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Vanlife has taken off in recent years. It makes a lot of sense when you consider that the US is the fourth largest country in the world by area; there’s a lot to see around here!
The Northeast by itself is not the largest part of the country but is absolutely one of the most diverse. Between rugged mountains, mighty rivers, dense forests, sandy coastlines, and large lakes, you can find a lifetime of adventure here. When you fold in the deep well of history, you’re bound to find enough reasons to craft an exceptional road trip.
Below, we’ve organized some of the best destinations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to get to via adventure van. Each of these destinations is within a day’s drive of Philadelphia and can be combined with numerous other options to create the perfect road trip. We’ll list them out; how you connect them is up to you!
Table of Contents:
Article Navigation: Click on any of the listed items in the table of contents below to jump to that section of the article. Similarly, clicking on any large, white section header will jump you back to the Table of Contents.
- Things to Note
- Lihigh Gorge State Park, PA
- Gettysburg National Military Park, PA
- Falling Water, PA
- Ski Resorts, PA
- Skyline Drive: Shenandoah National Park, VA
- Seneca Rocks, WV
- Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV
- Snowshoe Basin, WV
- New River Gorge National Park, WV
- Avalon and Wildwood, NJ
- Assateague Island
- New York
- Catskill Park, NY
- Watkins Glen State Park, NY
- Thousand Islands Region, NY
- Adirondack State Park, NY
- New England
- Sky Country New England
- Burlington, Lake Champlain (NY/VT)
- Mt. Washington, NH
- Acadia National Park, ME
- Baxter State Park, ME
Things to Note
Many natural areas, including National Parks, employ fees. Make sure you visit the official websites to gather all the information you need before arriving at the parks. State Parks like the Catskills and Adirondacks don’t charge an entrance fee, but certain areas within them have parking fees.
Let’s start locally. The state of Pennsylvania is honeycombed with mountains, valleys, and rivers. It also has a ton of important American history that should never be forgotten.
- Size: 4,548 acres (20,538 acres when combined with Hickory Run State Park)
- Features: Lehigh River, Gorge scenery, Wildlife, Forests
- Distance from Philly: ~2 hours without traffic
One of the crown jewels of the PA state park system, Lehigh Gorge is located in the beautiful Poconos of northeastern Pennsylvania, about 2 hours outside of Philly. The state park looks a bit funny on a map, sometimes so thin it barely covers both banks of the river and sometimes bows out to cover entire mountainsides. Because the river is the central part, there are three separate areas that are best for put-ins and trail access: White Haven, Rockport, and Glen Onoko. The park also runs adjacent to other recreation areas like Hickory Run State Park. The best way to experience the area is to raft, but hiking, trail running, biking, and wildlife viewing are all popular activities.
Gettysburg National Military Park
- Size: 6,032 acres
- Features: Military/Political/Cultural History, Famous Speeches, Education, Preservation, Historical artifacts, Freedom
- Distance from Philly: ~2 hrs. 30 min.
The battle of Gettysburg was the battle that broke the confederacy. This was the decisive engagement that ended General Lee’s brief invasion of the north during the Civil War. After Gettysburg, the Confederacy never mounted another serious challenge to the legitimacy of the US government. The three days of battle here marked one of the largest, deadliest, and most pivotal moments in American History. It was also the location of one of the greatest speeches of all time when Abe Lincoln delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address. Visit the ghosts of a nation divided and broaden your understanding of what people gave to preserve the freedom we enjoy today.
- Size: 9,300 square feet (main house, guest house, and terraces), 1,500 surrounding acres are preserved as the Bear Run Nature Reserve.
- Features: History, World Heritage Site, Organic architecture, Waterfalls, Forests
- Distance from Philly: ~4 hrs. 30 min.
Considered one of the greatest and certainly one of the most well-known architects of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright created Falling Water in 1935. It was designed as a residential building in the Laurel Highlands of SW Pennsylvania and built partially over a waterfall on Bear Run. The house was constructed in an organic architectural style, mirroring the beautiful scenery along the Bear Run. It’s long been considered one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s best works. In the 1970s, the property was given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy along with 1,500 acres. It is now a stunning combination of architectural prowess and natural scenery, open to the public for viewing (fees required) and visitation. In 2019, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Number: 22 throughout the state
- Largest: Seven Springs Mountain Resort (33 runs), Camelback Resort (35 runs)
- Longest vertical: Blue Mountain Resort (1,082 ft.)
Pennsylvania has ski resorts! While the Appalachians that run through the state are vast, they aren’t very tall, and between higher destinations in West Virginia and New York, one would be forgiven for assuming there isn’t much to ski here. Wrong! An adventure van is the perfect way to bite off a chunk of Pennsylvania ski culture and visit one of the 22 diverse and largely inexpensive places to get some turns.
To Pennsylvania’s south lie both West Virginia and Virginia. The states have a plethora of outdoor locations that can be roped into a fantastic adventure van expedition. Take a look at some memorable options below.
Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, VA
- Size: 105.5 miles long (Shenandoah National Park is 197,411 acres large)
- Features: Stupendous mountain views, Trails, Pullouts, Wildlife viewing, Ridges, Forests, and meadows
- Distance from Philly: 4 hrs. 30 min. to the north entrance of Skyline Drive
The Shenandoah National Park, south of Washington D.C., is a high, thin spine of protected mountains that features stunning areas like Old Rag, Blackrock, and Stony Man. The paved Skyline Drive threads the spine of the park, offering numerous pullouts, hikes, and stupendous views. The legendary long-distance Appalachian Trail also runs through the park. To the south of Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway takes over, traveling through southern Virginia and most of Western North Carolina before ending on the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A cruise along Skyline Drive is a must-do if you‘re looking for beautiful road trip destinations. Be patient, as the road is popular and the speed limit is low because of the rugged mountain terrain.
- Size: 900 feet tall. There is a 1.3-mile trail that avoids the rock-climbing pitches but gains 700 ft. quickly.
- Features: Craggy rock formations, Steep hillsides, Dense forests, Rivers, and Wildlife
- Distance from Philly: 5 hrs. 30 min.
Rising nearly 900 feet above the North Fork River, these stunning rock formations have been a hit with rock climbers for decades. There are a ton of established routes and trails in the vicinity to really take in their beauty. In a part of the mountains defined by large plateaus, the quick vertical relief and rugged beauty make the rocks stand out even more.
- Size: 17,776 acres
- Features: High-elevation meadows, Unique rock formations, Long range views, Wildlife, Mountain bogs, Meadows, and forests
- Distance from Philly: 5 hours and 10 minutes
Dolly Sods is a unique high-elevation plateau in West Virginia that reaches heights of 4,700 feet, only a hundred or so less than the highest peak in the state. The vast nature of the Sods is part of its uniqueness, and once you are in the center of the plateau, it’s hard to visualize how high up you really are. It’s a very interesting area with a honeycomb of beautiful trails. For the best perspectives, visit Bear Rocks, which is on the edge of the plateau and towers over the adjacent valleys. If you’re hungry for more, you can take an adventure van up Spruce Knob, the highest mountain in the state at 4,863 ft. and only an hour and fifteen minutes south of the Sods. There is a paved road to the summit plateau.
- Size: 3 areas (Snowshoe Basin, Silver Creek, Western Territories), a total of 244 acres of skiable terrain, 56 trails
- Longest vertical: ~1,500 feet.
- Top elevation: 4,848 ft.
- Distance from Philly: ~6 hrs. 30 min.
While Pennsylvania certainly has ski resorts, if you’re already heading to West Virginia, you might as well get to Snowshoe. This upside-down ski resort is by far the largest in the mid-Atlantic and rivals the size and popularity of many resorts in the northeast. The high base elevation and mountainous terrain mean the resort pulls in around 150 inches of snow a year. Snowshoe powder, when it falls, is also known as drier and fluffier than the heavy, wet snow found in most places on the east coast. All of this translates to a surprisingly complete winter experience.
New River Gorge National Park, WV
- Size: 70,000 acres
- Features: Gorge, Steep hillsides, Fast flowing river, Mountain scenery, Wildlife, Forests, Great views
- Distance from Philly: 7 hrs. 30 min.
Established as a National Park in 2020 but preserved since 1978, the New River Gorge is a fantastic area of supreme outdoor recreation. Some of the best whitewater rafting and rock climbing in the US take place on the New and along the cliffs that line the surrounding mountains. It is an area of stunning natural beauty and worth a detailed visit. In addition to the New, Bluestone National Scenic River and Gauley River National Recreation Area are nearby, constituting a trifecta of brilliantly preserved and accessible mountain playgrounds. Keep in mind that because of the serpentine nature of the river and lack of river crossings, it will take more time than listed to get to some of the farther reaches of the park.
While not right on the coast, Philadelphia is close to the Atlantic Ocean, and the seashore provides a nice variety of outings reachable by van.
Avalon, NJ, and Wildwood
- Size: 7 miles of beaches (Avalon), 5 miles of beaches (Wildwood)
- Features: White sand, Lodging, Food & drink, Charming atmosphere, Water sports
- Distance from Philly: 1 hr. 30 min.
The beaches of Cape May, New Jersey, are some of the closest to Philadelphia. This quaint area has white sandy beaches, a fun atmosphere, and offers a nice relaxing spot to unwind. You can also engage in some of your favorite water sports here, including boating, jet skiing, fishing, swimming, surfing, and more.
- Size: Assateague (37 miles long, 24.4 sq. miles)
- Features: Seashore, protected wetlands, coastline, beaches, wild horses, camping
- Distance from Philly: ~3 hours
Have you ever wanted to see wild horses? Well, you’re in luck! Located on the Delmarva Peninsula and facing the Atlantic Ocean, Assateague Island is a gorgeous seaside destination. The wild horses that live on Assateague were once domesticated but have turned feral and now call this protected seashore home. Assateague Island is completely protected with no permanent human residents and is a very long island (37 miles). It occupies terrain in both Virginia and Maryland. The National Park Service manages Assateague Island. If you’re looking to stay nearby, Ocean City in Maryland or Chincoteague island off the coast of Virginia are good bets.
FYI: The wild horses live on Assateague Island but are called Chincoteague ponies, which has caused some confusion over the years. No wild horses live on Chincoteague island.
Spinning back around the compass, we arrive at New York, the state just to the north of Pennsylvania. Far more than the big apple, New York is blessed with some of the greatest outdoor adventure locations in the Northeast.
- Size: nearly 300,000 acres
- Features: Mountains, valleys, Ashokan Reservoir, Ski resort, Rugged trails, Forests, Wildlife, Views
- Distance from Philly: ~4 hours
While not as expansive or tall as other mountainous regions in New York, the Catskills are much closer to major population centers. Two peaks breach 4,000 feet, and the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort draws thousands of visitors every winter. Ashokan Reservoir is the largest regional body of water, and the range features one of the toughest lung-busting hiking challenges in the state: The Devil’s Path. Easily accessible from numerous directions and towering over the regional lowlands, the Catskills make for a unique and enjoyable mountain destination. The famous Woodstock festival originated in the Catskills.
- Size: 778 acres
- Features: Forests, Rivers, Waterfalls, Rocks, Hiking, Natural beauty, Wildlife
- Distance from Philly: 4 hrs. 10 min.
Watkins Glen State Park and the associated town are perfect gateways to the Finger Lakes Region. In this part of upstate New York, 11 narrow lakes that look like fingers from above dominate the landscape. Watkins Glen State Park sits just south of Seneca Lake and features a beautiful, steep gorge and lush forests. The town is also quite quaint with an interesting motor racing history that’s worth a visit as well.
- Size: ~20,000 acres
- Features: St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Ontario, 1,864 islands, Castles, Towns, Fishing, Boating, Hiking, Camping, Ice fishing, Cross-country skiing, Canada, Winter sports, Summer sports
- Distance from Philly: 5 hr. 30 min.
Consisting of an archipelago between the end of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, the region is made up of more than 1,800 islands. The area is known for some of the best boating and fishing in the world and has plenty of outdoor adventures to sink your teeth into. Access is straightforward from major cities and can act as a jumping-off point for Canadian exploration as well, with Montreal and Toronto only a few hours away. Between the stunning islands, quaint towns, connection to Canada, castles, and outdoor recreation, the whole region deserves a closer look. What better way to do that than by van?
- Size: 6 million acres (~ 1/3 of the state of NY)
- Features: Large peaks, Ski resorts, Hundreds of lakes, Lush forests, Bike paths, Cross-country skiing, Hiking, Wildlife, Camping, Quaint villages, Winter Olympic history, Scenic drives
- Distance from Philly: 6 hours to Lake Placid
Larger than many national parks, the Adirondacks are exceptional. Within these vast lands lie hundreds of lakes, including famous ones like Lake Placid and Lake George. The park also features multiple ski resorts, including Whiteface, which has the largest vertical drop of any east coast ski area (3,430 ft.). If it’s your first time in the area, the high peaks region draws the most crowds. Setting up shop near the town of Lake Placid (a two-time winter Olympic host city) is a good move because you can drive to the top of Whiteface Mountain in the summer, or climb Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in the state. Due to the harsh winters, a handful of the highest peaks feature an alpine ecosystem. For less driven hikers, Mt. Jo has probably the most famous autumn view in the park. You could spend years conquering all the peaks or visiting all the lakes in the area. It’s a massive, massive park.
Composed of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine, New England has a ton of outdoor adventures slammed into a pretty concise area.
- Largest: Killington + Pico Mountain (1,977 skiable acres, 213 runs), Sugarloaf (1,240 acres, 162 trails), Smugglers Notch (1,000 skiable acres)
- Most vertical: Killington, VT (3,050 ft.), Sugarloaf, ME (2,820 ft.), Smugglers Notch, VT (2,610 ft.)
- Snowiest on average: Jay Peak, VT (349”), Stowe, VT (314”), Bolton Valley, VT (312”)
- Distance from Philly: 5-9 hours
The Northeast has one of the oldest ski scenes in North America and sports the most varied terrain on the East Coast. Vermont has the most options, with Killington, Stowe, Smugglers Notch, Sugarbush, Okemo, and Mad River Glen routinely popping up on best-of lists. Maine has the massive Sugarloaf Mountain (second only to Killington in vertical drop and acreage), while New Hampshire has Bretton Woods in the shadow of Mt. Washington and the challenging Cannon Mountain. All said and done, New England has nearly 70 ski resorts to choose from. The best way to experience all this goodness is with an adventure van.
Burlington, Lake Champlain (NY/VT)
- Size: Burlington (44,781 residents), Lake Champlain Size: (514 sq. miles)
- Features: Massive lake, Boating, Fishing, Swimming, Ice fishing, Cross-country skiing, Snowmobiling, Wildlife viewing, Islands
- Distance from Philly: 6 hrs. 30 min.
Sometimes referred to as the Sixth Great Lake, Lake Champlain lies on the border between New York and Vermont. The largest city in Vermont, Burlington, lies on its eastern shore and is a fantastic place to spend a few days with great food, beer and lots of water activities. Burlington is also a fantastic launch pad for famous ski areas like Stowe and Smugglers Notch. On the New York Side, the lake drains a large part of the Eastern Adirondack Mountains before flowing northward into Canada. The area is known for its scenic beauty, relaxed ambiance, mountain culture, and sustainability. Between the nearly 600 miles of shoreline and the adjacent regions, you could spend weeks here and never be bored.
- Size: 6,288 ft. tall
- Features: Alpine summit, Cog railway, Road to the summit, Hiking, Long-range views, High-point, Backcountry skiing (Tuckerman’s Ravine), Intense weather, Wildlife, Tourism
- Distance from Philly: 8 hrs. 30 min.
Mt. Washington is, by hundreds of feet, the highest point in all of the Northeastern US. Only the Blue Ridge and Great Smokies of TN/NC have higher peaks east of the Mississippi. Unlike those, Washington has a true alpine summit above treeline, a roadway to near the top, and looms dramatically over everything around. The mountain is famous for stellar views, ease of access, superb backcountry skiing, wild weather, and being part of the Presidential Traverse. With paved access in the summer, it’s fairly simple to rope it into a road trip.
- Size: 47,000 acres
- Features: Rocky seashore, Mountains, Forests, Wildlife, Camping, Kayaking, Hiking, Bar Harbor
- Distance from Philly: 9hrs. 15 min.
One of the smallest national park units, Acadia nevertheless captures the rocky beauty of the New England coast. Drive up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, enjoy the gateway town of Bar Harbor (locally pronounced Baahr-haarbahr) and breathe in the serenity of the gorgeous coastline. Due to its elevation and eastern position, Cadillac Mountain is the first place to greet the sunrise from October 7 to March 6 in the US (the first in North America is farther north in the Maritimes of Canada). It’s a beautiful slice of protected land that encapsulates the regional beauty of Maine.
- Size: 209,644 acres
- Features: Mt. Katahdin (highest pk. in Maine), The Knife Edge Traverse, Wildlife, Camping, Hiking, Boating, Fishing, Mountain scenery, Hunting
- Distance from Philly: 9 hrs. 30 min. (add another 1-3 hours depending on your destination within the park)
Maine is an interesting state; most cities and towns cover the coastal area and a bit inland, but once you get into the geographic middle of the state, it’s a whole lot of wilderness. Mt. Katahdin is one of the prettiest mountains in the U.S. because of its enormous prominence in an otherwise lower landscape. Like Mt. Washington, it also has a true alpine environment at the top and acts as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Baxter State Park is a moose haven with tons of camping, 220+ miles of trails, and the massive Matagamon Lakes at its northern end. You’ll find a ton of activities to do here, and large swaths of the park are remote and blessedly quiet.
As you can see, there’s lots to do in this part of the states! Armed with an adventure van and a bit of time, you can cobble together a wonderful northeast road trip. If you enjoyed these recommendations, set your sights further, and you can incorporate Canada, the Rockies, Southeastern US, Midwest, and the West Coast for even more adventure.
All the destinations in this article can be accessed by Longs Peak, our Philadelphia based adventure van. Book your next adventure at outdoorsy.com!
This is not a complete list, and the Northeast is loaded with additional destinations. It’s best to consider this list as a primer for vanlife adventures that take advantage of the best natural features in the region. If you don’t see a favorite destination listed, that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful or worth visiting. The main purpose of this article is just to get your road trip brain pumping so you can make the most of your vanlife aspirations!
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