By Sarah Knapp
Here at offMetro, we are always looking for car-free ways to explore beautiful and interesting destinations. Some of our favorite places to visit are National Parks, from Acadia to Yosemite and beyond.
Interestingly, the majority of people traveling to National Parks do so by personal vehicle. While increased interest in National Parks has led to more people exploring the outdoors, the beauty and safety of the parks are challenged by the added vehicles. Idling cars from traffic congestion decrease air quality and causes needless carbon dioxide emissions. At Arches National Park in May 2015, state troopers were forced to intermittently close a section of roadway leading to the park’s entrance when vehicle capacity was reached within the park and traffic began to back up on the highway. Parking is an additional problem. The Grand Canyon has over 6,000 vehicles competing for 2,400 spots daily during the high season. With parking so limited, illegal parking along the shoulder has led to resource damage.
Currently, the National Park Service often does a good job showing visitors how to travel within the parks without a car. What’s missing is advice on getting to the parks by alternative modes of transportation—be it a $2.75 subway ride or a boat trip to a park accessible only by water. offMetro has created the first guide to National Park lands that you can reach without the use of a personal vehicle. This list of our favorite places in the Northeast you can get to without a car will inspire you to reconnect with the great outdoors and discover how feasible it is to travel from urban centers to some of our nation’s most rugged and remote places—no car required.
Take note that many of the National Park Service shuttles have limited seasonal schedules and the costs only cover transportation.
Acadia National Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Travelers flock here for its dramatic landscapes, diverse flora and fauna and miles of carriage roads that are catnip for hikers and bikers. Car-free proponents will appreciate the Island Explorer shuttles that whisk you to the parks remote nooks and crannies.
Cost: $106 round trip includes bus & commuter shuttle.
Adventure: Climbing, hiking, stargazing, swimming.
Tip: The Downeast Trans doesn’t run daily so if your plans require it you can book the Bar Harbor Shuttle to connect you from Bangor.
Assateague National Seashore
Assateague is famous for its wild horses, which freely roam the area’s beaches. Visitors can enjoy horseback rides, hunting trips, bike excursions and boat tours. Camping is permitted on the island’s impressive 37 miles of beach.
Cost: $44 round trip by bus, bike rentals vary.
Adventure: Biking, camping, horseback riding, canoeing/kayaking, fishing, swimming.
Check out this video to get a glimpse into this wonderful park:
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Explore both history and nature as they merge to create The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, most notable for its contiguous, car-free, 184-mile trail. Meander through the trail along the southern edge of Maryland to reach Cumberland Virginia or continue for another 150 miles along the The Great Allegheny Passage all the way to Pittsburgh.
How to get there: Starting in Washington D.C., you can hike & bike along the canal’s towpath (where mules used to walk, pulling the boats) all the way to Cumberland Maryland. Alternatively, take the Amtrak Capitol Train to the Cumberland or Harpers Ferry trailheads.
Cost: Free (human-powered transportation), $56 round trip to Cumberland by train.
Adventure: Hiking, biking, camping, history, horseback riding.
Tip: The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park has a mobile app that uses geolocation to connect visitors with nearby points of interest.
Cape Cod National Seashore
Cape Cod National Seashore is known for its picturesque colonial homes and Old-World American charm. Take a long walk on the beach and admire the views, or participate in water sports, including surfing, kayaking, and fishing. There are bike trails accessible for beginner riders.
Cost: $51 round trip.
Gateway National Recreation Area
The only park on this list accessible by NYC Subway, the Gateway National Recreation Area’s outposts comprise 27,000 acres and can be found in four out of the five boroughs, including Fort Tilden and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and Staten Island’s Great Kills Park. Encompassing naval history, a wildlife refuge with over 300 bird species, and the only public campsites in NYC, this is one of the most unique urban parks in the country.
Cost: $5.50 round trip on the MTA.
Adventure: Camping, surfing, paddling, hiking, biking, birding.
New York Fire Island National Seashore
This 31-mile long barrier island stretching along the southern coast of Long Island doesn’t allow motor vehicle access. From secret surf breaks to hiking among 300-year old American Holly trees at Sunken Forest to paved paths for leisurely biking, it offers a truly car-free respite.
How to get there: From NYC, take the Long Island Railroad to Bay Shore. Walk directly to the Fire Island Ferry that goes to Ocean Beach. Once you arrive on Fire Island you can walk or bike everywhere.
Cost: $45 round trip.
Adventure: Surfing, biking, hiking, paddling, camping There are no walk-up or strictly backcountry campground options at Fire Island so make sure to make a reservation in advance.