What is a national park?
In the United States, a national park is an area of land protected by the government to preserve its natural beauty and ecosystems. A ton of vital conservation work goes on to conserve the environment of the national parks for future generations.
The National Parks Service (NPS) preserves, conserves, protects, and educates on the U.S. national parks.
There are national parks in countries all over the world. To some extent, the push for conservation that began in the United States popularized the idea of reserving land for this purpose.
How many U.S. national parks are there?
There are 63 national parks in the United States. These sites have the name “national park” in their name.
Famous examples include Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park.
There are also over 400 national park sites. These are different from the national parks, but the National Park Service still manages them. They can include battlefields, military parks, scenic trails, memorials, parkways, and other recreation areas.
List of U.S. National Parks
|American Samoa||1988||American Samoa||8,256.67|
|Black Canyon of the Gunnison||1999||Colorado||30,779.83|
|Carlsbad Caverns||1930||New Mexico||46,766.45|
|Death Valley||1994||California, Nevada||3,408,395.63|
|Gates of the Arctic||1980||Alaska||7,523,897.45|
|Great Smoky Mountains||1934||North Carolina, Tennessee||522,426.88|
|New River Gorge||2020||West Virginia||72,345.91|
|Theodore Roosevelt||1978||North Dakota||70,446.89|
|Virgin Islands||1956||U.S. Virgin Islands||15,052.33|
|White Sands||2019||New Mexico||146,344.31|
|Wind Cave||1903||South Dakota||33,970.84|
|Yellowstone||1872||Idaho, Montana, Wyoming||2,219,790.71|
History of the U.S. National Parks
What was the first national park in the United States?
The first national park founded in the United States was Yellowstone National Park. It was established on March 1, 1872, after an expedition to collect information about the region reported back. Sketches, photographs, and paintings from this expedition captured the imagination of Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant. He quickly signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law!
Yellowstone National Park was also the first national park in the world. Its establishment encouraged other countries to enact laws protecting their landscapes from damaging human activity.
Who created the national park system?
President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act on August 25, 1916. This created the National Park Service (NPS), which still protects our parks.
Many other presidents have made their mark on the national parks and the national park system. They have added them, expanded their scope or funding, and more.
For example, let’s take President Theodore Roosevelt. Though he enjoyed hunting for sport, he was also well-known for his love of wildlife. While he held office, he created the United States Forest Service and established many national forests, federal bird reserves, national game preserves, national monuments, and national parks.
Another notable example is President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 32nd president was a fan of nature, so it should be no surprise that he used his executive power to improve the system. He established over ten national monuments, improved the infrastructure of the national parks, and even began tree-planting efforts to restore natural flora and fauna.
We also cannot ignore the contributions of the many conservationists –like Stephen Mather and Horace M. Albright – who guided the National Park Service and turned it into what it is today.
What is the most recent U.S. national park?
New River Gorge is the most recent U.S. national park, which is fantastic for adventurers keen on white-water rafting.
New River Gorge is found in West Virginia and was established on December 27, 2020.
U.S. National Parks by State
|State or Territory||No.||Parks|
|Alaska||8||Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, Wrangell–St. Elias|
|American Samoa||1||American Samoa|
|Arizona||3||Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Saguaro|
|California||9||Channel Islands, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Lassen Volcanic, Pinnacles, Redwood, Sequoia, Yosemite|
|Colorado||4||Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountain|
|Florida||3||Biscayne, Dry Tortugas, Everglades|
|Hawaii||2||Haleakalā, Hawai’i Volcanoes|
|Idaho||1||Yellowstone (also found in Wyoming and Montana)|
|Montana||2||Glacier, Yellowstone (also found in Wyoming, Idaho)|
|Nevada||2||Death Valley (also found in California), Great Basin|
|New Mexico||2||Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands|
|North Dakota||1||Theodore Roosevelt|
|North Carolina||1||Great Smoky Mountains (also found in Tennessee)|
|South Dakota||2||Badlands, Wind Cave|
|Tennessee||1||Great Smoky Mountains (also found in North Carolina)|
|Texas||2||Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains|
|Utah||5||Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion|
|Virgin Islands||1||Virgin Islands|
|Washington||3||Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Olympic|
|West Virginia||1||New River Gorge|
|Wyoming||2||Grand Teton, Yellowstone (also found in Idaho, Montana)|
What is the state with the most national parks?
The state with the most national parks is California, which has nine national parks.
Hot on its heels in second place is Alaska with eight, and Utah slides into the Top 3 with five national parks.
There are tons of states with only a single national park, too!
What is the state with the fewest national parks?
It’s a 20-way tie! Several states don’t have a national park within their borders. A list of these states includes:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Significance of the U.S. National Parks
Why are national parks important?
You might not need any convincing regarding the importance of national parks. These beautiful, unspoiled landscapes are rich with flora and fauna you can’t find anywhere else in the world. Many parks feature rock formations or geological deposits to astound and amaze them. They’re beloved by millions of respectful visitors every year who use the parks for recreation or learning opportunities.
National parks are some of the United States’ most fabulous treasures.
But don’t take our word for it! Here’s a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt himself on the significance of national parks:
There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than Yosemite, the groves of giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of Colorado, the Canyon of Yellowstone, and the Three Tetons, and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.
How does the National Park Service impact the environment?
It isn’t just the national parks themselves that are important. We can’t underestimate the National Park Service’s role in preserving them for future generations. With the dangers of climate change, they are more vital than ever in protecting these natural landscapes.
Some ways the National Park Service positively impacts the environment include:
- Protecting wildlife and habitats, especially when it comes to rare or endangered species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
- Restoring natural waterways that are vital for natural and human uses.
- Replanting trees in forests all over the country provides more methods of capturing carbon, among other things.
- Fighting soil erosion with various sustainable methods, preventing and mitigating natural disasters like landslides and floods.
- Educating the public about the needs of the park, including how to respect nature when visiting and “leave no trace.”
10 Fun Facts about the U.S. National Parks
- The largest national park in the United States is Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The park covers a whopping 8,323,146 acres, while the preserve clocks in at around 4,852,645. That’s over 13 million acres in total!
- Seven of the top ten most significant national parks are found in Alaska. In addition to Wrangell-St. Elias, these include Gates of the Arctic, Denali, Katmai, Glacier Bay, Lake Clark, and Kobuk Valley.
- The national park created after Yellowstone National Park was Mackinac National Park. This is no longer a national park, as it was returned to the state of Michigan in 1895.
- The most visited national park isn’t Yosemite, Yellowstone, or even the Grand Canyon. It’s the Great Smoky Mountains, National Park.
- In Sequoia National Park, you can drive through a fallen sequoia. When it fell in 1937, park rangers cut a tunnel through the log to attract visitors. Unfortunately, it’s not so great if your vehicle’s taller than 8 feet high!
- Death Valley National Park has been the site of some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on the planet.
- Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the longest-known cave system in the world. It’s twice as long as the cave system in second place, Sistema Sac Actun!
- The highest peak in any national park (and the United States in general) is found in Denali National Park. Mount McKinley stands at 20,302 feet above sea level.
- The deepest lake in the United States is Oregon’s Crater Lake, the main feature of Crater Lake National Park.
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only U.S. national park named after a person.