The National Parks and the Mighty East Coast 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. Not only does this road trip cover some the Northeast region’s fantastic scenic locales – Acadia National Park, White Mountain National Forest and Niagara Falls, among others – but you will also visit the main hubs of culture, politics and history in the country. You will begin in Boston, one of the oldest cities in the United States, and make your way up to Acadia National Park in Maine. After your time at this beautiful island-studded coastline, you will head towards the White Mountains State Forest in New Hampshire to see some of the tallest peaks on the East Coast. Your next stop is the majestic Niagara Falls in Upstate New York, with a day in Burlington, Vermont and Lake Champlain en route. From there, your trip will thread through some of the four major cities in the country – Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City – where you will have the chance to explore unparalleled cultural offerings. This road trip might provide the ideal balance for those who are looking for serene wilderness and those who want to experience bustling city life at its finest!
We recommend at least two full weeks to cover all of the possible offerings that are suggested in this itinerary. Spending an extra day or two in the cities, especially Washington D.C. and New York City, would be a great way to absorb all there is to see and do. Many of the drives are relatively short – especially between the cities along the Eastern Seaboard, where many are only an hour or two – while at least one of the drives will take a good portion of your day, so plan accordingly. (These longer drives could be broken up into segments, too.) The weather in the region is usually predictable: 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, so pack intelligently. The months of September and October are famous in New England (MA, NH, ME, VT) for stunning fall foliage, which is a major tourist attraction for the region.
ARRIVAL IN BOSTON
Fly into Logan International Airport and pick up your rental car. Driving around the city can be difficult for visitors, so one smart option would be to park at a garage in the North End and 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. A visit to the leafy Harvard and M.I.T. campuses would be a good way to get a nice stroll in before your drive up the coast. A little before the midpoint en route to Acadia National Park, make a pit stop in Portland, the most populated city in this largely rural state. Grab some lunch or take a walk along the Eastern Promenade. After another couple of driving hours, you will arrive in Bar Harbor, the gateway to Acadia National Park. You could relax by shopping in town or make your way into the park to explore the dramatic and rugged coastline. There are a number fine dining establishments in Bar Harbor – lobster is a regional specialty – and some nighttime entertainment, like Reel Pizza Cinerama, a combination art-house movie theater and pizzeria.
WHITE MOUNTAIN NATIONAL FOREST
No trip to Acadia is complete without a short walk to the top of Cadillac Mountain (about .8km), the highest point in Acadia and supposedly the first place to see sunlight in the United States from the fall through early spring. You can see strings of small islands far into the horizon from this ideal viewpoint, which is a perfect photo opportunity. 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 small towns to explore for antique shopping and food. There are a wide variety of hikes throughout the park, but one great option is Kearsarge North (10km), which is open year-round, is moderately difficult and hosts some of the most fantastic views in the area.
LAKE CHAMPLAIN AND BURLINGTON VERMONT
Before hitting the road, a drive up Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, is a necessity. The vista is spectacular and definitely worth the trip. (Weather on the mountain is notoriously unpredictable – it has snowed in the summer before – so check the forecast first.) Nest, make your way west into Vermont, the Green Mountain State, famous for its beautiful rolling hills and pristine farmland. Burlington, along the edge of picturesque Lake Champlain, is a thriving college town and the largest in the state. 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 to get breakfast at the local favorite Penny Cluse Café – there can be long waits – then hit the road for a long drive that crosses the full width of upstate New York. Your next destination is the iconic Niagara Falls, which will be worth the trip. A good midway stopping point could be Syracuse, the economic hub for this part of the state and home to a major research university. Get a drink at Recess Coffee and hit the road again. If you time it right, arriving at Niagara Falls State Park just before dusk could be perfect for taking in the majesty of one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. There are hiking trails around the gorge to take in the panoramic views. 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, with numerous spots to turn off the highway and check out this immense body of water, the fourth largest of the Great Lakes. Your destination for the day is Pittsburgh, the so-called “Steel City” for its long history in steel manufacturing. (It is also considered the “City of Bridges,” for its 446 river-spanning bridges.) At the convergence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, this lovely city is home to a huge diversity of cultural activity from sports to arts, shopping to dining. There are a number of esteemed museums, like the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Andy Warhol Museum, and many neighborhoods perfect for shopping or strolling around in, like the Strip District or Lawrenceville. If it is baseball season, getting tickets for a Pirates game at historic PNC Park would be a fun outing, too.
A relatively short drive the next day takes you to “The City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia, the largest city in the state of Pennsylvania and the fifth-most populous in the country. Like Washington D.C., the city is an important place in United States history and there are many monuments and buildings to help you appreciate Philadelphia’s role, like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. For art seekers, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a must, as is the Rodin Museum. Fairmount Park, the largest landscaped park in the world, is a great place to take an afternoon stroll. Sports fans could take in an Eagles football game, a 76ers basketball game or a Flyers hockey game.
NEW YORK CITY
2.5 HOURS/166 MILES
Before you begin your visit to New York, 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, 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. But if this is a short trip, restricting yourself to Manhattan is a smart idea. Some suggestions: walk around Chinatown and eat lunch there; wander around the historic and artsy Lower East Side; rent bikes and explore Central Park on wheels; go to the Met, the Guggenheim or the MOMA for your art museum needs; go shopping along 5th Avenue or in Chelsea; walk over the picturesque Brooklyn Bridge; see a play on Broadway or a concert at Lincoln Center; or just stroll around and absorb the excitement of the city.