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Fly to the national parks: NortheastFly to the national parks: Northeast

These Eastern U.S. parks provide wonderful escapes from city life. From thickly forested mountains and iconic, windswept beaches to a sacred place of remembrance, each reveals a piece of “America the Beautiful.”

  • A flightseeing tour along the Maine coast reveals many tiny islands, some with isolated homes or lighthouses. Note the floats in the water, each marking a lobster pot. Photo by Jeremy Vroom, courtesy Maine Coastal Flight.
  • Aerial view of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (BHB) near Acadia National Park. Photo by Jeremy Vroom, courtesy Maine Coastal Flight.
  • Aerial view of Frenchman Bay, the West St. Hotel, Bar Harbor, and the schooner Margaret Todd. Photo courtesy West St. Hotel Ocean Properties, LTD.
  • Sail on the 4-mast, 151-foot schooner Margaret Todd. Photo courtesy Downeast Windjammer Cruises.
  • The view from the top of Cadillac Mountain. At 1,530 feet, it’s the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and the first place on the East Coast to see the sunrise from Oct 7–Mar 6. Photo by Kristi Rugg, courtesy NPS.
  • Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, in north-central Maine, is characterized by densely forested mountains and pristine lakes, criss-crossed by clear rivers and streams. Photo courtesy U.S. Dept. of Interior.
  • Canoeing inside Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Photo courtesy U.S. Dept. of Interior.
  • The piping plover, recognized as an endangered or threatened species in various portions of its habitat, nests on Cape Cod National Seashore. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • Estuaries, salt marshes, and freshwater ponds provide non-motorized boating opportunities at Cape Cod National Seashore. Rangers offer canoe and kayak tours from late spring into early fall. Seeing the national seashore from the water, instead of land, changes your perspective. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • An etched glass panel at the End of the Flight Path Overlook, Flight 93 National Memorial, Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Photo by Brenda Schwartz, courtesy NPS.
  • Sunset over the wetlands near the Memorial Plaza. The return of wildlife habitats is part of the long-term plan for the Flight 93 National Memorial landscape. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • A white-tailed fawn in Shenandoah National Park, where the deer are common and often spotted near Skyline Drive. Black bears, bobcats, and over 190 bird species also live inside the park. Photo by Jerry Edmundson via Flickr.
  • The quintessential view of ridge after ridge inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Steve Harwood via Flickr.
  • In the foreground, Viburnum lantanoides (Witch Hobble) along the Appalachian Trail at Newfound Gap; photo taken during the 65th annual Great Smoky Mountains National Park Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (April 21–25, 2015). Legends claim this plant will keep witches away, hence the name. It is particularly abundant in the moist, rich, shaded spruce-fir forests and one of ten Viburnum species in the park. Photo by JR P via Flickr.
  • An old water mill inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Steve Harwood via Flickr.

Acadia National Park, Maine: Bar Harbor is the closest town/airport to Acadia National Park, and it’s a good thing because delightful hotels, inns, resort spas, restaurants, and activities abound in this beautiful village on Frenchman Bay. Take a puffin, whale-watching, lighthouse, bike, or kayak tour. Sail aboard the four-mast, 151-foot schooner Margaret Todd. Jordan Pond House, inside Acadia National Park, is famous for its popovers, tea, lobster stew, and homemade ice cream. This “Downeast Maine” park offers impeccably maintained hiking trails and scenic drives with dramatic views of the rocky coastline, rivers, lakes, and mountains.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine: Located in north-central Maine, the largest block of this monument lies between Baxter State Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot River (where hunting is allowed); several smaller blocks of land are nearby (no hunting allowed). One of our newest national monuments, its land was donated to the federal government by Elliotsville Plantation and the Quimby Family Foundation the day before the monument’s creation on Aug. 24, 2016. Roxanne Quimby is the co-founder of Burt’s Bees and began purchasing land adjacent to Baxter State Park in 2001. Two welcome centers have been established in nearby communities until a visitor’s center can be built. Activities include hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, fishing, and snowmobiling the dense forests and scattered lakes and rivers; fly to Millinocket to start your exploration of this beautiful area.

A lighthouse on Cape Cod National Seashore. Photo by Dan Perelman via Flickr.

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts: “A man may stand there and put all America behind him.” So said Henry David Thoreau, who advocated for protection of this land as well as the Maine woods noted above. Fly to Provincetown at the Cape’s north end to access beautiful, remote beaches or grab a cab or bus shuttle to town. Or fly to Chatham at the Cape’s south end. If you read Henry Beston’s classic book The Outermost House, you’ll want to explore this beach. There’s a bike path if you brought folding bikes, rent a car, or ask your hotel for pick-up. Ranger-guided activities include canoeing, yoga, and tours of the lighthouse, marshes, and much more.

Flight 93 National Memorial, Pennsylvania: Somerset County Airport is the closest to this memorial to the 40 heroes of Flight 93, which was hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, presumably to be crashed into the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Passengers retaliated against the hijackers but the airliner crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, about a 30-minute drive from the Somerset airport. The no-fee park is open sunrise to sunset and includes a Memorial Plaza, Wall of Names, and large boulder marking the crash site. A wildflower-studded field and grove of hemlocks are nearby. Observance ceremonies are held each Sept. 10 and 11.

Doyles River Falls in Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Lukas Schlagenhauf via Flickr.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia: Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia just west of Washington, D.C., the park stretches 105 miles from its northern entrance at Front Royal to its southern entrance near Waynesboro, so you can fly to Front Royal Airport. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park and is the only public road through the park. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day. Lodges, cabins, and camping are available in the park, which also provides over 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, plus many bird species. Take a guided trail ride, go fishing or climbing, and visit the waterfalls.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: This UNESCO World Heritage Site straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, which are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, themselves a division of the Appalachian chain. Great Smoky is America’s most-visited national park and easily accessed from the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport. Waterfalls, hiking, auto touring, horseback riding, historic buildings, and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad are some of the fun things to do here.

Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as both the managing editor of Pilot Getaways magazine and editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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