National parks encompass vast wilderness areas and grand landscapes, yet so many of America’s greatest treasures come in much smaller packages.
With over 14 official designations and several unique titles, the National Park Service is very specific when it comes to defining their parks. Generally, the smaller national parks tend to have a greater connection to the country’s history, such as Boston and San Antonio Missions national historic parks. The larger parks are places of refuge and stunning natural beauty, like the Grand Canyon or Death Valley National Park.
Twelve national park sites measure less than one acre each, though they share enormous stories of struggle, leadership, tragedy, and creative spirit in less space than a football field.
It won’t surprise you to know that America’s largest national park is in Alaska. Covering 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is larger than Switzerland.
At the other extreme, America’s smallest national park takes up only a few square yards.
To identify the largest and smallest national parks and recreational areas, we reviewed the area (in acres) as of 2016 from the National Park Service. The Park Service aggregates land area data for various different government land designations.
Of these, only national parks, national recreational areas, and national historical parks are included. Privately owned land figures and annual visitation data for each area from 2011 through 2016 also came from the National Park Service.
Here are three of the teeniest spots, starting with the smallest.
The parks included below have been explored and photographed by Vogel Talks RVing.
Boston National Historical Park
Total land area: 44 acres
Size ranking: 6th smallest
Privately owned land: 1 acre
5-year change in tourism: -19%
Established in 1974, the Boston National Historical Park is a group of eight sites showcasing Boston’s role in the American Revolution. Seven of the sites are connected by the Freedom Trail — a 2.5-mile-long walking path through downtown Boston.
Tumacacori National Historical Park
Total land area: 360 acres
Size ranking: 19th smallest
Privately owned land: 02 acres
5-year change in tourism: +25%
The Jesuits were a powerful social and economic presence in the region, and one of them, Eusebio Francisco Kino, founded the San Cayetano de Tumacácori Mission on the Santa Cruz River’s east bank in January 1691. The Tumacácori site became part of the United States in 1853 and it would become a national historical park in 1990.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Total land area: 948 acres
Size ranking: 21st smallest
Privately owned land: 147 acres
5-year change in tourism: +139%
The San Antonio Missions tell the stories of those who came to the Spanish missions to live in the 1700s. In 1978, four of the Spanish missions in San Antonio became a part of the national historical park system. The park informs visitors about the most important factors of the missions: the people, the church, farming, ranching, and caminos reals (historic roads).
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
—Wallace Stegner, 1983