The History of U.S. National Parks

Updated: Mar 18, 2020

National Parks in the United States contain some of the most beautiful landmarks and natural sights in the world. In this lesson, learn about how the National Parks began and discover some amazing facts about them.

There are four tasks in this lesson. Complete task 1-3 in order, and task 4 is a short quiz to test your knowledge.

Task 1- Read about the history of the National Parks:

Our National Parks are a national treasure. Our government has established, or set up, 419 national park sites so far. However, we didn't always have national parks! The first one was established in 1872, "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." This was almost 100 years after the founding of the United States! Although people do enjoy our national parks, they have also become a safe place for wildlife to thrive.

The first national park that was founded was Yellowstone National Park. It was founded in the territories of Montana and Wyoming in 1872. Montana wouldn't become an state until 17 years later. Wyoming became a state a year after Montana. It is crazy to think that some of our parks are older than some of our states!

After the founding of Yellowstone National Park, a national park movement began in the United States. The United States government began authorizing additional national parks and monuments. Monuments are places, buildings, or statues that have historic or cultural importance. Not all national park sites are huge pieces of land. Some national park sites are battlefields, like Gettysburg National Military Park, or historic monuments, like the Statue of Liberty.

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. This would create a group of people responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments at the time, and those yet to be established.

Yellowstone National Park

Gettysburg National Military Park (left) Statue of Liberty Historic Monument (right)

Task 2- National Parks Today:

Today more than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for the United States' national park sites. They work with communities across the nation to help keep local history alive and create opportunities for people to get outside. The map below shows some of the most well-known national parks. Which one is closest to where you live? Why do you think there are so many national parks in the western part of the United States?

Task 3- Create your own National Park:

National Parks are created because someone decides the land, place, or monument is important. If you could create your own national park, what would it be? Think of something or somewhere important in your life. It could be your favorite park near your home, your swing set in your yard, or even your favorite toy! Grab a piece of paper and a pencil and draw your new park or monument. National parks and monuments also need a name. Come up with a name for your new national park or monument and write it at the top or bottom of the page. If you would like to share your new national parks with us, have your parent or guardian email a photo of your drawing to We can't wait to see your creativity!

Task 4- Test your knowledge:

Click below to test your national park knowledge!

Click here.