Interest in national parks has been soaring in recent years. In fact, total visits to U.S. national parks exceeded the population of the nation in 2016 alone. Exploring the wilderness, hiking through mountains and sleeping under the stars are just some of the experiences visitors to U.S. national parks can share with the pioneers who built the country.
The national park concept was an idea championed by Theodore Roosevelt. As president, Roosevelt protected about 230 million acres of public land and signed into law the 1906 American Antiquities Act. This act set aside certain public natural areas as park and conservation land to be preserved for historic and scientific interest. These areas were designated as national monuments. Ten years later, Congress passed the Organic Act, creating the National Park Service.
While Americans approve of preserving their land, setting aside areas as national parks and monuments has sparked controversy in the past, sometimes pitting conservationists against ranchers, developers, and even tourists. The latest chapter in this sometimes contentious issue involves the Trump administration, which is considering shrinking the size of more than two dozen national monuments and turning over the space for private use.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the size of all the national parks, historical parks, recreational areas and national monuments in the country to determine their size using data provided by the National Park Service.
With over 14 official designations and several unique titles, the National Park Service is very specific when it comes to defining their parks. Generally, the smaller national parks tend to have a greater connection to the country’s history, such as the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln or Minute Man National Historical Park, which commemorates the start of the American Revolution. The larger parks are places of refuge and stunning natural beauty, like the Grand Canyon or Sequoia National Park.
Alaska, the nation’s largest state, has four of the country’s 10 biggest national parks. These four parks combined account for 18 million acres — about the size of South Carolina.
To identify the 25 largest and 25 smallest national parks and recreational areas in the United States, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the gross area acres as of 2016 from the National Park Service. The NPS aggregates land area data for various different government land designations. Of these, only National Parks, National Recreational Areas and National Historical Parks were considered for our analysis. To avoid double counting land area, designations such as national monuments and historic sites, which are frequently contained within national parks and often limited to single structures, were excluded. We also did not consider National Preserves, which are sites intended for commercial big game hunting. Privately owned land figures also came from the NPS. Annual visitation data for each area from 2011 through 2016 was also obtained from the NPS.