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Just like an American to say “We have the Greatest National Parks Ever”! Of course, citizens of other countries will say the same. I’m sure there are great national parks all over the world. So, please don’t be offended if you are from another country! I’m proud of ours. You are proud of your parks! I’m creating an outline of all our national parks and built posts on those I’ve visited with links to the posts. Also, links directly to the park website for those I haven’t yet visited. And, I’ll update this post as I visit others and publish posts about them.
The above photo is from Glacier National Park in the US state of Montana. A link to the post for this park will appear below. (But, if you want to go there now, here is the link!) The Driveby Tourist may change pictures over time. Here is a link to the U.S. National Park Service which manages all national parks and other national monuments and national places of interest. While there are 62 national parks, there are 423 units under the management of the National Park System.
- History of US National Parks
- National Park Service
- Most Visited Parks
- National Parks Map
- Unique stories about US National Parks
- Lists and links to Greatest National Parks Ever!
- Current and Future Posts by The Driveby Tourist (parks I’ve visited)
- Acadia National Park
- Arches National Park
- Badlands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Gateway Arch National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Isle Royale National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Voyagers National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Links to remainder of the greatest national parks ever!
- Big Bend National Park
- National Park of American Samoa
- Biscayne National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capital Reef National Park
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Channel Islands National Park
- Congaree National Park
- Crater Lake National Park
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Denali National Park
- Dry Tortugas National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Gates of the Arctic National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Great Basin National Park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Haleakala National Park
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- Hot Springs National Park
- Katmai National Park
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Kings Canyon National Park
- Kobuk Valley National Park
- Lake Clark National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Mount Ranier National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Pinnacles National Park
- Redwood National Park
- Saguaro National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Virgin Islands National Park
- White Sands National Park
- Wind Cave National Park
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Zion National Park
- Current and Future Posts by The Driveby Tourist (parks I’ve visited)
History of US National Parks
On March 1, 1872, the US Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the then territories of Wyoming and Montana. And the area comprised part of the American “Wild West,” of which many western (cowboy) movies were made. Significantly, Congress placed control of the park with the Department of the Interior. Subsequently, this action created more national parks in the US and, more importantly, worldwide. Of course, other countries acted as well. Today, more than 100 nations maintain some 1200 national parks or equivalent preserves.
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The first 13 parks lie west of the Mississippi, created between 1872 and 1919. (Exception in a paragraph below.) Finally, in 1919, Acadia National Park in Maine came into being. National parks continue to be added with the most recent as of this writing, New River Gorge in West Virginia in December 2020.
The US National Parks remain a method of protecting special places from development. While many are known for the natural beauty and for the recreational aspects they provide, preservation is the main mission of the National Park Service. Preservation gained even more focus since the 1950s. In fact, 35 of the 62 parks came into being since 1956. Many of them have a low number of visitors. Especially the parks in Alaska. Their formation really meant to preserve the land, water, and wildlife.
My research found three national parks that are no longer national parks. One of them, Platt National Park in Oklahoma (1906-1976) was re-designated as Chickasaw National Recreation Area. A second one, Mackinac Island National Park (1875-1895) became a state park. The US military owned the island and when they turned it over to the state, the National Park designation went away. (I haven’t been there but I’ve heard it’s a unique place to visit.) A third one, Fort McHenry National Park in Maryland (1925-1939) was re-designated Fort McHenry National Monument. Francis Scott Key penned the US National Anthem in that fort. Just a continuing effort to keep the greatest national parks ever up to date!
Currently, I believe the only park with a name change is Denali National Park in Alaska. Originally, it was named McKinley National Park. Both the park and the mountain were renamed Denali to honor the Athabaskan native people who originally named the mountain. It means “high” or “tall”. I guess that means I’m Denali!
National Park Service
Initially, the Department of the Interior received the direction to manage all National Parks. As national parks expanded in number and the Department of the Interior was charged with managing other sites, the management became splintered. In 1916, Congress created the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior.
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The dual role of the agency became preserving the ecology and historical integrity of all of the units in the jurisdiction while also making them accessible for public use and enjoyment. The park service employs over 12,000 people in carrying out its work.
In 1933, the federal government added more units to the park service. A number of units were previously managed by the Defense Department, mostly those with military significance. Those migrated to the park service. At the same time, a number of National Monuments were transferred from the Department of Agriculture to the park service.
In 1966, the park service obtained control over and the creation of National Lakeshores and National Recreation Areas. Today the park service oversees and manages about 20 different types of units, including those mentioned above as well as National Historical Parks, National Military Parks, National Monuments and others. Here is a link to all of the categories for parks and other attractions and units managed by the National Park Service.
Most Visited Parks
The 5 most visited parks are: (All visit numbers are 2019 unless noted.)
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee – 12,547,743
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – 5,974,411
3. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado – 4,670,053
4. Zion National Park, Utah – 4,488,268
5. Yosemite National Park, California – 4,442,861
Numbers 6 – 10
6. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – 4,020,288
7. Acadia National Park, Maine – 3,437,286
8. Grand Teton National Park,Wyoming – 3,405,612
9. Olympic National Park, Washington – 3,245,806
10. Glacier National Park, Montana – 3.049,839
The 5 least visited and location
58. North Cascades National Park, Washington – 38,208
59. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan – 26,410
60. Lake Clark National Park, Alaska – 17,157
61. Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska – 15,966
62. Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska – 10,518
National Parks Map
Below is a map showing all the US national parks. The map comes from the national park service and I believe to be royalty free.
Unique stories about US National Parks
Here is a link about how to visit all of the National Parks in one trip! A Michigan State Ph.D. candidate created an itinerary that allowed travelers to see every single national park in the Lower 48 without wasting time.
Here are some unique facts about national parks in general
- Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, designated as part of the state of Michigan, is the only park in the system to fully close in the winter.
- Although Yellowstone National Park is recognized as the first park, Hot Springs National Park may have actually been first. The park became the first federally protected land when President Andrew Jackson signed legislation to protect the area. However, it wasn’t designated as a national park until 1921.
- The park ranger uniform was created by the U.S. Army Cavalry.
- Visitors were once encouraged to watch bears eat from dumpsters!
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park was Teddy’s mourning place. His wife and his mother both died on Valentine’s Day, 1884. He liked the area and thought the desolate landscape matched the condition of his heart.
- A Shenandoah National Park ranger was hit by lightning seven times in his career.
- Isle Royale has a delicate balance between wolves and moose. As the wolf population increases, they attack and kill more moose. That causes the moose population to decline and the wolves die off from starvation, allowing the moose population to grow again; and the cycle continues.
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park at over 20,000 square miles is larger than nine US states. Those states are Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maryland.
- Just another set of facts that make the parks the greatest national parks ever!
Lists and links to Greatest National Parks Ever!
Following are posts about all the US National Parks. As I publish this, there are only links to posts I’ve written regarding six of the US National Parks, the Greatest National Parks Ever! I plan to write two more soon and then others over time. I do have plans to visit more of them and will move them into the first section. (Current and Future Posts by The Driveby Tourist). And the links to each of the other parks (Links to the Greatest National Parks Ever!) remain a link to the National Park Service page about that park along with some information. No, the National Park Service doesn’t give me a commission if you visit!
Updates to this post happen as I publish other posts and find updates to this post. I hope you enjoy my information. And especially, I hope you enjoy the National Parks!
Current and Future Posts by The Driveby Tourist (parks I’ve visited)
Acadia National Park
The Driveby Tourist visited Acadia National park in 2016. The creation of a post is pending. Here is a link to the park.
Arches National Park
The Driveby Tourist visited Arches National park in March of 2016, returning from Arizona to Minnesota. The creation of a post is pending. Here is a link to the park.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park in South Dakota provides great views and great contrasts between it and the surrounding area. I visited here in August 2020. Here is a link to the park.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley turned out to be much more than I expected. I planned to mostly visit the lowest elevation in the western hemisphere. Then, I found Artists Drive. The drive consists of a nine-mile winding road that leaves and then returns to Badwater Road. It’s a beautiful drive! The rocks have muted colors that really do feel like an art gallery! And there is much more if you take the time. (But don’t visit in summer!) Click on the link or the picture above for more information. And this unique park also contributes to the greatest national parks ever!
Gateway Arch National Park
This area became a national park just a few months before I was there in 2018. I didn’t even realize it was considered a National Park! I don’t think the park service had fully taken over as I didn’t see any indications of it. Gateway becomes the smallest National Park. The area of the park contains only 91 acres (that’s 0.14 square miles). See the link above to Day 4 of the Route 66 trip when I visited this attraction.
Glacier National Park
Two posts bring Glacier National park to you. The above link is to the east side of the park. Here is the link to the west side of the park. Glacier National Park contains the famous and scenic Going to the Sun road. It’s the only road that traverses the park. While we were there, the middle section was closed for construction. We visited the first 14 miles of the west section of the park on Day One. Then, we trekked around on US Highway 2, traveling to the east section. Fortunately, 18 miles of the road were open. With a total length of 50 miles, we saw 32 miles of the road. The temporary end on the east side is Logan Pass which is the highest elevation in the park. The two posts contain the rest of the story and pictures of the sights along the way.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Driveby Tourist visited Grand Canyon in March of 2016. I’ll develop a post in the future. Currently, it’s not on my high priority list, but it IS on my list! Here is a link to the park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
And, Great Sand Dunes National Park, visited there in July 2020. I have an initial rough draft to post soon. The amazing sand dune in the Colorado Rockies. These are the tallest dunes in North America. In early 2020, the dunes reached 742 feet from base to top. During 2020, the height climbed to 755 feet and by July the winds had dropped its height to 741 feet.
Of course, the obligatory link to National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park. And a great addition to the Greatest National Parks Ever! Click on the picture or the caption above to visit my post on this park..
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
I visited this park in 1984 on a family vacation. I not only must write a post about it but I must find my pictures from that time. They are likely slides so not sure how well I’ll be able to convert them to digital format. Here is a link to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Indiana Dunes National Park
- Location: Northern Indiana (borders Lake Michigan)
- Founded: 2019 (Established 1966 as a National Seashore)
- Size: 15,067 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~2,134,300
- Link: Website of Indiana Dunes park
- I visited this park in September 2021 when on a road trip to all 26 states east of the Mississippi River. Here is a link to my post about the park. The park is located just over 50 miles from downtown Chicago and near Interstates 80, 90, and 94. The proximity ensures a large number of visitors. It’s also about 3.5 hours from Detroit and 2.5 hours from Indianapolis. Due to its location, nearly 30 million people live within a 4-hour drive!
- Highlights: The dunes hug the Lake Michigan shore for nearly 25 miles in Indiana. The sandy beach adjoins a grassy prairie, bog, and a series of wetlands. The park provides a home to over 2,000 species. Recreational activities include bird watching, camping, hiking, fishing, swimming, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. The park has numerous short hike trails and a few long-distance trails. Here’s a link to the park. As of this writing, it’s the second newest national park.
Isle Royale National Park
I visited this park in 2002. My wife and I spent 3 days there. Access to the park is by air and boat only. There is no scheduled air service. Isle Royale itself is the largest island in Lake Superior. The dimensions being 45 miles long and 9 miles wide at the widest point. The park includes approximately 400 smaller islands around Isle Royale.
The park remains the only one in the National Park system to close in the winter. And it’s the least visited park in the Lower 48. Only about 19,000 visitors per year make the trek. Ferries operate from Copper Harbor and Houghton MI and from Grand Portage MN. Actually, the park is closer to Minnesota but due to a number of reasons it belongs to Michigan. Here is a link to the park. I’ll write a post in the future, but I need to find my pictures from that trip.
Joshua Tree National Park
While returning from Route 66, I had the opportunity to visit Joshua Tree National Park in California. Beautiful drive as typical for the Greatest National Parks Ever! These trees are only found in this location. Most of the Joshua trees in existence are within the park. Others spread across areas of Arizona, California, Nevada, and Arizona. They only grow at elevations between 2,000 and 6,000 feet. The elevation and climate in this area are ideal for their growth. Please click on the links above to see the post.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave contains the longest surveyed caverns in the world. There are over 420 miles of surveyed passageways. When I viewed the Cave, I looked at it for what can appear to be quirky! Follow the link to read about it. And, below are some facts about the park.
- Location: West Central Kentucky
- Founded: 1941
- Size: 52,206 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~533,206
- Link: Website of Mammoth Cave park
- Highlights: Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world. There are over 400 miles of surveyed passageways. The park offers many different tours underground. Changes occur due to the seasons and the popularity of specific routes. Above ground, the park offers many of the features of other parks. Such as hiking, biking, camping, and just driving through the park.
Petrified Forest National Park
Visited on Day 13 – Holbrook AZ to Winslow AZ – Route 66. On the trip, I made a stop at this national park. The park includes the Painted Desert on the north side and then the petrified forest on the south side. While the park includes hiking into many of the colorful and historical areas, my visit day was unseasonably cold and windy. My pictures and experiences are near the road.
And, it’s been a national park since 1962. The average elevation is 5400 feet (1650 meters). And probably due to the relatively flat terrain surrounding the rock formations and the elevations, it’s typically windy. I can attest to that. Not only windy but downright cold for April in Arizona!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, founded in 1915, quickly became a highly visited park. As of 2019, it remains the third most visited park, with over 4.5 million visitors every year. Here is a link to the park. I’ve visited the park several times and the post is pending.
Voyagers National Park
Although this post is titled International Day Great River Road, The Driveby Tourist wandered off that road to visit Voyagers National Park. The park began life in 1975. About 25 parks have been established since that time. Many areas of the park are only accessible by water. While there are several points of entry, they are isolated and in some cases need to be accessed through Canada or through Canada and by water.
Yosemite National Park
The Driveby Tourist visited Yosemite in May of 2017. We were going to visit friends in Reno NV and decided to visit Yosemite as well. Yosemite came into “parkhood” in 1890. As of 2019, Yosemite remained the fifth most visited national park with just under 4.5 million visitors. Yosemite lies just to the east of what is known as the “Central Valley” in California. Here is a link to the park. The post for this park is pending.
Links to remainder of the greatest national parks ever!
Big Bend National Park
- Location: Southwest Texas
- Founded: 1944
- Size: 801,163 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~463,000
- Link: Website of Big Bend park
- Highlights: Located on the border Texas shares with Mexico, the Rio Grande River. The park encompasses a large and remote part of the Chihuahuan Desert. The main attractions are the mountains and the canyon along the river. Most visitors enjoy the backcountry recreation. Of course, another of the greatest National Parks ever!
National Park of American Samoa
- Location: American Samoa – in the South Pacific, about 3,700 miles (5,900 kilometers) east of Australia
- Founded: 1988
- Size: 8,257 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~60,000
- Link: Website of Big Bend park
- Highlights: Of course, it’s the southern-most US National Park as it’s in the Southern Hemisphere! The park contains coral reefs, rain forests, volcanic mountains, and sandy beaches. About 4,000 acres of the park are underwater. The park contains secluded villages, rare plants and animals, coral sand beaches, and views of land and sea. Almost all of the land area is rainforest. Most people are unlikely to visit this park!
Biscayne National Park
- Location: The Florida Keys near the northern end
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 172,971 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~708,500
- Link: Website of Biscayne park
- Highlights: This park protects a rare combination of aquamarine waters, emerald islands, and coral reefs. It’s location, very near Miami, deceives one into believing it’s part of a city. But, it’s worlds away, while remaining only about 50 miles from the city. And 95% of the park is water, with its shoreline an extensive mangrove forest. Except for the visitor center on the mainland, the remainder of the park is accessible only by boat.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Location: Western Colorado
- Founded: 1999
- Size: 30,780 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~432,800
- Link: Website of Black Canyon of the Gunnison park
- Highlights: The park protects one-quarter of the Gunnison River. The park includes some of the steepest cliffs and the oldest rock in North America.
Bryce Canyon National Park
- Location: Southern Utah
- Founded: 1928
- Size: 337,598 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~2,595,000
- Link: Website of Bryce Canyon park
- Highlights: The park contains the largest concentration of irregular columns of rock (hoodoos) than any other place on earth. The Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s iconic spot. Viewing from Bryce Point provides the best experience. The other three major viewpoints are Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.
Canyonlands National Park
- Location: Southeastern Utah
- Founded: 1964
- Size: 337,598 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~734,000
- Link: Website of Canyonlands park
- Highlights: The Colorado River (the one that runs through the Grand Canyon) and the Green River and their tributaries eroded Canyonlands over thousands of years. In effect, leaving canyons, buttes, and mesas that divide the park into three areas. Artifacts of the ancient Pueblo people also appear. And, the park contains rock pinnacles and arches as well.
Capital Reef National Park
- Location: South Central Utah, between Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands
- Founded: 1971
- Size: 241,905 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,226,500
- Link: Website of Capital Reef park
- Highlights: The park gets its name from sandstone domes shaped like the United States Capitol. Other natural features include monoliths and cliffs. The highlight of the park is the Waterpocket Fold. Significantly, this formation extends for nearly 100 miles. The east side of the Fold dropped down relative to the west side, exposing the earth’s diverse geologic layers.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- Location: Southeastern New Mexico, near the Texas border
- Founded: 1930
- Size: 46,766 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~440,691
- Link: Website of_Carlsbad Caverns park
- Highlights: The park contains 117 caves. The longest cave is over 120 miles long. The highlight is the Big Room, almost 4000 feet long. The caves are home to 400,000 Mexican free-tailed bats and sixteen other species.
Channel Islands National Park
- Location: Off the coast of southern California, near Los Angeles
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 249,561 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~409,630
- Link: Website of Channel Islands park
- Highlights: The park consists of five of the eight Channel Islands. Of the eight islands, the only one with a significant population is Santa Catalina Island which has a permanent population of just over 4,000 people. Catalina Island is a great visit on its own. Here is a link to an earlier post about that visit. The national park itself remains a protected area. The park provides a home for over 2,000 species of land plants and animals, 145 of them are native to the islands. And the tour of the Greatest National Parks Ever continues!
Congaree National Park
- Location: Central South Carolina
- Founded: 2003
- Size: 26,476 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~159,445
- Link: Website of Congaree park
- Highlights: The park is the largest portion of old-growth floodplain forest left in North America. There is an elevated walkway guiding visitors through the swamp. Some of the tallest trees in the eastern US live here.
Crater Lake National Park
- Location: Southwestern Oregon
- Founded: 1902
- Size: 183,224 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~704,500
- Link: Website of Crater Lake park
- Highlights: The park lies at the location of an ancient volcano that collapsed about 8,000 years ago. The lake continues to show a very blue color and very clear water clarity. The lake itself is about 22 miles in diameter and has a depth of 1943 feet, the deepest lake in the US and the second deepest in North America (after Great Slave Lake in Canada). Popular activities within the park include biking, fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Location: Northeastern Ohio
- Founded: 2000
- Size: 32,572 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~2,238,000
- Link: Website of Cuyahoga park
- Highlights: The park centers around the Ohio and Erie Canal where mules towed barges. Also, the park has hiking trails, hills, waterfalls, and examples of early living during the “pioneer days”. And the park includes a scenic train ride. Numerous bridges and historic homes still stand for viewing and touring.
Denali National Park
- Location: Southcentral Alaska
- Founded: 1917
- Size: 4,740,911 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~594,700
- Link: Website of Denali National Park and Preserve
- Highlights: Originally, the park acquired the name Mount McKinley National Park. with the merging of Denali National Monument in 1980, the park became officially known as Denali. In 2015, Mount McKinley officially acquired the name of Mount Denali. Denali is the native Athabaskan language name for “the high one”.
- Continued highlights: While Mount Denali is the central point and draws visitors, there are hiking trails and tour bus rides through some of the park. Much of the western part is truly a preserve and is nearly inaccessible. Please note: bears and other wild animals make parts of the park dangerous. And if you want to climb Mount Denali, you need a permit and a mandatory orientation. Denali outpaces Mt. Whitney in California (by about 6,000 feet) in the US. The mountain is also the tallest peak in North America. While Mt. Whitney remains the highest peak in the “lower 48”, it is only the 24th highest peak in North America. Of the 23 higher peaks, eight are in Alaska, eight are in Canada and the remainder are in Mexico.
Dry Tortugas National Park
- Location: Western end of the Florida Keys
- Founded: 1992
- Size: 64,701 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~79,200
- Link: Website of Dry Tortugas park
- Highlights: The park contains the site of Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-era fort, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. The park remains home to undisturbed coral reefs and shipwrecks. It is only accessible by plane or boat. After the Civil War, the island became a prison. The most famous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd. He set John Wilkes Booth’s leg after the Lincoln assassination. He was convicted of participating in the assassination. Although he was later pardoned, controversy remains to this day about his actual involvement.
Everglades National Park
- Location: South Florida
- Founded: 1934
- Size: 1,508,939 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,118,300
- Link: Website of Everglades park
- Highlights: This park is the largest tropical wilderness in the US. It’s a tropical rainforest ecosystem with mangroves and a marine estuary. The park provides a home to 36 protected species. While some areas have been drained and developed, restoration projects aim to restore the original vegetation. The protected species include the Florida panther and the American crocodile. And, continuing our tour of the Greatest National Parks Ever!
Gates of the Arctic National Park
- Location: Northcentral Alaska
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 8,472,506 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~9,600
- Link: Website of Gates of the Arctic park
- Highlights: This park is the northernmost and least visited National Park. There are no roads within the park. The park headquarters are in Fairbanks and day to day management is provided by a ranger station to the south of the park. Camping is permitted throughout the park but may be limited when crossing Native Corporation areas inside the park. From Fairbanks to the park is about 250 miles. Due to the condition of the roads that far north, it’s nearly an 8-hour drive. The park lies entirely north of the Arctic Circle. So, you must be very determined to see it to go there!
Glacier Bay National Park
- Location: Alaska, at the north end of the Panhandle
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 3,223,384 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~597,900
- Link: Website of Glacier Bay park
- Highlights: Glacier Bay contains a temperate rainforest. One wouldn’t expect that in Alaska! The park also contains fjords, mountains, and tidewater glaciers. Large populations of grizzly bears, mountain goats, whales, seals, and eagles also call it home. Eighty percent of visitors to Glacier Bay arrive on cruise ships. The National Park Service provides cooperative programs with the cruise lines. The park offers bird-watching, fishing, rafting, kayaking, camping, and mountaineering. While I’m not likely to visit this park, I hope to do some in-depth research and write a blog post about it someday. Another one of the Greatest National Parks Ever!
Grand Teton National Park
- Location: Northwestern Wyoming
- Founded: 1929
- Size: 310,000 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~3,405,600
- Link: Website of Grand Teton park
- Highlights: Grand Teton is only 10 miles from Yellowstone National Park. The park is known for hiking, fishing, and mountaineering. It’s also close to Jackson Hole, a great ski and resort area. The park was formed to protect the scenic peaks of the Teton Mountain Range and the surrounding forests, valleys, and canyons. Geologists determined that Teton Mountain Range is the youngest range in the Rocky Mountain system. Its approximate 40-mile length and seven to nine miles wide, make it unique in the Rocky Mountains (and in the US).
Great Basin National Park
- Location: East Central Nevada, very near Utah
- Founded: 1986
- Size: 77,180 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~131,800
- Link: Website of Great Basin park
- Highlights: The park is known for the ancient bristlecone Pines, the oldest of the type. While there are mountains, the area is known as a basin as it falls between the Sierra Mountains and the Wasatch Mountains. Notably, this park also has several caves for guided viewing. As with most parks, hiking and camping are popular.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Location: West Texas, on the New Mexico border
- Founded: 1972
- Size: 86,367 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~172,350
- Link: Website of Guadalupe Mountains park
- Highlights: Interestingly, this park lies only about 30 miles from Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, east of El Paso, contains Guadalupe Peak, the highest elevation in Texas at 8,749 feet. Historically, the park once contained the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line. The ruins of a station stand near the Pine Springs visitor center.
Haleakala National Park
- Location: Hawaii, Island of Maui
- Founded: 1961
- Size: 33,265 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,044,100
- Link: Website of Haleakala park
- Highlights: This park was originally part of Hawaii National Park. In 1961, the park became a separate entity. The park protects the greatest number of endangered species within a US National Park. The namesake of the park, Haleakala, features a very large crate with numerous cinder cones and alien trees.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- Location: Hawaii, the island of Hawaii (The Big Island)
- Founded: 1916
- Size: 325,605 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,368,400
- Link: Website of Hawaii Volcanoes park
- Highlights: This park contains active volcanoes. The main entrance road had continued to another entrance, but that one is now blocked due to a lava flow. The park includes several miles of coastline. Therefore, the park’s elevation goes from sea level to the peak of Mauna Loa at 13,679 feet (4,169 meters). The park also contains a broad diversity of climate and terrain, from lush tropical rain forests to the arid and barren Ka’u Desert. In May of 2018, the Kilauea District of the park was closed due to explosive eruptions at Halema’uma’u. Activity ceased in August, and as of 2020, those areas are open for viewing.
Hot Springs National Park
- Location: West Central Arkansas
- Founded: 1921 as a National Park (designated by Congress in 1832 to be preserved for future recreation)
- Size: 5,550 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,506,900
- Link: Website of Hot Springs park
- Highlights: Until 2018, when the Gateway Arch was designated as a National Park, Hot Springs was the smallest park. The main attraction is the Hot Springs, which are believed to have healing powers. Over the years, doctors prescribed spending time in the Hot Springs to promote healing. The nearby city of Hot Springs has seen Major League Baseball spring training, illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters such as Al Capone, horse racing, an Army and Navy hospital, and the home of the 42nd president the US, Bill Clinton.
Katmai National Park
- Location: Alaska, on the peninsula near Kodiak
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 4,093,077 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~37,800
- Link: Website of Katmai park
- Highlights: The park’s outstanding feature is the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and its brown bears. The park includes 18 individual volcanoes, seven of which have been active since 1900. Activities include hiking, backpacking, camping backcountry skiing, fishing, kayaking, boat tours, and interpretive programs. But, be careful of the bears! Most visitors come to Brooks Camp, one of the only developed areas of the park. Very few visitors venture further than the bear viewing platforms and the Brooks Camp area. Another of the Greatest National Parks ever! Most of the park is only accessible by boat.
Kenai Fjords National Park
- Location: Alaska, Kenai Peninsula near Seward
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 669,984 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~321,600
- Link: Website of Kenai Fjords park
- Highlights: The park contains the Harding Icefield. It’s one of the largest icefields in the US. The field is the source of at least 38 glaciers, the largest is the Bear Glacier. Seward AK continues to be a destination point for the park. Cruise ships dock there and the park rangers have a cooperative program for visitors to see the park. Tours provide views of marine wildlife and scenery. Birds and animals include Steller sea lions, puffins, Dall’s porpoises, black bear, snowshoe hares, mountain goats, and both humpback and orca whales. The park maintains public-use cabins and shelters along the coast and at the edge of the Harding icefield.
Kings Canyon National Park
- Location: East-central California, about 130 miles north of Bakersfield
- Founded: 1940
- Size: 461,901 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~699,000
- Link: Website of Kings Canyon park
- Highlights: Actually, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks are adjacent to each other. Expect to see canyons and giant trees in both parks. This park is home to the deepest canyon in the US. The park often is compared to Yosemite. Activities include hiking trails, horseback riding, and camping. Fishing and rock climbing are also popular attractions. The park also contains several lodges for guests.
Kobuk Valley National Park
- Location: Northwestern Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 1,750,716 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~14,937
- Link: Website of Kobuk Valley park
- Highlights: The park protects 61 miles of the Kobuk River. The park is the center of a vast ecosystem along the Kobuk River. It is also only about 30 miles from Gates of the Arctic National Park. The park runs along the southern edge of the Brooks Range. To the south are the lower elevation Waring Mountains. The valley floor is covered by glacial drift. And three sets of sand dune fields occupy lie on the south side of the Kobuk River. The dune fields are The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes, and the Hunt River Dunes. A combination of outwash deposits from glaciers and strong winds created the fields. These three dune fields are remnants of as many as 200,000 acres of dune fields. Today, about 20,000 acres remain in the three dune fields.
Lake Clark National Park
- Location: South Central Alaska
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 4,030,015 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~14,479
- Link: Website of Lake Clark park
- Highlights: Lake Clark preserves the homelands of the Dena’ina people. There is an intact ecosystem located at the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. Like many national parks, this one features camping and backpacking, kayaking and canoeing, fishing, biking, and powerboating. Sport hunting is also permitted in the preserve portion of the park. The State of Alaska rules apply. Visitors can also birdwatch and go river rafting on the many rivers in the park. The park is not accessible by roads. Access is by air taxi or boat. The park has a visitor center and a number of privately operated lodges, again, not accessible by road.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Location: Northeastern California
- Founded: 1916
- Size: 106,452 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~499,500
- Link: Website of Lassen Volcanic park
- Highlights: This park features the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway to drive through the park. Summer and fall activities include hiking on the 150+ miles of trails, day hiking and backpacking are popular. Lassen has active hydrothermal areas including Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell. Boating and fishing are also popular in the summer and early fall. Winter activities include snowshoeing, skiing, and snowboarding.
Mesa Verde National Park
- Location: Southwestern corner of Colorado, near the Four Corners area.
- Founded: 1906
- Size: 52,485 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~563,400
- Link: Website of Mesa Verde_park
- Highlights: The park is home to many outstanding cliff dwellings in America. The park is a forest-covered mesa and the main attractions are the dramatic cliffside Indian ruins. For example, the 150-room Cliff Palace is the largest cave settlement in the park. It was discovered in 1888. Another example is The Balcony House, with 40 rooms. It’s built into a wide, low recess on the wall of Soda Canyon. Near the southeast Park Headquarters area, the Spruce Tree House is the best-preserved settlement in the park. It contains 130 rooms. Approximately 60 to 80 people lived here in the early 13th century. Due to unstable sandstone, this site is closed but can be seen from the lookout near the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. Just another greatest national parks ever!
Mount Ranier National Park
- Location: West Central Washington State
- Founded: 1899
- Size: 236,382 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,518,500
- Link: Website of Mount Ranier park
- Highlights: Mount Ranier, an active stratovolcano, is the highest peak in the Cascades mountain range. The mountain is covered by 26 named glaciers, the largest number for one mountain in the contiguous United States. The mountain is popular for climbing, and more than half of the park is covered by subalpine and alpine forests and meadows seasonally in bloom with wildflowers. Paradise, on the south slope, is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly. The Longmire visitor center is the start of the Wonderland Trail, which encircles the mountain.
North Cascades National Park
- Location: North Central Washington, near the Canadian border
- Founded: 1968
- Size: 504,654 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~30,100
- Link: Website of North Cascades park
- Highlights: Heavy snows, especially on the Western slopes, and a high risk of avalanches due to the steep terrain severely limit visitation in the winter. Most access to the park is from State highway 20, along the Skagit River. Even this road is closed for months at a time in the winter. Most of the plant and animal species native to the park region are still found there. Climate change and pollutants create risks to the environment. The park has one of the earliest and longest-lasting research programs dedicated to studying climate change.
- More highlights: North Cascades National Park is almost entirely protected as wilderness, and so the park has few structures, roads or other improvements. Visitors wishing to drive to a campground must do so in the adjacent national forests or national recreation areas. Camping inside the park requires hiking in by trail, horseback or boat, and camping is regulated by a permit system to ensure the wilderness is not over-exploited. Mountaineering is also popular in the park but only in approved areas.
Olympic National Park
- Location: Washington State, on the Olympic peninsula in the northwest corner, west of Seattle
- Founded: 1938
- Size: 922,650 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~3,245,800
- Link: Website of Olympic park
- Highlights: The Olympic peninsula is a popular tourist attraction for many reason, besides the park. That accounts for the large number of visitors. That and the proximity to Seattle. Attractions include hiking, sightseeing, beach activities, and tours. Areas to see include Lake Crescent, Mora and Rialto beach, Sol Duc Valley, Olympic National Park Main Visitor Center and Wilderness Information, and Staircase. Staircase is populated with enormous Douglas Firs. The Staircase Rapids Loop Trail is an easy 2-mile path that leads visitors through old-growth forest to a bridge over the North Fork Skokomish River, with only a 200-foot elevation gain. More reason to make the parks the greatest national parks ever!
Pinnacles National Park
- Location: Central California, near the coast
- Founded: 2013
- Size: 26,606 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~222,200
- Link: Website of Pinnacles park
- Highlights: Named for the eroded leftovers of a portion of an extinct volcano, the park’s massive black and gold monoliths are a popular destination for rock climbers. Hikers have access to trails crossing the Coast Range wilderness. The park is home to the endangered California condor and one of the few locations in the world where these extremely rare birds can be seen in the wild. Pinnacles also supports a dense population of prairie falcons, and more than 13 species of bat which populate its caves.
Redwood National Park
- Location: Northwestern California, along the coast
- Founded: 1968
- Size: 138,999 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~482,500
- Link: Website of Redwood park
- Highlights: Redwood includes the National Park and several state parks along with interspersed privately owned land, much of that accessible as well. There are no restaurant or lodging options within the parks. However, there are several towns close by that offer those options. However, there are four campgrounds and all are reservable. Numerous hiking trails converge and cross within the parks. Don’t hike without a map! The key highlights are the large redwood trees and the coast drive. Of course, there are many other options as well. Just another example of the greatest national parks ever! (Although rumors suggest scenes from Star Wars Return of the Jedi were filmed in the park, that is not true. However it was filmed among redwoods near the park.)
Saguaro National Park
- Location: South Eastern Arizona
- Founded: 1994
- Size: 92,000 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~957,400
- Link: Website of Saguaro park
- Highlights: The park is an American national park in southeastern Arizona. The park consists of two separate areas—the Tucson Mountain District about 10 miles (16 km) west of the city of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District about 10 miles (16 km) east of the city—that preserve Sonoran Desert landscapes, fauna, and flora, including the giant saguaro cactus.
- More highlights: The volcanic rocks on the surface of the Tucson Mountain District differ greatly from the surface rocks of the Rincon Mountain District; over the past 30 million years, crustal stretching displaced rocks from beneath the Tucson Mountains of the Tucson Mountain District to form the Rincon Mountains of the Rincon Mountain District. Uplifted, domed, and eroded, the Rincon Mountains are significantly higher and wetter than the Tucson Mountains. The Rincons, as one of the Madrean Sky Islands between the southern Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre Oriental in Mexico, support high biodiversity and are home to many plants and animals that do not live in the Tucson Mountain District.
Sequoia National Park
- Location: East Central California
- Founded: 1890
- Size: 404,064 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,246,100
- Link: Website of Sequoia park
- Highlights: Sequoia and Kings Canyon are adjacent to each other. They use the same website and share management. Much of the information posted above for Kings Canyon is the same here. Except that Sequoia contains the highest peak in the Lower 48 states (Mt. Whitney) and the largest tree in the world based on volume. It’s called the General Sherman tree and is located near the General’s Highway. The highway connects to Kings Canyon National park, which contains the General Grant tree and other giant Sequoias. The Giant Forest contains 5 of the 10 largest trees in the world. (The Sequoias are larger than Redwoods by volume, but Redwoods are taller. Redwoods grow in northern California in a cool, wet climate, while Sequoias grow in a dryer, warmer climate in central California.)
Shenandoah National Park
- Location: North Central Virginia
- Founded: 1938
- Size: 199,173 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~1,264,900
- Link: Website of Shenandoah park
- Highlights: Shenandoah lies in the Blue Ridge mountains, part of the Appalachian chain. While the park provides many of the same things that other parks do, such as hiking, camping, bird and animal watching, and explore the scenery. Other attractions include hiking the part of the Appalachian trail that runs through the park. The full trail is about 2,200 miles long, extending from Maine into north Georgia. About 550 miles wind through Virginia. Much of it parallels Skyline Drive, one of the most beautiful drives in the US. Overall, the scenery is the largest draw. I have visited North Carolina and driven part of the drive and can attest to it’s beauty. In addition to the Appalachian Trail, there are many other trails within the park. They have varying degrees of difficulty. Two of them are the Whiteoak Canyon Trail and Old Rag Mountain Loop. Both have over 2,000 feet elevation gains and are rated difficult. Just another of the greatest National Parks ever!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Location: Western North Dakota, near the Montana border
- Founded: 1978
- Size: 70,447 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~691,658
- Link: Website of Theodore Roosevelt park
- Highlights: This is the only National Park named after a person. The park consists of three sections in the northern badlands. Yes, North Dakota has badlands, similar to the South Dakota Badlands. (They are not near each other.) Within the park, Roosevelt’s historic cabin remains preserved for the ages. He went there to hunt buffalo in 1883 and returned often. Over time, he purchased two different ranches and spent as much time as possible in the summer. Roughrider State is one of the nicknames by which North Dakota is known. (Teddy Roosevelt is known for leading his “Roughriders” (a cavalry troop) during the Spanish-American War in 1898.)
- More highlights: The park’s scenery is both the badlands and the natural prairie with rolling hills, streams, and wildlife. Animals found within the park include American Bison, pronghorn and bighorn sheep, and wild horses. As with other parks, the park contains scenic drives and back country hiking. (The Driveby Tourist has been in the area, but not sure if I actually visited the park. It’s on my list as there are several attractions in western North Dakota I want to see again.)
Virgin Islands National Park
- Location: US Virgin Islands, Saint John island
- Founded: 1956
- Size: 15,053 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~133,400
- Link: Website of Virgin Islands park
- Highlights: The park includes beaches as well as the usual hiking, kayaking, and camping. (At the time this is written, the campgrounds and services are closed due to hurricane recovery.) The wide, white-sand beaches are the biggest draw. On-site vendors rent equipment for kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling. The hiking trails take you past historic petroglyphs, the ParForce Great House Ruins, and waterfalls. One of the trails takes you by the Reef Bay Sugar Factory ruins. You may explore the ruins as they are preserved to a point where they are no danger to anyone. There are many other ruins, in various states of preservation. So, if you can get away from the beach long enough, you can enjoy the history as well. One of the greatest national parks ever! And it’s not in one of the states! And, yes, the residents are US citizens.
White Sands National Park
- Location: South Central New Mexico
- Founded: 1933 as a national monument, 2019 as National Park
- Size: 145,762 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~608,800
- Link: Website of White Sands park
- Highlights: White Sands is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Great waves of sand engulf 275 square miles of desert. The park preserves a major portion of this unique place. The location is entirely within the White Sands missile testing range. The park is closed while missile testing is in progress. Due to the unique nature of the park, permits are required for many activities. These include but are not limited to commercial filming and photography, early entry and stay late, research and collection of resources, scattering of ashes of a loved one, weddings, and backcountry camping.
More White Sands highlights
- While freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly are constitutional rights, courts have recognized that activities that exercise these rights may be reasonably regulated to protect park resources. Therefore, some activities require a special use permit. The park may regulate the time, place, and manner in which they are conducted.
Wind Cave National Park
- Location: Southwestern South Dakota
- Founded: 1903
- Size: 33,847 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~656,400
- Link: Website of Wind Cave park
- Highlights: As the name suggests, this park contains a series of caves. There are a number of cave tours available. Some of them are strenuous while others require some stairs to climb but are relatively easy. Hiking above ground provides another series of activities in the park. Various hikes with varying levels of physical exertion are available. Camping is also available inside the park. As expected, the top attractions are underground. And another of the greatest national parks ever!
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
- Location: Southeastern Alaska, part of the north end of the Panhandle and just above it.
- Founded: 1980
- Size: 8,323,148 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~79,500
- Link: Website of Wrangel-St.Elias park
- Highlights: This is the largest park in the national park system. With the limited number of visitors, this park is much more focused on preserving the area. This is true for most of the Alaska parks. The park protects the convergence of the Alaska, Chugach, and Wrangell-St Elias Ranges. The area includes many of North America’s tallest mountains and volcanoes. More than a quarter of the park is covered with glaciers. Particularly at this park, a stop at the visitor center is important. The Copper Center visitor center includes a short hike to a stunning overview of the Wrangell Mountains. The Kennecott Visitor Center includes the historic mining town of Kennecott. It is regularly staffed and includes ranger-led talks and walks.
More Wrangell-St. Elias highlights
- There are several other visitor centers as well; some staffed at irregular hours. Both McCarthy Road and Nabesna Road offer fascinating views of this unique park. Along the McCarthy Road, find the Kennicott Ghost Town, a copper mining camp opened in 1903 and shut down in 1938. Ice-climbing is another activity that won’t be found in other national parks. Due to this park’s huge size, the best place to see much of it is by air. At least two air service charters are available. Backpacking and camping are also available. This one is an amazing example of the greatest National Parks ever!
Yellowstone National Park
- Location: Northwestern Wyoming, Southwestern Montana, Eastern Idaho – one of only three National Parks that span more than one state.
- Founded: 1872
- Size: 2,219,791 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~4,020,300
- Link: Website of Yellowstone park
- Highlights: Yellowstone is the Grande Dame of all National Parks. It’s the first one created. It predates Sequoia by 18 years. It is the sixth most visited park. The five with more visitors are either near larger population centers or are of such majestic beauty that attracts more people (Grand Canyon). Yellowstone’s best-known attractions are the geysers. The best-known geyser is Old Faithful. There are over 500 geysers in the park and over 10,000 thermal features.
More Yellowstone features:
- The park contains more than 60 mammal species includes timberwolves, grizzly bears, black bears, lynxes, bison, and elk. They make Yellowstone one of the best wildlife viewing places in the US. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River contains several high waterfalls. Yellowstone should be on your bucket list if at all interested in national parks. Yet another example of the greatest national parks ever!
Zion National Park
- Location: Southwestern Utah
- Founded: 1919
- Size: 146,597 acres
- Annual Visitors: ~4,488,300
- Link: Website of Zion park
- Highlights: Utah is home to five national parks. Zion is the most visited of them all. The beauty and the proximity to Las Vegas likely make it the most visited. The park’s location at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert give it a varied terrain. The park contains sandstone features like canyons, mesas, and rock towers. The unique location creates an area with four ecosystems: coniferous forest, riparian, woodland, and desert. The park includes scenic drives, rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking, and camping. Zion has three campgrounds and there are more campgrounds within a short distance from the park.
And the recounting of the greatest national parks ever comes to an end. Of course, this post will be updated regularly as I publish more individual posts about various parks. Visiting parks I haven’t seen remains a major goal for 2021. I visited parks that currently don’t have posts but they are “on my list” to complete. Did I mention that these parks are the greatest national parks ever?
“Saturday in the Park” by Chicago
Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream
Singing Italian songs
Everybody is another
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
Written by: Robert William Lamm (co-founder of group “Chicago”)