What was the First National Park in the United States?

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Over a hundred years ago, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed The National Park Service Organic Act. The 35 National Parks in existence at the time, plus those yet to be created, were all granted permanent protection under this new federal bureau.  But did you know that even before the creation of the Park Service, there were some National Parks that had been in existence for decades? Do you know what the first national park was?

The first National Park in the United States was Yellowstone, created in 1872. Several more were created shortly after and are amongst the oldest National Parks in the Nation. In this article, we’ll discuss the following topics:

  • What was the first National Park in the U.S.?
  • What were the first five National Parks in the U.S.?
  • What was the first National Park in the World?

What was the first National Park in the U.S.? 

Many have visited and experienced the awe-inspiring beauty of Yellowstone. The Park is iconic, from the otherworldly sight of the Grand Prismatic Spring to the infamous Old Faithful geyser and Yellowstone Lake’s serene appearance.

However, many people probably don’t realize just how long it has been a National Park. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. This was the creation of the United State’s first actual National Park. 

Once Yellowstone became the country’s first National Park, more than two million acres of the public domain in the Montana and Wyoming territories were set aside. The land was consequently protected from being sold off or settled upon by the public. This special region was now “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” 

Thankfully, the federal government at the time viewed the landscape at Yellowstone as far too precious and beautiful in natural wonders to be developed on. Thus the reason why so many have the privilege of enjoying the Park as we see it today. 

Map of Yellowstone National Park
Map of Yellowstone National Park. NPS photo

What were the first five National Parks in the U.S.?

Yellowstone National Park – 1872

As just mentioned, Yellowstone was the United States’ first NP. And it no doubt set a precedent for placing other National Parks under federal protection and jurisdiction. So what four National Parks followed behind Yellowstone?

Sequoia National Park – 1890

Sequoia National Park was established on September 25, 1890. This makes it America’s second-oldest National Park. Sequoia National Park was the first park created to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum.

These towering Sequoia trees are only found in the unique environment of the western Sierra. Sequoias prefer to grow at elevations of 5,000 to 8,000 feet. They can reach heights of 250 to 300 feet tall and have diameters of over 30 feet at ground level. 

Sequoia trees in Sequoia national park
A visitor and his dog standing under the massive Sequoia trees in the Park

Yosemite National Park – 1890

On October 1, 1890, an Act of Congress established Yosemite as the Nation’s third National Park. Environmentalist and conservationist John Muir advocated with his colleagues for Congress to create the Act designating Yosemite as a National Park. 

Yosemite is an extraordinary National Park and is home to a plethora of natural wonders. Among these include sights such as the lofty Half Dome rock formation, cascading Yosemite Falls, and majestic Sequoia trees. 

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Amazing shot of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Mount Rainier National Park – 1899

Mount Rainier was established as a National Park on March 2, 1899, making it America’s fourth oldest National Park. John Muir, yet again, was the primary influencer in trying to protect Mount Rainier and its surrounding land as a National Park. 

Several other groups also spearheaded efforts to help gain the Mountain a National Parks status. Scientists, mountaineers, conservation groups, local businesses, and large railroad companies all saw potential benefits for making the Mountain and land a National Park. 

These groups combined their efforts into a lobbying campaign that began in 1893 to make the area a National Park. They argued that if the site were a Park, it would experience tourism benefits and income from the nearby cities of Seattle and Tacoma. 

They also argued that the land must be protected because it was unsustainable for commercial purposes like agriculture, grazing, or mining. Additionally, they argued that the unique glacial landscape must be preserved for scientific study. 

how tall is Mount Rainier
Clouds surround the peak of Mount Rainier. The colossal mountain is 14,411 feet tall

Crater Lake National Park – 1902

President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation establishing Crater Lake as a National Park on May 22, 1902, making it America’s fifth oldest National Park. This lake has long since attracted and mesmerized visitors with its stunning views and pristine blue waters. 

It is the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world at a maximum depth of 1,943 feet. All the water within the lake originates only from rainfall and snowmelt. No streams or rivers flow into the lake. Because of this, no sediment or mineral deposits flow into the lake, which helps to maintain its rich dark blue color. This also keeps it one of the clearest and cleanest lakes in the United States. 

what is the deepest lake in the united states: Crater Lake National Park
The vibrant blue waters of Crater Lake are a sight unlike any other

World’s First National Park

Many people mistakenly believe that Yellowstone is the World’s oldest National Park. This, however, is a common misconception. The World’s first NP isn’t located in the United States and was established a century earlier, in 1782, in Mongolia. Bogd Khan Uul Biosphere Reserve is located south of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. 

You can hike the park within 3 to 4 hours. Many historical, cultural, and scenic sites within the park include the ruins of Manzushir Monastery, the Zaisan Memorial, Bogd Khan Mountain, and Buddha Park. 

Final Thoughts

To summarize, the United States is home to some old National Parks. Yellowstone, being the first one in the country, is 150 years old. The creation of more new National Parks soon followed. Yellowstone, Sequoia, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake were the first five National Parks in the United States. 

While Yellowstone is the oldest National Park in the country, it is not the oldest in the World. That title belongs to Bogd Khan Uul Biosphere Reserve in Mongolia, established in 1782.

There are some truly old National Parks within the United States and the World, for that matter. Next time you visit one of these National Parks, stop and reflect on just how long they’ve been around. Make sure to take a moment to appreciate the people who pushed for these special lands to be protected. Without their efforts, we may not have had the privilege to enjoy them as we do today! 

Want a complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as free downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

national parks map and list - printable checklis
Free Downloadable NP List & Maps

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!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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