Last Updated on December 27, 2023
Looking for your next outdoor adventure on the East Coast? Discover some of the best East Coast state parks for your next getaway.
Whether you want to go hiking, relax at the beach, snorkel, ski, or rock climb, you’ll find some of the best outdoor activities at these state parks. From sweeping mountain views and waterfalls to lagoons and beaches, explore the East Coast of the United States through its stunning scenery.
Often less crowded than national parks, these state parks are ideal to participate in outdoor activities, disconnect, and enjoy spending time in the wild.
Keep on reading to discover the best state parks on the East Coast!
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania
By Samantha from PA on Pause
Ricketts Glen State Park, located in the northeastern quadrant of Pennsylvania, has arguably the best waterfall hike in the entire state. Along the 7.2-mile Ricketts Glen Falls Trail, you can view 21 waterfalls ranging in height from 11 to 94 feet fall. They’re all impressive and unique!
Plan to hike this trail early in the morning or on a weekday because it does get jam-packed with visitors during summer weekends.
The best time to visit is during the late spring and early summer. Potential drought conditions towards the end of summer make the Falls Trail not quite as impressive.
The Falls Trail does close during the winter to hiking because it freezes over. If you want to explore this trail usually between the months of November and April, depending on conditions, you’ll need ice climbing gear including crampons, an ice axe, and a rope.
If you’d rather not spend all your time hiking, there is also a lake within the park for boating and a beach with swimming access. Boat rentals are available during the summer months.
Ricketts Glen State Park does have a campground with two separate loops, one more primitive and one with hookups. Ten modern cabins and five deluxe cottages within the park have a few more amenities to make your stay more comfortable.
You’ll also find plenty of cabins available as vacation rentals right outside the park.
Other lodging options are limited in the areas surrounding the park, and most hotels are about 45-minute drives away. Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Bloomsburg provides close access to the highway, comfortable accommodations, and breakfast options.
Rainbow Springs State Park, Florida
By Victoria from Florida Trippers
One of the best state parks on the East Coast of the USA is Rainbow Springs State Park in Florida.
In fact, this park is known for its pristine, crystal blue waters which are well over 10,000 years old. They can also vary in depth between five and fifteen feet, with the water temperature being 72 F year-round.
So, if you want to visit for yourself, you can find this natural oasis in Dunnellon and enjoy all that the fourth largest spring in the state has to offer.
Then, after swimming or kayaking through the water, explore local hills, see three incredible waterfalls (accessible during a 2.5-mile hike), marvel at ornamental gardens, and walk through the mossy hammocks.
Just be aware that this place gets really crowded. So, try and get here right when the park opens at 8:00 am to avoid the crowds.
It also costs a mere $2.00 per adult to visit. However, this fee does not include anything other than entrance to the park. So, if you want to tube or kayak your way through the park, you will have to pay extra for any rentals.
Additionally, there is a new Guest Services Inc that offers various drinks and snacks to visitors. But, it is only available on weekends. Therefore, you should bring food and drinks if you visit at any other time of the week.
In terms of where to stay, Rainbow Springs State Park’s campground is located on the river but in a separate area that is a few miles away from the head of the spring. There are also a variety of RV sites and tent-only sites for you to rent too.
Catskills State Park, New York
By Kelly from Travel New York Now
If you’re looking for one of the best state parks on the East Coast of the USA then you can’t beat Catskills State Park.
Initially established in 1885, this incredible natural landscape covers an astounding 286,00 acres of land and is home to some of the best hikes in the Catskills region of the state.
And while you’re walking around, be on the lookout for an incredible diversity of wildlife that includes black bears, bobcats, cougars, deer, and more.
For the best experience though, visit towards the end of October when the fall foliage is at its most vibrant. You’ll also want to dress warmly since daily temperatures in October hover around 53 degrees during the day and 35 degrees at night.
That being said, this is the perfect time to tackle iconic hikes like Giant’s Ledge, Sam’s Point, and the Ashokan Rail Trail. Also, be sure to hike to Kaaterskill Falls and take in stunning panoramas of the area from atop the Hunter Mountain Fire Tower.
Alternatively, you could always visit in the winter and do a bit of skiing at either Windham or Hunter Mountain instead.
Finally, when you’re ready to call it a night, book a room at the Roxbury Motel in Roxbury, NY. It’s a fun, super quirky, boutique hotel with incredibly Instagrammable rooms that you’ll never forget. You can also book a cottage or cabin near the park.
Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina
By Alison from Exploration Solo
Only a two-hour drive from North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, Hanging Rock State Park is the perfect weekend getaway. Home to sixteen hiking trails, nine mountain biking trails, rock climbing access, and a lake for swimming, there’s something for everyone.
Plan to spend the weekend and reserve one of the 73 campsites. They’re spread into two sections, each with its own bathhouse featuring hot showers and flush toilets. There are also 10 cabins for anyone that prefers a solid roof over their head. The cabins feature kitchens and also screened porches for bug-free evenings.
The sixteen hiking trails range from an easy, accessible, 0.1-mile trail to a strenuous 4.7-mile loop. Trails can also be joined to create all-day hikes.
There are five overlooks with great views of the surrounding area, but getting to them requires hiking uphill. Most visitors aim for the Hanging Rock overlook, the park’s namesake. The trail is only 1.3-miles one way, but it’s a steep uphill with many stairs and can be challenging. The view is worth it.
Mountain bikers will love the nine trails catering to intermediate and advanced levels. The mountain biking trails are separated from the main hiking trails, allowing the best experience for everyone.
In the summer, the heat may make it difficult to complete the strenuous hikes, but many people come to enjoy a day of swimming at the lake.
Hikers will find winter the best time to visit. The crowds are smaller, the views have less haze, and the lack of leaves on the trees allows for the best views.
If you enjoy hiking with flowers and lush green landscape, then Spring is your season for Hanging Rock State Park.
Camden Hills State Park, Maine
By Allison from Eternal Arrival
One of the best state parks on the East Coast is the quiet but beautiful Camden Hills State Park in Maine! While many people are busy flocking to Acadia National Park further north, this peaceful state park often goes unnoticed.
Camden Hills State Park is a great place to go for a hike or a peaceful drive to an overlook with a gorgeous view. You can either hike up to the peak of Mt. Battie or drive up if you don’t feel up to the hike.
There are plenty of hikes ranging from easy to difficult. Some options are the Mt. Battie Trail (hard), the Bald Rock Trail (moderate), the Mt. Megunticook Trail (moderate), and the Ducktrap River Loop (easy).
The best time to visit Camden Hills is certainly the fall, when the leaves are all changing color in a beautiful, dramatic show, hitting their peak in October. The weather is also more pleasant during this season.
Summer is another popular time to visit Camden Hills State Park, but note that it can often be really hot and humid, making hiking and camping not the most pleasant option.
There are campgrounds within Camden Hills State Park, as well as a few glamping sites. If you prefer a more comfortable place to lay your head at night, you can also stay at one of the many vacation rentals or hotels in Camden, Maine, a short drive from the state park.
Cloudland Canyon State Park, Georgia
By Jillian Michelle from Adventure Dragon
Cloudland Canyon State Park is one of the best state parks on the East Coast to visit if you love waterfalls and challenging hikes. The park is located in the mountains of Rising Fawn, Georgia, and covers 3,538 acres of land.
There are over 64 miles of hiking trails at Cloudland Canyon, but the best is the Cloudland Canyon Waterfalls Trail. This trail leads hikers deep into a canyon on Lookout Mountain, past moss-covered cliffs on a steep descent, until you eventually reach two total waterfalls.
The first waterfall flows into a vibrant blue pool that’s unlike any other place you can find on the East Coast. The second waterfall is the larger of the two, falling 90 feet over the edge of a canyon cliff.
Cloudland Canyon’s appearance changes with the seasons. Visit during summer for lush, green vegetation that covers the canyon like a blanket. Visit during fall for cooler hiking temperatures and more colorful surroundings, with clifftops painted in the golden orange and rusty red colors of surrounding nature.
The waterfalls tend to be larger in volume during the rainier summer months but bluer in color during the drier days in between summer’s end and fall’s beginning. Keep that in mind when planning your trip!
Cloudland Canyon has its own campgrounds and cottages so that you can stay directly inside the park during your vacation. If you’d prefer to stay in a hotel, you’ll have to drive a little further since Rising Fawn is too small to have any hotels of its own.
You can also book a vacation rental around the park.
Ossabaw Island Heritage Preserve, Georgia
By Erin from Savannah First-Timer’s Guide
Ossabaw Island is managed by the State of Georgia and designated as a “Heritage Preserve.” That means you’ll need to be accompanied by a representative of the Ossabaw Island Foundation (TOIF) or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) when planning a visit.
That designation is in place to help preserve the island’s delicate ecosystem, and the organizations typically cap the number of visitors at approximately 2000 people per year (so the wildlife can thrive).
Ossabaw Island is stunningly beautiful, and it’s also full of cultural significance. While visiting, be sure to explore three of the former slave cabins that remain on the island from its days as a working plantation. You can also learn about the Gullah Geechee families who once called the island home.
While visiting, it’s interesting to hear the story of Sandy West and her efforts to protect Ossabaw from future development. If it’s open, you might even be able to explore the magnificent Torrey-West mansion – her former home that now sits alone in the woods in all its pink stucco glory.
You can stay overnight on the island if you’re visiting for an artists’ retreat or for cultural/educational reasons. Schedule day trips or an overnight visit to observe wild sea turtle hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean.
The best time of year to visit is in the late fall or early spring. It’s cooler then and there are fewer bugs. If you’re trying to see baby turtles, you’d need to plan a trip in August or September.
There are three primitive campsites on the island, but you’ll need to contact the DNR to get a camping trip approved. Plan to bring a tent and all your provisions, and be sure to remove your trash at the end of the trip.
Caladesi Island State Park, Florida
By Megan from Red Around the World
Caladesi Island State Park is just outside of Dunedin, Florida, and is the perfect choice for escaping those Florida crowds as it is only accessible by boat. This island park is a true slice of white sand paradise just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Caladesi Island is great for both relaxing on the beach in the Florida sun and looking for seashells along the shore. It is easily one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida.
To get to the park, you have to either have a boat or take the ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park. The $8 ferry ride is short but so worth it and allows you four hours on the island.
You can bring your own snacks if you want but there is a small concessions area with beach rentals as well. If you want a break from the beach you can hike the Hammock Loop Trail, too.
The only camping allowed on Caladesi Island State Park is boat camping but there are plenty of places to stay in nearby Dunedin or Clearwater. In Dunedin, the Beyond the Wall Bed and Breakfast is a great choice.
If you want to mostly go shelling on Caladesi Island, the best time to do that is low tide but since it isn’t as busy as other beaches like Sanibel, it may not matter as much. You just might have to go in the water to do some searching which would be nice and refreshing on a hot sunny day. Just be sure you leave behind any living shells or sand dollars you may find.
Jekyll Island State Park, Georgia
By Morgan from The Home that Roams
Jekyll Island is a state park located on the east coast of Georgia, just south of Savannah. The island is known for its beaches, bird watching, and historic sites. Visitors can enjoy activities such as swimming at several different beaches or biking the 25-mile trail system.
Jekyll Island is also home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which offers tours and educational programs about these incredible creatures.
In addition to more traditional state park activities, Jekyll Island also boasts a golf course, tennis courts, many restaurants and shops, and even a water park. Visitors can also enjoy annual events such as the Shrimp & Grits Festival and Holly Jolly Jekyll.
Driftwood Beach is one of the most popular spots on the island. The beach is covered in weathered trees formed by decades of erosion. Don’t forget your camera for this stunning and unique scenic display.
This barrier island is full of exciting history, and the Jekyll Island Museum offers visitors a chance to relive it. Located in the historic district in a renovated plantation house, it features interactive exhibits on the island’s early settlers, the Civil War, and the elite that vacationed before the island’s state park designation.
Because part of Jekyll Island is a developed coastal community, there is no shortage of accommodations. Visitors can choose to stay at the Jekyll Island Campground, a vacation home, or one of the many hotel options on the island.
For those looking for a unique state park experience, Jekyll Island is an excellent balance of nature, history, and a southeastern U.S. coastal vacation.
Cacapon State Park, West Virginia
By Teresa from Female Solo Trek
Spanning the Eastern Panhandle, the 6,115-acre Cacapon State Park is located near the historic town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, America’s original spa town.
Cacapon State Park lets you escape to the 1930s Depression era when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the cabins, stables, lake, dam, and beach at the park. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which includes the 12-room Old Inn.
There are so many reasons to spend a weekend in Cacapon, whether you are a history buff, hiker, or outdoor enthusiast. It is an every-season resort depending on whether you want to hike, swim or sled.
There are miles of trails to hike into the mountains or you can swim at the park’s sandy beach. Boats, canoes, and standups are also available for rent.
Your accommodations can range from a 4-star hotel resort to Depression-era rustic log cabins. The latter were built by men aged 18 to 25 who enlisted in the CCC to improve America’s public lands, forests, and parks.
If you like to vacation with your dog or pet, Cacapon State Parks does rent some “pet-friendly” cabins but reserve early. These “legacy cabins” include 2-person, 4-person, and 6-person accommodations, with an additional $40 surcharge for the “pet guest.” There is a full kitchen so you can prepare your own meals and groceries can be purchased at a convenience store near the park. Spend your evening on the porch in the rocking chair listening to the birds serenade you.
You’ll also find plenty of vacation homes in the area.
Myrtle Beach State Park, South Carolina
By Tori from Tori Pines Travels
One of the most unique things to do in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is to visit the Myrtle Beach State Park. This park is centrally located and lines one mile of Myrtle Beach’s gorgeous oceanfront. This park is great for outdoor lovers of all kinds, but especially perfect for families, as there are so many fun things for kids to stay entertained.
The park is great to visit any time of the year, but the summer is best as they offer many events and activities to attend. The water will also be warm during the summer months for swimming in the ocean.
The park offers over 300 campsites and 6 cabins that sleep between 4 and 10 people. It is a great idea to stay here during your visit. Otherwise, for a small fee, you can enter for the day, and book a stay at one of the nearby beach resorts or book a beach-front vacation rental.
Walk the trails through the forest to the pond, where you’ll be able to spot loads of wildlife. A variety of birds, reptiles, and amphibians call this park home, and kids will love spotting them while they complete Grassland Bingo or a scavenger hunt, fun activities provided by the park. Be sure to wear closed-toed shoes when you are in the wooded areas, as these animals might be close by.
The best activity for kids to explore is to go letterboxing or hunt for geocaches. They are located throughout the park and will give kids and adults alike a mind-challenging activity while enjoying nature.
The ranger store offers a variety of goods including groceries and firewood, so you can cook your own dinner over the campfire. Finish off the day relaxing at the beach, or eating ice cream on the pier as you watch the dolphins swim by.
Bahia Honda State Park, Florida
By Candice from CS Ginger
Bahia Honda State Park is one of the best state parks on the East Coast of the United States. It has beautiful sandy beaches, amazing tide pools, and it is a fantastic spot for snorkeling and diving. This state park has something for everyone.
If you are with your family, relaxing on the beach and checking out the tide pools is very fun and does not take a ton of planning. If you want to add a little more adventure, you can snorkel by bringing your own gear or renting what you need from the park.
If you are an experienced diver or have experience snorkeling, you will love checking out the sunken shipwreck or snorkeling at the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. If you have questions or want to learn more, visit the concessions stand during your visit.
The best time to visit is in the winter months when the weather is great, and there is less humidity. There are some great places to stay very close to the park such as the beautiful Isla Bella Beach Resort and Spa, the Courtyard by Marriot Marathon Florida Keys, or you can stay at the Bahia Honda State Park Cabins or campground.
Either of those locations are wonderful places to stay and are close to many fun things to do in the Florida Keys like riding jet skis or taking a tour to see the beautiful sea life – and if you have some extra time you can plan to spend a few days relaxing in Key West.
The whole family will love Bahia Honda, one of the best Florida state parks!
Jockey’s Ridge State Park, North Carolina
By Megan from Virginia Travel Tips
One of the most interesting state parks in North Carolina is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, a place known for having the tallest sand dune on the East Coast! Located in Nag’s Head, this small (yet famous!) state park spans 427 acres and is actually the most visited state park in North Carolina.
While many flock to Jockey’s Ridge for the dunes, there are actually three ecosystems within it that are unique—including a maritime forest.
However, many visit Jockey’s Ridge to go hang gliding! Visitors can take beginner hang gliding lessons through Kitty Hawk Kites’ Hang Gliding School, which has an office and shop right within the park. The dunes are the perfect place to learn the adventurous activity.
While the park is open year round (except on Christmas), it is best to visit in the shoulder season. The dunes become scorchingly hot in the summer months and the surface temperature can reach around 110F, and there is practically no shade once you’re out on the dunes and trails.
Be sure to also bring a lot of water, regardless of when you visit! There are no facilities out on the dunes where you can fill up.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park has no campgrounds, but since it is one of the top things to do in the Outer Banks, most people are already staying somewhere along the coast. It is suggested you stay at a hotel or vacation rental in Nags Head (or nearby in Kitty Hawk or Kill Devil Hills). The park is located at Milepost 12 on US 158 (also called the South Croatan Highway) and is free to visit!