In 1882, choirmaster Samuel A. Ward took a leisurely ferry ride from Coney Island into New York City, was struck with inspiration at the summer scene, and immediately composed a tune. A decade later, on an 1893 summer day in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Katharine Lee Bates gazed out from a window and saw a “sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies,” that a hymn immediately sprang to mind. In 1910, the music and poetry came together under the title “America the Beautiful.” The work struck an enduring chord, resonating with so many Americans that numerous campaigns have sought to make it the national anthem.
From the earliest days of America, the hand of Providence has been seen not just in the history of events, but also in the natural splendor of the land—spurring several conservation efforts, one of which resulted in the National Parks System.
Yellowstone National Park
Considered one of the first national parks in the world, Yellowstone National Park was established on March 1, 1872. The park is home to one of North America’s largest animals, the bison.
Grand Teton National Park
A rich variety of birds flock to Grand Teton National Park making this place a bird watcher’s dream. Avian species of all shapes and sizes can be spotted here.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier has 25 glaciers, the most of any mountain in the continental United States. Emmons Glacier stretches over four miles and covers the largest area of any glacier in the 48 states.
Olympic National Park
The Olympic National Park has an astounding 3,000 miles of rivers and streams. Roughly 95 percent of the park is protected under congressional designation and preserved for wildlife.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is home to a special amphibian called a wood frog that has the ability to freeze itself in a cryogenic state during wintertime until it thaws in spring.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is located along the southern coast of Alaska where 50 percent of the land is covered in ice.
Mojave National Preserve/Death Valley National Park
Known for its inhospitable terrain and harsh environment, this area has proved to be incredibly challenging for most animals and plant life with the exception of a few desert-hardy species notably the desert tortoise.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite boasts one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, Yosemite Falls. It reaches an amazing 2,425 feet and can be visited all throughout spring when the snowmelt is at its peak.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Established as a national park on August 9, 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world. These include shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite.
Sequoia National Park
This park is notable for its giant sequoia trees, which can absorb up to 800 gallons of water a day in the summer!
Kings Canyon National Park
Grant Grove in Kings Canyon is home to some of the largest trees in the world. The General Grant Tree is the world’s second-largest tree at 267 feet tall and 29 feet wide. It’s also around 3,500 years old.
Grand Canyon National Park
Many fossils of ancient marine animals have been found in the Grand Canyon, these date back 1.2 billion years ago. The age of the Grand Canyon itself remains a mystery, but recent studies speculate it to be more than 70 million years old.
Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park contains more than 10,000 years of human history recorded within its territory, including 800 archaeological sites. The striking colors in petrified wood are derived from pure quartz, manganese oxide, and iron oxide producing white, blue, purple, black, brown, yellow, and red colors.
Saguaro National Park
The saguaro cactus is the largest cactus in the United States, and are protected by Saguaro National Park. These giant prickly plants can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years!
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is known for its many natural sandstone arches. Landscape Arch is located at the end of Devil’s Garden Trailhead. Stretching 306 feet, it’s considered North America’s longest spanning arch.
Zion National Park
The park used to be home to an ancient civilization, the Anasazi who lived there around 1500 B.C. Traces of their history can be found through rock art, sandstone granaries, and cliff dwellings scattered around the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is an ideal place for stargazing enthusiasts due to its clear skies, high elevation, and low light pollution.
Great Basin National Park
The Bonneville cutthroat trout is native to the Great Basin National Park and can only be found here due to the presence of cold, high elevation streams.
Crater Lake National Park
Formed after a volcano erupted and collapsed 7,700 years ago, the lake is the deepest in the whole of the United States, measuring 1,943 feet deep. The water is one of the cleanest and clearest in the world as it comes directly from rain or snowfall.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Home to 60 species of mammals and 280 bird species, this park is one of the top wildlife-watching destinations.
Mesa Verde National Park
Known for its exceptionally well-preserved prehistoric settlements, Mesa Verde National Park was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
You can hear the sand dunes “sing” during a sandstorm when air is pushed through millions of tumbling sand grains. The noise is similar to a continuous humming sound.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Featuring over 100 caves, Carlsbad Caverns used to be part of an ancient underwater reef called Capitan Reef. Many fossilized marine species can be found on the land. The caverns themselves were formed by sulfuric acid in acid rain which slowly dissolved the limestones.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The only national park in the whole of North Dakota. It was named after President Theodore Roosevelt in 1947 to honor and preserve his legacy of land protection.
Wind Cave National Park
The park is known for its many boxwork formations, made out of calcite deposits. This unique formation resembles honeycombs or boxes projecting from the cave.
Voyageurs National Park
Located along Minnesota’s northern border, Voyageurs National Park is made up of four primary interconnected waterways, Rainy, Kabetogama, Namakan, and Sand Point Lakes. These lakes served as important transportation systems for the French-Canadian fur traders in 1688.
Hot Springs National Park
The smallest national park in the United States. The water at Hot Springs National Park is rich in minerals making it suitable for soaking or drinking!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America, with half a billion visitors since 1934. The Appalachian Trail runs 71 miles through the park.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
“Cuyahoga” is derived from the Mohawk word Cayagaga, which translates to “crooked river.”
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is one of the largest wetlands in the world and one of the last remaining subtropical wilderness areas in America.
Shenandoah National Park
Black bears are very prominent in Shenandoah National Park, so there’s a high chance you’ll spot one. The park estimates there to be around one to four bears in every square mile.
Acadia National Park
Named after “Arcadia” in 1929 for resembling the mountainous region located in central Peloponnese, Greece.
Volcano National Park
The park is home to two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, located only 22 miles apart.
North Cascades National Park
North Cascade National Park has very rich biodiversity with 236,000 acres of old-growth forest that provide sanctuary to bears, mountain goats, wolves, pikas, river otters, cougars, and even moose. The park is also home to the largest variety of plant species ever recorded.
Redwoods National Park
Known for its towering coast redwood trees, measuring over 300 feet tall. These trees have a life expectancy of 500 to 700 years but researchers have found some to be more than 2,000 years old.
Big Bend National Park
The Rio Grande river falls between Cañón de Santa Elena, Mexico, and Big Bend National Park, United States.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua “Tree” is actually a misnomer as it falls under the same category as flowering grasses and orchids. Only 15 percent of the national park is open for visitors to explore, and the remaining 85 percent is wilderness.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Located in the Gulf of Mexico, this park is famous for its natural beauty, beaches, coral reefs, and sea turtles. The area is an active nesting ground for Loggerhead turtles.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Considered the longest cave system in the world, with over 400 miles of documented interlinking caves. The caves contain many unusual formations that vary greatly in shape, color, and size.
Biscayne National Park
The park protects some of the last remaining tropical coral reefs on the mainland of the United States. Snorkeling and scuba diving are great ways to spot coral and tropical fish.
Virgin Islands National Park
Sugar plantations were established here in the late 17th century by the Danish. The ruins can be observed today such as the Annaberg Sugar Mill, created in 1718.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Peak is considered the highest point in Texas, at 8,751 feet elevation. The peak is located 100 miles east of El Paso.
Congaree National Park
The park is known for its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests which have some of the largest tree canopies on the East Coast. Towering champion trees are some of the notable trees that inhabit these woods.
Isle Royale National Park
Considered a remote island archipelago, the park is surrounded by 450 smaller islands.
Glacier Bay National Park
The park has over 100 glaciers. These are used by wildlife including harbor seals and tufted puffins as important nesting grounds. The seals give birth to their young on icebergs to protect them from predators such as orcas.
Katmai National Park
Named after Mount Katmai, which erupted last in 1912, the park is known for its high population of brown bears that can often be seen waiting to catch salmon at the many falls around the park.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
This is the largest national park in America, expanding over 20,000 square miles. Mount St. Elias is the second tallest peak in the United States, at 18,000 feet tall.
Canyonlands National Park
Horseshoe Canyon is located eight miles west of the park and is known for depicting prehistoric pictographs etched somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.
Kobuk Valley National Park
There is no road access to the park so visitors wishing to visit the park must travel by air taxi, snowmobile, or a dogsled.
Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic National Park was established in 1980 in order to protect the diverse arctic ecosystem of Alaska. While visiting, there are no designated trails, amenities, or cell phone service, and travelers are encouraged to be self-reliant and organized when planning a trip here.
Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark stretches 45 miles long and is surrounded by a myriad of waterfalls. The lake is also an important spawning ground for red salmon.
Badlands National Park
A well-preserved fossilized skull of a saber-tooth cat was discovered by a young visitor in 2010. Fossils of other animals like marine reptiles and rhinos can also be found hidden among the layers of sediment. They’re estimated to date back to the late Eocene and Oligocene periods, over 30 million years ago.
Glacier National Park
Mountain goats are very prolific in this area and can often be spotted standing on the edge of a steep cliff. They also serve as the symbol of Glacier National Park owing to their perseverance and hardiness.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The canyon is so deep that sunlight has a hard time reaching the bottom of it, hence the name “Black Canyon.” It measures 53 miles deep and stands as one of the deepest canyons in the western United States.
Haleakalā National Park
The “Ahinahina” or the Haleakalā silversword is a rare, endangered plant that is endemic to Haleakalā National Park. It’s recognized by its distinctive dense, spiky grey leaves that grow on the base of the plant. When in full bloom, a thick flowering stalk protrudes from the base, covered in reddish flowers.
Capitol Reef National Park
The park is home to an orchard originally planted by Mormon pioneers in the early 1900s. It’s open to the public for picking during harvest season for a small fee.
National Park of American Samoa
The park was established in 1988 for the purposes of protecting the tropical rainforest, and coral reefs, and for the study and maintenance of archaeological sites.
Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is comprised of five ecologically diverse islands. Anacapa Island is home to many seabirds who use the island as a nesting area due to its lack of predators. Californian sea lions and harbor seals also favor the rocky shores of Anacapa.
Pinnacles National Park
The Pinnacles National Park was created when the now-extinct Neenach volcano erupted 23 million years ago. The park contains many caves that provide homes to 14 species of California bats. These caves were created by natural erosion when boulders fell below, filling the canyons.
Indiana Dunes National Park
Designated as a national park in 2019, the park is situated along Lake Michigan. Visitors can sail or swim in the lake. The Maple Sugar Time Festival is held annually in March and visitors can learn how Native Americans and early settlers harvested sap to make maple syrup.
Gateway Arch National Park
The Gateway Arch is considered the world’s tallest arch standing at 630 feet tall. It was designed by Finnish-American architect, Eero Saarinen in 1947.
New River Gorge National Park
Contrary to its name, The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, estimated to be between 10 to 360 million years old. It’s one of the few rivers in North America to flow from south to north, as most tend to flow from west to east.
White Sands National Park
The sand here is not like regular sand. It’s made from gypsum, rather than silica, making it able to dissolve when rained on, much like sugar or salt. This park is also home to African Oryx, a species of antelope imported from the Kalahari Desert around 53 years ago.