack your bags, and let the Northeastern national parks inspire your next outdoor escapade.

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