America’s Best Idea: 20 National Parks Service sites along the Greenway

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The East Coast Greenway follows the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

National parks, historic sites, battlefields, seashores, and monuments make a great destination for a ride on the Greenway. You can visit landscapes as diverse as rugged Acadia and the swampy Everglades, and learn about the stories of historically significant people and places, such as Ellis Island and the former home of Frederick Douglass.

View these national parks on a map. Note that many of the parks are large and/or spread out, so points on this map may not reflect all parts of each site. 

Maine:

Acadia National Park

Acadia occupies 47,000 acres of craggy coastline and forestland in Northern Maine. Popular attractions in the park include camping, hiking and viewing wildlife. Because of the remoteness of the park, light pollution is limited, making Acadia a great place to go stargazing. The visitor’s center is roughly 20 miles from the Greenway in Ellsworth. 

Massachusetts: 

Boston National Historical Park

Boston National Historical Park is a group of historically significant sites scattered throughout Boston, including Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church, and the USS Constitution. These sites help tell the story of our country’s beginnings. Most are within a mile of the Greenway route. 

Cape Cod National Seashore

If beach time is what you’re after, Cape Cod National Seashore is a great stop along the Greenway’s complementary route on the Cape. In addition to exploring the park’s six swimming beaches and several lighthouses, you’ll find hiking and biking trails and fishing spots. If you’re looking to stay overnight, six beach houses within the park are available to rent. 

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Open since 1938, Salem Maritime NHS allows visitors the chance to learn about three centuries of maritime trade in Salem. You can explore the visitor center and meander along the Derby Street wharf, where you can tour historic buildings including the Customs House. Find the visitor center one block from the Greenway. 

New York:

Statue of Liberty National Monument & Ellis Island

Hop on the ferry from either Battery Park in Manhattan (at the southern end of the Hudson River Greenway) or in Jersey City (which is just across the Morris Basin Canal from the Greenway), and you can hit both of these sites in one day. Your ferry ticket includes entry to either just the grounds, the statue pedestal, or the statue crown on Liberty Island and entry into Ellis Island, which tells the story of immigration to the United States from 1892 to 1954. You will go through airport-style security before boarding the ferry. If you just want to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the water, the free Staten Island Ferry allows bikes on board. 

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The Statue of Liberty National Monument can be seen from the official Statue Cruises ferry, which departs from Battery Park in Manhattan.

New Jersey: 

Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Tour the Orange, N.J., home and laboratories of one of the United States’ most famous inventors. Edison, who gained fame for his invention of the phonograph, lived and worked at this site from the late 1880s until his death in 1931. The visitor center is about four miles from the Greenway in Newark. 

Pennsylvania:

Independence National Historical Park

This national park is a collection of several historic sites in central Philly involved in the founding of our country. Visitors can see the Liberty Bell, take a ranger tour of Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed, and learn about the life and work of Benjamin Franklin. The visitor center is about two blocks from the Greenway’s Benjamin Franklin Bridge Walkway. 

Delaware:

First State National Historical Park

Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution, and this national historical park celebrates that fact at several locations across the state.  Among the activities the park offers are tours of the New Castle Court Houose, which is on the Greenway route in New Castle. Other points of interest near the Greenway can be found in Wilmington.

Maryland:

Fort McHenry National Monument

Fort McHenry has stood in Baltimore Harbor since 1800. Its bombardment in the War of 1812 made it so famous, inspiring for Francis Scott Key’s poem, “Defense of Fort McHenry,” that became the lyrics to the national anthem. You can tour the fort and learn about the history of the flag through daily ranger programs. The monument is less than two miles from the Greenway in downtown Baltimore. 

Washington, D.C.:

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Located in Washington D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is home to Cedar Hill, the home where Douglass lived for the last 18 years of his life. Douglass was born into slavery and taught himself to read. After escaping to freedom, Douglass became an author and orator, and gave speeches including “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Rangers lead tours of the home daily.

National Mall

Home to the US Capitol, many of the Smithsonian Museums, the Washington Monument, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials, as well as the Vietnam Veterans, Korean War Veterans, and World War II Memorials, the National Mall contains many highlights of the nation’s capital. The Greenway travels along the National Mall on its north side.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Dedicated in 2011, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the first memorial on the National Mall to honor an African American. The 30-foot granite carved monument bears inscriptions of some of King’s most famous speeches throughout his career of civil rights activism. The monument is located at 1964 Independence Avenue, S.W., with the street number referencing the year of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and is a quarter of a mile from the Greenway on the National Mall.

Virginia:

Colonial National Historical Park

This national park includes both Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown Battlefield, connected by the Colonial Parkway. Settled in 1607, Jamestowne was one of the first successful British colonies in North America. Yorktown was the site of the last major battle in the American Revolution in 1781. The Jamestowne visitor center is about a mile off the Greenway’s complementary route on the Virginia Capital Trail; the Yorktown visitor center is roughly 13 miles from the trail.

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park encompasses four Civil War battlefields spread out over several miles: Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Wilderness, and Chancellorsville. The Fredericksburg Battlefield visitor center is 0.13 miles from the Greenway on the Cobblestone Trail.

North Carolina: 

Cape Lookout National Seashore

Part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Cape Lookout is one of two national seashores in the state and offers camping, boating, fishing and many other outdoor activities. The National Parks Service staffs two visitor centers on the mainland, at Harkers Island and Beaufort. Access to the islands, including the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, is by ferry. To visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and catch a glimpse of wild horses on Shackleford Banks, catch one of the ferries departing from Beaufort, on the Greenway’s complementary route along the North Carolina coast.  

Moores Creek National Battlefield

Scottish Highlander loyalist forces crossed the Moores Creek Bridge in late February 1776, where nearly 1,000 North Carolina Patriots lay in wait with cannons and muskets. The result was the first significant victory for the Patriots in the American Revolution. Now, the battlefield area is an excellent place for picnics, fishing and birdwatching. The visitor’s center is open Tuesday - Saturday and includes an introductory video and several exhibits. Moores Creek National Battlefield is located in Currie on the complementary route of the Greenway in eastern North Carolina. 

South Carolina: 

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park 

Throughout American history, the port of Charleston has been a strategic spot. Fort Sumter was the site of the first battle of the Civil War in 1861. Fort Moultrie, on nearby Sullivan’s Island, was the site of a battle during the American Revolution in 1776. Both forts offer a variety of ranger programs and tours. Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, from either Charleston (where the ferry landing is 0.1 miles from the Greenway) or Mount Pleasant (where the ferry landing is 0.7 miles from the Greenway). Fort Moultrie is 1.2 miles from the Greenway in Sullivan’s Island.

Georgia: 

Cumberland Island National Seashore (6 mi to St. Marys, then a 45-minute ferry to the Seashore)

There’s a lot to do on Cumberland Island  - hiking, boating, kayaking, swimming, beachcombing, fishing, camping, and more. If you camp on the island, you can stargaze because the minimally developed Cumberland Island means minimal light pollution. There are also ranger-guided programs on the history of the area. The mainland visitor center is in St. Marys, about 6.4 miles from the Greenway, and the island is accessible by ferry from St. Marys. In fall 2019, a new ferry will connect St. Marys with Fernandina Beach, Florida. 

Florida: 

Everglades National Park 

The Everglades is a large swath of wetlands in south Florida that is home to some of Florida’s unique wildlife, such as manatees, alligators, and panthers. There are a lot of ways to see the park, including biking, hiking and boating. The closest visitor center to the Greenway is the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, which is seven miles off the route in Homestead. 

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The wetlands of the Everglades are home to dozens of species of insects, mammals, and reptiles.

Biscayne National Park

Main activities in the park include boating, kayaking, fishing and camping. You can also join boat tours, with opportunities to snorkel and swim. Most of Key Biscayne National Park is aquatic, but the visitor center is about seven miles from the South Dade Greenway in Homestead. 

Dry Tortugas National Park 

Home to a 19th-century fort and a whole lot of aquatic areas, Dry Tortugas is located off the coast of Key West, where you can kayak, snorkel, camp, participate in ranger programs and more. The ferry to Fort Jefferson departs from a landing in Key West, about a mile off the Greenway. 

There are over 70 National Parks Service-operated parks, historic sites, recreation areas, monuments, battlefields, memorials, and natural areas along the Greenway route. Did we not list one of your favorites? Let us know which NPS sites you like to pair with your Greenway adventures by emailing lisa@greenway.org. 

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