The national park concept was an idea championed by Theodore Roosevelt. As president, Roosevelt protected about 230 million acres of public land and signed into law the 1906 American Antiquities Act. This act set aside certain public natural areas as park and conservation land to be preserved for historic and scientific interest. These areas were designated as national monuments.
Ten years later, Congress passed the Organic Act, creating the National Park Service.
While Americans approve of preserving their land, setting aside areas as national parks and monuments has sparked controversy in the past, sometimes pitting conservationists against ranchers, developers, and even tourists.
We reviewed the size (in acres) of all the national parks, national monuments, national historical parks, and national recreational areas using data provided by the National Park Service. Privately owned land figures and annual visitation data for each area from 2011 through 2016 also came from the National Park Service.
The parks included below have been explored and photographed by Vogel Talks RVing.
Big Bend National Park
Total land area: 801,163 acres
Size ranking: 13th largest
Privately owned land: 23,283 acres
5-year change in tourism: +7%
The region where Big Bend National Park is may have been home to indigenous peoples for centuries, however, the area remained obscure to American settlers until the 1890s. Robert T. Hill led a six-man expedition to explore the Rio Grande, which runs through the Big Bend Region. Two years after his month-long trek, he published a book about the area, which may have helped the region become more popular.
Joshua Tree National Park
Total land area: 790,636 acres
Size ranking: 14th largest
Privately owned land: 8,874 acres,
5-year change in tourism: +79%
Joshua Tree National Park protects more than 700 archeological sites, 88 historic structures, 19 cultural landscapes, and houses 230,300 items in its museum collection. Joshua Tree owes its existence to the efforts of Minerva Hoyt, a Pasadena resident who fought to preserve the natural beauty of the region that was being ravaged by cacti poachers.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Total land area: 522,427 acres
State: Tennessee-North Carolina
Privately owned land: 350 acres
5-year change in tourism: +26%
More than 11.3 million people came to explore the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016, making it America’s most visited national park. It’s not hard to see why, with more than 100 prominent cascades and waterfalls flowing throughout the forests and mountains
Sequoia National Park
Total land area: 404,063 acres
Size ranking: 21st largest
Privately owned land: 154 acres
5-year change in tourism: +25%
This park has grown to great heights. Besides being the home of the 2,200-year-old General Sherman Tree, the tallest tree in the world at 275 feet, Sequoia National Park also shares a border with Mount Whitney — the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. Viewing these wonders was made easier for visitors because of Captain Charles Young and his Buffalo soldiers, who built roads and trails in the early years of this national park.
Canyonlands National Park
Total land area: 337,598 acres
Size ranking: 22nd largest
Privately owned land: No private land
5-year change in tourism: +64%
Canyonlands National Park offers a plethora of activities, including biking, boating, horseback riding and, when the sun goes down, stargazing. People have lived and roamed through this area for more than 10,000 years. A newer addition, Horseshoe Canyon, was introduced to the park in 1971 and is known to have some of the most impressive rock art in all of North America.
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.