Your National Parks: All Sizes Great and Small

Katherine RivardNPF Blog
Yellowstone National Park — Jacob W Frank/NPS

Big and small, far and wide, national parks preserve and interpret an assortment of stories. In many ways, such a range mirrors America’s own incredible diversity. Some people are drawn to the sweeping prairies, others to craggy mountains. Some prefer nothing more than feeling the sun on their skin while they rest on a sandy seashore; others prefer the blustery wind across their face. Every person is different, and thankfully, with over 400 unique national parks — there’s a little something (or a lot of something!) for everyone.

Largest Park

Vast landscape of a valley in between green, brown, and grey mountains at Wrengell St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Bryan Petrtyl/NPS

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is America’s largest park. Covering 13.2 million acres (that’s larger than the entire country of Estonia), it dwarfs any national parks in the continental U.S. Death Valley National Park is the largest national park outside of Alaska and consists of 3.4 million acres. Such an expanse means that there’s endless amounts of wilderness to be explored, paths to bike, and cliffs to climb.

Spans the Most States

The Appalachian Trail winds through the Smoky Mountains

Appalachian National Scenic Trail traverses 14 states, a 2,180-mile footpath that perennially appears on bucket lists for hiking enthusiasts and outdoorsmen. The trail was completed in 1937 and it is through the dedication of state agencies and thousands of volunteers that the trail remains safe and clear today. From Georgia to Maine, this is a trek of the lifetime!

Longest Mile Span

Two towering rock formations amongst a green field of grass along the California National Historic Trail

Courthouse and Jailhouse Rocks along the California National Historic Trail

National Park Service

Of the many trails preserved by the National Trails Act and administered by the National Park Service, the California National Historic Trail is the longest, spanning a whopping 5,600 miles in 10 states. As its historic designation suggests, the trail follows the same path used by early immigrants as they ventured to California in the 19th century. With the discovery of gold in 1848, “Forty-Niners” rushed through the area, propelled by visions of great wealth. The difference between then and today? Most people leave the horses behind and opt to try the auto tour.

Smallest Park

The brick building of Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Monument with many windows with white window shutters on the corner of a block
National Park Service

At .002 acres, the size of Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial is enough to give the park a Napoleon complex. Thankfully, the park’s wealth of information, the home’s quaint location in Philly, and this Polish hero’s incredible story all create a place that leaves a huge impression on visitors. This small home is where the revolutionary hero lived, but the park’s story encompasses his role in the revolution and how his legacy lives on in Poland and throughout the United States.

Oldest Park

The Grand Loop Road winding through the mountains of Yellowstone National Park

Grand Loop Road

Jacob W Frank/NPS

National parks immediately call to mind images of Old Faithful spouting high into the sky as visitors clad in khaki shorts, tube socks, and baseball caps watch in amazement. That’s because Yellowstone National Park, which spans through Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, remains the original national park. But just because it’s the oldest and one of the most iconic parks, doesn’t mean you know everything there is about the park. From horseback riding to photography, this park makes you realize, even old parks have new tricks!

Oldest Structure

The old remains of the Cliff Palace built into the cliffside at Mesa Verde National Park
National Park Service

The pueblos of Mesa Verde National Park have outlasted more structures than almost any others in the United States. Ancestral Pueblo people designed the 600 cliff dwellings between 600 and 1300 CE. Even older than the park’s popular cliff dwellings, are the remains at Far View, which were lived in at least 200 years before.  Visit yourself to zoom back through time and imagine life hundreds of years ago.

Tallest Structure

A view of the towering metallic arch of Gateway Arch National Park on a sunny day looking out towards the Mississippi River
National Park Service

No trip to St. Louis is complete without a stop at Gateway Arch National Park — a gargantuan 630-foot-tall memorial. That’s over twice as tall as the statue of Liberty (305 feet) and 75 feet taller than the Washington Monument! Despite its modern design, the arch stands as a reminder of the history of the American West including such critical American stories as the tale of Lewis and Clark and the transformative Dred Scott Case.

Tallest Mountain

A snow-covered Mt. Denali looms in Denali National Park
Tim Rains/NPS

There are a multitude of ways for travelers to experience the solitude and tranquility of Denali National Park and Preserve, yet the park’s namesake mountain, Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), remains a top draw to the park. It was in 1913 that the first team finally set foot on the 20,310-foot south summit, an incredibly difficult challenge even a century later. In 1947, Barbara Washburn became the first woman to accomplish this feat, and today over 1,000 climbers attempt to reach the summit each year.

Tallest Trees

Looking up at the tall redwood trees at Redwood National and State Park

Stout Grove

John Chao/NPS

If you’re a national park fan, you probably already knew that Redwood National and State Parks are home to the tallest trees on Earth. While 20th century industrial logging took its toll on California’s native forests and wildlife, conservation efforts have helped preserve and regrow this unique ecosystem. These towering trees often exceed 300 feet in the park’s protected valley and alluvial flats, thriving beside streams and creeks.

Largest Tree

Big, tall sequoia trees in Giant Forest grove at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Giant Forest at Sequoia National Park

National Park Service

Okay, so maybe you guessed Redwood National Park would have the tallest trees. But the largest tree category goes to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, where you can find the largest tree in the world. The General Sherman Tree measures in at 52,508 cubic feet and stands beside other giant sequoias, continuing to grow and amaze.

Most Volcanoes

Red rocks on volcanic slopes in front of a brown valley with snow-covered mountains in the back

The Novarupta volcano in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

National Park Service

Are you a bit fascinated by volcanoes? Then Katmai National Park and Preserve will sing the tune you’re aching to hear! As one of the world’s most active volcanic areas, the park is home to at least 14 active volcanoes. This plethora of volcanoes mirrors Alaska’s general geology, which overlays the northern boundary of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Visit to experience the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes — the area transformed by the greatest eruption of the 20th century.

Most Islands

The sandstone seacaves on the shore of Devils Island at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

The sandstone sea caves of Devils Island

NPS

Dying to go island hopping, but not able to go down south any time soon? Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is made up of 21 islands dotting the coastline of Lake Superior. Perhaps there’s no better way to explore each of the islands than by sea kayaking between them and to the mainland’s impressive sea caves. Make sure that weather conditions are safe, then enjoy the paddling!

Deepest Lake

A tree-covered island in the middle of a blue Crater Lake, with the surrounding hills covered in a light dusting of snow

One of the deepest and most pristine lakes on Earth, the richly-hued lake sits atop the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. The stunning lake measures 1,949 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest lake in the world. Wizard Island rises above the lake, the tip of the volcano that created the lake 7,700 years ago — the type of story that reignites your fascination with the natural world!

Hottest, Driest, and Lowest

Neon orange and pink fluffy clouds over a the white salt flats of Badwater Basin at Death Valley National Park

Sunset over Badwater Basin

Adriaan Van't Riet/NPS

Beyond simply in comparison with other national parks, Death Valley National Park takes the cake for driest and lowest spot in North America and stands as the hottest place in the world. The park’s extremely low sea level combined with its intensely dry climate creates its iconic salt flats. What’s more incredible? Despite the heat and arid lands, the park is also home to tall, snow-covered mountains, jagged canyons, and a vast array of wildlife.

From the highest mountains to the lowest waters, arid desert land to water as far as the eye can see, your 400+ national parks are each unique and wonderful. That’s one reason the National Park Foundation proudly partners with HanesBrands, a company that understands that when it comes to both people and parks, each has a unique shape, size, perspective, and personality. Check out their national park tees before your next adventure – big or small! Based on your own interests and preferences, where will you #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque next?


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