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You Can Always Go Downtown: National Parks in Cities

by Hollis Hughes
stone arched overpass along a river
Mill Ruins Park in downtown Minneapolis
NPS Photo / Gordon Dietzman

Looking for ideas on where to go for your next national park adventure? Our partner L.L.Bean has the answer: Head downtown!

That’s right – America’s national parks can be found in many parts of the country, including in and around cities near you! Did you know:

  • There are national park units in 40 of the country's 50 most populated metropolitan areas.
  • More than one-third of all National Park Service (NPS) sites are located in urban areas.
  • Thirty-six percent of all national park visitors go to urban sites.

Think about all the opportunities to visit multiple parks in a single day, each offering a unique and immersive experience. Urban areas boast the greatest diversity of national park sites, or the largest variety of designations. Explore your local city to see what national park sites can be found.

Working together, the National Park Foundation (NPF) and L.L.Bean help connect families and visitors to national parks across the country. So we’ve teamed up with L.L.Bean to provide tips and inspiration on how to make the most of our urban national park playgrounds. Our list has everything you need to know about the different park designations and where to find them.

National Parks

Gateway Arch National Park (NPS Photo / Sue Ford)

These generally large natural places have a wide variety of attributes and may include significant historic assets. Have an iconic national park experience in the city by visiting Gateway Arch National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, or Hot Springs National Park. These parks offer everything from panoramic views and historic train rides to camping and horseback riding.

National Monuments

Stone bastion
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (NPS Photo)

These sites are landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on public lands. National monuments are as diverse as the stories they tell, such as Pullman National Monument, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and Statue of Liberty National Monument which are all found in cities. A perfect way to gain a new understanding of an iconic structure in an urban setting, these parks delve into the ever-evolving history of our urban areas.

National Historic Sites

Trail to orchard at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site (NPS Photo)

Usually, a national historic site contains a single historical feature that was directly associated with its subject. Urban areas are a great place to discover historic sites, like Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. Parks such as these allow visitors to immerse themselves in a specific historic moment or place, and ranger-led tours of these special places are a must.

National Historical Parks

Stone arch leads into a groomed garden and grey stone building
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (NPS Photo)

This designation generally applies to historic parks that extend beyond single properties or buildings. Boston National Historical Park, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. A wonderful way to explore your own backyard or a new city, a journey through a national historical park allows visitors the opportunity to take in multiple historic sites in a day.

National Memorials

colorful mural on a wall
Mural at Chamizal National Memorial (NPS Photo)

A national memorial is commemorative of a historic person or event, but the location does not need to be historically connected with its subject. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, De Soto National Memorial, and Chamizal National Memorial are all located within cities. Memorials are a great place to stop and reflect, as well as learn something new about our nation’s history and those who have shaped it.

National Battlefields

Tupelo National Battlefield (NPS Photo)

These sites include national battlefields, national battlefield parks, national battlefield sites, and national military parks. These are less common in urban areas, but you can find Tupelo National Battlefield in the heart of Tupelo, Mississippi! Battlefields are often good spots for hiking as well as ranger-led tours, so they can make for a great day trip outside of a city center.

National Recreation Areas

New York City from Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Gateway National Recreation Area (NPS Photo / Erik Shatzker)

There are five national recreation areas located near major population centers, which combine open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources and important natural areas. These sites, including Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, Gateway National Recreation Area, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, are perfect for large groups of people to recreate outdoors.

National Seashores

Playalinda Beach at Eddy Creek boardwalk at Canaveral National Seashore (NPS Photo / S. Anderson)

There are 10 national seashores on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts. Several are easily accessible from cities, such as Fire Island National Seashore, Padre Island National Seashore, and Canaveral National Seashore. Soak up the sun at a national seashore, a great escape from the bustle of city life.

Our partner L.L.Bean knows that wherever you are, spending time outdoors benefits your mental, physical, and overall well-being. We work together to celebrate and showcase the many ways individuals can access and enjoy our national parks, especially those that are closer than they realize. This summer, L.L.Bean is celebrating all the ways to get outside in or near cities. Learn more about the Be an Outsider in the City initiative and explore the outdoors. Need help finding where to start? Try our Find Your Park Quiz for personalized recommendations for parks to explore.