On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the Yellowstone National Park Act, establishing the first national park in America, and the first of its kind in the world! Two million acres in the Montana and Wyoming territories were set apart “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Today, there are over 420 national park sites in the United States, spanning more than 84 million acres across the nation and U.S. territories. Here is a look at just some of the scenic and magnificent National Parks you can visit this summer.
Yellowstone National Park
Established: March 1, 1872
Location: Mainly in the northwest corner of Wyoming (96%), Montana (3%), Idaho (1%)
Landscape: Unique hydrothermal and geologic features, subalpine forests, meadows, and grasslands
Factoid: Yellowstone became a national park nearly two decades before the states that the park resides in–Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana–were admitted to the Union. Wyoming became a state on July 10, 1890; Idaho on July 3, 1890; and Montana on November 8, 1889.
Wildlife highlights: Bighorn sheep, bison, elk, moose, mountain goats, mule deer, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolverines, and wolves. 300 species of birds, including raptors, songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Amphibians such as boreal chorus frogs, Columbia spotted frogs, western tiger salamanders, and western toads. Reptiles like the bullsnake, prairie rattlesnake, rubber boa, sagebrush lizard, and garter snake. And native fish species like various types of trout, mountain whitefish, artic grayling, and mottled sculpin.
Sequoia National Park
Established: September 25, 1890
Location: California’s southern Sierra Nevada Mountains
Landscape: Immense forests with world’s largest trees, sheer granite mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, lush meadows, and large lake basins
Factoid: Home to the tallest mountain in the lower 48, Mount Whitney.
Wildlife highlights: Gray fox, bobcat, striped and spotted skunks, black bear, woodrat, pocket gopher, white-footed mouse, marmot, pika, and white-tailed jack rabbit, California quail, scrub jay, lesser goldfinch, acorn woodpecker, gopher snake, California kingsnake, striped racer, western whiptail lizard, and the California newt. Gray squirrel, golden-mantled ground squirrel, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, and a variety of birds. Reptiles are not common, but occasionally mountain kingsnake, rubber boa, western fence lizard, and alligator lizard can be seen.
Yosemite National Park
Established: October 1, 1890
Location: California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains
Landscape: Granite cliffs, plunging valleys, majestic waterfalls, and magnificent foliage
Wildlife highlights: Mule deer, bobcat, black bear, coyote, mountain lion, yellow-bellied marmot, white-tail deer, bighorn sheep, pacific fisher, red fox, mice, gophers, and chipmunks, Douglas squirrel, bats, turtles, 13 types of snakes, 7 types of lizards, and over 260 species of birds.
Glacier National Park
Factoid: Going-to-the-Sun Road, the 53-mile scenic drive through park, opened in 1933. It is famous for appearing in the opening credits of the psychological horror film “The Shining” (1980).
Wildlife highlights: Grizzly bear, black bear, beaver, bighorn sheep, elk, lynx, mountain goat, mountain lion, pika, wolverines, bats, pacific tree frog, Columbia spotted frog, rocky mountain tailed frog, western toad, long-toed salamander. 260 species of birds, including bald and golden eagles, northern hawk owls, ospreys, swifts, harlequins, loons, and American dippers.
Grand Canyon National Park
Established: February 26, 1919
Location: Arizona (northwest quadrant)
Landscape: Semi-arid land of raised plateaus, desert basins, and deep steep-walled canyons
Factoid: When President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903, he was so awed by its natural beauty that he became convinced it should be preserved. At the time, it was beyond his authority to designate it as a national park. In 1906, Roosevelt established the Grand Canyon Game Reserve by using a presidential proclamation and two years later, it was declared a national monument. The Grand Canyon finally became a national park in 1919, just a month after Roosevelt’s death.
Wildlife highlights: Bison, bighorn sheep, elk, bats, mule deer, hog-nosed skunk, mountain lion, ringtail, javelina. 450 species of birds, including birds of prey such as California condors, Mexican spotted owls, red-tailed hawks, and peregrine falcons.
Acadia National Park
Established: February 26, 1919
Location: Maine’s Mount Desert Island
Landscape: Glacially sculpted granite mountains, freshwater glacial lakes, and rocky headlands coastline
Factoid: Originally named the Lafayette National Park, was the first national park created entirely by private donations. American preservationist George B. Dorr and Charles W. Eliot, the President of Harvard University (1869-1909), were instrumental in the park’s creation. Later, American business magnate John D. Rockefeller bequeathed 11,000 acres and built over 40 miles of carriage roads.
Wildlife highlights: White-tailed deer, foxes, snowshoe hare, bobcats, otters, mink, woodchuck, beaver, porcupine, muskrat, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, and even flying squirrels, little brown bats and eastern small-footed bats. Found in the rocky shoreline of the park is marine life that includes harbor porpoises, seals, crabs, lobsters, and sea stars. In the park’s lakes, wetlands, streams, and ponds live 29 species of freshwater fish and roughly 11 amphibian species that include one toad species, six species of frogs, and four salamander species.
Zion National Park
Established: November 19, 1919
Location: Southwest Utah
Landscape: High plateaus, narrow and deep sandstone canyons, and the Virgin River and its tributaries
Factoid: The challenging trail to the peaks of Angels Landing (5,790 ft elevation) is touted as one of the most dangerous hikes in America. Those who brave the steep grades and sharp drop-offs on both sides are rewarded with stunning views of Zion Canyon.
Wildlife highlights: Mule deer, foxes, coyotes, bats, bighorn sheep, rock squirrels, ringtails, bobcats, mountain lions, bats, beavers, chipmunks, and porcupines. 291 species of birds, such as the California condor, raven, Mexican spotted owl, peregrine falcon, hummingbirds, Gambel’s quail, and roadrunners. 37 species of lizards and amphibians, and 8 types of fish.
Bryce National Park
Established: February 25, 1928
Location: Southern Utah
Landscape: Geologic formations known as “hoodoos”(irregular columns of rocks)–the largest concentration of such rock spirals on Earth. A series of natural amphitheaters carved into the edge of a high plateau.
Factoid: The Paiute indigenous peoples occupied what is now considered Bryce Canyon starting around 1200 A.D.
Wildlife highlights: Mule deer, pronghorn. mountain lion, Utah prairie dog, Uinta chipmunk, golden-mantled ground squirrel. Birds such as ravens, nuthatches, chickadees, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and western tanagers. Various reptiles, like the great basin rattlesnake, short-horned lizard, striped whipsnake, and the tiger salamander.
Grand Teton National Park
Established: February 26, 1929
Location: Northwest Wyoming
Landscape: Pristine lakes, alpine terrain, and the impressive Teton Mountain Range
Factoid: Chester Arthur was the first U.S. President to visit the Grand Tetons before it was a national park. In 1883, Arthur, along with a party of men that included Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (son of Abraham Lincoln) and noted Civil War general Philip Sheridan, traversed Wyoming Territory on a fishing trip.
Wildlife highlights: Large ungulates like moose, elk, mule deer, bison, and pronghorn. Large predatory mammals like grizzly and black bears, wolves and mountain lions. Uinta ground squirrels, least chipmunks and red squirrels, badgers, pine martens, long-tailed weasels, and wolverines. As you hike through rocky areas, watch for pikas, yellow-bellied marmots and golden mantled ground squirrels. In the waters of the park, you may spy a muskrat, beaver, or river otter.
Olympic National Park
Established: June 29, 1938
Location: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula
Landscape: Diverse countryside of mountainous forests, subalpine meadows, rocky alpine slopes, and glacier-capped summits
Factoid: Located in the park is Lake Crescent, which is known for pristine blue waters that visitors can see over 60 ft down. Unlike other lakes that grow algae, Lake Crescent lacks nitrogen, making its waters crystal clear.
Wildlife highlights: Just offshore, whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals, and sea otters feed in the Pacific Ocean. Invertebrates of countless shapes, sizes, colors and textures inhabit the tide pools. On land, some species, like raccoons, beaver and mink, live mostly in the lowlands. But others, like deer, elk, cougars and bears.
Are you road tripping this summer? What is your favorite National Park? Share in the comments!
- Search Chronicling America* to find more coverage of national parks in historical newspapers!
- Read more about Yellowstone National Park in our blog post, Yellowstone: American Milestone.
- Information about the wildlife and geography of national parks came from the U.S. National Park Service.
- Check out these Chronicling America Topics Pages on specific National Parks:
Yellowstone National Park: Topics in Chronicling America
Yosemite National Park: Topics in Chronicling America
* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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