Massachusetts National Parks – A Guide for a Summer Road Trip

The lighthouse in the Boston Harbor. Photos from nps.gov.
The lighthouse in the Boston Harbor. Photos from nps.gov.

By Taylor Owens

Massachusetts is home to several exciting national parks, historical sites, and monuments. The Bay State has plenty of adventurous, historical, and natural pastimes to offer for your time spent in the region.

From a grand total of 400 national parks/national recreation sites/national historical parks, 16 are located in Massachusetts. They range from the sandy shores of Cape Cod’s National Seashore to the heart of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood at the Boston African American National Historic Site.

A Summer Trip
Imagine this: a summer road trip with your closest friends across Massachusetts to visit and explore all of the national parks in the state. Tents, sleeping bags, and s’mores ingredients ready to go.

Whether you’re an adventurous outdoor enthusiast, a weekend warrior, or a history buff, you are guaranteed to find a park in Massachusetts that fits your fancy.

Here is a guide to some of the best Massachusetts national parks and what makes each one a must-visit on your next road trip.

Adams National Historical Park

The grounds at Adams National Historical Park.
The grounds at Adams National Historical Park.

Adams National Park is located ten miles south of Boston in the city of Quincy, Massachusetts. This park is made up of 11 historic structures and a cultural landscape that spans across 14 acres of land.

From the sweet little farm at the foot of Penn’s Hill to the gentleman’s country estate at Peace field, Adams is the story of “heroes, statesman, philosophers…and learned women” who helped transform the thirteen colonies into one unified nation.

Some of the features of this park include a free trolley service to the historical houses. On the park tour, you can stop in and visit John Adams’ birthplace, John Quincy Adams’ birthplace, and the Old House at Peace field.

This park gives each visitor ample opportunities to take a look into preservation, to educate themselves about the area and the park, and to participate in history.

Boston National Historical Park

The Charleston Navy Yard in the Boston National Historical Park.
The Charleston Navy Yard in the Boston National Historical Park.

This national historical park is located in the center of downtown Boston on 43 acres of land. This particular park has a focus on the Revolutionary War and is comprised of several different sites that give each visitor a complete view of the city of Boston’s role in the nation’s history.

This historical park has major sites to visit throughout the city of Boston along the Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail.

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Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

This national recreation area is where your inner explorer is sure to emerge.

At the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area you can walk a Civil War-era fort, visit historic lighthouses, splash in tide pools, hike luscious trails, camp under the stars, or relax while fishing.

The 34 harbor islands that make up the national recreation area have a rich human history that the islands strongly illustrate.

Lavender by the seaside at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.
Lavender by the seaside at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

The continual effect of natural and human processes on the habitats of the islands, their uses, and even their shapes are clearly visible during a tour of the recreation area.

Cape Cod National Seashore

A beach day at the Cape Cod National Seashore.
A beach day at the Cape Cod National Seashore.

This national seashore spans 43,604 acres of shoreline, freshwater kettle ponds, and upland landscape features.

There are several historic structures within the boundary of the Seashore that include lighthouses, a lifesaving station, and various different Cape Cod style homes.

Within the seashore limits there a six swimming beaches, eleven self-guiding nature trails, and a variety of picnic areas and scenic overlooks.

Bring out the picnic basket with your favorite cheeses, bread, and wines for your next trip to the seashore to watch the sunset.

Lowell National Historical Park

A complete history of the American Industrial Revolution is commemorated in Lowell, Massachusetts.

The Lowell National Historical Park perfectly illustrates America’s shift from farm to factory with the inclusion of the Boott Cotton Mills Museum with its operating weave room of 88 power looms, “mill girl” boardinghouses, the Suffolk Mill Turbine Exhibit, and guided tours.

This national park also tells the story of immigrant and labor history, as well as the history of industrial technology. The park includes various textile mills, worker housing, 5.6 miles of canals, and 19th-century commercial buildings.

A canal tour at Lowell National Historical Park.
A canal tour at Lowell National Historical Park.

If you’re interested in seeing the sites, technology, and documented people who helped catapult the nation into a new industrial era, this national historical park is a unique travel stop.

Canal boat tours happen daily at the park that allow visitors to experience Lowell’s canals.

Minute Man National Historical Park

The North Bridge Battle Commemoration at Minute Man National Historical Park.
The North Bridge Battle Commemoration at Minute Man National Historical Park.

The Minute Man National Historical Park commemorates the events of April 19th, 1775.

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This date was a large turning point in the long struggle between England and the American colonies.

The march of protest and petition turned independence and revolution that occurred that day would ultimately lead to the creation of the United States as a new nation.

At this national park, the opening battle of the Revolution is brought to life as park visitors explore the battlefield and structures that were associated with April 19th, 1775 and read through the writings of the Concord authors.

If you’re looking to get in touch with America’s roots or experience the American revolutionary spirit, the Minute Man National Historical Park is an important spot to truly immerse yourself in one of the most important events in American history.

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

The visitor center at New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.
The visitor center at New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.

The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park commemorates the history of the world’s leading whaling port during the 19th century.

This park includes a variety of cultural landscapes, museum collections, historic buildings, and archives to preserve the history and stories of this revolutionary port.

Whaling was an immense enterprise that contributed to America’s economic and political dynamism during the 19th century.

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is located in downtown New Bedford, which has been coined “The City That Lit the World,” with regards to the whaling industry.

Find Your Adventure in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is the home of beautiful landscapes, surprising adventures, and preserved history. Consider the Massachusetts National Parks for your next tour of the national park system this summer!

Taylor Owens

Taylor Owens is a Tennessee native who is currently calling the Massachusetts Berkshires home. She is passionate about the classics, folk music, and coffee. Taylor spends her days as a ski instructor at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, paddling plenty of rivers, skiing the slopes, sipping coffee, or on the hunt for the best breakfast.