Today’s U.S. National Park Service consists of 61 national parks, covering more than 52 million acres. But the history of national parks in America dates back to 1871, when the U.S. Congress established Yellowstone National Park “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit a
nd enjoyment of the people,” making it the oldest national park not just in North America but also in the world. <br><br>Following Yellowstone, 35 more national parks—including California’s Yosemite National Park and Montana’s Glacier National Park—were subsequently established in the United States before August 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson officially founded the country’s National Park Service. <br><br>Today, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (in Tennessee and North Carolina) is the most visited national park, while Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska and Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida are two of the most remote and least visited national parks, making them great places to escape the crowds. Falling somewhere in between are a slate of perennial and picture-postcard favorites: Death Valley National Park (straddling California and Nevada), Rocky Mountain National Park (in Colorado), Acadia National Park (in Maine), and, of course, Arizona’s superlative Grand Canyon National Park. <br><br>But the story of U.S. national parks is only the beginning when it comes to notable national recreation areas. More than 100 countries around the globe have established their own national park systems. Banff National Park, for instance, Canada’s first of 47 current national parks, was formed in 1885. And Russia’s <em>zapovednik</em>—or “strict nature reserve”—system was created in 1916. Worldwide, there are more than 1,200 national parks, and the numbers continue to grow: More recent additions include the 2019-debuted Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana and the 2018-established Patagonia National Park in Chile. <br><br>From Arches National Park in Utah to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, these protected spaces house diverse and thriving ecosystems that support everything from redwoods to grizzly bears. Whether you’re a mountaineer or just looking to soak in hot springs, these national parks offer some of the best hiking trails, wildlife sightings, and scenic outlooks on the planet.