New River

4 National Parks East of the Mississippi

In our quest to visit America’s National Parks, we decided to take a road trip to visit 4 National Parks east of the Mississippi River: Indiana Dunes National Park; Cuyahoga Valley National Park; Shenandoah National Park; and New River Gorge National Park.

Waterfall in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

This road trip was action-packed. We also squeezed in a few hours on Kelleys Island and a stop at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

Indiana Dunes National Park (2 Nights)

The first stop on our adventure was Indiana Dunes National Park. This park includes 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in Northern Indiana.

Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline at Sunset

As you might guess, the main attractions in the 61st National Park are the beaches and giant sand dunes. These monstrous dunes are certainly a sight to see!

Large sand dune by Lake Michigan

But, there is much more to Indiana’s only national park than just sand. This park includes wetlands and forests as well as historic structures.

Swamp in Indiana Dune National Park

Kelleys Island

After leaving the dunes, we headed east and made a quick stop in Marblehead, Ohio. Here we took a 20-minute ferry to Kelly’s Island.

Kelleys Island in Lake Erie

Kelly’s Island is 4 miles from Marblehead in Lake Erie, just south of the Canadian Border. The primary mode of transport on this island is golf carts. Here you can enjoy watersports, restaurants, shops, as well as inspect the longest glacial groves in the world.

Glacial grooves on Kelleys Island

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2 Nights)

After leaving Kelleys Island, we drove south to Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland, Ohio. This national recreation area was designated a National Park in 2000.

Towpath Bike Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

At the center of this park are the Cuyahoga River and the Ohio Erie Canal. This vital waterway was completed in 1827 and served as a link between the Ohio River and Lake Erie.

Historic Canal in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Today, visitors can enjoy various activities such as biking along the canal, hiking, watching wildlife, and floating on the river.

Towpath Bike Trail Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Flight 93 Memorial

The drive from Cuyahoga to Shenandoah took us near the Flight 93 National Memorial, so we decided to stop.

Entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial

This memorial honors those who died when Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001. The memorial is near the town of Stoystown.

Visitor Center at the Flight 93 National Memorial

The Flight 93 National Memorial is a place to reflect and pay respect to the 33 Americans who gave their lives to save the nation’s capitol building.

Memorial Wall at Flight 93 National Memorial

Shenandoah National Park (4 Nights)

We decided to spend more time in Shenandoah National Park. It is a large park, and we wanted to include time for relaxing. We stayed outside of Luray, Virginia, in a vacation rental.

Scenic vista in Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah was the oldest national park we visited on this trip. It became a National Park in 1935 to protect the wilderness area.

Ferns and trees in Shenandoah National Park

The heart of the park is Skyline Drive. This 105-mile highway traverses the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, providing access to scenic overlooks and miles of hiking trails.

Skyline Drive on the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park

New River Gorge National Park (1 Night)

New River Gorge was America’s newest National Park at the time of our visit. It was dedicated in 2020.

New River Gorge Bridge

New River Gorge National Park is located near Lansing, West Virginia. The park includes the area surrounding 53 miles of the New River.

View of the New River

Coal mining boomed in the New River Gorge area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the demand for coal decreased and conservation efforts increased, efforts were made to return the river to its natural state. Now visitors can enjoy scenic vistas, hiking, and river sports.

Coal in the rocks in New River Gorge National Park

When we think of the National Parks, it’s easy to picture the famous parks in the west like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. But, National Park road trips aren’t limited to the west. These public lands provide the opportunity to experience a variety of different environments all across the county.

1 thought on “4 National Parks East of the Mississippi”

  1. Thanks for sharing! We’ve been to Indiana Dunes and Shenandoah. This summer will include New River Gorge and the Flight 93 memorial as well.

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