The Size of the Largest National Parks Will Blow Your Mind

A small kayak paddles along in the foreground. In the background, a line of green trees surround a snowy mountain landscape
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve / NPS Photo

National parks capture the imagination in countless ways – some subtle, others not so much – but one of the many incredible aspects of the National Park System is the sheer size of our largest national parks. Our most massive parks span millions of acres and protect everything from towering mountains and deep canyons to vast deserts and enormous glaciers. Even if the undeniable richness of these landscapes weren’t a factor, the sheer vastness of these parks would still be staggering. And with so much to protect, the support of the National Park Foundation (NPF) is crucial to ensuring these parks continue to thrive.

Biggest of Them All

An expansive green landscape reaches towards the horizon, where a snowy mountain peak can be seen

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo

The uncontested heavyweight champion of the National Park System is Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. At 13.2 million acres, it's larger than Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined. The park is also one of the wildest places in North America, with vast areas of untouched wilderness, an incredible abundance of wildlife, and hardly a man-made structure to be found.

Wrangell-St. Elias spans the convergence of four mountain ranges and encompasses some of the highest peaks in the U.S., including the 18,008-foot Mount Saint Elias. It's also a place of wild extremes. More than a quarter of the park is covered in glaciers, yet it's also a hotbed of volcanic activity, with thousands of lava flows converging in the 2,000-acre Wrangell Volcanic Field.

In 2019, NPF granted money in support of field trips for local students, so they could better learn about the seasons and landscapes of the park. From a springtime Earth Discovery Day for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders to overnight camping trips for 7th and 8th graders, these field trips help students explore the diverse landscape of our nation’s largest national park.

Look to Alaska

A snowy Denali peak can be seen in the distance. In the midground, a meadow of orange autumnal foliage. All this reflects in a still pool in the foreground

Denali National Park & Preserve

NPS Photo / Tim Rains

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve may be the largest national park in the U.S., but some of its neighbors aren't too far behind. In fact, seven of the 10 biggest national parks can be found in Alaska. Each of these giants has something special to offer.

  • Gates of the Arctic National Park and & Preserve (8.5 million acres) is Alaska's northernmost park, home to the rugged Brooks Range and the hardy Alaska natives who have hunted caribou on this land for thousands of years. In 2019, NPF supported park staff on a visit to fourth grade classes near Fairbanks, Alaska to introduce students to Alaska’s 16 national park sites and prepare them for a trip to their closest park, Denali National Park & Preserve. Due to the park’s remote nature, this type of visit in collaboration with other parks allows students to explore the variety of Alaskan landscapes protected by NPS.
  • Denali National Park and & Preserve (6.1 million acres) centers on Denali, the tallest peak in North America, and protects vast glaciers and boreal forests. Denali is one of three pilot parks in the Don’t Feed the Landfills initiative, led by Subaru of America Inc., NPF, the National Park Conservation Association, and park concessionaires. In 2020 alone, the parks cut their landfill waste by nearly half through increased recycling, compositing, outreach, and education.
  • Katmai National Park and & Preserve (4.3 million acres) harbors one of the largest grizzly bear populations in the world. Thousands of bears congregate at Katmai every year to feast on abundant salmon runs in the Brooks River.
  • Glacier Bay National Park and & Preserve (3.3 million acres) is best known for its awe-inspiring tidewater glaciers, which stretch from the mountains to the coast. In 2020, NPF, the Conservation Fund, Hoonah Indian Association, and NPS partnered to protect a 150-acre cultural site in the park, sacred to the Huna Tlingit, the people native to Glacier Bay.

Biggest in the Lower 48

Golden beams illuminate the lightly ridged sand dunes, a golden brown ridge of mountains in the background

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

NPS Photo

Alaska may have its share of huge national parks, but the contiguous United States is also home to giants that feature some of America's most iconic landscapes. Be sure to check out these massive parks in the lower 48 states.

  • Death Valley National Park (3.4 million acres) is the hottest, driest, and lowest place in the U.S., harboring a stunning diversity of plants and animals. As part of NPF’s Women in Parks initiative, in 2020 NPF supported the hiring of a research associate to uncover and share the history of women in the park, including prospectors, business owners, activists, philanthropists, and more.
  • Yellowstone National Park (2.2 million acres) encompasses a vast area of geothermal features, from the iconic Old Faithful geyser to the Grand Prismatic Spring. It's also home to wolves, bison, and more than 50 other mammal species. NPF is a long-standing supporter of wildlife conservation in Yellowstone – 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the reintroduction of wolves to the park, and a multi-year project to promote the growth of the native cutthroat trout population is under way.
  • Everglades National Park (1.5 million acres) protects southern Florida's vital wetlands, the largest tropical wilderness in the country. NPF is proud to support several projects in the park to protect its many natural resources, including monitoring the Florida bonneted bat and installing new signage to help protect wildlife such as wading birds or even crocodiles.
  • Grand Canyon National Park (1.2 million acres) includes one of America's most stunning natural features, the vast Grand Canyon, which stretches up to 15 miles wide and a mile deep at some points. NPF supports service corps crews in parks nationwide, including the Grand Canyon. In 2019, the Arizona Conservation Corps Ancestral Lands crew 366 spent the summer in the park, restoring and rebuilding boundary fences that border lands that belong to the Hualapai and Havasupai tribes.

Size isn't everything, but when you're looking for a place to escape from everyday life, it's hard to argue with millions of acres of untouched wilderness. If the job of the National Park Service is to protect America's most essential landscapes, then our largest national parks make a strong case for what an important job that is. NPF is proud to support various programs and projects that help protect these parks, as well as those that help connect us to and educate us on these magnificent places.

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Comments

National Parks and National Preserves are two separate categories, and, in Alaska, are separate park system units. Their acreages should not be combined when speaking only of parks. Wrangell-St. Elias NP is 8.3 million acres, not 13.2 million. When I first read the title of this story, I was confident Wood Buffalo National Park would be listed, and probably on top. After all, it's 11.1 million acres straddling the Alberta-Northwest Territories border makes it one of America's--and the world's--largest. Other vast parks like Quttinirpaaq on Ellesmere Island (at 9.3 million acres), Sirmilik and Nahanni make the grade, too, not to mention Northeast Greenland. Then I realized that the story was only concerned with the United States, and its use of the term "America" was restricted to only the US portion thereof. When it comes to exploring the largest parks, however, you miss the boat if you fail to see what's right next door.
Arturo
Adamo
Another great Alaska national park! A beauty to see!
Carol
Lott
Having moved to Florida in 2014, I am excited and hopeful that I can visit Everglades this Christmas in my little classic RV!
Krissy
Anderson
Our country should create a large national park in Missouri. Buy back some of the prairie land and restore it to it's original landscape, then create a large national park here in the Midwest. Too much has been cleared and now too few can enjoy the lands natural beauty.
Donnie
Shelton
Y’all really be forgetting about the Adirondack Park in New York
Ian
Campbell
Yeah, yeah they did!
Dee
Mela
The adirondack park isnt a national park tho it should be
Joe
Evershire
What about the Adirondack park in NY?
Jane
Smith
At 6 million acres it should be. It is protected, though. It's 52% privately owned, maybe that's why.
Christopher
Getman
Agree, it's 6 million acres makes it the largest of all parks in the lower 48. A true gem of the the state of New York.
stephen
demczuk
It's a state park, though, and these are national parks.
Sarah
Lloyd
Well don’t be forgetting the BWCA in MN it’s no park to sneeze at
Cassie
Kohrt
Now here is some wilderness...The Boundary Waters Canoe Area isn't a national park, it's a great place to be on water/land in a million acres of WILDERNESS. But if you head west from there, you will find Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota 341 sq miles of water based adventure.
Cathy
Miller-Temme
Acadia National Park is often forgotten, but it's the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise every day (when not overcast) on top of Cadillac Mountain, which is accessible by a road that isn't too steep and takes 15-20 min to the top. Not an exceptionally high mountain but you can see Bar Harbor below, and the Cranberry Islands of Maine nearby. The view is breathtaking, and when you see the sun come up on the bare horizon, it's truly a sight to behold. Try to go there at least once to see the sunrise. It's spectacular.
Ronna
DeLoe
I appreciate this post and would love to see these national parks. I’m sad that the Adirondacks aren’t on this list at all. It’s the largest in the lower 48.
Lindsay
Aiello
Hi Lindsay! This list of national parks includes those maintained by the National Park Service - as a state park, the Adirondack Park wasn't included. Hopefully that helps make sense of the list a bit better!
NPF
Staff

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