The United States National Parks Service celebrates its Centennial this year, marking 100 years since it was founded in August of 1916. There are now 407 areas administered by the federal bureau, with 59 recognized as official parks, from Acadia to Zion. The map below shows the locations of these parks, as well as information about their size, age, and popularity.
View US National Parks in a full screen map
Oldest and Newest, Largest and Smallest
The oldest park and one of the better known is Yellowstone. With its wildlife, geysers (including Old Faithful), and varied views, Yellowstone was designated in 1890, 44 years before the National Park Service was created. Yellowstone was followed by California’s Yosemite and Sequoia in 1890, and six others added prior to 1916.
Four of the newest parks were added after the millennium. The newest is Pinnacles in California, designated in 2013. Other young parks include Great Sand Dunes in Colorado (2004), Congaree in South Carolina (2003), and Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio (2000).
The newest parks are also amongst the smallest, all below 50,000 acres. The very smallest is Hot Springs in Arkansas. Established in 1921, it is only 5,550 acres. Hot Springs could fit in Alaska’s Wrangell–St. Elias nearly 1,500 times. At over 8 million acres, the southeastern Alaska park and preserve is the nation’s largest. Alaska is also home to the next three largest parks: Gates of the Arctic, Denali, and Katmai. The largest park not in Alaska is Death Valley, shared by California and Nevada, and it’s not even half the size of Wrangell–St. Elias.
Death Valley is one of only three parks that span multiple states. The park in the most states is Yellowstone, which resides in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The Great Smoky Mountains also straddles state lines, covering both North Carolina and Tennessee.
The States of National Parks
Regionally, there’s not much competition—the west has clearly won. Only 22% of the national parks are east of the Mississippi, and only Shenandoah (Virginia), Congaree (South Carolina), and Great Smokey Mountains (North Carolina) are in the original 13 colonies.
However, when you go to the state level, there’s more competition. California has nine national parks, Alaska coming in next with eight—although, California does share one of those with Nevada. Utah is next with five, Colorado with four. Florida represents the east coast with three, tied with Arizona and Washington. Half of the 50 states have no national park at all.
Interestingly, not every park is even in a state. Two of the US Virgin Islands share Virgin Islands National Park. It is the third smallest at just shy of 15,000 and was added in 1956. Similarly, American Samoa has a national park, the second smallest at 9,000 acres. Established in 1988, it spans three islands.
Happy Birthday, National Parks
No matter the size, nearly 70 million visitors enter these national parks each year. 10 million of those visit Great Smoky Mountains, the most popular of these treasures. Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain round out the top five. At least 10,000 people visit each one, including the large and incredibly remote Gates of the Arctic in Alaska.
If you’re ready to find a national park to visit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, perhaps choose one of the three volcanic parks that themselves were founded in 1916–Hawaii Volcanoes, Haleakalā on Maui, or Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.
Find your Nearest National Park
On the chance those are too far away, use BatchGeo’s store locator feature to find your nearest. Just type your city, zip code, or address into the form above. Even though national parks aren’t stores, this feature works just as well for this usage. And we’re pretty confident you’ll be able to find at least one gift shop at each of these national parks, likely celebrating the Centennial all year long.