History of the National Parks

Setting aside wilderness areas for people to revel in the rugged beauty of the United States, while protecting the landscape, plants, and animals for future generations. Sounds like a modern idea, right? But it's not. More than 140 years ago, the United States created the world's first national park.


In 1872, congress set aside 3,400 square miles (8,805 square kilometers) of land in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to establish Yellowstone National Park. Today, the national park system includes 401 park areas where people can snorkel, ride horses, bike, ski, hike, climb, spelunk, kayak, camp, see geysers blow, relax in hot springs, get close to a volcano, and so much more.


If you're a history buff, you're in luck. Sixty-percent of the parks represent the America's history and prehistory with the inclusion of important historical sites such as battlefields, memorials, and historical homes. Plus, you can see ancient dwellings, petroglyphs, and pictographs from earlier cultures.


Since Yellowstone's creation, the role of the national parks has grown and changed just as the United States has grown and changed. Better scientific understanding of protecting wildlife, native plants, and natural resources has strengthened the commitment of the role of national parks.

Did you know?


The idea of a national park might have started several years earlier. In 1864, Congress gave Yosemite Valley to the state of California. They did this so it would remain unspoiled, and not become a casualty to the ugly side of tourism as had befallen the Niagara Falls. (Many years later, that park became part of a larger park now called Yosemite National Park.)

Fun Facts

  • Australia created the world's second national park, when they created their first national park in 1879. Today, many countries have national parks.
  • Denali National Park & Preserve in Alaska is 6 million acres (24,281 square kilometers) of wild land—with only one road. Denali is home to North America's tallest peak, Mount McKinley which is 20,320 feet (6,193 meters) tall.
  • The hottest place on earth was recorded in a National Park! In 1913, it hit 134 degrees F (56.6 degrees C) in the Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada. It often hits 120 degrees F (48.8 degrees C)—in the shade—in Death Valley!
  • Besides breathtaking views, National Parks provide homes to a wide variety of native plants and animals including wolves, cougars, deer, eagles, seals, fox, songbirds, bobcats, black bears, raccoons, and fish. You can even find dinosaurs—their bones anyway!
  • The 401 U.S. national parks cover 84 million acres (339,936 square kilometers).
  • The 13.2-million-acre (53,418-square-kilometer) Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the United States' largest national park. The 0.02-acre (80-square-meter) Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania is the smallest.

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