6 Fascinating US National Parks

March 27, 2019

Acadia National Park, Maine

It literally takes an act of Congress for a US National Park to come into existence. The first time that happened was in 1872, and it resulted in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

The whole idea behind the US National Parks system was to conserve natural and historic locations, and the wildlife that lives there. That goal allows for inclusion of any place that features natural beauty, unique geological features, or an interesting ecosystem, plus the sites of national monuments and other places of historical or archaeological significance.

The US National Parks are scattered over twenty-nine states and the territories of American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. Nine of them are in California, and Alaska has eight.

The largest US National Park is in Alaska—Wrangell-St. Elias spans over 8 million acres! The smallest one is Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri, with just around 193 acres.

Oldest, biggest, smallest…those extremes are interesting, but they're not the focus of this article. Instead, we've selected six US National Parks that are as different from each other as possible. The collection covers the continental US from coast to coast and includes one park in each of our remote states, Hawaii and Alaska.

Let's start in the Northeastern corner of the US, with a beautiful park called Acadia.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is in Eastern Maine, near the town of Bar Harbor. The park is unique, in that it features a wide variety of landscapes, including mountains, ocean coastline, woodlands, lakes, and wetlands. It covers a total of 49,075 acres.

One of the main attractions of the park is Cadillac Mountain. It's the tallest mountain on the eastern coastline. Glacially formed features abound, with large, fjord-like inlets and coves, and lush valleys, dotted with ponds and lakes.

The park is home to 37 species of mammals, including black bears, moose, and deer. There are 33 fish species and 331 bird varieties.

A paved loop road makes reaching remote parts of the park easy, while some chose to explore by hiking, biking, or on horseback. There are opportunities for rock climbing, canoeing, and, in the winter, visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

Everglades National Park


Unlike many national parks, Everglades National Park was initially created to protect a fragile and disappearing ecosystem. The Everglades consist of a network of wetlands and forests that are fed by a river flowing slowly out of Lake Okeechobee.

The park was first established in 1934, and the restoration of the Everglades has been a politically charged issue in Florida all these years. While developers lobby to construct a network of drainage canals that would allow massive building projects, conservationists have stood firm, so far winning the fight to preserve one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world.

The Everglades cover a massive area, and Everglades National Park protects only the southern twenty percent. It's the United States' largest tropical wilderness; in fact, it's the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River.

Everglades National Park is an important breeding ground for tropical wading birds, and it features the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. Many threatened or protected bird and animal species live in the park, including panthers, crocodiles, manatees, and others. The park gets about one million human visitors every year.

Denali National Park


Denali National Park, in Alaska, has, as its centerpiece, Denali, the highest mountain in North America. The park (and surrounding preserve) cover a whopping 6,045,153 acres, much of which is a mix of forest at lower elevations and tundra at moderate elevations, topping out with imposing glaciers and bare rock mountain peaks.

Denali National Park is a great place to visit if you love winter past-times like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The park received about 600,000 visitors each year.

Badlands National Park


The largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States—not the makings for a very fun park, right? You may be surprised what Badlands National Park in southwestern South Dakota has to offer.

In addition to open prairie, the park's 242,756 acres include hundreds of eroded buttes and pinnacles that create a beautiful landscape.

One of the best ways to see this park is by car. The Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway is a jewel of South Dakota, winding its way through the eastern portion of Badlands National Park. It meanders between ancient rock formations, dizzying cliffs, and breathtaking spires. It takes about two hours to make the whole loop, but much of that time will be spent drinking in the scenery from the numerous overlooks.

Yosemite National Park


When Yosemite National Park in Central California was created, there were some very heavy hitters involved. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant in 1864 in response to assertions that the Yosemite Valley should be protected from development.

Then, in 1890, John Muir, the influential Scottish-American naturalist, and "Father of the National Parks," successfully led a movement to have the Yosemite Valley designated a full-fledged national park. He wanted the park to include the valley and its surrounding mountains and forests, and that’s what he got.

The park covers an area of 747,956 acres, with nearly 95% of that land designated as wilderness. If you've ever seen pictures taken in Yosemite National Park, that statistic is easy to believe.

Yosemite features towering granite cliffs, awe-inspiring waterfalls, and beautiful streams, lakes, and mountains. There's an amazing diversity of plants and animals. For example, over twenty percent of California's 7,000 plant species can be found in Yosemite. The park's animal species include black bears, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, mule deer, and bobcats, to name just a few.

Yosemite is graced by around 4 million people every year.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on "the big island," Hawaii. It was created in 1916.

The park features two active volcanoes, one of which, Mauna Loa, is the world's largest shield volcano. The other, Kilauea, is one of the world's most active volcanoes.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park lets visitors get up close and personal with the two volcanoes. Odd looking lava fields and dramatic landscapes captivate the eye, and you can learn about the rare plants and animals that thrive in the harsh environment.

In 2018, a portion of the park near the Kilauea summit area was closed because of explosions and toxic ash clouds that were spewing from the volcano's crater. Earthquakes damaged access roads so badly, that parts of the park are still closed, but eruptions from Kilauea seem to have calmed down for now.