National Park Facts: The Biggest, Smallest, Oldest, Newest, Most Visited, and More…

My list of 50 National Park Service (NPS) facts is full of stats, trivia, and surprising insights about everything from visitor numbers and volcanic activity to drug busts and the deadliest trails

Looking for some fun, interesting, and quirky national park facts to impress your hiking buddies or the family on your next road trip? This post has you covered, serving up oodles of interesting info and insights about national parks as well as the odd astounding trinket of trivia from the parks’ long and rich history. From the discovery of highly illicit “vegetation” in Sequoia National Park’s illicit to the nation’s deadliest trail, our list of national park facts has it all! 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The combined size of all of NPS sites is a whopping 84 million acres which is slightly larger than Finland and only slightly smaller than Germany.

2. There are a total of 423 NPS sites in the National Park System with parks in every state and also the territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam.

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina) is the most visited national park attracting more than 12.4 million in 2020. 

4. The oldest national park is Yellowstone (Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana), which was founded in 1872.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The newest national park is the aptly named New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia), which was founded on December 27th, 2020.

6. The biggest national park is Wrangell-St. Elias (Alaska) which encompasses a whopping 13.2 million acres.

7. The smallest national park is Hot Springs (Arkansas) which measures a mere 5,500 acres.

8. The highest point in the national parks is the summit of Denali in Denali National Park (Alaska) at 20,310 feet.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Additionally, Denali National Park has the widest range of elevations from 200 feet in Yentna River to 20,302 feet at the summit of Denali.

10. The lowest point in the national parks is Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park (California) which lies at 282 feet below sea level.

11. The state with the most NPS sites is California with 28.

12. The deepest cave is in Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico) and measures a mind-boggling 1,593 feet deep.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky) has the longest cave system in the world with more than 3,454 mapped miles.

14. At 1,932 feet deep, Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) is the deepest lake in the US.

15. The national parks are home to over 400 endangered animal and plant species.

16. In 2014, rangers in Sequoia National Park (California) discovered a multi-million-dollar cannabis cultivation facility in the park. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. White Sands National Park (New Mexico) contains the largest gypsum dune fields on the planet.

18. The NPS employs roughly 20,000 people who are assisted by a further team of almost 250,000 volunteers.  

19. There are over 18,000 miles of trails in the national parks (for comparison, the Great Wall of China measures 13,171 miles in length) 

20. The NPS contains over 75,000 archaeological sites and about 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures.

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. The US, believe it or not, has one national park that’s situated south of the equator—The National Park of American Samoa which encompasses 9,500 acres of land and 4,000 marine acres.

22. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana is home to more than 500 active geysers—more than half of the active geysers in the world.

23. The Yellowstone Caldera is a supervolcano that measures 43 by 28 miles wide. It has also caused three of the biggest volcanic eruptions in Earth’s history.

24. Sequoia National Park (California) was the first national park established with a view to protecting a living organism—the giant sequoia trees from which the park takes its name.  

Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Additionally, Sequoia National Park is home to the largest living tree in the world, General Sherman which stands 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at its base.

26. Sequoia National Park is also home to the highest mountain in the lower 48 states—the 14,494-foot Mount Whitney.

27. When a giant sequoia tree fell and blocked a road in Sequoia National Park in 1937, the NPS simply created a tunnel through the 275-foot by 21-foot tree.

28. Everglades National Park (Florida) protects more than 25 percent of the state’s original everglades (subtropical wetlands).

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) which connects Grand Lake and Estes Park is the highest continuously paved road in the U.S. and includes breathtaking views and vistas along its entire 48 miles.

30. NPS sites include 2,000 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that stretches from Maine to Georgia, a 37-mile-long barrier island (Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland), and a 184-mile-long canal from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland (C&O Canal National Historical Park).

31. Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota) was the first cave to be named a national park in the world. 

32, Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii) is the largest volcano on earth both in terms of volume and height above its base. It contains about 19,000 cubic miles of lava and rises more than 50,000 feet above its base including the portion which is beneath the ocean.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

33. The Grand Canyon (Arizona) is 277 miles in length, 10 miles wide, and about 1 mile deep. 

34. Before Zion National Park (Utah) became “Zion National Park” in 1919, it was known as Mukuntuweap National Monument.

35. Angels Landing is THE classic Zion hike and one of the most harrowing hikes in the canyon with a trail along sheer cliffs with huge drop-offs.

36. Lassen Volcanic National Park (California) is one of the few places on Earth that contains all four of the world’s known types of volcanoes—stratovolcanoes, volcanic domes, shield volcanoes, and cinder cones.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

37. Saguaro National Park (Arizona) is split into two sections—the Tucson Mountain District sits west; the Rincon Mountain District sits east; and the city of Tucson sits in between the two.

38. The saguaro is the largest cactus in North America and can weigh up to nearly 5,000 pounds and live up to 200 years old.

39. Joshua Tree National Park (California) is where the Mojave and the Sonoran Desert come together.

40. Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona) has a world-class fossil record with artifacts dating to the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago, before the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs roamed our planet. The Triassic era is known as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”  

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

41. Some of the trees in Petrified Forest National Park measure up to 200 feet—about the length of the wingspan of a 747 jet. 

42. Petrified Forest is the only national park where a segment of Route 66 exists.

43. Big Bend (Texas) is the only national park to have an entire mountain range, the Chisos Mountains, within its borders.

44. The mosquito meter at the visitor center in Congaree National Park (South Carolina) ranges from “1 – All Clear” to “6 – War Zone!”  You can find the war zone during the summer months. 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

45. Dry Tortugas (Florida) is one of the most remote national parks and is accessible only by high-speed ferry (Yankee Freedom), private and charter boats, and seaplanes. 

46. While many of the national parks have meandering scenic driving roads, Pinnacles (California) does not. It is explored mostly along with hiking, walking, and climbing trails.

47. Utah is home to the “The Mighty 5”—Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef National Parks. Capitol Reef is the least visited of the five.

48. Arches National Park (Utah) earned its name for having more than 2,000 sandstone arch formations, the largest collection of in the world. In addition, there are thousands of other wonders in the shape of pinnacles, spires, needles, hoodoos, gargoyles, balanced rocks, and domes.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

49. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado) has the largest collection of ancestral Puebloan artifacts ever found—there are more than 5,000 archaeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings documented in the park.

50. The highest wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado) is the Painted Canyon standing at 2,250 feet from river to rim. An estimated 33 minutes of sunlight penetrates the canyon each day. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Which national parks will you visit this summer?

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome