10 Gorgeous National Parks on the Coast
From sea to shining sea, these protected lands (national parks, seashores, lakeshores, and more!) offer scenery, wildlife, and outdoor activities to keep any nature-lover busy.
For those who love windsurfing or spotting endangered species (like turtle hatchlings!) in the wild, there's Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. For whale-watching and hiking, there's Southern California's Channel Islands. For good old-fashioned sunbathing and sandcastle building — in the heart of the Midwest! — there's Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
In short: there's something for every kind of coast enthusiast, so read on.
Point Reyes National Seashore, California
From its wide sandy beaches to tree-covered ridges, this park plays host to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and 150 miles of backcountry trails for bikers, hikers, and horseback riders. Love whale watching? From January through April, the headlands and beaches are great spots to catch a glimpse of migrating gray whales.
Related: Dream Town: Delray Beach, Florida
Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
Positioned on the outer reaches of this iconic New England destination, Cape Cod National Seashore encompasses 40 miles of beaches, marshes, ponds, and wild cranberry bogs that are rife with opportunities to explore. Nature lovers will enjoy an abundance of hiking trails, while history buffs can take a ranger-guided tour of the 19th-century home of a whaling captain or climb to the top of Cape Cod’s first lighthouse. And in the warmer months, if adventure seeking is more your speed, sign up for one of the ranger-guided canoe trips from the Salt Pond to the marsh.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
More than 40 miles of Lake Superior shoreline comprise this national lakeshore, which captivates visitors with stunning scenery, including sandstone cliffs that stand 50-to-200-feet tall above the lake. The park provides opportunities for outdoor adventuring year-round, but you’ll want to save swimming here for summertime – Lake Superior is the coldest (but most pristine!) of all the Great Lakes.
Related: Gogo Ferguson's Cumberland Island
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Located just off the coast of South Texas, this 70-mile span of shoreline is home to 380 bird species, 13 of which are considered species of concern, threatened, or endangered. Padre Island separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre, one of a handful of hypersaline lagoons in the world (it’s saltier than the ocean!). Try your skills at windsurfing in the Laguna Madre, or watch sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the ocean between mid-June and August.
Channel Islands National Park, California
Comprised of five isolated islands and 145 plant and animal species that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, Channel Islands National Park is only 36 miles from the mainland of Southern California. Take a half-day whale watching boat trip, a full-day hike around an island, or a three-day excursion aboard a dive boat. The park is only accessible by boat, and there is no transportation or lodging on the islands although primitive camping is allowed, so plan ahead for adventure.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska
Welcome to America’s largest national park; its total size equals that of Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined. And the grandeur is vertical as well: The park rises from the ocean up to 18,000-foot Mount St. Elias. Hire a guide or outfitter to float or fish the rivers, trek the glaciers, or fly overhead to view it all from above. Lodging is available at the park’s 14 public-use cabins or the Ultima Thule Alaska Lodge.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco
Comprised of 19 separate ecosystems and 200 years of American history from Native American culture to the California Gold Rush (and right in the middle of a major American city), Golden Gate National Recreation Area is supremely accessible and host to 1,270 plant and animal species. Spot whales from the Muir Beach overlook, or watch the sun go down over the Pacific at the historic Cliff House on Ocean Beach. Because this national recreation area spans tracts of land scattered about many counties, places to go and things to do are plentiful.
Redwood National Park, California
Most often recognized as home to the tallest trees on earth, this national park in the northernmost coastal region of California also protects rolling prairies, oak woodlands, river ways, and 40 miles of coastline. Cruise along eight-mile-long Coastal Drive to take in sweeping views of the Pacific, or whale watch at the Enderts and Crescent Beach overlooks. Other outdoor activities include horseback riding along the beach, cycling, kayaking, and camping in view of crashing waves.
Related: Gogo Ferguson's Cumberland Island
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana
Yes, it’s coastal! Indiana Dunes’ 15,000 acres on Lake Michigan enchant visitors year-round. During the summer months, visitors can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and fishing along 15 miles of sandy beach. Sticking around for the sunset over the water is also a must. Popular winter activities include hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing along the Glenwood Dunes Trail (you will need to bring your own equipment, however!).
Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands
Within this park’s 7,000 acres awaits an intricate history of civilizations that used the island and the sea for survival more than 1,000 years ago. Observe cultural demonstrations like “dumb bread” baking and basket weaving, or head to the island’s shore for water sports and activities. Recognized as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, St. John’s Trunk Bay offers a 225-yard underwater snorkeling trail and snorkeling gear rentals. Extend your stay by camping beachfront at Cinnamon Bay, where refreshing tropical breezes and Caribbean water views come with the campsite!