Table of Contents Show
- Is a National Seashore a National Park?
- How Many National Seashores Are There?
- 5 National Seashores That Are Better Than Most National Parks
- What About the Other National Seashores and Lakeshores?
- Are National Seashores on Your Radar?
When visiting America’s national parks, many people seem to forget that there are also national seashores. And visiting those is often better than visiting many national parks. You can find fewer crowds and fewer hassles at national seashores, but you won’t find less beauty. Let’s see what makes these parks so special.
Is a National Seashore a National Park?
While a national seashore is part of the National Park System in that it’s a National Park Service unit, it’s not a national park. They’re similar in that they’re protected sites that highlight and help preserve a natural area. But how it was established and how it’s managed is what defines the difference between a national seashore and a national park. As for national seashores and lakeshores, these are federally designated by Congress and managed under the U.S. National Park Service.
How Many National Seashores Are There?
There are 10 national seashores and three national lakeshores. The ten seashores are all along the coastal regions of the U.S., including the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean. The three lakeshores sit along two of the Great Lakes, including Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.
While many national parks serve to conserve and protect land, the national seashores and lakeshores focus more on recreation. Here, you can often drive onto the beach, swim in the water, and even hunt on designated lands.
5 National Seashores That Are Better Than Most National Parks
So how do you know which seashore or lakeshore to choose over another? We’ve got five of the best national seashores for you right here.
1. Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland/Virginia
Address: Assateague Island Visitor Center — Maryland District, 11800 Marsh View Ln, Berlin, MD 21811 or Toms Cove Visitor Center — Virginia District, 8586 Beach Rd, Chincoteague, VA 23336
Assateague Island National Seashore was once connected to Fenwick Island. In 1933, a storm forever changed that connection. There’s now an inlet allowing passage from the ocean to the bay.
From either island, while spending time here, you’ll enjoy sandy beaches and salt marshes, all while experiencing the beach life. There are 37 miles of beach to enjoy here. You can camp, watch the wild horses, drive over sand vehicle zones, crab, fish, and so much more.
Pro Tip: Learn everything you need to know about camping on Assateague Island.
Address: Apollo Visitor Center, 7611 S Atlantic Ave, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169
Canaveral National Seashore lays claim to Florida’s longest stretch of undeveloped Atlantic coastline. This barrier island consists of several maritime habitats, including dunes, lagoons, and the historic Timucua Native American mounds.
Island camping is a must here as you canoe or kayak your way through the Intracoastal Waterway and Mosquito Lagoon. You can also hike Castle Windy Trail. Time your trip wisely, and you can view rockets launching nearby while enjoying your time on Playalinda Beach.
3. Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Address: Malaquite Visitor Center, 20420 Park Road 22, Corpus Christi, TX 78418
Padre Island lays claim to the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. Not only that, but Padre Island National Seashore is also home to the Laguna Madre. The Laguna Madre is a hypersaline lagoon, meaning it’s saltier than the ocean and a rare occurrence in the world.
Created to protect its 66 miles of coastline, along with the nearby dunes and tidal pools, you’ll find this place full of life. Time your visit correctly, and you may even catch a sea turtle hatchlings release.
Try your skills at windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, boating, and more while visiting here. And when the day ends, you can spend your evening at one of five campgrounds, with three of those being primitive sites right on the beach.
4. Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Address: 1 Bear Valley Rd, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956 (30 miles north of San Francisco off of Highway 1)
Point Reyes National Seashore in California is full of wonders to explore. Here, you’ll find forested ridges meeting up with coastal waters and miles of wide-open beaches. It brims with history thanks to the 1870s lighthouse and acres of land previously used for ranching.
Today, you can play while kayaking or biking to backcountry coastal campgrounds. Or hike the day away on 150 miles of trails while you gaze upon majestic cliffs overlooking the mighty Pacific. The rocky shelf here is home to many sea invertebrates in the intertidal zone between the land and the ocean, providing hours of viewing opportunities into a world we rarely see.
5. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Address: Visitor Center, 9922 Front St, Empire, MI 49630
Named after a dune that used to look like a sleeping bear, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located along Lake Michigan. Even though this isn’t a seashore, there are still miles of sandy beaches to explore and miles of trails for hiking and biking.
Hiking here offers spectacular views, with 100 miles of trails and bluffs and high dunes overlooking Lake Michigan. And if you’re up for a challenge, take on the 3.5-mile round trip hike from the Dunes Trail to Lake Michigan. It’s all on sand. Or choose the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail for an easier journey. When done for the day, you’ll have your choice of several campgrounds accommodating tents, smaller RVs with electric hookups, and primitive backcountry island camping.
Pro Tip: Explore more of the Lake Michigan area by camping in one of these 12 Beautiful Spots For Camping on Lake Michigan.
What About the Other National Seashores and Lakeshores?
While the five listed above are truly spectacular places to visit, all 13 national seashores and lakeshores are awesome! Each place has its own characteristics, offering up many reasons to experience the sights and sounds that are unique to each seashore.
Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts has 40 miles of beaches, lighthouses, and wild cranberry bogs that make this spot a must-visit. In North Carolina, Cape Hatteras National Seashore invites visitors to climb three historic lighthouses, visit salt marshes, and enjoy beach fun.
Remote Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina is accessible by ferry. It’s a great place to explore the barrier islands while shelling, fishing, and touring historic villages. Cumberland Island National Seashore is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. It’s full of undeveloped beaches and home to more than 9,800 acres of wilderness.
Fire Island National Seashore (New York) – Get away from the city and back into nature at Fire Island National Seashore in New York. Or enjoy the white sand beaches and crystal clear waters of Gulf Islands National Seashore. It spans Florida and Mississippi, reaching 160 miles from east to west.
On the Upper Peninsula along Lake Superior, you won’t want to miss Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. It has sandstone cliffs, beaches, dunes, and waterfalls. And finally, Lake Superior is home to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, which has a rocky shoreline and winter ice caves.
Are National Seashores on Your Radar?
If you’ve ever wondered if you should pay a visit to a national seashore, wonder no more. With the alluring traits that these scenic locations have to offer, they should all be on your travel plans. They are, after all, part of the National Park Service, and they deserve just as much love as the national parks. Have you visited any of the national seashores yet?
Fort Pickens at the Gulf National Seashore near Pensacola is awesome. Camping in December the beach was quiet and rarely saw people except at sunset. Miles of beautiful beach and no buildings around.