Northeast National Park Road Trip Itinerary
Updated: 1 day ago
It's no secret the United States is home to incredible national parks. These natural areas attract visitors from all around the world and offer breathtaking views, amazing hiking, camping, and abundant wildlife.
Some of the most underrated parks are the East Coast national parks. Which is why you should plan a trip to them! In this post, we'll cover the best national parks road trip itinerary for exploring the northeast US.
Included are some of the best places to stay, how long to stay in each park, and the closest cities. You can do a lot of hiking on this east coast national park road trip! I've included the best hiking recommendations for each park below as well.
In this article...
Pre-Trip Prep: Northeast National Park Road Trip
Before you begin your national park road trip, here are some helpful tips to make your adventure the best possible. The US is the perfect country for road tripping, but if you've never done it before or if you haven't visited any of the US national parks, take a look at these recommendations.
Entrance Fees: Many US national parks charge an entrance fee; the only one that isn't free on this East Coast national park road trip is Shenandoah National Park (costs $30 per vehicle).
Transportation: You will need a car to complete this itinerary. There are no shuttle buses at these national parks, and they are all 3 to 6 hours apart.
Best Time to Go: The best time to go on this northeast national park road trip is in the fall to experience cool weather and beautiful fall foliage. Another great time to go is in the summer as the northeast stays relatively cool all year, perfect for hiking.
What to Pack: If you're planning on camping and hiking, make sure you're fully prepared with these essentials.
How to Get Here: This national park road trip begins in New River Gorge National Park. You can either drive in or fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, and rent a car. The airport is about 70 miles, just over an hour's drive, to New River Gorge NP.
Dog-Friendly: Yes, this road trip is very dog-friendly! We brought our dog on this exact east coast national parks road trip and she had a blast. We camped the whole time, but I've also included dog-friendly hotels as alternatives. All the hiking trails on this trip are dog-friendly.
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Northeast National Park Road Trip
To start your trip, head to New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia. You can drive in or fly into Yeager Airport in West Virginia, and rent a car. From the airport, it's about 70 miles, or one hour, to New River Gorge National Park.
Below are the four stops you'll make on this northeast national park road trip itinerary. You can also reverse it. These underrated east coast national parks are waiting to be explored by you!
New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Stop 1: New River Gorge National Park
Start your northeast national park road trip at New River Gorge National Park! Here you can find tons of hiking trails, camping, and incredible views. This national park is a quick 5-minute drive to Fayetteville, West Virginia, which has everything you might need for your road trip.
New River Gorge is full of activities for adventure enthusiasts. From hiking to white water rafting, there are plenty of fun things to do in this northeast national park. We chose this national park because it's great for all hiking abilities, all ages, and all kinds of adventurers!
Best Hiking Trails in New River Gorge
Endless Wall Trail: 2.3 miles, point-to-point, panoramic views
Canyon Rim Overlook Boardwalk: 0.6 miles to the New River Gorge Bridge, trailhead is right by the visitor center, steep stairs
Kaymoor Miner’s Trai: 1.6 miles, shorter hike, but is more strenuous as it is straight downhill to the end and uphill back
After hiking all day, head to Fayetteville and enjoy an ice cream at The Stache!
Where to Stay in New River Gorge National Park
There are only primitive campgrounds within New River Gorge National Park, meaning there are no water or electrical hookups. These sites are all first-come, first-served and are free to stay at.
There are also many campgrounds just outside the national park. We stayed at Chestnut Creek Campground, which we highly recommend. The campsites are fairly secluded, there are bathrooms and showers on-site, and it’s only about a 5-minute drive to the New River Gorge Bridge.
You can also get a hotel in Fayetteville, West Virginia if you'd rather. It is only a 5-minute drive from the New River Gorge Bridge and National Park Visitor Center. Fayetteville is also very close to the Canyon Rim Overlook Boardwalk and other trails.
Hotel: Quality Inn New River Gorge, dog-friendly, breakfast included
Airbnb: Lansing and Fayetteville, West Virginia are the closest towns
Read all about New River Gorge National Park in my complete guide.
Stop 2: Shenandoah National Park
Time to hit the road! After a 4-hour drive from New River Gorge NP, you'll reach Shenandoah National Park. I recommend leaving New River Gorge around lunchtime so you'll arrive at Shenandoah in the early evening.
This national park is famous for its expansive views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Skyline Drive, and abundant wildlife. It's a very long national park, so you will likely drive between hiking trailheads if you opt for this activity.
Check out our hiking recommendations below. The views in Shenandoah are gorgeous!
Best Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
Lewis Springs Falls Trail: 3.5-mile loop, pretty waterfall view
Appalachian National Scenic Trail: about a 1-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail, starts at Big Meadows Campground
Marys Rock via Pinnacle Picnic Grounds: 6.7-mile out & back, 360-degree panoramic views
Skyline Drive: 105-mile-long scenic drive; driving just a portion of it is beautiful
Where to Stay in Shenandoah NP
There are five campgrounds in total located in this national park. These offer a mixture of first-come first-served and reservable sites. The campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park are also only open seasonally. Each has its own schedule, but generally, they are open from March through October.
Matthews Arm: 165 sites, no electric hookups, no laundry
Big Meadows: 221 sites, no electric hookups, pay laundry
Lewis Mountain: 30 sites, no electric hookups, pay laundry
Loft Mountain: 207 sites, no electric hookups, pay laundry
Dundo: 3 tent only, no potable water
We stayed at Big Meadows Campground. This is the largest campground in Shenandoah National Park, but it is also very centrally located. This is perfect if you want to drive to various trailheads.
Campsites go quickly in Shenandoah National Park, so make sure you plan ahead and book in advance if you can.
Camping: I recommend Big Meadows Campground. It is located in the national park and has its own camp store, coin laundry, and coin showers.
For more details on visiting Shenandoah National Park, read my full guide here.
Stop 3: Allegheny National Forest
The next stop on the northeast national park road trip itinerary is Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania. This is a much quieter place than the first two national parks, but it's the perfect place to slow down for a day or two and relax.
The national forests are often overlooked in the US, but they too provide the perfect nature getaway. And they're fun, generally less crowded stops on a national park road trip!
There are several hiking trails in Allegheny National Forest. One of which loops around Buckaloons Campground where we stayed. You will have to drive between hiking trailheads here.
Allegheny National Forest Hikes
Buckaloons Scenic Trail: 1.1-mile loop, loops around the campground
Rimrock Overlook Trail: 2.6 miles out-and-back, views of the reservoir
Heart's Content Trail: 1.1-mile loop with beautiful forest views
Minister Creek Trail: 6-mile loop, forested parts and overlook views, very pretty in the fall
Where to Stay in Allegheny National Forest
There are a total of 17 campgrounds at Allegheny National Forest, so no shortage of camping opportunities here, although some sites are boat-in only. I recommend camping at Buckaloons Campground. The campsites here are quite secluded which makes for a peaceful stay. The only downside of this location is the proximity to hiking trails.
Another good campsite to stay at in Allegheny National Forest is Dewdrop Campground. It's close to Kinzua Road, a popular scenic drive along the Allegheny Reservoir.
If you don't want to camp here, Warren and Bradford, Pennsylvania are nearby and have hotels. Warren is a 16-minute drive from the Buckaloons entrance and a 25-minute drive from the Heart's Content Trailhead and the Rimrock Overlook Trailhead.
Hotel: Quality Inn & Suites Warren, 15 minutes from Buckaloons, breakfast included, dog-friendly
Airbnb: Warren or Bradford, Pennsylvania
Stop 4: Cuyahoga Valley National Park
After about a 3-hour drive, you will be at the final stop on this national parks road trip: Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This park is a 30-minute drive to Cleveland, Ohio, and a 15-minute drive to Akron, Ohio; it's in a nice central location.
There’s a lot to see in the national park and the surrounding areas, and it's close to towns like Stow and Akron where you can refill any road trip supplies you need. There are several hiking trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park as well as in the nearby Stow, Ohio area.
Hiking Trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Brandywine Gorge Trail - 1.4-mile loop, waterfall (also accessible without hiking the entire trail)
Ledges Trail - 2.3-mile loop, beautiful rock formations
Kendall Lake Loop Trail - 4.3-mile loop, pretty pond view
Where to Stay in Cuyahoga Valley NP
There is no camping available within Cuyahoga Valley National Park, but there are several campgrounds within 20 miles of the park. This national park is also in a more suburban area so there are plenty of hotels nearby.
We stayed at Silver Springs Campground, about a 15-minute drive to many Cuyahoga Valley NP trailheads. This campground is fairly wooded, and there are some short, pretty hiking trails here. There is also a dog park, Bow Wow Beach, located at this campground.
Silver Springs Campgrounds is in Stow, Ohio, which has everything you might need for groceries and supplies. And it's close to Akron and Cleveland if you want to add those stops to your road trip!
Campsite: Silver Springs Campground in Stow, Ohio
Airbnb: I recommend looking in Akron, Stow, or Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
You can easily do this national parks road trip in reverse order as well. Start at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. You can drive in or fly into Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and rent a car. This airport is about a 30-minute drive to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Or if you're ending your northeast national park road trip at Cuyahoga Valley, you can drive to Cleveland and leave from this international airport.
National Parks Road Trip FAQ:
How do you plan a National Park road trip?
To plan a national park road trip, you must first decide which national parks you want to visit. There are a total of 63 national parks in the US, so visiting them all will take a while.
A good idea is to pick three or four national parks in a similar region that you really want to visit. Take this northeast national park road trip for example. These three national parks are all within 6 hours or less of each other making it feasible to visit them all within a week.
Once you know where are you going, plan your route to make the most of your time. If the national parks you choose are all in a line, it would make sense to start at one end and make your way down to the other.
If they are more in a circle like these northeastern parks, the order you visit doesn't matter as much. I recommend marking all the national parks you wish to visit on Google Maps to see how close they are to each other and figure out your route from there.
Is Cuyahoga Valley National Park worth visiting?
While Cuyahoga Valley National Park is small, it still offers great hikes and picturesque views, generally with less crowds. You don't need more than one or two days to explore Cuyahoga Valley, but it is worth visiting.
What is the most popular trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?
Two of the most popular trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park are the Ledges Trail and Brandywine Falls trails. These two hikes offer very different scenery; Ledges boasts incredible rock formations along the entire trail, and Brandywine Falls is a gorgeous waterfall.
What time of year is best for national park road trip?
The best time of year for a national park road trip is in the fall. September and October are perfect months as they bring cooler weather across the United States, as well as smaller crowds.
Fall also offers beautiful fall foliage in the national parks, which sometimes attracts more people. But generally, fall is a quieter time to go on a national park road trip than summer.
This northeast national park road trip is 6 to 8 days and covers some of the most underrated nature gems in the US, the East Coast national parks. Now you know how to plan your own epic national park adventure!
We covered the ultimate northeast national park road trip itinerary, where to stay in each park, the best hikes in every park, and the closest cities or towns in case you want to find a hotel nearby.
Northeast National Park Road Trip Recap:
Fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, or drive in
New River Gorge National Park: 2 days
Drive 4 hours to Virginia
Shenandoah National Park: 2 days
Drive 6.5 hours to Pennsylvania
Allegheny National Forest: 1-2 days
Drive 3 hours to Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley National Park: 1-2 days
Fly out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport or drive home
If you’re looking for a dog-friendly national parks road trip in the U.S., start planning here! This was a great route with all dog-friendly national parks conveniently located fairly close to each other.
We highly recommend this trip for anyone looking to explore nature in the northeastern US. You can always take this route in reverse if you’re coming from the North, but whichever direction you go, these 4 locations make for an epic national park road trip!
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