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According to RVshare’s 2023 Travel Trend Report, national parks continue to remain a favorite vacation option for Americans. Half of American travelers are looking to explore new places this year, according to the survey, with 53% saying state and national parks as well as nature reserves are top of mind.
But, when it comes to deciding which national parks on the East Coast are most worth your time, the decision gets a little tougher. All national parks have their highlights, but it comes down to what you want to see and experience when deciding among the Eastern national parks.
Do you want hiking, camping, biking, bird-watching, wildlife sightings — or maybe a bit of it all? These are some of the best national parks in the East Coast, in no particular order, that may be worth your time to explore.
Shenandoah National Park
Spread across the Blue Ridge Mountains, this stunning forest paradise in Virginia is a nature lover’s dream. While the fall months unfurl an array of colors on the changing leaves, the reality is that a drive along the famous Skyline Drive is pleasing in any season.
There is also hiking, camping, biking, fishing and plenty of wildlife to explore. Like at other national parks, families will find the ranger programs to be both entertaining and educational. There are also virtual ranger programs in many parks.
Where to stay near Shenandoah National Park with hotel points
The Skyland Resort is inside the Shenandoah National Park itself, but there are also some options a few miles away where you can earn and redeem points. These include the Hampton Inn Front Royal and DoubleTree by Hilton Front Royal Blue Ridge Shadows, both of which are part of the Hilton Honors program. Due to the program’s dynamic pricing, the cost of an award night varies.
» Learn more: The best hotel credit cards right now
Acadia National Park
This Maine park, one of the most visited in the country, hugs the central coast of the state and is known for its winding paths and roads. It’s ideal for hiking and biking in warmer months and for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling in the winter.
You will need a car if you want to drive up (the aptly named) Cadillac Mountain. This is the spot to be if you want to be the first to see the sunrise in the U.S. The bustling town of Bar Harbor, at the entrance of the park, is another not-to-miss experience where whale watching and tasty lobster shacks abound.
Where to stay near Acadia National Park with hotel points
Close to the main entrance of the park, the Best Western Acadia Park is a solid option with complimentary breakfast and parking. Best Western Rewards uses a dynamic pricing model, which means that the cost in points needed per night depends on the date.
Everglades National Park
At the other end of the East Coast, in southern Florida, you’ll find the wildlife haven of Everglades National Park.
This is the largest subtropical wilderness area in the country and has been listed as a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. Endangered species like the American crocodile, Florida panther and manatee live here.
There are self-guided hiking trails throughout the park. Some of the most popular are the Anhinga Trail, a sawgrass marsh where you can see alligators and various bird species — including the namesake anhinga — and the West Lake Trail, a boardwalk that passes through a forest of mangrove.
You can also explore the park by boat.
Where to stay near Everglades National Park with hotel points
Given its proximity to Miami, there are endless lodging options, but hotels in cities like Florida City or Homestead will put you closer to the park. You’ll find Hilton Honors properties like the Home2 Suites by Hilton Florida City or luxury properties like the InterContinental Miami, part of IHG One Rewards. Both operate on a dynamic pricing model, which means the number of points for a redemption night varies by date.
» Learn more: Questions to ask before joining a hotel loyalty program
Biscayne National Park
Also in Florida, this park is as much about what you’ll see under the water as what you'll see above it. The palm tree-lined beaches are lovely, but so are the coral reefs with colorful marine life surrounding them. For those who prefer not to dive, there are glass-bottom boat tours that will provide just as much entertainment.
Don’t miss Boca Chita Key in the Florida Keys — but take note that pets are not permitted, even on boats in the area. Climb to the top of the lighthouse, if possible, for great views, including of the Miami skyline.
The Maritime Heritage Trail is an ideal way for snorkelers and divers to explore the underwater marine life that stretches along a series of six shipwrecks.
Where to stay near Biscayne National Park with hotel points
Homestead and Florida City are both close to the entrance of this park. Marriott Bonvoy fans will be pleased to find the Courtyard Miami Homestead while Hilton Honors travelers can book the Hampton Inn & Suites Homestead Miami South.
Dry Tortugas National Park
To round out the trio of national parks in Florida, this park is a bit different. Its seven islands are part of a 100-square-mile area that comprises the national park. What travelers come to see here is the impressive marine life around the colorful coral reefs and Fort Jefferson, a historic fort built in the 1800s.
The only way to reach the park is by boat or seaplane, which makes it a bit more challenging to access. Still, it’s definitely worth the effort. The high-speed Yankee Freedom ferry catamaran is a great way to see a lot in one day.
Where to stay near Dry Tortugas National Park with hotel points
There is no lodging within the park, but Key West is about 70 miles away and a destination in itself. There, you’ll find the Casa Marina Key West and The Reach Key West, both of which are part of the Curio Collection by Hilton and participate in the Hilton Honors program.
» Learn more: The complete guide to earning Hilton Honors points
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Though visitors flock here in the fall when the leaves are at their most colorful, this is a stunning park along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee to explore year-round. Bring hiking shoes, bikes with helmets, camping gear and plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. It’s a classic outdoor adventure.
There are several well-documented hikes here worth doing like Chimney Tops, Rainbow Falls and Alum Cave Bluffs. Chimney Tops Trail is a steep climb, gaining 1,400 feet within two miles, but it’s a popular trek for its epic views from along the side of Sugarland Mountain.
Where to stay near Great Smoky Mountains National Park with hotel points
Not far from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, an excellent option for lodging — especially for those with a stash of Hilton Honors points — is The Park Vista - a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel - Gatlinburg.
New River Gorge National Park
The New River — ironically named as it’s one of the oldest rivers on the continent — rushes through mountains and gorges to create a stunning and melodic environment that encompasses New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia.
There’s plenty of outdoor adventure to enjoy here, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, biking, fishing, climbing and camping.
There are also nearly 100 miles of hiking trails, including the ever-popular Grandview Area Trails, with their panoramic views, and the Glade Creek Area Trails that wind past cascading waterfalls.
Where to stay near New River Gorge National Park with hotel points
Many visitors stay in nearby Beckley, West Virginia. The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson is great for Radisson Rewards Americas members as a Category 2 hotel with redemption nights starting at 20,000 points. The Holiday Inn & Suites Beckley is ideal for IHG One Rewards members used to its dynamic pricing model.
» Learn more: Best national park road trips to take this summer
National parks on the East Coast, recapped
With so many national parks on the East Coast, you can find outdoor entertainment of every form in one of these famous areas.
From north to south (as well as above and below sea level), these natural attractions are a literal breath of fresh air for travelers. And, unsurprisingly, there are opportunities to earn and redeem points when visiting each of them.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card