“Urban park” may seem to be a contradiction in terms. When you think of a city park, you likely picture a small, flowering lot squeezed between two skyscrapers. It’s natural to think that, because cities dominated by tall buildings have precious little green space to spare. Yet major cities and metropolitan areas have managed to carve out large swaths of parkland where residents can walk among trees, lakes, and other natural wonders.
And by large, we mean really large. New Yorkers and visitors to the city might think of Central Park as huge, but it covers only 843 acres. In the urban metros listed here, the parks stretch from the tiniest at just over 1,000 acres to nearly 500,000 acres.
To identify 51 largest urban parks, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the acreage data for parks in the 100 largest cities in the country from the non-profit Trust for Public Land’s 2021 Park Score Index.
According to the TPL, those cities oversee roughly two million acres of city parkland – about the same size as Yellowstone National Park – of which 1.7 million acres are considered “natural” acres and the remainder tagged as “designated” acres. The median city manages about 6,000 acres of parks, or about 9% of its populated land area. (These are the most visited local parks.)
The most expansive urban park is found in south-central Alaska. Chugach State Park, located mostly within the city of Anchorage, spans nearly 500,000 acres. The Alaska Range circles the park to the north and west, while the Chugach and Wrangell mountains and Prince William Sound border it to the east, providing visitors with views of the ocean shoreline, lakes, glaciers, and ice fields. The park’s western borders are within seven miles of downtown Anchorage.
A distant second in terms of acreage is the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Chesapeake, Virginia. There, forested wetlands, canals, ponds, lakes, and marshes stretch over 110,000 acres. The site harbors more than 200 species of birds in addition to other wildlife, like black bears, bobcats, and river otters.
These urban parks are not only notable for their size, but their biodiversity, as well. From deserts and glaciers to swampland, the parks offer a full range of activities and sights – all within or near the nation’s most populated cities. (These are the largest and smallest national parks and recreation areas in the U.S.)