Written by Bobbye Miller Kenyon
April 2015

The arrival of spring, with its mild temperatures and nature-scapes dressed in pastel colors, signals the long-awaited start of the boating season. It’s the perfect time to chart a course to one or more of these splendid gems designated a State or National Park, all found along the shorelines of the U.S. and Canada.

New England

Described as a “national treasure,” the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park in Maine extends from Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island to Winter Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula. It draws nearly two million visitors annually and is home to the 1,530-foot pink granite summit, Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast. The stunning park provides a scenic mix of ocean views, island lakes and pine forests for hikers and bicycle riders to enjoy — along with the nearly 40 different species of wildlife that call the park home. Dock at Bar Harbor Regency Hotel & Marina (207-266-5857, barharborregency.com) or at Bar Harbor Municipal Marina (207-288-5571).

Also Worth a Visit:

  • Rocky Neck State Park (Conn.) The gently sloping beach, picnic areas, diverse trails and salt marsh viewing platforms make this 710-acre park ideal for relaxed family outings. Dock at Saybrook Point Marina (800-243-0212, saybrook.com), just a 15-minute drive from the park.
  • Cape Cod National Seashore (Mass.) Picturesque lighthouses, sand dunes, pine barrens and wild cranberry bogs offer a glimpse of Cape Cod’s past and continuing ways of life. Dock at Long Point Marina (508-487-8899, marinaprovincetown.com), located in Provincetown on the northernmost tip of Cape Cod.
  • Rye Harbor State Park (N.H.) Enjoy breathtaking views of Ragged Neck (Rye Harbor), a peninsula of rocky coastline and green grass. Dock at Wentworth by the Sea Marina (603-433-5050, wentworthmarina.com), located five miles north of the park.
  • Beaver Island State Park (N.Y.) On the Niagara River outside Buffalo, the park features a half-mile swimming beach, bike and nature trails, and adjacent marinas with boat launches and fishing access. Dock at Beaver Island Marina (716-773-3271, gichamber.org) or Big 6 Mile Creek Marina (716-773-3271, nysparks.com).

Mid Atlantic

Opposite the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Liberty State Park is an ideal location on Upper New York Bay in Jersey City, New Jersey. It provides visitors easy access to the sights and sounds of New York City and also features the Liberty Science Center, Liberty National Golf Club, picnic areas, a two-mile promenade, fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking and ferry service. The park’s 36-acre designated state nature preserve is home to Communipaw Cove, one of the few tidal salt marshes found along the Hudson River estuary. Dock onsite at Liberty Landing Marina (201-985-8000, libertylandingmarina.com).

Also Worth a Visit:

  • Delaware Seashore State Park (Del.) Swim, fish, boat, surf and sailboard. Burton’s Island has a hiking trail with views of the bay islands, home to gulls and terns for their summer nesting. Dock at Indian River Marina (302-227-3071, destateparks.com/marinas).
  • Assateague State Park (Md. and Va.) The only oceanfront park in Maryland is located on Assateague Island. The bay side invites visitors to explore secluded coves by canoe or kayak. Dock at Snug Harbor Marina. (757-336-6176, snugharborva.com)
  • Kiptopeke State Park (Va.) Capt. John Smith explored this area, which is on the southernmost point of the Chesapeake Bay. There’s a boat launch, fishing pier, hiking, biking, playground, bathhouse and beach. Dock at Cape Charles Yacht Center (757-331-3100, ccyachtcenter.com).

South East

Cayo Costa State Park on Florida’s southwest coast is accessible only by private boat or ferry service. It’s home to nine miles of pristine beach paired with a mix of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks and mangrove swamps. A variety of activities make this an outdoor lover’s ideal locale: swim and snorkel in the clear tropical waters; off-road bike along shoreline nature trails; or canoe, kayak and explore. Other natural treasures you may encounter include manatees, dolphin pods frolicking in the surf and a dazzling array of birds. You can anchor out, or take advantage of bayside park for overnight dockage; reservations are recommended (941-964-0375, floridastateparks.org).

Also Worth a Visit:

  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Fla.) The first undersea park in the country in Key Largo is a must for any diving enthusiast. It boasts coral reefs and countless tropical marine species. Dock at John Pennekamp Park Marina (305-451-6325, floridastateparks.org) or at Ocean Reef Club (800-741-7333, oceanreef.com), just 15 minutes north.
  • The Cumberland Island National Seashore (Ga.) The seashore is composed of over 9,800 acres of congressionally designated Wilderness, a pristine locale with an abundance of amazing wildlife. Shore tying is acceptable (beware of oyster beds and tidal changes), but overnight docking is not allowed (912-882-4336). For an overnight stay, dock at Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island — but call ahead for reservations.
  • Fort Macon State Park (N.C.) The 389-acre park is North Carolina’s second most visited park. It’s home to Fort Macon, a completely restored brick and stone bastion from the Civil War. Dock nearby at Morehead City Yacht Basin (252-726-6862, moreheadcityyachtbasin.com).

South Central

Mustang Island State Park lies just north of Padre Island and south of Port Aransas, Texas, and offers a family-friendly atmosphere in a tranquil setting. It welcomes visitors with some 48 campsites that provide electricity, water hookups, barbecue grills, and bathroom and shower facilities. An on-site store stocks ice, firewood and snacks. The park’s five-mile beach provides the setting for an array of outdoor activities such as birding, fishing, kayaking, sailing and windsurfing. Take time to visit the Texas State Aquarium and USS Lexington in nearby Corpus Christi. Dock at Corpus Christi Municipal Marina (361-826-3980, corpuschristimarina.com).

Also Worth a Visit:

  • St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (Fla.) Western Florida’s St. Joseph Peninsula State Park features cabins, stunning beaches and great biking spots — plus incredible snorkeling and marvelous fishing on its namesake bay. Dock at Eagle Harbor Marina (904-621-8362, eagleharboronline.com) or Port St. Joe Marina (850-227-9393, psjmarina.com).

Great Lakes

Situated on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, Fathom Five Marine Park in Ontario is Canada’s first National Marine Conservation Area. It preserves a rich maritime legacy and features 22 shipwrecks as well as several historic light stations. The deep, yet crystal clear water affords some of the best diving in Canada. Your to-do list should include amazing Flower Pot Island, which is famous for its natural sea stacks, or “flower pots.” The park offers overnight mooring, or you can dock in nearby Tobermory at the Tobermory Harbour Marina (519-596-2731).

Also Worth a Visit:

  • Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (Mich.) Located on northwestern Lake Huron, the sanctuary is adjacent to Shipwreck Alley, one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the Great Lakes. Visit the 100 discovered wrecks — at your own peril! Dock at City of Alpena Marina (989-356-0551).
  • Mackinac Island (Mich.) Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island and its same-named state park, the island is accessible only by boat. Historic sites such as Fort Mackinac and The Grand Hotel provide memorable, back-in-time experiences. Dock at Mackinaw City Municipal Marina (231-436-5269, michigan.org).

West Coast

Deception Pass State Park, just south of Anacortes, Washington, is a 4,134-acre marine and camping park offering three lakes, rugged cliffs and out-of-this-world views. Landside, the park features 38 miles of hiking trails, expansive sand dunes, lots of wildlife and amazing sunsets. Waterside, it’s nothing short of a boaters’ paradise, with 710 feet of saltwater dock and 450 feet of freshwater dock (on the lakes) and access to great clamming, crabbing, diving and even white-water rafting (360-902-8844, parks.wa.gov).

Also Worth a Visit:

  • Channel Islands National Park (Calif.) is located 18 nautical miles west of Ventura (north of Los Angeles). You’ll have to anchor out to visit California’s Channel Islands National Park, but the payoff is diving among kelp beds, kayaking, bird and whale watching and fishing. There’s camping available should you want to bring a tent and stay ashore for the night (805-658-5730; www.nps.gov), or cruise into Ventura harbor and dock at Ventura Harbor Village (805-658-1212, venturaharborvillage.com).
  • Morro Bay State Park (Calif.) Your list of things to do at Morro Bay State Park should include a trip to Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History, Morro Rock Natural Preserve, the Heron Rookery Natural Preserve and the highly acclaimed Morro Bay State Park Golf Course. Dock at the onsite State Park Marina (805-772-2560, parks.ca.gov)