Created on August 25, 1916, the National Park Service manages and preserves the national parks. But the idea of conserving our beautiful country started way before the National Park Service was established. President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law Yellowstone National Park – the first national park – in 1872. Since then, Congress has established 61 other national parks in the states and territories. Learn more about each of our nation’s gems below, and start exploring the beauty of the US from sea to shining sea!
Established: February 26, 1919
About: Acadia National Park is the oldest US national park east of the Mississippi and features the only fjord/fjard (it was downgraded) on the East Coast. It offers beautiful views of the ocean contrasted by the mountains.
Why we love it: You can see the first sunrise in the United States every day!
Location: American Samoa (a US territory in the South Pacific)
Established: October 31, 1988
About: This national park is hard to reach – it’s much closer to Australia than the United States! It spreads across three islands and protects coral reefs, marine life, and fruit bats.
Why we love it: Protecting this area is not only important for the flora and fauna but also for the Samoan people. The native culture is important to preserve just like the natural beauty – and this park is gorgeous!
Established: April 12, 1929
About: This area has been home to people for over 10,000 years, and it holds a fascinating history. The Delicate Arch, a freestanding 65-foot arch, is the most famous arch and is depicted on the Utah license plates.
Why we love it: With over 2,000 sandstone arches, this national park is visually mesmerizing and truly awe-inspiring to see in person.
Location: South Dakota
Established: November 10, 1978
About: Tucked in the southwest corner of South Dakota, Badlands National Park has a dramatic landscape of eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires. It is home to many animals including bighorn sheep, bobcats, bison, pronghorns, and more.
Why we love it: The history is amazing! Archeologists have found fossils of rhinoceros, saber-toothed cat, and other long-gone creatures.
Insider Tip: Pair your trip to Badlands National Park with Mount Rushmore.
Established: June 12, 1944
About: Big Bend National Park stretches along a section of the Rio Grande, the natural border between the United States and Mexico. It covers over 800,000 acres and has a vast landscape filled with wildlife, including 450 species of birds.
Why we love it: Between the 200 miles of hiking trails and river trips on the Rio Grande, there is so much to explore in this park.
Established: June 28, 1980
About: Biscayne features four distinct ecosystems: mangrove forest, coral reef, Biscayne Bay, and the Keys so it is home to a vast array of wildlife and marine life. The park is protects many threatened or endangered species including manatees, the American alligator, and green, hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles.
Why we love it: This park is 95% water, so you need to climb aboard a kayak or boat to really explore and see the marine life up close.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Established: October 21, 1999
About: With over two million years in the making, this national park was formed by the Gunnison River carving out the canyon. This is a great park to explore by car to take in some of the nearly vertical canyon walls and the river.
Why we love it: Author Duane Vandenbusche described it best when he said “Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon.”
Did You Know? Because of the steep cliffs, parts of the gorge see less than an hour of sunlight per day – hence the name Black Canyon!
Established: February 25, 1928
About: Bryce Canyon is not as much a canyon as it is amphitheaters sprinkled along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The red, orange, and white sandstone is striking to see in person – photos don’t do justice.
Why we love it: Hoodoos! Bryce Canyon has the largest group of hoodoos (tall spires of rocks) in the world.
Insider Tip: The park has one of the darkest night skies in the United States – the naked eye can see over 7000 stars! Talk about “out of this world” views!!
Established: September 12, 1964
About: The Colorado and Green Rivers together created the canyons, mesas, and buttes that make up Canyonlands. There are four districts in the park: the Island in the Sky, the Maze, the Needles, and the rivers.
Why we love it: The park features rugged trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and ATVs.
Established: December 18, 1971
About: Capitol Reef National Park is filled with cliffs, canyons, crevices, domes, and bridges along the Waterpocket Fold, a “wrinkle” in the Earth’s landscape.
Why we love it: The Waterpocket Fold is the largest monocline in North America.
Insider Tip: Don’t be fooled by the word “reef” in this park! It refers to a barrier for land travel and is not underwater.
Location: New Mexico
Established: May 14, 1930
About: Above ground is a desert wilderness, but below is an underground labyrinth of over 100 caves. The network of caves in Carlsbad Caverns is the seventh longest in the world and is home to hundreds of thousands of bats.
Why we love it: The “Big Room” is a cave chamber that is almost 4000 feet long and 255 feet high.
Established: March 5, 1980
About: Channel Islands National Park includes five protected islands off the coast of Southern California. The park is only accessible by boat or small aircraft making it one of the least visited.
Why we love it: Many say that visiting this park is seeing Southern California as it once was – pristine natural setting filled with an assortment of plants and animals.
Location: South Carolina
Established: November 10, 2003
About: Congaree National Park is the largest intact tract of old growth hardwood forest in the US. This swampy park is home to some of the tallest trees in the Eastern United States that create temperate deciduous forest canopy.
Why we love it: The Boardwalk Loop is a 2.4-mile walkway through the swamp that allows visitors to really get up close and personal with the park.
Established: May 22, 1903
About: This park includes Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States with a depth of 1,949 feet. The lake was formed by Mount Mazama, a volcano that collapsed over 7000 years ago.
Why we love it: The stunning blue water of Crater Lake is something to behold. Visitors can hike around the lake, go on a boat, or swim in it! The water warms to between 55 and 60 degrees in the summer.
Did you know? Crater Lake is filled with water from rain and snow and has no streams or rivers flowing into or out of it.
Established: October 11, 2000
About: Cuyahoga Valley was only recently deemed a national park, but it is filled with hiking and biking trails that visitors enjoy.
Why we love it: The park offers a glimpse of early America expansion into the west with well-preserved 19th century villages and bridges.
Location: California and Nevada
Established: October 31, 1994
About: Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America, with highs reaching 134 degrees Fahrenheit. But not all parts of the 3 million acres reach those temps, so don’t be afraid to visit. Canyons, sand dunes, and mountains create a diverse landscape to explore.
Established: February 26, 1917
About: Denali National Park and Preserve is named after the highest mountain in North America, Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley). The rustic park is located in central Alaska and a single gravel road leads visitors through this expansive park. It is home to many animals including grizzly bears, caribou, gray wolves, and moose.
Why we love it: Denali offers a myriad of activities. Adventurers can summit the peak, adrenaline seekers can go dogsledding, explorers can backpack through the land, and relaxed travelers can take in the breathtaking scenery or even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Established: October 26, 1992
About: Dry Tortugas National Park is located 68 miles west of Key West and is only accessible by boat or sea plane. The park is composed of the seven islands in the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson, a massive unfinished 19th century coastal fortress.
Why we love it: This park juxtaposes an abandoned fort with incredible natural beauty both on land and under the sea. From the 16 million bricks at Fort Jefferson to the abundant sea life around the colorful coral reefs, Dry Tortugas offers so much to explore.
Did You Know? The Dry Tortugas are actually closer to Cuba than the United States.
Established: May 30, 1934
About: Everglades National Park is the largest tropical wilderness in the United States and third-largest national park in the contiguous United States. It was created to protect the fragile ecosystem that is home to many threatened or endangered species, like the elusive Florida panther and the American crocodile.
Why we love it: This network of wetlands and forests boasts countless activities for visitors. There are hiking trails, boat or kayak adventures, and observation platforms. And with over 350 species of birds, Everglades National Park is a bird-lover’s paradise!
Did You Know? The Everglades has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Wetland of International Importance, and an International Biosphere Reserve – one of only three destinations in the world to be on all three lists.
Gates of the Arctic
Established: December 2, 1980
About: Gates of the Arctic is the northernmost national park with all 7.5 million acres situated north of the Arctic Circle. It has no roads, visitor’s center, or any other park facilities but is home to many animals and Alaska natives.
Why we love it: This park is pure wilderness and is the perfect escape for someone who wants to be one with nature. The only changes to the landscape have been natural progressions. In the summer enjoy the Midnight Sun and in the winter the aurora borealis.
Location: St. Louis, MO
Established: February 22, 2018
About: The Gateway Arch may be one of the newer attractions to be deemed National Park status, but it is hardly new to the scene of famous American landmarks, attracting over a million visitors each year.
Why we love it: Standing 630 feet tall, the architectural anomaly is the best way to take in views of St. Louis and grab an Insta-worthy snap.
Established: May 11, 1910
About: Glacier National Park stretches across 1 million acres of land touching the United States and Canadian border. Nature enthusiasts thrive off of this park’s dramatic landscape, with mountain peaks jetting above forests and alpine lakes. The park features 26 glaciers that have been slowly disappearing with climate change.
Why we love it: With over 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier National Park beckons visitors to explore by foot in the summer and by snowshoeing and cross country skiing in the winter.
Insider Tip: Take a helicopter ride over the park!
Established: December 2, 1980
About: With rugged mountains jutting above the coastline, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage. The landscape is breathtaking and the park has many animals: humpback wales and seals in the sea and grizzly bears, eagles, and mountain goats on the land.