While I now live in Texas with my family, I spent the first 30-something years living in love with the rolling green splendor of the Eastern Seaboard and let me tell you, just remembering the golden days of summer bliss under eastern skies has me grinning from ear to ear. Unlike the blistering heat of my current locale, you wanted to be outside in the noonday summer sun, soaking up rays before ushering in a gorgeous evening with friends, sitting on a deck, and watching the sun turn golden shades that faded into a gradient of blues and blacks.
Vacationing on the East Coast is no one trick pony, as each region from Florida to Maine, coast to inland, has its own feel and a plethora of things to do. So, I’ll keep it simple and walk you through a few adventures that painted the mural of my favorite summertime activities.
1) Whitewater Rafting on Gauley River, WV
Lets start our journey more than a few hours inland of the coast, deep into the hills and valleys of West Virginia. It’s a common misconception that whitewater is only truly found west of the Mississippi, but you can find class 5+ rapids among the majestic rolling hills of the Appalachians. I look back on a trip down Gauley River with adventurous wonder, and a sense of pride as I was the only one to not be knocked into the rapids (even the guide scorpioned into the wash). Both the evening before and the evening after were spent around a campfire in the woods, where we created memories that will last a lifetime. While you’re in the region, explore West Virginia for its rugged beauty, and if you have the time, stop by Spruce Point, the highest point in the whole state: it will take your breath away.
2) Keuka Lake, NY
Just across the Pennsylvania/New York border you’ll find a series of glacial lakes known as the Finger Lakes. This part of Upstate New York is picturesque year round, but there is a certain charm in summer I can hardly capture with ink on paper. Similar to the wonder of West Virginia (and the rest of the mountains of the East Coast), the Finger Lakes region is absolutely beautiful as it’s wrapped in a cloak of pristine green forest and sparkling blue water. While each lake has its amazing points, the one that steals my heart is Keuka Lake and the “Norman Rockwell” town of Hammondsport at the southernmost point. Here you’ll find a local population eager to welcome visitors to their little slice of paradise.
After enjoying a slice of pie and some coffee in a local establishment, head north along the western edge of the lake to visit my favorite winery, Bully Hill Vineyards. Bully Hill mixes a sense of the comedic and eccentric with a reliable sense of sophistication. Before you leave the captivating tour, you’ll have to sing (and even dance) for your tasting, something that warms my heart as much as the spirit of the local population. While you’re in the region, drive east and drop by Watkins Glen at the southernmost point of Seneca Lake. This park really highlights the remarkable effects of glacial geology through deep cut gorges and breathtaking waterfalls.
3) Susquehanna River
If I failed to mention this location, I’ll never forgive myself and you won’t either. Should you find yourself in the extraordinary circumstance of driving from the Gully River to Keuka Lake, I want to share a little secret you’ll thank me for later. From West Virginia head north to Harrisburg, PA, and when you turn north along routes 11/15, you’ll follow the breathtaking Susquehanna River. Averaging more than a half-mile in width for much of this journey, you’ll enjoy amazing views of woodlands, rolling mountains, small towns, and tree covered islands as you head north. At Sunbury, PA, you’ll bid farewell to the majestic Susquehanna and continue north until you reach Route 14 at Trout Run where you’ll make your way through a picturesque valley with old red barns and sun kissed fields. Once you pass Gillett, PA, head north until you reach Route 86 and follow your GPS from there. I promise you won’t regret it, so enjoy the drive!
4) Hang Gliding at the Outer Banks
I have many good memories of days at the beach, complete with sand in my shoes and a golden brown tan, but one of my favorite activities took place not on the beach, but above it in a brightly colored hang glider! The rolling dunes near Kitty Hawk, SC are a prime location to feel the wind beneath your wings as you soar above the beach on nothing but the coastal updrafts and adrenaline! Along with the thrill of learning to fly, you’ll enjoy some of the most picturesque beaches of the eastern seaboard. Enjoy some air, sand, and surf during the daytime, and at night, enjoy the fresh seafood and nightlife.
5) Washington, D.C.
It’s hard for me to imagine another place so remarkable or so densely packed with things to do on any day and in any weather. Washington, D.C. is known for its museums and cultural attractions, but on a beautiful summer day, it is a stunning place to travel on foot. Having lived in the city’s metro area for a few years, the spectacles of D.C. go far beyond what’s indoors and behind museum glass – it truly is a walking city.
One of my favorite activities was walking the DuPont Circle area (also known as Embassy Row), enjoying the restaurants, and lying down on rim of DuPont Fountain watching the clouds go by. Other ways to engage the unbelievable beauty of our capitol city include walking the National Mall, having a picnic near the Washington Monument, and renting a bicycle or a paddle boat at the Inner Coastal. I also recommend booking a tour of the Pentagon: as someone who used to work there, it’s well worth your time, and it’s only a few Metro stops from downtown!
6) Assateague Island
Beach camping on Assateague Island National Seashore is a family friendly summertime activity my friends and I turned into a tradition. There’s just something about waking up in nature, cooking on a grill, spending your day with friends on the shoreline, and bonding over a bonfire that distills the very essence of summertime. This national park is a refuge for many kinds of marine wildlife as well as wild horses – all of which can be see around the island. There’s plenty of opportunity to relax on the beach and explore the island, or if you’re an off-roading enthusiast, you can enjoy miles of designated OSV (over-sand vehicle) driving areas. I loved Assateague so much that I’ve flown back since moving to Texas just to spend the weekend on the island . It’s an experience you and your family will never forget!
The East Coast is an unbelievable collection of amazing places to go and things to experience, so these are a few of my favorite summertime activities that have given me a lifetime of memories. We hope our list gives you some inspiration for exploring the grandeur of the East Coast this summer and beyond.