Where else can you see the pride and glory of the incredibly unique terrains of the United States than the National Park system? With 85 million acres in National Parks in every state and US territories, visitors can experience and enjoy the beauty of nature in pristine condition. Wilderness preserved for today and the future generations to come.
National Park Facts
- Yellowstone was the first national park – established March 1st, 1872
- The National Parks Service was created to oversee National Parks to prevent looting and vandalism in 1916
- There are 62 National Parks
- There are 419 national park sites (including National Parks, National Monuments, National Battlefields, Historic Sites, etc)
- The largest national park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska at 13.2 million acres
- Death Valley National park is the largest park in the contiguous United States at 3,372,402 acres
- The smallest national park is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas at 5,550 acres
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park with 12.5 million visitors in 2019
- The least visited national park was the Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve in Alaska. With only 10,518 visitors in 2019
- Death Valley’s Furnace Creek set the world’s highest temperature in July 1913 at 134 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the hottest National Park (though Libya later surpassed this temperature)
How it all began
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first ever National Park set aside for the preservation and pleasure of the people was Yellowstone. The one-of-a-kind hydrothermal and geologic formations and multitude of wildlife moving through the area instigated The Act of March 1st, 1872, formally placing the park under control of the Secretary of the Interior. This set off a movement, though slow at first, of protecting and preserving American wonders.
In 1889, the Casa Grande archaeological site in Arizona was next to be placed under supervision of the Interior, primarily to protect from vandalism and looting. Unfortunately, the National Parks and National Monuments system became established because of this reason – to protect these gorgeous lands and wonders from looting, vandalism, or private landowners charging outrageous prices to see modern marvels through a peep hole (ahem Niagara Falls).
It wasn’t until 1916 that Congress passed The Organic Act that created the National Park Service and placed all National Parks under its management.
National Parks Today
There are 419 national park sites and 62 of them include “national park” in their name. The remaining sites fall into one of the many categories like National Battlefield, National Historic Sites, or National Monument.
The difference between a National Park vs a National Monument is the reason why the land is being preserved. National Monuments have historical or cultural value to preserve, while National Parks are protected because of their scenic features, recreational, or natural phenomena. Size is not a factor in a national monument, and there are different agencies that oversee them depending on where they are. For example, The Marianas Trench, the deepest oceanic trench on Earth, is overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Fish and Wildlife, while Mt. St. Helens is managed by the United States Forest Service.
The largest national park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park at 13.2 million acres. It includes some of Alaska’s most rugged territory and contains large volcanoes, a dense concentration of glaciers, tundra, and temperate rainforest. There is an abundance of Alaskan wildlife and visitors can take part in a multitude of activities such as mountaineering, day hikes, backpacking, sea kayaking, hunting, fishing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, and more.
The smallest national park is quite the opposite of the largest. Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is 5,550 acres and has an average water temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit. The park protects the historic bath houses constructed before 1832 and is much more than just a few ancient thermal springs. There are beautiful hikes, several creeks, and mountain views all in the middle of a once thriving town.
The most popular national park with 12.5 million visitors in 2019 is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Straddling Tennessee and North Carolina, many visit to hike the Appalachian Trail or see the diverse plant and animal life in the north and south lands. There are over 800 miles of hiking trails to gorgeous waterfalls or scenic viewpoints and many historical structures that are over 100 years old to see. The park is close to many major cities and there is no entrance fee.
The least visited national park was the Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve in Alaska. With only 10,518 visitors in 2019, many say it’s one of the last truly wild places on Earth. Visitors are advised to “have the knowledge and skills to be truly self-sufficient in the remote location and demanding climate and terrain of the Brooks Range.” The park is also remote and can only be accessed by air taxis.
Top Facts about National Parks
Yellowstone National Park Facts
- Yellowstone National Park gets 4 million visitors each year
- July is the most popular month visitors go to Yellowstone
- It is over 2 million acres
- Yellowstone is spread over 3 states – Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho
- The park sits on top of an active volcano and gets 1,000-3,000 earthquakes per year
- More than half of the earth’s geysers are in Yellowstone
As mentioned above, Yellowstone has been set aside for almost 150 years. The park gets about 4 million visitors each year, with the most occurring in July. At over 2 million acres, and spread over Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, Yellowstone has a large variety of habitats, including grassland, forest, and a significant amount of water. The park sits on top of an active volcano and has between 1,000-3,000 earthquakes yearly. More than half of the earth’s geysers are in Yellowstone, making it an incredible place to experience.
If wildlife is what you want to see, Yellowstone has a thriving and diverse array of animals. Bison, bears, elk, moose, deer, pronghorn, bobcat, eagles, osprey, even river otters make their home in Yellowstone.
Yosemite National Park Facts
- The first actual park ever set aside by the U.S. government
- Yosemite was given to the State of California by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864
- In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt camped in Yosemite and subsequently was transferred to a National Park under control of the federal government
- Yosemite about 4 million visits per year
- It is about 750,000 acres
The first actual park ever set aside by the U.S. government, Yosemite was given to the State of California by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. This was the first instance of land being given protective status for the preservation and enjoyment of the people, and set the precedent for Yellowstone becoming the first national park in 1872. Tourism increased greatly in Yosemite after the 1849 gold rush nearby, which prompted the land grant. It wasn’t until 1906, when John Muir took President Theodore Roosevelt camping in the area, that Yosemite was transferred to a National Park under control of the federal government.
The park sees about 4 million visits per year, most of them occurring in Yosemite Valley, though the park is about 750,000 acres. Stunning granite rock formations, waterfalls and gorgeous meadows are what Yosemite is known for, though the park boasts a rich history, a large sequoia grove, and plentiful wilderness areas for backpacking.
Glacier National Park
- In 1910, President Taft signed a bill establishing Glacier National Park as the country’s 10th national park
- In 1910, the park had over 100 glaciers
- In 2015, only 26 met the size criteria for an active glacier
- The park is over a million acres
- There are 200 named waterfalls, 762 lakes, and 745 miles of hiking trails
Before western settlers, Glacier National Park was controlled by the Native Americans. The Blackfeet tribe controlled the eastern prairies while the Salish and Kootenai Indians lived in the western valleys. European settlers came to the area looking for beaver pelts and soon homesteaders in search of land. In 1910, President Taft signed a bill establishing Glacier National Park as the country’s 10th national park.
In 1910, the park had over 100 glaciers. As of 2015, only 26 met the size criteria for an active glacier. Spreading out over a million acres, the park has a wide variety of habitats. There are several different types of forests, 200 named waterfalls, 762 lakes, and 745 miles of hiking trails. With the wide variety of terrain, you’ll also see a wide variety of animal life. From mountain goats, lynx and bighorn sheep high up on the mountains to eagles perched on trees, the large protected area provides a safe place for native wildlife to thrive.
Zion National Park Statistics
- Zion National Park was farm ground before it became a park
- Zion became a National Park in 1917
- More land was added to Zion National Park in 1919 and 1936
- The park spans 232 square miles of high plateaus and winding sandstone canyons
- The park has over 1000 plant species, 78 mammals and 30 species of reptiles
- Zion National Park had almost 4.5 million visitors in 2019
Interestingly, Zion National Park was farm ground before it became a park. First by the Anasazi and Paiute Indians, then by Mormon settlers. The park was signed into existence in 1917 by the United States Congress. More land was added in 1919 and 1936. Travel to the park was rare in the beginning due to primitive roads and remote location. The park spans 232 square miles of high plateaus and winding sandstone canyons. The Virgin River runs through the park, contributing to pine and juniper forests and hanging gardens.
The park boasts over 1000 plant species, which provide homes for the 78 mammals and 30 species of reptiles. There are petrified forests to explore, canyons to climb through and famous hikes, like The Narrows to conquer. Get a permit to camp out while rock climbing or try mountain biking. The park is extremely popular, seeing almost 4.5 million visitors in 2019.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park Statistics
- The park itself has the largest elevation relief in the lower 48 states, over 13,000 feet in elevation change
- Together, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is 1,351 square miles
- The park gets over 1 million visitors each year
Accurately nicknamed, the Land of Giants, Sequoia will not disappoint. Groves of giant Sequoia trees, the largest trees in the world, are awe-inspiring. The trees thick bark protects them against periodic fires and the 3,400 year old tree rings provide scientists a unique look into history.
The park itself has the largest elevation relief in the lower 48 states, over 13,000 feet in elevation change. This provides for glacial canyons, large lake basins, wide meadows, and rugged granite peaks, one of the unique trademarks of the Sierra Nevadas. Together, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is 1,351 square miles and sees a little over 1 million visitors each year. Visit one of the many caves, play in the lakes, backpacking rock climbing, winter sports, fishing and more. The parks large size and mountainous terrain provide a wide variety of things to do.
Acadia National Park Statistics
- Acadia National Park has over 3.5 million visitors each year
- The park has over 50,000 acres of prime Maine coastline
On the east coast, Acadia sees over 3.5 million visitors each year. Spanning over 50,000 acres of prime Maine coastline, the park includes several islands, some popular and some remote, only accessible by ferry. Go hiking along rocky coastlines or thick forests, try your hand at ocean kayaking or take a guided fishing or whale watching tour. If you visit in the fall, be prepared to be amazed at the yellows, golds, and reds of the changing leaves. Keep your eyes open for moose, humpback whales, foxes, and otters or explore tidepools to peek at marine invertebrates.