People entered U.S. national parks 325.5 million times in 2023, up by 13 million visits from the year before, according to the National Park Service. Five national parks—including Glacier Bay, Joshua Tree, and Dry Tortugas—saw record-setting numbers of visitors, the vast majority of whom arrived at the parks between June and August.

READ MORE: Must-Do Activities at Every National Park

President Wilson's Legacy: The Birth of America's National Parks

All of these national park visitors have President Woodrow Wilson to thank. He first signed the "Organic Act" on August 25, 1916, creating the National Park Service. Since then, the service has helped safeguard so many of the nation's scenic treasures with titles as varied as parks, preserves, reservations, fossil sites, and more. Stacker zooms in on national parks, and large land or water areas, typically larger than national monuments and more general than national preserves. Stacker used publicly available data and resources from the National Park Service to compile this brief history of all 63 national parks in the U.S.

ThroughLensPhotosNVideos // Shutterstock
ThroughLensPhotosNVideos // Shutterstock
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Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park only gained national park status in 1994.

From Monuments to Parks: How the U.S. Protects Its Natural Heritage

Every national park is a natural or cultural resource the federal government deemed worthy of protection. Congress typically passes a statute to create a national park. Before that, each park passed a rigorous screening process to determine whether it is worth federal conservation. Researchers with the NPS have to deem the area of national significance, in other words, it is an unspoiled example of a resource that tells the story of U.S. natural or cultural heritage and history. Many of the older parks on this list, such as Acadia National Park, started as national monuments at the beginning of the 20th century, and later became national parks.

READ MORE: 50 Dazzling Vintage Photos Show the Magic of America’s National Parks

If you're looking for your next outdoor adventure, the West Coast offers plenty of opportunities. California has nine. Arizona and Washington each have three, and Oregon adds one more to the list. But national parks are found throughout the nation and offer a wide range of sites and experiences.

LOOK: The history behind all 63 national parks in the US

The National Parks System manages 63 national parks. Stacker analyzed NPS info to compile the history and features of each. 

Gallery Credit: Stacker

LOOK: Must-do activities at every national park

Stacker lists the must-do activities at every national park ranked by the annual number of visitors. 

Gallery Credit: Angela Underwood

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