Every child knows that Yellowstone was the first American national park, but how many adults realize that in the last two decades nine more areas were elevated to national park status? As of today, there are 63 national parks in the US, spread throughout the country, with Delaware being the only state not to boast one. Although Utah’s national parks amount to the greatest area, California leads by numbers, with no fewer than nine of them.
New River Gorge
As 2020 goes, there are many things we did not appreciate, but the creation of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve was one of the silver linings. Located in the Appalachian mountains of southern West Virginia, this relatively small area (7,021 acres) is famous for its climbing, with enough rock to last a lifetime.
Despite the name, the area is shaped by one of the continent’s oldest rivers, providing ample opportunities for water. sports such as whitewater rafting, kayaking and fishing.
Before White Sands became the newest national park of New Mexico in 2019, it was long revered for its otherworldly desert views attracting photographers from all over the country. There are ten backcountry campsites located within the park and an overnight stay is perhaps the best way to take in the mesmerizing landscape.
For a shorter visit, a 45-minute scenic drive cuts through the middle of the park. A family day out can be spent along the eight-mile-long road, stopping to explore the dunes and learn about the site’s heritage.
Perched on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan in northwestern Indiana, the Indiana Dunes were proclaimed a national park in 2019. Just three quarters of an hour from downtown Chicago, it is a favorite weekend getaway regardless of the season. Nine sandy beaches beckon visitors in the summer months, and in winter, deserted by the tourists, the area takes on a much wilder mood, with only an occasional cross-country skier appearing in the distance.
Although not your typical park with opportunities for outdoor adventure, the Gateway Arch National Park is a must visit while in Saint Louis, Missouri. According to the NPS website, “The Gateway Arch reflects St. Louis' role in the Westward Expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century. The park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson's role in opening the West, to the pioneers who helped shape its history, and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in the Old Courthouse.”
The newest addition to California’s collection of national parks (established in 2013), Pinnacles is 26,606 acres of unusual volcanic rock formations. Climbing, caving and hiking are among the most popular activities, and with no car access, Pinnacles has a more intimate feel than California’s larger and more popular national parks. High Peaks and Balconies Caves are some of Pinnacles’ more spectacular and technical trails.
Pinnacles is also home to one of the greatest North American birds: the critically endangered California condor. After it became extinct in 1987, a Pinnacles conservation program reintroduced the condor to the wild. The chance of spotting this magnificent bird is reason enough to visit the newest and smallest of California’s national parks.