100 Reasons the National Parks Remain America's Best Idea

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
••• The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park. Kraig Becker

Back in 1983, writer Wallace Stegner famously said "National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." Many people were quick to agree with him, and since then the parks have often been referred to as America's Best Idea. In 2016, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, and to celebrate, here are 100 reasons why these amazing places continue to hold such an indelible lure with outdoor enthusiasts and adventurous travelers.

 

1. Yellowstone was established on March 1, 1872, making it the first national park in the entire world.

2. Since then, there have been 409 areas that have fallen under the National Park Service's jurisdiction, 59 of which are national parks. 

3. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska is the largest park in the system, covering 13.2 million acres. That's larger than some states. 

4. The smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, which covers just .02 acres. 

5. The National Parks are a real bargain for travelers with a pass costing just $80 per year.

6. The parks are some of the best places to go camping in the entire world. 

7. The Park Service's Junior Ranger Program is a great way to get kids interested in the parks, and the outdoors in general. 

8. Acadia National Park has been declared a dark sky zone and holds an annual stargazing festival to celebrate. 

9. The Great Smoky Mountains are the most visited national park, seeing 10 million travelers each year. 

10. The state of California has the post national parks, with 9 sites. Alaska and Arizona are tied for second with 8 each. 

11. Yosemite is home to some of the absolute best rock climbing routes in the entire world, with a climbing culture that is just as legendary

12. The sum total of land dedicated to America's national parks is roughly 84 million acres. That's larger than all but the four biggest states - Alaska, Texas, California, and Montana. 

13. The Grand Canyon is the second most visited national park in the U.S., and has been declared one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World

14. The National Park Service employees more than 22,000 people on a permanent, temporary and seasonal basis. It also has over 220,000 volunteers working in parks across the U.S.

15. The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is one of the most scenic highways in the entire U.S., stretching for 50 miles across beautiful northern Montana. 

16. The tropical island of St. John, located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is actually home to a national park that is 7000 acres in size. 

17. The largest tree in the world by volume can be found inside Sequoia National Park in California. It is named General Sherman, and it stands roughly 275 feet in height, and has an estimated volume of 52,500 cubic feet. 

18. South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore is famous for paying tribute to four of America's greatest presidents. The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt are carved in the stone there. 

19. Denali National Park in Alaska is home to the tallest mountain in North America, which is also called Denali in mountaineering circles, but is also referred to as Mt. McKinley. It stands 20,320 feet in height. 

20. Conversely, the lowest point in North America is also found within a national park. Death Valley reaches a depth of 282 feet below sea level. 

21. Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park is the tallest waterfall in the U.S. It plunges an impressive 2425 feet and can be seen from numerous vantage points throughout the valley. 

22. More than 292 million people visited America's national parks in 2014. That number is expected to top 300 million when the final count for 2015 is released. 

23. There were other caretakers who oversaw management of the national parks prior to the creation of the NPS in 1916. Most prominent amongst them? The U.S. Army Calvary, which patrolled the parks from 1886 until the Park Service took over. 

24. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico actually has a lunchroom inside one of the caves that is located 750 feet below the surface. 

25. Thanks to the Every Kid in a Park initiative, 4th graders can get into the national parks for free.

26. Only accessible by boat, Dry Tortugas Nacional Park is one of the most unique in the entire world. It is made up of seven small islands, a marine reserve, and a Civil War-era fortress. 

27. Crater Lake National Park is home to the deepest lake in the U.S. It plummets to a depth of more than 1943 feet. 

28. The least visited park in the entire U.S. system is Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve in Alaska. This remote destination sees fewer than 400 visitors per year. 

29. America's national parks contain over 250 endangered species of plants and animals, which the Park Service works hard to protect.

30. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the largest cave system in the world, with over 400 miles of mapped caverns and tunnels. That may be the tip of the iceberg however, as more sections are being discovered all the time. 

31. Like to hike? Cumulatively, the national parks have more than 18,000 miles of trails.

32. Each year, the National Park Service sets aside several days during which it waives the fees for entry into the parks. The dates for those days can be found here

33. Great Basin National Park in Nevada is home to some of the oldest trees on Earth. The Bristlecone Pines that grow in the harsh conditions there are over 5000 years old. 

34. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is home to the largest volcano on Earth. Mauna Loa stands more than 50,000 feet in height, although most of that falls below sea level. It also contains more than 19,000 cubic miles of lave too. 

35. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is the tallest national monument in the U.S., standing 630 feet in height. 

36. Great Sand Dunes National Park lives up to its name. The site has dunes that reach 750 feet in height. 

37. The national parks contain more than 75,000 archaeological sites.

38. Yellowstone is home to the largest collection of geothermal features in the world. The park has more than 300 active geysers, as well as more than 10,000 other features that include hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. 

39. Zion National Park in Utah has been home to human residents for over 8000 years. 

40. Relatives of the great sequoia tees, the redwoods found in Redwood National Park are the tallest trees on Earth, with some reaching as high as 350 feet. 

41. El Capitan in Yosemite is the largest granite monolith in the world, and a top spot for rock climbers. In January of 2015, the world stood transfixed as it watched Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson scale the Dawn Wall, perhaps the most difficult climb in the world.  

42. Located in the heart of Lake Superior off the coast of Michigan, Isle Royale National Park is a remote and untamed wilderness that is a favorite amongst backpackers. 

43. The "Valley of 10,000 Smokes" inside Katmai National Park is filled with an ash flow from the Novarupta Volcano that is more than 680 feet deep. 

44. The Rio Grande River runs of for more than 1000 miles along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. It also passes through Big Bend National Park in Texas, with the park making up 118 miles of that border. 

45. There are 97 historical structures located inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including cabins, churches, barns, and grist mills. 

46. Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico contains more than 15,000 historic and prehistoric paintings and drawings on its stone walls and rock outcroppings. 

47. The hottest temperature ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere was found in Death Valley, where the thermometer once read 134 degrees Fahrenheit. 

48. Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is the first place in North America to see the sunrise each morning. 

49. Badlands National Park in South Dakota features numerous fossils from prehistoric creatures, with new ones still being uncovered regularly. 

50. Denali National Park is the only park in the U.S. system with an onsite kennel. Each year, the Park Service welcomes a new litter of puppies that will grow up to be sled dogs that operate within the park's boundaries. 

51. Pinacles National Park in California is the newest park to be added to the system. It was created by President Obama in 2013. Since then there have been a number of new national monuments and memorials added as well.

52. The underwater snorkeling trail near St. John in the Virgin Islands National Park passes along Trunk Bay, which is widely considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire world. 

53. The national parks are home to numerous active volcanoes. Katmai National Park in Alaska has 14 such volcanoes inside its boundaries alone. 

54. Grand Teton National Park was first established in 1929 to protect the mountains and lakes of the region. In 1950, it was expanded to incorporate the valley floor as well. 

55. Only about 5% of Biscayne National Park in Florida exists on land. The rest is made up of a marine preserve, coral reefs, and mangrove shorelines. 

56. The remnants of the trees in the Petrified Forest National Park are more than 200 million years old.

57. The Grand Canyon is truly epic in scale. It stretches for 277 miles in length along the Colorado River, and is 6000 feet deep at its deepest point, and is as much as 18 miles wide in some places. 

58. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas is home to the highest point in that state. Guadalupe Peak rises 8749 feet in elevation. 

59. Mt. Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the lower 48 U.S. states, with six major rivers spawned from its ice. The peak is also a popular mountaineering destination as well. 

60. Once Spanish conquistadors traveled into the region that is now Coronado National Memorial in search of lost cities of gold. Unfortunately they only discovered the spectacular landscapes that still exist there. 

61. The beautiful Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota is more than 180 miles in length, and 724 feet in depth, with exploration ongoing. 

62. Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is home to 4000 archaeological sites, including a stone village that was once inhabited by the Pueblo tribe. 

63. Glacier National Park got its name for the many glaciers that dotted its landscape. Once there were more than 150 to be found there, but thanks to climate change that number has dropped to 25. 

64. Arkansas' Hot Springs National Park is a natural outdoor spa with more than 40 different hot springs wishing its borders.

65. Arches National Park in Utah is home to the highest density of natural sandstone arches found anywhere in the world. There are more than 2000 within its borders. 

66. Famous naturalist John Muir once famously said "No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite."

67. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia has over 500 miles of trail to explore. 

68. Vistors to Olympic National Park can experience three distinct climate zones: Pacific coastline, rainforest, and snowcapped mountains. 

69. The amazing vistas of Canyonlands National Park in Utah, which include mesas, aches, buttes, and deep gorges, were shaped by the Colorado and Green Rivers. 

70. Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota is known for its extensive system of interconnecting waterways that were once used by explorers and fur traders to travel between the eastern and western regions of the United States. 

71. Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is an expansive prairie where the former president visited while grieving over the deaths of both his wife and mother, who died on the same day. February 14, 1884.

72. The Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska is larger than the country of Belgium. 

73. Most of the visitors to Glacier Bay National Park actually arrive via boat. 

74. The Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park actually date back to the last ice age.

75. Yellowstone's Lamar Valley is often referred to as the "Serengeti of North America" because of the extensive amount of wildlife that is on display there. 

76. The National Park of American Samoa is made up of five islands located in the South Pacific. 

77. The Mojave Desert meets the Colorado Desert in Joshua Tree National Park, creating one of the most spectacular arid landscapes in the American West. 

78. The very first Lincoln Memorial was established at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in 1916. The more famous Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington D.C. opened a few years later in 1922. 

79. The Wright Brothers National Memorial celebrates the site of the first flight of an airplane in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. That aircraft would evolve over the decades to be able to carry us to far flung corners of the globe. 

80. Delaware, which was the first official U.S. state, was the last to get its own national park. The First State National Monument wasn't established until 2013. 

81. The Everglades National Park in Florida is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. It is also the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie, making it a vital habitat for deer, alligators, and other important species. 

82. Since being reintroduced to the Badlands National Park over the years, bighorn sheep, bison, swift fox, and the black-footed ferret are all thriving there. 

83. The Dark Rangers are men and women who patrol Bryce Canyon ensuring that its clear, dark skies remain that way for stargazers. 

84. Did you know that Yellowstone – the world's first national park – was established 20 years before Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho (the states that it resides in) gained statehood?

85. California's Channel Islands National Park is sometimes called the "Galapagos of North America" because of the 145 species of plants and animals that are found only there. 

86. Congaree National Park in South Carolina is home to the largest tract of old-growth flood plane forest that remains in North America, and some of the trees that grow there are the tallest in the eastern U.S.  

87. Capitol Reef National Park in Utah features the Waterpocket Fold, a "wrinkle" in the Earth that prominently displays numerous geological layers. This wrinkle stretches for more than 100 miles. 

88. The skies above Big Bend National Park in Texas are so clear that visitors can often spot the Andromeda Galaxy overhead. 

89. Half Dome Trail in Yosemite takes visitors 5000 feet above the valley floor. 

90. The Great Smoky Mountains are home to 66 confirmed species of mammals, including black bears, elk, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, deer, and skunks. 

91. There are more than 3000 miles of rivers and streams inside Olympic National Park

92. Colorado has 53 mountains that stand 14,000 feet or higher in altitude. Locally they are referred to as 14ers. Of those, just one – Long's Peak – is found inside Rocky Mountain National Park

93. The Grand Tetons are home to the largest bird in North America. The Trumpeter Swan can reach as much as 30 pounds in weight, and remains in the valley all year round. 

94. Considered sacred by the Lakota Native American tribes, Devils Tower was declared a national monument in 1906. 

95. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado got its name because it is deep and narrow, which casts dark shadows along the walls of this spectacular gorge.

96. The Effigy Mounds in Iowa is made up of more than 200 animal-shaped mounds – located on sacred grounds – that were made by Native Americans.

97. Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs for more than 40 miles along the banks of Lake Superior and is known for its towering sandstone cliffs, large sand dunes, and beautiful beaches. 

98. Two national parks fall above the Arctic Circle: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Kobuk Valley National Park

99. Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 after they had been hunted to extinction 70 years earlier. The predators have helped to make the ecosystem of the park much healthier in the long run.

100. Zion National Park derives its name from the Hebrew word that means "a place of peace and relaxation" That pretty well sums up most of America's other national parks too.

Congratulations to the National Park Service on its Centennial Year, and good luck in your second century.