Order of the National Parks by Date of Establishment | An Informational Reference Guide
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
I find it interesting to look back through history and see all that's been done. It's easy to take for granted the things we have and not put much thought into the work and time that went in to making those things.
A great example of this is found in the history of the national parks.
They didn't just show up over night!
Today, I've written a list of all the national parks in date order of when they were established.
I also have included a Q&A section underneath where you can learn some interesting trivia facts and commonly asked questions about the national parks.
National Parks in Order of Establishment Date
1872, March 1 - Yellowstone
1890, September 25 - Sequoia
1890, October 1 - Yosemite
1899, March 2 - Mount Rainier
1902, May 22 - Crater Lake
1903, January 9 - Wind Cave
1906, June 29 - Mesa Verde
1910, May 11 - Glacier
1915, January 26 - Rocky Mountain
1919, February 26 - Grand Canyon
1916, August 1 - Hawaii Volcanoes
1916, August 9 - Lassen Volcanic
1917, February 26 - Denali
1918, September 24 - Katmai
1919, November 19 - Zion
1921, March 4 - Hot Springs
1928, February 25 - Bryce Canyon
1929, January 19 - Acadia
1929, February 26 - Grand Teton
1929, April 12 - Arches
1930, May 14 - Carlsbad Caverns
1933, January 18 - White Sands
1934, June 15 - Great Smokey Mountains
1935, January 4 - Dry Tortugas
1935, June 12 - Big Bend
1935, December 26 - Shenandoah
1938, June 29 - Olympic
1939, January 24 - Badlands
1940, March 4 - Kings Canyon
1940, April 3 - Isle Royale
1941, July 1 - Mammoth Cave
1947, December 6 - Everglades
1961, July 1 - Haleakala
1956, August 2 - Virgin Islands
1962, December 9 - Petrified Forest
1964, September 12 - Canyonlands
1968, October 2 - North Cascades
1968, October 2 - Redwood 1971, December 18 - Capitol Reef
1972, December 30 - Guadalupe Mountains
1974, December 27 - Cuyahoga Valley
1975, April 8 - Voyageurs
1978, November 10 - Theodore Roosevelt
1978, December 1 - Wrangell-St. Elias
1980, March 5 - Channel Islands
1980, June 28 - Biscayne
1980, December 2 - Gates of the Arctic
1980, December 2 - Kenai Fjords
1980, December 2 - Kobuk Valley 1980, December 2 - Glacier Bay 1980, December 2 - Lake Clark
1986, October 27 - Great Basin
1988, October 31 - America Samoa
1994, October 14 - Saguaro
1994, October 31 - Death Valley
1994, October 31 - Joshua Tree
1999, October 21 - Black Canyon of the Gunnison
2003, November 10 - Congaree
2004, September 24 - Great Sand Dunes
2013, January 10 - Pinnacles
2018, February 22 - Gateway Arch
2019, February 15 - Indiana Dunes
2020, December 27 - New River Gorge
Question and Answer
Q) Why Did National Parks Become a Thing?
A) Way back in 1872, thanks to the persistent documentation and pleading of explorers, President Ulysses S. Grant signed Yellowstone National Park into existence. This was the very first park of its kind for the United States.
In the Yellowstone Protection Act of 1872 (the legal document that established Yellowstone as a national park), it is written that one of the purposes of a national park is to be "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" as well as to be "reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States". The goal was to protect the land for the sake of preservation as well as for being enjoyed by the people (us).
It took many years, expeditions, reports, and detailed artwork to get the ball moving. Even after Yellowstone became a National Park, it was another 18 years before the next one was established and another 26 years after that before the National Park System was created.
There is a lot of interesting history about how Yellowstone came about. To learn more about the very first National Park, check out this post.
Q) Who Established the Most National Parks?
A) Many presidents throughout America’s history have signed in national parks. However, one president in particular stands out for how many he established. President Jimmy Carter is responsible for the creation of 10 national parks and preserves. Some of the national parks that were established under him include: Wrangell-St. Elias, Lake Clark, Kobuk Valley, Kenai Fjords, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Channel Islands, and Biscayne.
While Jimmy Carter established the most national parks, Theodore Roosevelt is considered “the conservation president“ doubling the number of national parks during his presidency by adding five national parks. He signed in Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde National Parks. The other two that he established are no longer national parks. Sullys Hills in North Dakota, though once a national park, is now classified as a game preserve. Similarly, Platt in Oklahoma is now part of Chickasaw National Recreational Area. Not only did he sign in five National parks, but established 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird sanctuaries, 150 national forests, and four national game preserves. All this added together totals over 230 million acres of land set aside, which is more than any other president and is how he got this title.
Q) Why are Some Places No Longer National Parks?
A) The short answer is that someone decided the land didn't truly fit the box for a national park and the place is therefore assigned a different name. Some become recreational areas, game preserves, or part of another national park instead. There are several examples of these changes.
In the case of Mackinac National Park (1875-1895), the state gained control of the land turning it into the first ever state park rather than a national park. Mackinac was technically the second national park, but is not on my list because it is now a state park.
I think part of the reason that this was so common is that the National Park System wasn't founded right away and it took a long time for rules and an effective system to be made. People were unsure about how things should be run and what exactly the goal or purpose was. All this combined led to people changing their minds and reclassifying some national parks.
Q) What is the Smallest national Park?
A) With only 192 acres (or .3 square miles), Gateway Arch is the smallest National Park. Compare this to the second smallest national park, Hot Springs, that has 5,549 acres.
Q) What is the Largest National Park?
A) Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest national park with 13,175,799 acres (or nearly 20,600 square miles). This makes it roughly six times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
Q) Which State Has the Most National Parks?
A) California has nine national parks including Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Redwood, Lassen Volcanic, Channel Islands, and Pinnacles. Together this adds up to almost 10,000 square miles of national park land in California alone.
Alaska takes second place with eight national parks, just one shy of California.
Q) What Is the Most Visited National Park?
A) With over 12 million visitors in 2020, Great Smokey Mountains is the most visited national park. Located in North Carolina and Tennessee, this national park is consistently in the lead for this title year after year. So far, 2019 holds the lead for the year that this park received the most visitors reaching over 12.5 million visitors.
Q) What Is the Least Visited National Park?
A) Receiving just under 3,000 visitors in 2020, Gates Of The Arctic is the least visited national park. It is no surprise that this park receives the least visitors because of how difficult it is to get there and the harsh conditions you may face upon arrival. This park that has no roads or trails is not for the inexperienced. Getting to this remote location requires a long hike in or flying in via an air-taxi. Then once you get there, you make your own trail and try to avoid the grizzly bears!
Q) What are the “Mighty Five”?
A) “The Mighty Five” is a nickname given to the five national parks in Utah State. These five include: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. They all look similar at first with all the red rock, but each park offers unique features and different experiences. These parks are quite popular for off-roading as well as hiking despite the high temperatures found here.
I hope this reference guide was helpful for you and you learned some fun facts about the national parks!