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6 National Parks in the Southeast Region of the U.S. That Will Surprise You

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Looking through the ruins of Fort Jefferson out across the tropical waters of Dry Tortugas National Park

A trip through the American Southeast will surely conjure images of Appalachian landscapes, sandy white beaches, cavernous rooms of calcified stalactites, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and even Revolutionary War battlegrounds. 

You can find all these scenes and more within six of the nation’s most diverse and unique national parks in the Southeast region. Let’s look at some of the most surprisingly gorgeous parks in the Southeast. 

What States Make Up the American Southeast?

The National Parks Service has split the country into several regions. The Southeast Region includes the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. 

Although it only encompasses eight states, the region inhabits a sizable swath of land with varied landmass, plant life, and wildlife. Many of these states touch the southeastern Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. 

Visitors traveling the entire area will venture through bayous, up winding mountain roads, and to offshore locations by ferry boat. Caves, forests, beaches, waterfalls, and alligators all compete for your attention in these Southeastern parks.

6 Southeastern National Parks You Have to Visit

A visit to any national parks listed below offers a renewed sense of wonder. You’ll appreciate the various landscapes and wildlife protected in these Southeast jewels.

#1. Biscayne National Park, Florida

Address: 9700 SW 328th Street, Sir Lancelot Jones Way, Homestead, FL 33033

Entry Fees: $0; however, there are camping fees of $25 per night on Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key

A scuba diver explores the coral reefs underwater at Biscayne National Park.
Biscayne National Park is 95% water.
Image by Shaun Wolfe and courtesy of the NPS

Things to Do: The northern Florida Keys provide an environment filled with coral reefs, islands, and mangrove forests that make up Biscayne National Park. It’s also a mecca for shipwreck exploration. The underwater Maritime Heritage Trail leads tenacious scuba divers on an adventure like no other where they can discover lost bounty that never made it through the rough waters. 

Other visitors to this most unusual destination come to fish or catch lobster and still more snorkel, kayak, or paddleboard through the pristine waters. Whether they come to camp or visit for the day, guests have 10,000 years of history to explore and thousands of colorful fish to watch.

#2. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Address: 100 National Park Road, Hopkins, SC 29061

Entry Fees: $0

A forest of trees growing in and along the river at Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park

Things to DoCongaree is a tree-lovers’ secret destination. It’s a little-visited park that’s a quiet respite in the country’s largest tract of old-growth lowland hardwood forests. Boardwalks lead visitors into this magic destination filled with wildlife, water, and wonder. 

Hiking is the most popular way to enjoy the floodplain forest, but canoeing and kayaking add new insight into protecting this crucial natural resource. Backcountry camping and fishing are allowed, and most who explore here return frequently. They love soaking in the wildlife sightings and peace that Mother Nature provides.

#3. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Address: 40001 SR-9336, Homestead, FL 33034

Entry Fees: $15 – this includes the ferry boat ride and entrance to the park

Fort Jefferson is an expansive brick structure situation in the ocean waters at Dry Tortugas National Park in the southeastern Unites States
Dry Tortugas National Park

Things to Do: Island hopping is the norm at Dry Tortugas, a national park comprised of seven small islands and a 19th-century fortress. Although you can only access it by seaplane or boat, the park is only 70 miles west of Key West, Florida

Check out Fort Jefferson, one of the largest forts ever built. It protected one of the country’s most important deepwater harbors. Today, park visitors tour the fort on Garden Key and spend their time on the water with paddle sports or snorkeling in the clear bay. 

Visitors also enjoy camping and geocaching here. And many enjoy the ranger-led tours and activities.

Traveler’s Tip: With all there is to see in the southeast, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Here are 8 southeastern foods you have to try!

#4. Everglades National Park, Florida

Address: 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL 33034

Entry Fees: $30 per vehicle

Three airboats prepare to take passengers through a tour of Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

Things to Do: The Everglades is a bird watcher’s paradise. It’s also teeming with cypress and mangrove estuaries that harbor gators, eagles, and even pink flamingos. 

With three main regions, the Everglades is one of the most unique national parks in the Southeast region. It spans more than 1.5 million acres of southern Florida, but you can easily access it from Miami. 

With so much water and wildlife, visitors can explore most of the area by boat. But hiking, biking, and fishing are also on the list of favorite pastimes here. Exploring waterways by canoe or kayak is a relaxing way to enjoy the Everglades. Many find that campgrounds are open year-round for up close and personal experiences within the park’s boundaries.

#5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

Address: 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Entry Fees: $0 for entrance; however, there are camping fees of $14 to $23

A river rushes through the fall forest in Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Things to Do: Because the park lies on a major thoroughfare through Tennessee and North Carolina’s mountains, many visitors simply enjoy driving to the various attractions within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But once at a destination, most can’t resist hiking through these hardwood forests. You could also take informal tours at Mingus Mill or the Little Cataloochee Church

An evening drive through Cades Cove is a popular activity, as tourists hope to see resident black bears and other wildlife. And hikes up Clingmans Dome or into the park’s interior always amaze when one discovers elusive wildflowers like trillium. Drivers come from miles to peruse the park when the autumn color is at its finest.

#6. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Address: P.O. Box 7, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259-0007

Entry Fees: $0 for entrance into the park, but cave tours range in price from $9 to $33

Underground, a tourist marvels at the rock formations and size of the Mammoth Caves
Below ground at Mammoth Cave National Park
Image courtesy of the NPS

Things to Do: Mammoth Cave National Park is one-of-a-kind, offering tours through its 52,830 acres both above and below ground. Besides cave tours, the park features prime countryside for horseback riding, hiking, and non-motorized water sports like kayaking and canoeing.

The evening sky in south-central Kentucky is also the perfect place to stargaze, with little light pollution to interrupt. Fishing in the Green River or bicycling the quiet roads of Mammoth Cave National Park are other enjoyable activities.

What’s the Best Way to Visit These Southeast U.S. National Parks?

These vastly different national parks in the Southeast Region are all well worth your time. Each casts its own spell on visitors with caverns, mountain trails, underwater sea life, historic forts, botanical surprises, and pristine beach fronts. 

To visit each, purchase an America the Beautiful Pass, which will cover entrance fees for these parks. It also covers fees for all national parks, monuments, national forestland, and Bureau of Land Management sites. 

Don’t Miss Out on National Parks in the Southeast Region!

Don’t miss out on any of these national parks. Each has its own special charm with activities and sights that will entice you to come back. They’ll also help you better appreciate our National Park Service and how it protects these unique destinations. Thanks to their efforts, each of these southeastern park’s assets are safe for future generations to enjoy.

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  1. The information on Dry Tortugas NP entrance fee is incorrect; the ferry fare is a couple hundred dollars per person. The ferry and/or seaplane ride fare DOES include the $15 National Park entrance fee though. BIG difference… and it make this park out of the budget range for many families!

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