The Largest National Parks in the United States

January 4, 2024

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Geezer in Yellowstone National Park

The United States is famous for its bustling cities, but the country is also blessed with some wonderful natural spots. For over 150 years, the National Park Service has helped protect millions of acres for this and future generations to enjoy.

Sixty-three areas of the US have been designated national parks, starting with Yellowstone in 1872. These areas are chosen based on their size, cultural and natural significance. Millions of people visit the parks every year to appreciate the breathtaking natural beauty that is unlike anywhere else in the world.

We’ve compiled a list of the ten largest National Parks in the US. Continue reading to find out about the wildlife, natural features, and history of these amazing places!

1. Wrangell St. Elias

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Area: 8,323,146.48 acres (33,682.6 km²)
Location: Alaska
Established: 1980

At a massive 8,323,146.48 acres, St. Elias in Alaska is the United States’ largest national park. For some perspective, the park is the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland — combined!

Wrangell St. Elias includes a portion of the Saint Elias Mountains, which is home to some of Canada and the US’ highest peaks. One of the peaks is Mount St Elias, the second-highest mountain in both the United States and Canada.

There’s plenty for wildlife fans to see, from bears and wolves to bison and caribou (deer). you can also see sea lions and seals swimming through the park’s waters. The park’s glacier and icefield are sea lions part of the Kluane/Wrangell–St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Gates of the Arctic

Gates of the Arctic National Park
People hiking in the gates of the Arctic National park
Area: 7,523,897.45 acres (30,448.1 km²
Location: Alaska
Established: 1980

As the United States’ northernmost national park, the Gates of the Arctic is based entirely north of the Arctic Circle. The park doesn’t have any roads or trails, which means you can fully appreciate the wild landscape.

Despite its impressive size, Gates of the Arctic is the least-visited national park in the US. Its remote location and lack of roads and trails mean it isn’t as popular as some of the country’s other parks. In 2021, the park had just 7,362 recreation visits, a fraction of the 4.5 million visits the Grand Canyon had in the same year.

The park is home to six wild rivers, ancient seabeds and mountain ranges that reach the Arctic Ocean. Lynx, snowshoe hares, and brown bears roam the park, alongside caribou, beavers and muskox. Many birds fly great distances during migration to reach the park, such as the arctic terns, which fly 22,000 miles each year.

3. Denali

Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali National Park
Area: 4,740,911.16 acres (19,185.8 km²)
Location: Alaska
Established: 1917

Denali National Park and Preserve is home to Denali, the highest mountain in North America. It was established as a national park in 1917, 11 years after American conservationist Charles Alexander Sheldon first proposed the idea. At the time, Denali’s National Park status was designed to protect Dall sheep from hunters.

In addition to the Dall sheep, Denali National Park is also known for its moose, grizzly and black bears, and coyote. Nearly 170 species of bird live in the park, although only one species of amphibian (the wood frog).

The national park has one single road, aptly named Denali Park Road. It stretches for 92 miles from east to west. You can travel the first 15 miles of the road in your privately-owned vehicle between 20 May and the middle of September. Once you reach Savage River, you must board a bus to travel any further.

Along with North America’s highest peak, Denali is also home to Alaska’s longest glacier, Kahiltna Glacier. It spans 44 miles from the southwest slope of Mount Denali. It’s thought that Kahiltna has the largest elevation range of any glacier in the world, with an altitude of 6,100 meters (20,013 ft), to just 270 meters (886 ft) above sea level.

4. Katmai

Mother bear and cubs in Alaska’s Katmai National Park
A mother bear and cubs on the edge of Naknek Lake, in Alaska’s Katmai National Park
Area: 3,674,529.33 acres (14,870.3 km²)
Location: Alaska
Established: 1980

The Katmai National Park is located on the Alaska Peninsula, around 290 miles southwest of Anchorage (Alaska’s largest city).

The park itself is named after the stratovolcano Mount Katmai, but at least 14 volcanos lie within the national park’s boundaries. The eruption of Novarupta in 1912 was the 20th century’s most voluminous in the world. Over the course of 60 hours, Novarupta expelled 3.1 to 3.6 cubic miles of ash.

Aside from its volcanos, Katmai is also famous for its bear population. Approximately 2,200 brown bears live in the national park, which makes it one of the best places for bear spotting in Alaska. Many bears congregate on Brooks River for salmon fishing in the summer.

5. Death Valley

Death Valley National park
Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth
Area: 3,408,395.63 acres | 13,793.3 km²
Location: California, Nevada
Established: 1994

Although it has a questionably dark name, Death Valley is a stunning national park full of breathtaking landscapes and endemic wildlife. The desert valley covers 3,408,395.63 acres across part of California and Nevada.

Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest National Park in North America and the Western Hemisphere. The terrain just past Artist’s Drive at Badwater Basin is 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. In 1913, the air temperature reached a staggering 134°F (56.6°C), the world’s highest air temperature ever recorded!

You may think a place called Death Valley has little to no wildlife, but that’s not the case. The National Park has a variety of animals that have adapted to the hot and dry habitat. Animals such as bighorn sheep and kangaroo rats have little need to drink water as they get the fluids they need from their seedy, vegetarian diet.  The desert tortoise spends most of its life in a burrow to avoid the constant heat. Many animals in the park are nocturnal so they sleep during the hottest hours and scavenge for food at night, when it’s much cooler.

6. Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay, Alaska
The most popular way to visit Glacier Bay is by cruise ship
Area: 3,223,383.43 acres (13,044.6 km²)
Location: Alaska
Established: 1980

Unlike most other National Parks, the most popular way to reach Glacier Bay is via a cruise ship. Glacier Bay is visited by around 400,000 people every year, 90% of which arrive by cruise ship.

The majority of activities in the park are water-based, such as kayaking, fishing and boat tours.

You might be lucky enough to spy humpback whales and orcas swimming in the icy waters or stellar sea lions and harbor seals lazing on the ice. On land, the park is home to wolves, moose and mountain goats, in addition to brown, black and blue glacier bears.

The National Park has 50 named glaciers, including Margerie Glacier, which stretches 21 miles (34 km). If you reach this glacier, you’ll also be able to see the Grand Pacific Glacier, which used to fill the entire bay.

7. Lake Clark

Tent belonging to someone camping in Lake Clark
Camping in Lake Clark National Park
Area: 2,619,816.49 acres | 10,602.0 km²
Location: Alaska
Established: 1980

Coming in seventh place is Lake Clark, which spans 2,619,816.49 acres (10,602.0 km2). It’s located around 100 miles (161 km) from the city of Anchorage. The park’s remote location may be part of the reason it attracts less than 20,000 visitors each year. Lake Clark National Park has no roads or trails, although it is home to the 50-mile (80 km) Telaquana Route. This historic route is a popular backpacking cross-country course for the avid adventurer.

There are plenty of water-based activities you can enjoy on the three designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers (Chilikadrotna, Tlikakila, and Mulchatna Rivers). You can kayak or canoe on the water and take in the beautiful surroundings.

Lake Clark has a diverse range of animals, including black and brown bears, over 100,000 Mulchatna caribou and wolves. The surrounding waters are full of beluga whales, Steller sea lions and sea otters.

Port Alsworth is the main entry point to the park and is only accessible by plane. Most of the park’s remote lodges can be reached via Port Alsworth, which also hosts the Port Alsworth Ranger Station.

8. Yellowstone

Beautiful view of Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is believed to be the world’s first national park
Area: 2,219,790.71 acres | 8,983.2 km²
Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
Established: 1872

Next up we have one of the most famous National Parks in the US and the world: Yellowstone. It was the world’s first national park when it was established in 1872. Approximately 3.29 million people visited Yellowstone in 2022, but the visitation peak was in 2021 with around 4.86 million visitors.

Indigenous communities lived in the area around 11,000 years ago, particularly around the lower elevations. The Crow people lived in the eastern region of the park’s modern boundaries, while the Umatilla lived to the north. The Shoshone, Bannock, and various other tribes in the western regions often traveled across the park to the east.

Yellowstone is home to over 200 different animal species. You can see anything from bald eagles soaring overhead to wolves and bears roaming the land. The park has over 300 bird species, as well as 16 fish species, six reptile species and four species of amphibians.

Gray wolves were exterminated from the park in the early 20th century. This dramatically affected the other species and landscape of the park. As wolves were the main predator of elk, the elk population more than doubled. The elk overgrazed and ate much larger quantities of vegetation, which had a knock-on effect on smaller mammals that relied on the plants for food and cover. To combat these issues, 41 gray wolves were reintroduced into the park in the 1990s. Luckily, the wolves helped restore the natural order to Yellowstone.

9. Kobuk Valley

Beautiful panoramic view of Kobuk Valley National Park
Far reaching views of Kobuk Valley National Park
Area: 1,750,716.16 acres | 7,084.9 km²
Location: Alaska
Established: 1980

Stretching over 1.7 million acres, Kobuk Valley is the ninth-largest national park in the US. No roads lead into the park and there aren’t any designated hiking trails or campgrounds. During the summer, you have to access the park via plane, boat or food. In the winter, you can enter with a snow-machine, dogs or via plane.

Kobuk Valley is famous for its Western Arctic caribou herd, which contains around 200,000 animals. The herd passes through the national park on their 600-mile (966 km) migration trek each year. Moose, grizzly bears and wolves are also common in the park, as are wolverines, porcupines and foxes.

The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes in Kobuk Valley are the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic. The dunes, along with the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes and Hunt River Sand Dunes, cover 30 square miles (78 km2). Despite the Arctic location, temperatures in this region can reach highs of 100°F (38°C).

10. Everglades

Sunset over Everglades National Park in Florida
Sunset over Everglades National Park
Area: 1,508,938.57 acres | 6,106.5 km²
Location: Florida
Established: 1934

Finally, we have Everglades National Park in Florida. The park stretches over 1.5 million acres (6,106.5 km), which makes it the tenth-largest national park in the US. However, it’s considered the third-largest park in the contiguous US, after excluding parks in Alaska. Everglades is also the largest subtropical wilderness in the country.

Everglades has amazing biodiversity, from crocodiles and alligators to striped skunks and short-finned pilot whales. The park’s incredible wildlife and landscape have helped it become an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a World Heritage Site.

Approximately one million people visit the park each year. The three main entrances to the Everglades are Gulf Coast Visitor Center, Shark Valley and Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center (the park’s main headquarters).

National Parks in the United States ranked by size

So there you have it. The 10 largest national parks in the United States, and some of the most beautiful. Wrangell St. Elias in Alaska is by far the largest National Park at an impressive 8.3 million acres (33,600 km). Unsurprisingly, Alaska dominates this list with 7 of the 10 national parks residing in the largest state in the US. Meanwhile, Death Valley is the largest in the contiguous US (excluding the Alaskan parks).

There’s so much to see and explore in the National Parks, so why not plan a trip and see what you discover? To get you inspired here is a list of all 63 national parks in the United States ranked in size from largest to smallest.

RankNameStateYear EstablishedArea (acres)Area (km²)
1Wrangell–St. EliasAlaska19808,323,146.4833,682.60
2Gates of the ArcticAlaska19807,523,897.4530,448.10
5Death ValleyCalifornia, Nevada19943,408,395.6313,793.30
6Glacier BayAlaska19803,223,383.4313,044.60
7Lake ClarkAlaska19802,619,816.4910,602.00
8YellowstoneWyoming, Montana, Idaho18722,219,790.718,983.20
9Kobuk ValleyAlaska19801,750,716.167,084.90
11Grand CanyonArizona19191,201,647.034,862.90
14Big BendTexas1944801,163.213,242.20
15Joshua TreeCalifornia1994795,155.853,217.90
17Kenai FjordsAlaska1980669,650.052,710.00
18Isle RoyaleMichigan1940571,790.302,314.00
19Great Smoky MountainsNorth Carolina, Tennessee1934522,426.882,114.20
20North CascadesWashington1968504,780.942,042.80
21Kings CanyonCalifornia1940461,901.201,869.20
23Hawaiʻi VolcanoesHawaii1916344,812.181,395.40
25Grand TetonWyoming1929310,044.361,254.70
26Rocky MountainColorado1915265,847.741,075.80
27Channel IslandsCalifornia1980249,561.001,009.90
28BadlandsSouth Dakota1978242,755.94982.4
29Capitol ReefUtah1971241,904.50979
30Mount RainierWashington1899236,381.64956.6
31Petrified ForestArizona1962221,390.21895.9
34Crater LakeOregon1902183,224.05741.5
37White SandsNew Mexico2019146,344.31592.2
39Great Sand DunesColorado2004107,345.73434.4
40Lassen VolcanicCalifornia1916106,589.02431.4
42Guadalupe MountainsTexas197286,367.10349.5
43Great BasinNevada198677,180.00312.3
45Mammoth CaveKentucky194172,472.87293.3
46Theodore RooseveltNorth Dakota197870,446.89285.1
47Dry TortugasFlorida199264,701.22261.8
48Mesa VerdeColorado190652,485.17212.4
50Carlsbad CavernsNew Mexico193046,766.45189.3
51Bryce CanyonUtah192835,835.08145
52Wind CaveSouth Dakota190333,970.84137.5
54Cuyahoga ValleyOhio200032,571.89131.8
55Black Canyon of the GunnisonColorado199930,779.83124.6
56CongareeSouth Carolina200326,692.60108
58Indiana DunesIndiana201915,349.0862.1
59Virgin IslandsU.S. Virgin Islands195615,052.3360.9
60American SamoaAmerican Samoa19888,256.6733.4
61New River GorgeWest Virginia20207,02128.4
62Hot SpringsArkansas19215,554.1522.5
63Gateway ArchMissouri2018192.830.8
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