The US National Parks
This is a list of United States National Parks by state. We’ve linked our stories to the parks we have visited. There are 61 U.S. National Parks, including two in American Samoa and the United States Virgin Islands.
The United States National Parks have been called America’s Best Idea. Ken Burns made a documentary by that name.
We can’t really argue with that. The only possible competitor is jazz music.
California has the most National Parks with nine; Alaska has eight National Parks. Utah has five; Colorado has four; Arizona, Florida, and Washington have three; Hawaii, Texas, Wyoming, and South Dakota have two. Several other states, including our home state of Minnesota, have one. Most states have none.
The United States National Parks were founded in 1872 with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and is also thought to be the first national park in the world.
The newest National Park in the United States is Indiana Dunes National Park, established in 2019. It was previously the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along Lake Michigan.
The National Parks are administered by the National Park Service. An annual pass to all U.S. National Parks costs $80. Lifetime senior passes are available for all U.S. citizens and permanent residents for $80. An annual senior pass is $20. U.S. Military members and dependents eligible for a free annual pass. For complete information on passes, click this link.
The most visited National Park is Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Great Smoky had more than 11 million visitors in 2017. The second most visited is the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, which had more than 6 million visitors in 2017.
The least visited National Park, not surprisingly, is Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic, which had only a little more than 11,000 visitors in 2017. The least visited National Park in the lower 48 states is Isle Royale in Michigan (actually it’s in Lake Superior between Michigan and Minnesota. It can be reached by ferry or small plane from both states.) Isle Royale is the only National Park to close completely in the winter. It had a record year for visitors in 2017, when it got more than 28,000 visits.
Volcanoes are a recurring motif in National Parks, with the largest volcano in the world at Yellowstone National Park. Active volcanoes, or at least recently active, are at several parks, including, not surprisingly, Hawaii’s Volcanos National Park. Others where you can see volcanic activity include Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, Mount Ranier, and several in Alaska.
The Four largest National Parks are all in Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest at more than 8 million acres (3.2 million hectares), followed by Gates of the Arctic, Denali, and Katmai. The largest park in the lower 48 states is Death Valley, at over 3.3 million acres (1.3 million hectares.) Yellowstone is second in the lower 48 at 2.2 million acres.
Of course, the parks are the premier sites in the United States for hiking and backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing, cross country skiing, watching wildlife such as moose, elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, and grizzly bears–if you keep your distance.
Or, if you’re not into roughing it, there are often lodges in the park that are hidden gems of early 20th Century rustic luxury. Be sure to book early.
Other sites managed by the National Park Service
There are more than 400 sites in the United States that are also under the auspices of the National Park Service. Those include national monuments, battlefields, historic sites, natural sites, and recreation areas. Here’s a list of all U.S. National Park Service administered sites.
New York has the most National Historic Landmarks, with 274, and 116 in New York City alone.
Arizona has the most National Monuments, with 18.
There are also National Preserves. A national preserve is a type of National Park Service protected area of the United States that has characteristics normally associated with national parks but where certain natural resource-extractive activities such as fishing, hunting, mining, and oil/gas exploration and extraction are permitted.
Also, the Bureau of Land Management, as distinct from the National Park Service, manages the federal government’s nearly 700 million acres (2,800,000 km2) of subsurface mineral estate located beneath federal, state and private lands. Most Bureau of Land Mangement public lands are located in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The United States National Parks are also supported by the National Park Foundation, which lately has had its hands full fighting against budget cuts. You might consider a donation.
The United States National Parks by State
California National Parks, 9
- Channel Islands National Park (1980)
- Death Valley National Park (1994)
- Joshua Tree National Park (1994)
- Kings Canyon National Park (1940)
- Lassen Volcanic National Park (1916)
- Pinnacles National Park (2013)
- Redwood National Park* (1968)
- Sequoia National Park (1890)
- Yosemite National Park* (1890)
Alaska National Parks, 8
- Denali National Park and Preserve* (1917)
- Gates of the Arctic National Park (1980)
- Glacier Bay National Park* (1980)
- Katmai National Park and Preserve (1980)
- Kenai Fjords National Park (1980)
- Kobuk Valley National Park (1980)
- Lake Clark National Park (1980)
- Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve* (1980)
Utah National Parks, 5
- Arches National Park (1971)
- Bryce Canyon National Park (1928)
- Canyonlands National Park (1964)
- Capitol Reef National Park (1971)
- Zion National Park (1919)
Colorado National Parks, 4
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (1999)
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (2004)
- Mesa Verde National Park* (1906)
- Rocky Mountain National Park (1915)
Arizona National Parks, 3
- Grand Canyon National Park* (1919)
- Petrified Forest National Park (1962)
- Saguaro National Park (1994)
Florida National Parks, 3
- Biscayne National Park (1980)
- Dry Tortugas National Park (1992)
- Everglades National Park (1934)
Washington National Parks, 3
- Mount Rainier National Park (1899)
- North Cascades National Park (1968)
- Olympic National Park* (1938)
Hawaii National Parks, 2
- Haleakala National Park (1916)
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park* (1916)
South Dakota National Parks, 2
- Badlands National Park (1978)
- Wind Cave National Park (1903)
Texas National Parks, 2
- Big Bend National Park (1944)
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park (1966)
Wyoming National Parks, 2
- Grand Teton National Park (1929)
- Yellowstone National Park* (Also partially in Montana and Idaho) (1872)
Arkansas National Parks, 1
- Hot Springs National Park (1921)
Indiana National Parks, 1
- Indiana Dunes National Park (2019)
Kentucky National Parks, 1
- Mammoth Cave National Park* (1941)
Maine National Parks, 1
- Acadia National Park (1919)
Michigan National Parks, 1
- Isle Royale National Park (1940)
Minnesota National Parks, 1
- Voyageurs National Park (1971)
Missouri National Parks, 1
- Gateway Arch National Park (2018)
Montana National Parks, 1
- Glacier National Park* (1910)
Nevada National Parks, 1
- Great Basin National Park (1986)
New Mexico National Parks, 1
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park* (1930)
North Carolina National Parks, 1
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park* (Also in Tennessee) (1934)
North Dakota National Parks, 1
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park (1978)
Ohio National Parks, 1
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2000)
Oregon National Parks, 1
- Crater Lake National Park (1902)
South Carolina National Parks, 1
- Congaree National Park (2003)
Tennessee National Parks, 1
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park* (1934)
Virginia National Parks, 1
- Shenandoah National Park (1935)
American Samoa National Parks, 1
- National Park of American Samoa (1988)
United States Virgin Islands National Parks, 1
- Virgin Islands National Park (1966)
Park names with an asterisk* are also Unesco World Heritage Sites in the United States.
Here is a story about our driving trip to several Western and West Coast National Parks in 2015. We haven’t visited any East Coast National Parks. We hope to remedy that, at least partially, in 2018. Also, we have never been to Alaska. In fact, that’s the only state that Kris and I have never been to. We also hope to get there in 2018, if ww have time. Trying to knock off the list of United States National Parks without getting out of the lower 48 is kind of silly, no?
Of course, the United States got it started, but there are plenty of other countries which now have national parks. We’ve visited a few of those, too.
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