The National Parks and the Mighty East Coast Road Trip
Adventurer & Photographer
Mighty East Coast Trip
Start / End
At least 14
Spring through Fall
This route combines two of the United States’ greatest qualities: spectacular natural beauty and world-class cities. This East Coast road trip covers fantastic scenic locales of the Northeast region as well as urban hubs of American culture, politics and history. Begin in Boston, and make your way across the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C. This East Coast road trip provides the ideal balance for those who are looking for serene wilderness and bustling city life in one vacation.
We recommend at least two full weeks to cover all of the possible offerings suggested in this itinerary. Spend an extra day or two in major cities like Washington D.C. and New York City to absorb all there is to see and do. The driving durations in this itinerary range from relatively short to longer days of travel, so plan accordingly. The weather in the region is consistent for each season: somewhat cold in the early spring, muggy and hot in the peak summer months, crisp and cool in the fall. It can occasionally snow in the later spring months and extreme weather is possible throughout the summer. The months of September and October are famous in New England (MA, NH, ME, VT) for stunning fall foliage, attracting visitors from all over the world to the region.
ARRIVAL IN BOSTON
Fly into Logan International Airport and pick up your rental car. Make it easy and park the car then take “the T” (subway) around the city. The historic neighborhoods around Beacon Hill and downtown are perfectly suited for walking and taking in the buildings, streets and parks that were integral to the founding of the United States.
COASTAL DRIVE TO PORTLAND AND ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
In the morning, cross the Charles River and make your way into Cambridge, Massachusetts. There, stroll the Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology campuses. Then en route to Acadia National Park in Maine, make a pit stop in Portland. Grab some lunch and continue on to Bar Harbor, the gateway to Acadia National Park. Shop through town or make your way into the national park to explore the dramatic and rugged coastline. In Bar Harbor, enjoy lobster, a regional specialty at fine dining restaurants or casual spots like Reel Pizza Cinerama.
WHITE MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST
No trip to Acadia is complete without a short walk to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in Acadia. Fall through early spring, this is the first place to the sun rises in the United States. After that, make your way along the scenic rural highways into New Hampshire and the White Mountains, home to some of the tallest peaks on the East Coast. Continue driving along Route 112, also known as the Kancamagus Highway, for spectacular views of the surrounding environment and a number of quaint little towns. There are a wide variety of hikes throughout the park, but one great option is Kearsarge North, which is open year-round.
LAKE CHAMPLAIN AND BURLINGTON VERMONT
During your East Coast road trip, be sure to stop by the highest peak in the Northeast, Mount Washington. The vista is spectacular and definitely worth the trip. Weather on the mountain is notoriously unpredictable, so check the forecast first. Next, make your way west into Vermont, where you’ll find beautiful rolling hills and pristine farmland. Burlington, along the edge of picturesque Lake Champlain, is a thriving college town. There are many options for shopping and dining in the bustling Church Street Marketplace. The lake itself is a regional attraction, too, and there are numerous ways to experience it: canoe or kayak rentals; boat tours; or taking the ferry between Burlington and Port Kent, New York.
NIAGARA STATE PARK AND BUFFALO NEW YORK
Wake up early and hit the road for a long drive that crosses the full width of upstate New York. Your next East Coast road trip destination is the iconic Niagara Falls, which is worth the trip alone. A good midway stopping point is Syracuse, home to a major research university. Get a drink at Recess Coffee and hit the road again. Once you arrive at Niagara Falls State Park, stick around until dusk to take in the majesty of one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. There are hiking trails around the gorge that offer various vantage points of the falls. Spend the night in nearby Buffalo, the second most populous city in the state after New York City.
The drive down to Pittsburgh follows the eastern tip of Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the Great Lakes. Your destination for the day is Pittsburgh, also called the “Steel City” for its long history in steel manufacturing. It is also considered the “City of Bridges,” for its 446 river-spanning bridges.Take that Venice and Amsterdam! At the convergence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers is Point State Park, a lovely urban park particularly enjoyed in the summer months. The Carnegie Science Center, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the National Aviary are all fantastic museums. Stroll around eclectic, historic neighborhoods like the Strip District and Lawrenceville. If it is baseball season, grab tickets for a Pirates game at PNC Park where you’ll also take in sweeping views of the city skyline.
Before heading out of Pittsburgh, be sure to get a classic America breakfast at Deluca’s Diner. Once you arrive in Washington, D.C. a few hours later, you will have a wide array of stellar cultural institutions and historical sites at your fingertips in the nation’s capitol. Ditch the car and take advantage of D.C.’s highly-efficient and eco-friendly Metro transit system. The Smithsonian Institution, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum for African American Culture and History are fantastic museums. Walk around the National Mall to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and snap a photo in front of the White House on nearby Pennsylvania Ave.
A relatively short drive takes you to your next destination known as “The City of Brotherly Love.” Philadelphia, the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania and the fifth-most populous in the country, is a must-visit for your East Coast road trip. Like Washington D.C., the city is an important part of United States history and there are many monuments and buildings to see like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. Fairmount Park, the largest landscaped park in the world, is a great place to take an afternoon stroll.
NEW YORK CITY
Before you begin your visit to New York City, park your car in Staten Island and take the ferry into Manhattan. Not only does this let you travel around the city without the hassles of a car, but the boat ride itself gives you stunning views of the city skyline and a glimpse of the iconic Statue of Liberty. New York is a huge, bustling, overwhelming and thrilling city. Just about anything that you would want can be found here: food, culture, history, parks, shopping, people watching, and all of it unparalleled. If you are choosing to spend more than a couple of days in New York, try to venture out into Brooklyn or Queens to explore the diversity of the other boroughs. If this is a short trip, restricting yourself to Manhattan is a smart idea. When you’re ready to head home, you can easily return to Boston or fly out of another nearby airport.