In August 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established the National Parks Service. Although the United States had enjoyed national parklands since the Yellowstone Act of 1897 established parts of Wyoming and Montana as protected national property, the Organic Act of 1916 established rules that have protected the American wilds ever since. Because of these early actions, the United States now has well over 84 million acres of parklands, spread across all 50 states.
Whether because of the amazing natural landscapes, or the varieties of flora and fauna found in these parks, millions of Americans and international tourists visit our national parklands every year. With spring about to bloom across the Land of the Free once again, countless adventurers, scientists, and nature enthusiasts are preparing to set out and find just what wonders these national treasures have to offer. If you’re one of the millions looking to escape into the wilds of America, make sure you don’t miss these popular parks.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Encompassing more than 520,000 acres in North Carolina and Tennessee is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To look at the park from the heart of its endless forest and into the fog-shrouded ravine of the Newfound Gap evokes images of the mythical Misty Mountain from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The easy access to this park — a busy state highway runs directly through the area — coupled with the expansive copses of Frasier firs and yellow birches, not to mention the park’s black bears, moose, and other wildlife, adds up to make this the most popular park in the country, attracting an estimated nine million visitors every year. In addition, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the more family friendly parks to visit, with a Jellystone Park camping area offering activities for all ages, away from the physically and mentally demanding hiking trails.
Yellowstone National Park
Even though Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park is quadruple the size of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it only attracts about a third of the annual visitors. The expanse of Yellowstone and its famous but feared inhabitants, a flourishing population of wolves, make Yellowstone a considerably more challenging undertaking than almost every other park in the United States. While the wolf population was reduced to 41 individual animals in the mid-90’s, the population has bounced back to an estimated 110 mating couples. When added to the park’s world famous Great Fountain Geyser and an exhaustive list of North American fauna, like elk, eagles, and grizzly bears, the wolves make for a powerful draw for more adventurous and thrill-seeking outdoorsmen.
Olympic National Park
Enclosed within Olympic National Park’s 922,000 acres, are three separate biomes, giving this Washington park the distinction of being the most varied biologically and aesthetically. This naturally occurring rarity has won the park status as an international biosphere reserve from the United Nations. Olympic National Park gives guests the opportunity to explore fields covered in the blooms of wildflowers, temperate forests featuring animal and plant species not found elsewhere, and a Pacific shoreline that looks as though it was transplanted from 2009’s “Avatar.” Jutting from the sand beneath the area’s coastal waters are huge, stone spires, granting shelter to many plant and animal species. Like Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this refuge, pocked with its expansive woodlands and insulated mountain ranges, is located on a main highway, US-101, making it easily accessible to adventurers and vacationing families from around the world.