The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016. Did you know there are almost 400 parks in the national park system? According to the National Park Service (NPS), more than 300 million visitors collectively spent more than a trillion hours at U.S. national parks in 2015. Those numbers are expected to go up this year, given the marketing efforts around the NPS’s centennial. Even without the anniversary, foot traffic at U.S. parks has been trending upward: in recent years, the NPS has seen record attendance, which has resulted in long lines and packed campsites at some of its most popular parks.
Sound worth seeing? We agree. 24Life could not be more glad and grateful to celebrate these parks and programs that are national treasures. You can search for parks near you at findyourpark.com and make a point of mapping out your visits to each and every one of them at some point in your life. Lifetime passes are free to anyone with a permanent disability, and just $10 for anyone over 62. If you can’t make it to a national park this summer, at least get outside somehow, somewhere, and play in celebration of a second century of caring for America’s special places in nature.
1) Acadia | Maine | 35°N 68.21°W
47,389.67 acres (191.8 km2)
Covering most of Mount Desert Island and other coastal islands, Acadia is attractive for its rugged coast, beauty and diversity. Home to the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast, visitors arrive to Acadia to hike its granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, and relax and enjoy the, ocean shoreline, woodlands, and lakes.
2) American Samoa | American Samoa | 14.25°S 170.68°W
9,000.00 acres (36.4 km2)
The only U.S. National Park south of the Equator, this exotic park is it is actually three parks on three separate islands, each with spectacular scenery and tropical rainforests. American Samoa scenery includes shorelines, reefs and rainforest. The islands are extinct volcanoes heavily eroded to rugged peaks, and formed as the Pacific Plate moved across a stationary hot spot where eruptions from the Earth’s mantle pierced the lithosphere, forming a line of volcanic islands.
3) Badlands | South Dakota | 43.75°N 102.50°W
242,755.94 acres (982.4 km2)
The Badlands are famous in Western movies and for good reason. The collection of buttes, pinnacles, spires, and grass prairies are a stark and foreboding sight. They also hold the world’s richest fossil beds from the Oligocene epoch, and are currently home to abundant wildlife including bison, bighorn sheep, black-footed ferrets and swift foxes.
4) Arches | Utah | 38.68°N 109.57°W
518.98 acres (309.7 km2)
Nature’s architecture at its best, this site features more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the Delicate Arch — all created by the desert climate and millions of years of erosion. Other geologic formations include dramatic stone columns, spires, fins, and towers. The arid ground with its life-sustaining soil crust features potholes that serve as natural water-collecting basins for the many lifeforms that live in the habitat.
5) Congaree | South Carolina | 33.78°N 80.78°W
26,545.86 acres (107.4 km2)
Located on the Congaree River, this park is the largest portion of old-growth floodplain forest left in North America, and hosts some of the tallest trees in the Eastern U.S. An elevated walkway called the Boardwalk Loop weaves through the swamp for a relaxing stroll.
6) Crater Lake | Oregon | 42.94°N 122.1°W
183,224.05 acres (741.5 km2)
Crater Lake is famous for its breathtaking blue color, and it lies in the caldera of an ancient volcano called Mount Mazama. Mazarna collapsed 7,700 years ago, leaving the deepest lake in the country. Two more recent volcanic islands have formed lakes made possible only by precipitation.
7) Denali | Alaska | 63.33°N 150.50°W
4,740,911.72 acres (19,185.8 km2)
Centered on Denali, the tallest mountain in North America, this park is serviced by a single road leading to Wonder Lake. Denali and other peaks of the Alaska Range are covered with long glaciers and boreal forest. Wildlife includes grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, and gray wolves.
8) Dry Tortugas | Florida | 24.63°N 82.87°W
64,701.22 acres (261.8 km2)
The islands of the Dry Tortugas exist at the western-most end of the Florida Keys, and are the site of Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-era fort that is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. Most of the park is a remote ocean and it is the home to undisturbed coral reefs and shipwrecks. The park is only accessible by plane or boat.
9) Glacier | Montana | 48.80°N 114.00°W
1,013,572.41 acres (4,101.8 km2)
The crown of the continent, the U.S. half of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park hosts 26 glaciers and 130 named lakes, all nestled beneath a stunning canopy of Rocky Mountain peaks and vast blue skies. There is abundant wildlife, along with historic hotels and a landmark road called the going-to-the-sun road. The local mountains, formed by an over-thrust, expose the world’s best-preserved sedimentary fossils from the Proterozoic era adjacent to the rapidly receding glaciers. Views are stunning in all seasons.
10) Grand Canyon | Arizona | 36.06°N 112.14°W
1,217,403.32 acres (4,926.7 km2)
The mighty Colorado River is responsible for carving the Grand Canyon as we know it. It is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 1 mile (1.6 km) deep and up to 15 miles (24 km) wide. There are trails and resting spots everywhere that allow you to walk through and descend into the canyon. The colors and layers of the countless mesas and canyon walls along the Colorado Plateau are exposed by millions of years of erosion, and visible from both the north and south rims of the canyon.
11) Grand Teton | Wyoming | 43.73°N 110.80°W
309,994.66 acres (1,254.5 km2)
Jackson Hole and reflective piedmont lakes really feel like the Wild West. The wildlife is unique and contrasts with dramatic mountains and the valley in the background. Grand Teton is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range and is used for a variety of recreational activities all year long.
12) Great Smoky Mountains | Tennessee, North Carolina | 35.68°N 83.53°W
521,490.13 acres (2,110.4 km2)
The Great Smoky Mountains are a legendary part of the Appalachian Mountains, with a vast span and wide range of elevations. Wildlife is everywhere and plants and trees are diverse. Hiking is the most popular activity, closely followed by fishing and horseback riding. There are over 800 miles (1,300 km) of trails, including 70 miles (110 km) of the famous Appalachian Trail.
13) Hawaii Volcanoes | Hawaii |19.38°N 155.20°W
323,431.38 acres (1,308.9 km2)
This amazing park is on the Big Island. It protects the famous Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, two of the world’s most active volcanoes and highly studied geological features. The ecosystem is extremely diverse and ranges from lush tropical forests at sea level, to barren lava beds situated at extreme elevations of 13,000 feet (4,000 m).
14) Hot Springs | Arkansas | 34.51°N 93.05°W
5,549.75 acres (22.5 km2)
The Arkansas Hot Springs Park is the oldest park managed by the National Park Service — it was established by act of Congress as a federal reserve on April 20, 1832. It is a small park and the only one in an urban area. It’s based around natural hot springs that flow out of the mystical, low-lying Ouachita Mountains. The springs provide opportunities for relaxation in a historic setting including Bathhouse Row, which displays 19th-century architecture.
15) Isle Royale | Michigan | 48.10°N 88.55°W
571,790.11 acres (2,314.0 km2)
This island park is the largest in Lake Superior and is a place of isolation and wilderness. Along with its many shipwrecks, waterways, and hiking trails, there are plenty of things to explore and do on this island, and even more recreation available as the park also includes more than 400 smaller islands within 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of its shores. The wildlife is limited to a small number of species on the entire island, and there seems to be a unique relationship between its wolf and moose populations.
16) Joshua Tree | California | 33.79°N 115.90°W
789,745.47 acres (3,196.0 km2)
Covering large areas of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts and the Little San Bernardino Mountains, this exotic desert landscape is populated by vast stands of the famous Joshua tree. Great changes in elevation reveal starkly contrasting environments including bleached sand dunes, dry lakes, rugged mountains and maze-like clusters of monzogranite monoliths.
17) Mammoth Cave | Kentucky | 37.18°N 86.10°W
52,830.19 acres (213.8 km2)
It’s odd to consider a cave as expansive, but somehow that is what Mammoth Cave is. With more than 400 miles (640 km) of passageways explored, Mammoth Cave is by far the world’s longest cave system. Within, subterranean wildlife includes eight bat species, Kentucky cave shrimp, Northern cavefish and cave salamanders. Above ground, visitors can play on the Green River, choosing from over 70 miles of hiking trails and plenty of sinkholes and springs.
18) Mount Rainier | Washington | 46.85°N 121.75°W
235,625.00 acres (953.5 km2)
You can’t miss Mount Rainier: it stands majestically as an active stratovolcano; is the most prominent peak in the Cascades; and is covered by 26 named glaciers including Carbon Glacier and Emmons Glacier, the largest in the continental United States. Paradise on the south slope is snowy all year round, and the Longmire visitor center is the start of the Wonderland Trail, which encircles the mountain. The mountain is popular for climbing and hiking. More than half of the park is covered by subalpine and alpine forests.
19) Petrified Forest | Arizona | 35.07°N 109.78°W
93,532.57 acres (378.5 km2)
While it may sound unusual to make time for old wood, this is wood that’s worth seeing. This portion of the Chinle Formation has a great concentration of 225-million-year-old petrified wood. The surrounding Painted Desert features eroded cliffs of wonderfully red-hued volcanic rock called bentonite that’s breathtaking against the sky. Don’t be surprised to discover dinosaur fossils and more than 350 Native American sites.
20) Redwood | California | 41.30°N 124.00°W
112,512.05 acres (455.3 km2)
The Redwood forest deserves every note we sing for it. This park and the co-managed state parks protect almost half of all remaining coastal redwoods, the tallest trees on earth. In addition, there are three large river systems in this very seismically active area, and 37 miles (60 km) of active coastline, revealing tide pools and sea-stacks with a huge variety of animal and plant species.
21) Shenandoah | Virginia | 38.53°N 78.35°W
199,045.23 acres (805.5 km2)
A very popular filming site, Shenandoah’s Blue Ridge Mountains are covered by sprawling and gorgeous hardwood forests filled with tens of thousands of animals. The Skyline Drive and Appalachian Trail run the entire length of this narrow park, along with more than 500 miles (800 km) of hiking trails passing scenic overlooks and cataracts of the Shenandoah River.
22) Virgin Islands | United States Virgin Islands | 18.33°N 64.73°W
14,688.87 acres (59.4 km2)
The island of Saint John has native culture juxtaposed with new-world glamour. It has human and natural histories and habitats. Taíno archaeological sites and ruins of sugar plantations from Columbus’ time litter the coast and give a visual echo of eras long past. Beyond the pristine beaches are mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs and vast algal plains.
23) Yellowstone | Wyoming, Montana, Idaho | 4.60°N 110.50°W
42,219,790.71 acres (8,983.2 km2)
Home of Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring, there is always something in this park to keep visitors engaged. Situated on the Yellowstone Caldera, the park is famous for its expansive network of geothermal areas including vividly colored hot springs, boiling mud pots and regularly erupting geysers. The yellow-hued pathway into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River has a number of scenic waterfalls, and four mountain ranges run through the park. More than 60 mammal species including gray wolves, grizzly bears, lynxes, bison, and elk make this park one of the best wildlife viewing spots in the country.
24) Yosemite | California | 37.83°N 119.50°W
761,266.19 acres (3,080.7 km2)
Among the earliest candidates for National Park status, Yosemite features across all recreation interests. Its towering granite cliffs, dramatic waterfalls and old-growth forests never disappoint, showcasing the unique intersection of geology and hydrology along with an abundance of rare plant and animal species. Half Dome and El Capitan rise from the park’s centerpiece, the glacier-carved Yosemite Valley, and from its vertical walls drop Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall.