Did you know that California and Utah are tied for the most national parks? (They both have eight.) Or that blockbusters such as "Star Wars" wouldn't be the same without footage shot in Death Valley. (It was used to represent Tatooine.)
Back in the day, President Woodrow Wilson probably didn't envision just how expansive the Park Service would be when he established the program as part of the 1916 Organic Act, with a promise “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein."
Despite what its name suggests, the National Park Service doesn’t run just parks. In total, the department administers national parks in addition to national monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, shores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails -- oh, and the White House, too.
Today, in the United States, more than 330 million people visit the 61 parks that make up the national park system, covering more than 85 million acres across America and its territories -- and many more dotting the planet. And since fewer than a third of U.S. national parks don't charge entrance fees, there's no reason not to explore. Take this quiz to find out how much you know about the national parks in America and the world!
The Hawaiian park, Haleakalā National Park, is divided into two sections: its volcanic area on the east side and the coastal Kipahulu area to the west. According to local legend, the park is named for a demigod who imprisoned the sun in an attempt to lengthen the day.
The ancient ecosystem of forests, beaches and grasslands that make up more than 110,000 acres of Redwood National Park are found along Northern California’s coast and into Oregon. President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill creating the park in 1968.
The Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee–North Carolina border are estimated to be between 200 and 300 millions years old, which makes them one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. More than 11 million people visit the park each year, making it the most popular national park in the U.S.
Yellowstone National Park, established on March 1, 1872, by President Ulysses S. Grant, was the first national park in the United States. Home to Old Faithful, Yellowstone is located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The Fiordland National Park makes up a sizeable part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site in New Zealand. Some of its most popular sites include Milford Sound, Mitre Peak and Doubtful Sound.
Death Valley National Park, which straddles the California-Nevada border, was the setting for the fictional planet Tatooine in George Lucas' "Star Wars" universe. The park is not only the hottest and driest place in the United States, but it's also the lowest point in North America.
The largest national park in American, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve rises from the Gulf of Alaska up to 18,008 ft above sea level and covers 13.2 million acres across south-central Alaska. While locally that's larger than the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, internationally it's bigger than the entire country of Switzerland.
Spreading from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Oceans, the Pyrénées National Park creates a natural border France and Spain. It's the third biggest national park in France.
Located in southwestern South Dakota about 40 miles from Rapid City, the more than 244,000 acres of Badlands National Park is home to numerous species of wildlife, including the American buffalo (also called the American bison). The Badlands landscape can be seen in "Dances With Wolves," "Starship Troopers," "Armageddon" and other Hollywood films.
At 11,072,000 acres, Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest national park of Canada and the second-largest park in the world -- it's even larger than the entire country of Switzerland. In 2013, the park was designated the world's largest dark-sky preserve (DSP), restricting artificial light pollution in the area.
Located in the southwestern part of Utah and just 160 miles from Las Vegas, Zion National Park sits on the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert regions. Along with diverse plant and animal life, one of the most prominent features of the park is its 15-mile Zion Canyon, which is up to 2,640-ft. deep.
The granite-domed mountains and ocean shoreline of Acadia National Park covers roughly 47,000 acres of land on Mount Desert Island, Isle au Haut and the Schoodic Peninsula. The only national park established in Maine, it features Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. Atlantic coast.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system and the biggest living structure on the planet -- in fact, it's not only one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World but has also been added to the World Heritage List. The establishment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is intended to help limit the impact of human damage, such as from fishing and tourism.
The park lies entirely above the Arctic Circle, straddling the Arctic Divide in America's northernmost mountains, the Brooks Range. One of the last truly wild places on our planet, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve offers no roads or trails, and no established campsites or other amenities. When the floatplane that brings you here departs, you're on your own in this 8.4 million acres remote park.
More than swampy conditions, the Everglades, a network of wetlands and forests that make up Everglades National Park, are located across 1,508,976 acres of southwest Florida. The park, which is the largest tropical wilderness area in the U.S., protects 20 percent of the original Everglades in Florida.
Crater Lake National Park is part of the Cascade Mountains in southern Oregon. Its main feature, the strikingly blue-hued Crater Lake, formed when a 12,000-foot-tall volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted and collapsed. At 1,943-feet deep, it's the deepest lake in America -- and with an annual average of 43 feet of snow, it's also one of the snowiest places in America, too.
At 448,283 acres, the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile's Patagonia region is best known for its bright blue-hued icebergs, glaciers and rare wildlife. It was established in 1959, and nearly 20 years later was declared a Biosphere Reverse by the UNESCO.
Established in 1999, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is known for its oldest Precambrian exposed rock, which is nearly 2 billion years old. Because some of the canyon walls reach 2,700 feet above the river, the park is home to Colorado’s tallest cliff, which is nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building.
The Grand Canyon, which is over a mile deep and 10 miles across, was carved more than 6 million years ago through geological activity and erosion by the Colorado River. Although it doesn't include the entire canyon, at 1,218,560 acres, the park, found in Arizona, is 442,880 acres larger than the entire state of Rhode Island.
First established as a national monument in 1906, the land was initially designated as a fossil wood preserve. Today it's where you'll find one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood, which crystallized into rainbow colors more than 200 million years ago.
In 2015, Mount McKinley was renamed to Denali, its previous name. At 20,310 feet, Mount Denali is the tallest peak in North America and the center of the Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
Mesa Verde National Park, which is located in Montezuma County, Colorado, is home to some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the U.S., including 600 cliff dwellings and more than 5,000 sites.
On approximately 310,000 acres in northwestern Wyoming, the Teton Range is literally the high point of the park, and Grand Teton, at elevation 13,770 feet, is its most prominent peak. President Calvin Coolidge signed the executive order establishing the park in 1929.
Located in the western Sierra Nevada of central California, Yosemite National Park sits between the Sierra National Forest and the Stanislaus National Forest. From its granite cliffs to giant sequoia groves, nearly 95% of the park, which is roughly the same size as the state of Rhode Island, is designated wilderness.
Arches National Park, in Utah, contains more than 2,000 arches, including Delicate Arch, Double O Arch, Landscape Arch and Tower Arch. It is the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. Other notable features include Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace and the Petrified Dunes.
Established as a national park in northern California in 1916, the Lassen area is one of the only places in the world where you can see four types of volcanoes, including the cinder cone, plug dome, shield and stratovolcano. Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano in the world.
The walled city ruins at this archaeological site date back to the Mayans, in the 13th century, and sit on 40-feet-high cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Tulum is the 3rd most-visited site in Mexico.
One of the largest and most biologically diverse marine protected areas in the world, the Galapagos Marine Reserve is a 32,865,280-acre area about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. Established in 1998, the reserve, which includes the Galapagos Islands, is considered a unique marine ecosystem.
Known for its reddish-colored spire-shaped limestone rock formations known as "hoodoos," Bryce Canyon is actually a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters, not a canyon. Along with Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, Bryce is part of a formation known as the Grand Staircase, ranging in age from 600 million to 2,000 million years old.
Glacier Bay National Park is a large natural area in southeastern Alaska, covering more than 3 million acres. It's named for its impressive and abundant tidewater and terrestrial glaciers, including the Margerie Glacier.
Serengeti National Park is a national park and wildlife refuge on the Serengeti Plain in northern Tanzania. The Maasai people called the plains of the Serengeti "the place where the land runs on forever" -- today the park is best known for the massive migrating herds of plains animals, such as wildebeests and zebras.
After more than 100 years of trying, Indiana's first national park, considered the birthplace of ecology, was established in 2019. Fifteen miles of the park's 15,000 acres runs along the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
If seeing the Aurora Borealis is on your bucket list, head to Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. The park covers more than 218,000 acres -- and with four large lakes and 26 small, that means more than 40 percent of the park is water.
Joshua Tree National Park, named for the type of trees native to the area, is found on nearly 800,000 acres of southeastern California, east of Los Angeles and just outside of Palm Springs. There are actually two distinct desert ecosystems that form the park: the Mojave Desert at a higher elevation, and the Colorado Desert at a lower.
Currently encompassing more than 91,000 acres outside of Tuscon, Arizona, the Saguaro National Park, and the Sonoran Desert, is the only place in the world you can see the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) plant.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, an area of the Chihuahuan Desert, in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico is best known for its labyrinth limestone caverns, the largest of the more than 100 chambers, known as the Big Room or the Hall of the Giants, measures more than 8 acres.
Glacier National Park is located on more than 1 million acres of land and contains about two dozen active glaciers. Because it sits at the headwaters of streams that flow to the Hudson Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico, it's often known as the Crown of the Continent. In 1932, it became the world's first international peace park, to celebrate the friendship between the U.S. and Canada.
You'll find the Rocky Mountain National Park on 265,461 acres in central northern Colorado, within the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. It's ranked third as the most visited national park in the U.S.
Big Bend National Park, located across more than 800,000 acres in remote west Texas, is found along the U.S. - Mexico border. The most prominent feature of the park is the Rio Grande, which runs adjacent to the border.
Olympic National Park, which encompasses almost 1 million acres, is located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The park itself is broken into four distinct regions, from the Pacific coast and alpine areas to its forests and rainforests.