What is the Newest National Park in the US?

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Many of America’s well-known National Parks, such as the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone, have been around for decades. But did you know that our newest National Park was recently established at the end of 2020? 

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is the newest National Park in America and was established in 2020. There are also no shortage of things to do and sights to see in this often-overlooked National Park. 

Four other new National Parks have also been established within this past decade. In this article, we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • New River Gorge established as America’s newest National Park in 2020
  • What does New River Gorge National Park have to offer visitors?
  • What are the four other newest National Parks after New River Gorge?
New River Gorge Bridge.
Spectacular view of the iconic New River Gorge Bridge.

New River Gorge is established in 2020

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve was established in 2020, making it the nation’s newest National Park. More specifically, it is America’s 63rd National Park and the 20th National Preserve in the United States. 

The famous river in the Park, known as the “New River,” is a rugged whitewater river that flows north and traverses through deep canyons. The New River is one of the oldest rivers on the entire continent. 

The Park surrounds some 70,000 acres along the New River between the towns of Fayetteville and Hinton, West Virginia. The Park and surrounding land contain a wealth of historical, recreational, and scenic value. 

New River Gorge in West Virginia

The park offers an abundance of recreational activities for all ages and interests. 

Whitewater Rafting 

New River Gorge is a whitewater rafter’s paradise and is one of the most popular activities in the park. 

Within a span of 50 miles, the New River falls 750 feet between the Bluestone Dam and the Gauley Bridge. This makes it one of America’s most exceptional whitewater rivers in the eastern United States.

To put into perspective just how dramatic a drop 750 feet in 50 miles is, consider this: The Mississippi River only drops 1,428 feet over a much larger span of 2,300 miles! 

Hiking Trails

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve also provide visitors with access to many different hiking trails to explore. Tranquil walks through wooded forests, dozens of impressive scenic overlooks, and historical buildings may all be found on the park’s trail system. 

The length of the trails varies from 1/4 mile to 7 miles in length. Multiple trails can easily be connected to make for a more extended hiking trip if desired. The difficulty of each trail varies from flat, brisk walks to strenuous and steep terrain. Trail recommendations and maps are available at Canyon Rim, Grandview, Sandstone, and Thurmond visitor centers.  

Waterfalls and other Activities

It would help if you also took some time to visit Sandstone Falls, the largest waterfall on the New River. The waterfall spans the entire river width and drops 10 to 25 feet in height. 

The drive to the waterfall may take some time, but the route you’ll take to reach it is incredibly scenic. Take Route 20 from I-64 at the community of Sandstone, and travel ten miles upstream to the town of Hinton. Then travel downstream eight miles along River Road. 

This is the park’s only scenic riverside drive. Taking both these routes allows you to view several scenic overlooks, natural areas, historical locations, river access points, and hiking trails. 

Other activities in the park include fishing, boating, rock climbing, mountain biking, picnicking, and guided ranger tours. 

Rock Climber at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Rock Climber at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

What are the other four most recent National Parks? 

New River Gorge – 2020

As previously stated, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is the country’s newest National Park, created in 2020. But four other new National Parks follow close behind. 

Indiana Dunes – 2019

On February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was officially retitled Indiana Dunes National Park. This makes it America’s second-newest National Park. This magnificent park is situated on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. 

The constant shifting of wind and waves for thousands of years has shaped the land in the park into what it is today. Here you’ll find a wide variety of habitats, such as shifting sand dunes, open prairies, dense wetlands, and solitary woodlands. The park stretches on 15 miles of Indiana coastline and has over 50 miles of hiking trails. 

Indiana Dunes National Park
The view of Lake Michigan from the shore of Indiana Dunes National Park.

White Sands National Park – 2019

America’s third newest National Park, established on December 20, 2019, is White Sands, located in New Mexico.

The Park is set in the Tularosa Basin between the Sacramento and San Andres Mountain ranges of southern New Mexico. The landscape of this park is otherworldly and seems like something out of a science fiction movie. 

Massive wave-shaped dunes of pure white gypsum sand cover 275 square miles of desert, making it the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. 

White Sands National Park
A visitor to White Sands National Park brings his sled up the dune. Sledding is a popular activity in the park.

Gateway Arch – 2018

America’s fourth newest National Park is Gateway Arch, established in 2018. The park is situated in St. Louis, Missouri. This sky-scraping monument is 630 feet tall, which equates to 63 stories! Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the Arch to see stunning views of both Missouri and Illinois. 

St. Louis and the Gateway Arch are commonly referred to as the “Gateway to the West.” The Arch symbolizes Thomas Jefferson’s ultimate vision of creating a united continental nation and St. Louis’ part as the gateway to the American West during the 19th century. 

Gateway Arch national park
Visitors stand under the magnificent Gateway Arch, a true architectural marvel.

Pinnacles – 2013

Established in 2013, Pinnacles is the Nation’s fifth newest National Park. The landscape of Pinnacles is a unique and remarkable one. 

The terrain of the park is a result of multiple volcanic eruptions that occurred millions of years ago. Volcanoes erupted, and lava flowed. The rock hardened, and over time, erosion from wind and water formed the park’s infamous rock spires and crags

Visitors to the park can enjoy over 30 miles of hiking trails, some of which are through rare talus caves. Rock climbing, bird watching, and camping are other popular activities in the park. 

Final Thoughts

To sum things up, America has some very new National Parks. Compared to older established parks, these new parks are in their infancy. This, however, is not to say that they are any less spectacular than other National Parks.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, created in 2020, is the nation’s newest National Park. The Park has a collection of numerous activities for all types of visitors to enjoy. Whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, boating, and scenic drives are all popular activities here. 

Four other new National Parks preceded New River Gorge. These include Indiana Dunes (2019), White Sands (2019), Gateway Arch (2018), and Pinnacles (2013). All of these parks are unique in their own way and have no shortage of activities. Have you visited any of these new National Parks yet? 

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

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Happy Travels! Sandy