That is a great question and can be subject to much debate. Never ask this question in a National Park Facebook group. It’s like watching a bunch of kids argue over which candy is best. I wish I was joking but I’m not. The answer to “How many National Parks are there in the US” is it depends on what you count as a National Park. Depending on how you answer that question, the answer is either 62 National Parks or 421 national parks.
I’m going to breakdown why there are two answers to the question “How many National Parks are there in the United States” and explain the difference between the answers and the common arguements for that answer.
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- How Many National Parks are there in the US?
- What is the difference between a National Park and national park?
- Recent Changes to the National Park System
- Final Thoughts on How Many National Parks are there in the US
- Pin to Save for Later: How Many National Parks are there in the US?
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How Many National Parks are there in the US?
The United States National Parks are managed by an organization known as the National Park Service (NPS). NPS is responsible for managing about 85 million acres of land. Those 85 million acres are divided up into 421 different units.
National Park Service considers each of the 421 units as a national park. However, there are only 62 units that bare the name, National Park. So there are both 62 National Parks in the United States and 421 national parks.
These 421 national parks have a range of titles like National Monuments, National Historical Parks, National Memorials, National Battlefields, and about a half dozen other titles. While the 62 National Parks all have the title, National Park.
You may have noticed that I capitalize the words National Park when I am talking about the 62 parks that have the title National Park and I don’t capitalize the words when talking about the 421 units. This is a capitalization difference is deliberate on my part and its how I keep track of it in my head. I do consider there to be both 62 National Parks and 421 national parks.
Most of the National Parks are amazing natural wonders whereas the national parks range from small monuments to historical sites to unique natural sites. I feel like most of the 62 Parks deserve just a little bit more recognition. It’s kind of like professional baseball. There are the major league teams such as the New York Yankees and then the minor league teams such as Louisville Bats. All the Bats and Yankees players are professional baseball players but Yankee players are usually held in higher regard and generally get a much larger paycheck.
What is the difference between a National Park and national park?
The short answer is nothing other than a name and how it was created. NPS states that all the units are treated equally and management decisions are based on the needs of that park not the title the park holds.
The long answer is it depend on how it is created.
If the United States President is looking to protect a parcel of federal land, they are authorized under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create National Monuments. The Antiquities Act was created to give the president enormous powers for “… the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest.” Presidents have used this act over 161 times.
While most National Monuments are managed by the National Park Service, some are managed by a mix of other federal agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.
All other designations must be created via an Act of Congress. Hence why we get sites with naming designations that make no sense like Gateway Arch National Park, but Gateway Arch is one of the more unique situations.
Most of the time, a group of locals come together and start pushing for the protection/redesignation of a local site. They usually find support in one of their local Congresspeople. Said Congressperson then writes a bill and starts advocating for this site to be added to NPS as XXXX designation.
Recent Changes to the National Park System
Changes under President Donald J. Trump (2017 -XXX)
- 3 New Units Created
- 2 New National Monuments
- 1 Memorial
- 12 Redesignations
- 2 sites elevated to National Park
- 2 sites elevated to National Monument
- 6 sites elevated to National Historical Park
- 1 site elevated to National Historic Site
- 1 site elevated to National Memorial
|September 22, 2020||Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument, Kentucky||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||New Unit|
|September 18, 2020||Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, District of Columbia||P.L. 109-220 – Joint resolution approving the location of the commemorative work in the District of Columbia honoring former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.||New Unit|
|December 20, 2019||White Sands National Park, New Mexico||P.L. 116-92 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020||Redesignated from White Sands National Monument|
|March 12, 2019||Honouliuli National Historic Site, Hawaii||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from Honouliuli National Monument|
|March 12, 2019||Pearl Harbor National Memorial, Hawaii||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument|
|March 12, 2019||Tule Lake National Monument, California||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument|
|March 12, 2019||Golden Spike National Historical Park, Utah||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from Golden Spike National Historic Site|
|March 12, 2019||Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, South Carolina||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from Reconstruction Era National Monument|
|March 12, 2019||Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, South Carolina||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from Fort Sumter National Monument|
|March 12, 2019||Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, New Hampshire||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site|
|March 12, 2019||Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, Georgia||P.L. 116-9 – John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act||Redesignated from Ocmulgee National Monument|
|February 15, 2019||Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana||P.L. 116-6 – Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019||Redesignated from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore|
|October 26, 2018||Camp Nelson National Monument, Kentucky||Proclamation 9811 – Establishment of the Camp Nelson National Monument||New Unit|
|February 22, 2018||Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri||S. 1438 – Gateway Arch National Park Designation Act||Redesignated from Jefferson Expansion Memorial|
|January 8, 2018||Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, Georgia||P.L. 115-108 – Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park Act of 2017||Redesignated from Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site|
Changes under President Barack Obama (2009-2017)
- 26 New Units Created
- 16 National Monuments
- 4 National Historical Parks
- 3 National Memorials
- 1 National Preserve
- 1 National Historic Site
- 1 National Battlefield Park
- 7 Redesignations
- 1 site elevated to National Park
- 5 sites elevated to National Historical Parks
- 1 site elevated to National Monument and Preserve
- 1 Name Change
|January 12, 2017||Reconstruction Era National Monument, South Carolina||Proclamation 9567||New Unit|
|January 12, 2017||Freedom Riders National Monument, Alabama||Proclamation 9566||New Unit|
|January 12, 2017||Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Alabama||Proclamation 9565||New Unit|
|January 10, 2017||Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, New York||P.L. 113-291||New Unit|
|August 24, 2016||Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine||Proclamation 9476||New Unit|
|June 24, 2016||Stonewall National Monument, New York||Proclamation 9465||New Unit|
|April 12, 2016||Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, District of Columbia||Proclamation 9423||New Unit|
|February 12, 2016|
Castle Mountains National Monument, California
|Proclamation 9394||New Unit|
|November 11, 2015||Manhattan Project National Historical Park, New Mexico, Tennessee, & Washington||P.L. 113-291||New Unit|
|July 10, 2015||Waco Mammoth National Monument, Texas||Proclamation 9299||New Unit|
|February 24, 2015||Honouliuli National Monument, Hawaii||Proclamation 9234||New Unit|
|February 19, 2015||Pullman National Monument, Illinois||Proclamation 9233||New Unit|
|February 19, 2014||Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, Massachusetts & Rhode Island||P.L. 113-291||New Unit|
|February 19, 2014||Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico||P.L. 113-291||New Unit|
|February 19, 2014||World War I Memorial, District of Columbia||P.L. 113-291||New Unit|
|February 19, 2014||Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, Nevada||P.L. 113-291||New Unit|
|December 19, 2014||First State National Historical Park, Delaware||P.L. 113-291||Redesignated from First State National Monument|
|December 19, 2014||Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, Maryland||P.L. 113-291||Redesignated from Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument|
|December 19, 2014||Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, Oregon||P.L. 113-291||Redesignated from Oregon Caves National Monument|
|March 25, 2013||Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, Ohio||Proclamation 8945||New Unit|
|March 25, 2013||First State National Monument, Delaware||Proclamation 8944||New Unit|
|March 25, 2013||Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Maryland||Proclamation 8943||New Unit|
|January 10, 2013||Pinnacles National Park, California||P.L. 112-245||Redesignated from Pinnacles National Monument|
|October 8, 2013||César E. Chávez National Monument, California||Proclamation 8894||New Unit|
|November 7, 2011||Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, New Jersey||P.L. 111-11||New Unit|
|November 1, 2011||Fort Monroe National Monument, Virginia||Proclamation 8750||New Unit|
|August 28, 2011||Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, District of Columbia||P.L. 104-333||New Unit|
|December 22, 2010||Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, Massachusetts||P.L. 111-333||Redesignated from Longfellow National Historic Site|
|December 14, 2010||President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, Arkansas||P.L. 111-11||New Unit|
|October 22, 2010||River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Michigan||P.L. 111-11||New Unit|
|October 28, 2009||Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, California||P.L. 111-84||New Unit|
|March 30, 2009||Thomas Edison National Historical Park, New Jersey||P.L. 111-11||Redesignated from Edison National Historic Site|
|March 30, 2009||Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, Texas||P.L. 111-11||Redesignated from a National Historic Site|
|March 30, 2009||Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, Kentucky||P.L. 111-11||Redesignated from a National Historic Site|
Click here for more official changes to the National Park System.
Final Thoughts on How Many National Parks are there in the US
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what a title a NPS unit holds, they are all worth a visit in their own way. If you want to visit all the national parks? Pick the list you would like to work off and start marking units off. Personally, I have been working off the 62 National Park list since 2009. While I have been focused on those parks, I have also made it a point to visit the other NPS units when they are nearby other travels.
It’s the journey that matters not the destination.