National Seashores: East Coast Beaches Road Trip
Traveler & Content Creator
East Coast National Seashores: Beach by Beach
Start / End
Florida / Massachusetts
Spring, Summer, Fall
This end-to-end itinerary follows a linear route along the American East Coast. Our route begins at the southernmost destination and travel north, but you could easily reverse directions. The nearest airport to our starting point in Florida is Orlando International Airport. Our route ends closest to either Boston, Massachusetts, or Providence, Rhode Island.
While this is the route we recommend, you can always skip or add days as you see fit. If you don’t have enough time to see it all you may just have to plan another road trip in the future!
CANAVERAL NATIONAL SEASHORE, FLORIDA
For your first stop on your national seashore road trip, start at Canaveral National Seashore. Nearby Cape Canaveral is known for rocket launches, but that’s not all there is to see here. Located on the east coast of Florida, this protected land is conveniently close to Orlando. Visit a historic earth mound used by the indigenous Timucuan Indians more than 4,000 years ago or explore the land where world-famous citrus groves once reigned supreme.
Must-See: The Kennedy Space Center
Favorite Local Activity: Fishing
CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, GEORGIA
For your second day, head to Cumberland Island National Seashore located on the Florida-Georgia border. Once the playground for wealthy American names like Carnegie and Kennedy, the island is now both partially protected and privately owned. Wild horses roam the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion, built for the Carnegie family in 1884 and destroyed by a mysterious fire in 1959. Plus, if you’ve ever dreamed of camping on the beach, now’s your chance. The island’s campsites require reservations, so do your research and plan ahead. You’ll also need to catch the daily ferry to get back and forth.
Nearby Nature: Okefenokee Swamp
Southern Coastal Cuisine: St. Mary’s Seafood
Also Worth a Visit: Jekyll Island, Georgia
CAPE HATTERAS & CAPE LOOKOUT NATIONAL SEASHORES, NORTH CAROLINA
From Georgia, head north to the shores of North Carolina. There you’ll find Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, located less than a hundred miles apart from one other. This entire region of the United States is known as the Outer Banks. However, each of these individual national seashores boasts its own history and highlights. Historic Cape Hatteras National Seashore was the first national seashore dedicated by Congress in 1958. Undisturbed Cape Lookout National Seashore features a stunning lighthouse with a unique design pattern. Both of these national seashores suffer extreme weather, including regular, often severe, hurricanes during late summer and fall. Check the local forecast before making your way to these East Coast beaches.
Must-Do Day Trip: Roanoke Island
Waterfront Dining on the Mainland: Lifesaving Station
On the Big Screen: Watch “Outer Banks” on Netflix
ASSATEAGUE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, VIRGINIA
For more chances to see wild horses on the beach, visit Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia. A few hours of driving from the Washington D.C. metropolitan area leads to this stunning coastal landscape nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Nosh on freshly caught Chesapeake blue crabs in the summer and enjoy fewer crowds in the fall and winter.
Unusual Adventures: Over Sand Vehicle Zones
Safety Tips: Wild Horse Viewing 101
FIRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, NEW YORK
Fire Island National Seashore is just a stone’s throw from New York City. At 30 miles long and a half mile wide, it’s a world away from the congestion of the tri-state area. Crowds flock to the beaches and natural respite of Fire Island National Seashore to escape sultry summers in the city. While a great day trip, there are plenty of lodging options for an overnight stay, from basic beach cottages to camping and glamping sites.
Best Way to Get There from the City: By Train
Catch a History Lesson: William Floyd Estate
CAPE COD NATIONAL SEASHORE, MASSACHUSETTS
Our last stops is arguable America’s most famous and popular national seashore, Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. From average families to millionaires, people love to spend their summer holidays in this desirable region. From lighthouses to cranberry bogs, Cape Cod is revered for its historic and environmental significance. The waters of these East Coast beaches are known for whales and great white sharks. While summer is the most popular season, fall is when the area truly dazzles. Plan a cool weather return trip to spot the fall foliage.