The majesty of the national park system is as diverse as it is breathtaking. Practically all types of climates and natural features are covered, from the geysers and waterfalls of Yellowstone, to the granite cliffs and old-growth forests of Yosemite, to the barren deserts of Death Valley, to even the stark polar wilderness of the Gates of the Arctic. But, of course, this is also true of sandy shorelines, with several federally protected sites hosting some of the most pristine waterfronts you can find anywhere. Read on to see which seven beaches also happen to be some of the most beloved national parks in the U.S.
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1. National Park of American Samoa (American Samoa)
Even though it’s one of the most remotely located and the second-least visited park in the entire system, it should come as no surprise that the National Park of American Samoa is home to spectacular stretches of coral sand beaches. Besides the stunning waterfronts spread across three islands, the park offers plenty of hiking that can provide even better views, as well as opportunities to learn about local Samoan culture.
But if you’re planning on getting wet, you might want to pack some extra snorkel gear. According to the National Park Service (NPS), roughly 4,000 acres of the park are located underwater, where coral reefs are home to more than 900 species of fish.
2. Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)
Florida is known worldwide for its warm climate and famous beaches. Not surprisingly, one of the state’s three national parks offers pristine patches of sand just a short ferry or plane ride away.
“Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven islands sitting in the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, 70 miles off the coast of Key West,” Erin Moreland, travel blogger at Super Simple Salty Life, tells Best Life. “With powder white sand, shady palm trees, and miles of ocean as far as you can see, the Dry Tortugas offers some of the most beautiful unspoiled beaches in the U.S. Whether you prefer snorkeling through the coral reefs, sunbathing on the soft sand, or swimming in the warm crystal clear waters, this national park should be on your beach travel list!”
3. Indiana Dunes National Park (Indiana)
Not all famous beaches in the national parks system are in tropical or subtropical climates. In fact, even the Midwest can lay claim to some of the most coveted coastline anywhere in the U.S.
“Whether you’re going to hike the picturesque sand dunes, bird watch, or simply enjoy a relaxing day on the beaches of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park is the perfect park for a quick getaway,” Brooke Bergen, a travel blogger and founder of Brooke in Boots, previously told Best Life. “It’s also located between Michigan City and Gary, Indiana, making it less than an hour’s drive from Chicago.”
4. Haleakalā National Park (Hawai’i)
No visit to Maui would be complete without taking in the island’s stunning natural beauty, and many outdoor enthusiasts head to Haleakalā National Park to do just that. Even though the park is known for its stunning volcanic craters and challenging hikes, many of its trails can also lead past the craggy coast and some of the site’s hidden beaches.
But while the stunning black sand is truly a sight to behold and good for strolling, you may want to hold off on diving into the waves: The NPS warns that “swimming is not recommended … due to a number of safety concerns.”
5. U.S. Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)
When it comes to white sandy beaches, few people need to be reminded the U.S. Virgin Islands are home to some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful coastlines in the world. However, many may not realize that two-thirds of the island of St. John is designated as a national park, making its white sand locales feel worlds away from the overdeveloped and heavily touristed beaches found elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Whether you’re spotting sea turtles in Maho Bay, snorkeling among the reefs in Trunk Bay, or relaxing in the sand on Cinnamon Bay, the park provides a unique experience for visitors looking to learn more about the tropical and maritime ecosystem—or simply to kick back.
6. Olympic National Park (Washington)
Head to Washington state and you’ll find Olympic National Park, which, of course, has a beach—but also so much more.
“Several sandy beaches fall within Olympic National Park, all of which are popular destinations for camping and stargazing, as well as just a day at the coast,” Adam Marland, travel photographer and blogger for We Dream of Travel, says. “Among them, Second Beach has earned the most acclaim as a particularly dramatic seascape made popular by landscape photographers.”
Beyond that though, Marland notes that Olympic has “one of the most diverse ecosystems” of any U.S. national park, including coastal forests, lowland forests, temperate rainforest, montane forests, subalpine, and alpine, per the U.S. Geological Survey.
“The park protects almost 1,500 square feet of land in the Pacific Northwest that ranges from the towering peaks of the Olympic Mountains at 7,980 miles up to the stunning Pacific coastline at sea level,” Marland says.
As a bonus, you might recognize the beaches at this park if you were into a very popular book-turned-film series.
“Also of note, much of Olympic National Park including the towns of La Push and Forks were brought a new level of fame as the filming location of the popular Twilight film series,” Marland shares.
7. Biscayne National Park (Florida)
Another Florida destination to make the list is Biscayne Natural Park in the northern Florida Keys.
“While most of Biscayne National Park was established to protect the important coral reef and mangroves that fortify Florida’s coastline, it is also home to an idyllic tropical beach at Homestead Bayfront Park,” Sophie Clapton, travel blogger for We Dream of Travel, says. “This is one of the few land-accessible sections of Biscayne, but is a popular detour for park-chasers making the drive from Miami to the Florida Keys.”
Clapton notes that the beach at Homestead Bayfront Park is family-friendly, making this a great place to visit with the kids in tow.
“The beach at Homestead Bayfront Park provides a small, child-friendly atoll pool that is perfect for swimming and snorkeling regardless of age,” she says. “All required amenities are provided for the perfect day in the sun, including restaurants, restrooms, lifeguards, picnic shelter/pavilion, and boat ramps.”
Worth mentioning, however, is that you won’t see too much of this national park on foot.
“Understand that 90 percent of Biscayne National Park is covered in water,” Clapton points out. “Accordingly, the only way to visit the majority of the park is by boat.”