When the mountains meet the sea, it's the best of both worlds.
If you’ve ever found yourself staring out the window singing “America the Beautiful” while on a cross-country road trip, I can relate. As an adventure travel coach and outdoor enthusiast, I love helping others explore nature, including all of the stunning destinations found within the United States. Believe me when I say this country is chock full of stunning vistas, some of which offer two wildly contrasting views—the mountains and the ocean.
Picking between the hilly bluffs and briny deep is a great icebreaker question. But what happens if you love both? Simple, you visit both! Listed in no particular order are some of the most beautiful state parks with access to the mountains and the sea. Now, if you ever find yourself in another icebreaker pickle, feel free to thank (or blame) us for these new spots to add to your bucket list.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
WHERE: Big Sur, California
If you’re taking a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway in California, no journey is complete without making a pitstop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Named after pioneer woman Julia Pfeiffer Burns, this state park spans over 3,762 acres teetering between the rugged coastline and its dramatic cliffs in Big Sur county. Here you’ll find wooded hills lined with 300 feet of redwoods soaring high in the sky and grassy bluffs meant to be explored. But undoubtedly, the biggest attraction is McWay Falls, a breathtaking 80-foot waterfall cascading off granite cliffs into the sea. While hiking down to the falls is forbidden, the Overlook Trail to McWay Falls offers a jaw-dropping view for a ½-mile out and back hike (aka the most rewarding leg stretch). For a longer trek, I recommend Tan Bark Trail with its hairpin twists as you mount the coastal ridge.
Westmoreland State Park
WHERE: Montross, Virginia
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Westmoreland State Park in Virginia is a beachgoer’s and history buff’s dream. This state park was created in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Historically speaking, it’s one of the six original parks protected by the state, and it’s named after the county it resides in, Westmoreland County. Covering 1,299 acres, the park offers sweeping vistas of the coastal plain and the Potomac River. Hike, boat, swim, camp, or fish as you take in the majestic wilderness. But if you’re looking for a whimsical yet dreamy view of the area, then the natural attraction Horsehead Cliffs, which rests high above the water, is calling your name. Imagine panoramic views from your cabin porch as the rosy sun crests over the river.
Herring Cove Beach
WHERE: Provincetown, Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, Herring Cove Beach is unofficially known as “the nude beach” (but don’t quote us here, it’s illegal to unrobe). This national seashore is located in Cape Cop, and it’s recognized as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. It’s an extremely popular spot among Provincetown locals (and nudists) with warm, calm waters flowing from the Atlantic Ocean. Take a dip in the water, walk along the coastal sand dunes, or explore the 1-mile loop Beech Forest Trail via bike or foot to get your mountain fix.
Fort Wetherill State Park
WHERE: Jamestown, Rhode Island
Let’s face it; when history and nature collide, they can make the most fascinating havens. If you’re curious how, meet Fort Wetherhill State Park. Found in Rhode Island, this state park is known for its historical significance in controlling the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. During the colonial era, a strategic battery was created to control this passage. But as the years progressed and the fort expanded, it eventually became known as Fort Wetherhill, named after infantryman Captain Alexander Wetherhill. Because of its coastal location, it was even used during World War II. Nowadays, visitors come to explore this 61.5-acre park and coastal fort that perches high atop granite cliffs (100 feet to be exact). Imagine stunning vistas of Newport Harbor, prime spots to view tall boat events, an abundance of hiking trails, and an excellent scuba diving scene for spotting flounders, squid, and tiny seahorses.
Chimney Bluffs State Park
WHERE: Huron, New York
Chimney Bluffs State Park is the crash site of water and land. Think: unusual colossal rocky spires meeting calm, collected waters (a.k.a., it’s both melodramatic yet alluring at the same time). This 597-acre park in New York sits along Lake Ontario on the south shore. To get close-up views of the chimney peaks and formations, consider hiking Chimney Bluffs Trail. It’s 2.9 miles round trip with gratifying views of the bluffs once you emerge from the evergreen forested line. Fun fact: furry friends are welcomed on this hike! Feel free to leisurely stroll along the lakeshore, too, if that’s your vibe.
Calvert Cliffs State Park
WHERE: Lubsy, Maryland
Calvert Cliffs State Park is one of the most unique state parks with both the mountains and the ocean is Calvert Cliffs State Park. Why, you ask? Because this state park displays a prized stockpile of 600 prehistoric fossil species. Over 10 to 20 million years ago, the ginormous cliffs found at the park were once submerged undersea. But as the water abated, erosion and exposure of the cliffs occurred, unveiling fossils the size of a giant school bus (or possibly bigger!). Now you can walk, lounge at the soft sandy beach, investigate these fascinating fossils, trek near forested treelines with 13 miles of pathways, or admire these unusual cliffs that extend along the Calvert Peninsula for about 24 miles.
Polihale State Park
WHERE: Kauai, Hawaii
For those hunting for monstrous lush green mountains that reside seaside, Polihale State Park wins this round. This historical state park is located in Hawaii on the westernmost shores of Kauai. It’s a scenic combination of towering green cliffs known as the Napali Cliffs and tranquil roaring waves at Polihale Beach. The beach itself is massive, extending nearly 17 miles along the vast shoreline. Because of this and its remote destination, you’ll likely have no company. So, cozy up on the soft sand or take a leisurely stroll beneath the clear blue skies, as the undertow is strong here and swimming isn’t advised.
Echo Lake State Park
WHERE: Conway, New Hampshire
Echo Lake State Park features two stunning ledges – White Horse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge – and an emerald greenish lake called Echo Lake. Each of these natural gems spotlights scenic views of the area and top-notch sites for a family picnic. Take an afternoon swim in the 15.7-acre lake or leisurely journey by foot around its premises. But if you’re craving a heart-pounding trek, consider hiking White Horse Ledge Loop Trail, a challenging 3.1-mile loop. Scramble up the rocks as you listen to tiny frogs “ribbit” and witness the abundance of gypsy moth caterpillars. Insider tip: for a more mellow hike, go counterclockwise. Your knees will thank us later. This state park is located in New Hampshire in the city of North Conway.
Acadia National Park
While Acadia National Park is technically not a state park, this national park is the golden standard when it comes to mountainy seaside ambiance. According to the National Parks Service, Acadia National Park boasts of being among the top ten most visited national parks across the U.S. Residing along the Atlantic coastline in Maine, it’s no wonder this impressive scenery attracts visitors for every type of recreational experience, especially during the fall (did someone say leaf peeping and fall foliage). There are rocky beaches, towering granite peaks such as the famous Cadillac Mountain, and miles and miles of natural treasure troves perfect for hikers. Think coastal hiking, summit hiking, camping, cross-country skiing when the park is buried in snow, and so much more. The Acadia magic is real here, with spectacular views and salty fresh air to be enjoyed from every corner.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
WHERE: Brooking, Oregon
Are you looking for secluded beaches with rugged terrain? Then you’ll want to experience the wonders of Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor, located in the southwest parts of Oregon. Honoring the first superintendent of the Oregon Parks, Samuel H. Boardman, it boasts jaw-dropping landscapes complete with unique rock formations, as the vast Pacific Ocean is the backdrop to this park. This fascinating corridor stretches 12 miles with hidden gems tucked around every edge. Some of these remarkable vistas include mammoth rocks that are almost the size of a private island, Natural Bridges, Arch Rock, and Cape Ferrelo. Geographically speaking, this forested park runs linearly, often interrupted by seaside prairies, remote coves, tiny beaches, and 300-year-old Sitka Spruce trees. Talk about the best-kept secret!
Um, are lakes oceans? and please tone down the color enhancement.