The United States has only 63 national parks in 30 states, but did you know you can visit 360 alternatives? If you plan a trip to one of the 20 states without a national park, you’ll still have some excellent spots managed by the federal government to check out.
But many people don’t know about these incredible destinations.
We have all the details about unique sites maintained by the National Park Service, so you’ll have great places to explore in every state.
Let’s dive in!
What Are National Parks?
In 1872, US Congress appointed the first-ever national park to preserve natural beauty and wildlife for the public to see for generations to come. The National Park Service (NPS) began protecting these areas in 1916. Today, the NPS has over 20,000 employees caring for over 400 federal sites.
Sixty-three of the areas protected by the NPS have been deemed national parks. You can find nine in California, which has the most parks in any state. Alaska has eight, followed by Utah with five. While all the sites under NPS’s jurisdiction have significant historical value, national parks have unique landscapes, flora, and fauna worth protecting.
For example, the Grand Canyon National Park features the longest canyon in the world. Spots like Yellowstone National Park have helped protect and rehabilitate struggling wildlife populations such as grizzly bears and bison, saving these creatures from extinction.
Pro Tip: If you want to visit a national park, use these 5 Ways to Avoid National Park Crowds.
What Was the First National Park in America?
Today, hundreds of nations have established thousands of national parks all over the globe, but the US kicked it all off in 1872. Yellowstone National Park has the unique distinction of being the world’s first national park. President Ulysses S. Grant approved its creation and set about preserving this beautiful landscape.
Wyoming and Montana weren’t founded until 1890 and 1889, respectively, giving the federal government jurisdiction over the area. When Grant signed the bill to create Yellowstone, he ensured the federal government would retain control of this site.
With the installation of seven more national parks, a need for an oversight committee arose. President Woodrow Wilson established the NPS to overlook federal lands in 1916. The organization helped save grizzlies from extinction and prevented the giant sequoias from logging. Essentially, this agency has helped preserve our nation’s treasures for future generations.
Which States Do Not Have a National Park?
Delaware is the only state in the nation without any NPS-managed sites. Though some state beaches and wildlife refuges exist, you won’t find any federally designated natural areas.
Many states don’t have any parks but still have areas managed by the NPS. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, all found along the Gulf of Mexico, have historic battlefields and national seashores. Wisconsin and Vermont both have several national scenic trails. You can check NPS sites by state on their website.
Pro Tip: We think these 22 National Forest Campgrounds are Better (and Cheaper) Than National Parks.
National Park Alternatives
If you’ve planned a trip to a state without a national park, don’t fret. You have other options! We’ll tell you a little about the other types of sites managed by NPS so you can decide which one to check out next.
National Historic Parks and Sites
A historic site usually refers to a single feature closely related to an important event. You can visit Chimney Rock in Nebraska, a state without parks, to see the iconic fixture that guided folks along the Oregon Trail. Other historic sites include military forts and houses of famous figures.
The NPS also manages historical parks. While the parks themselves are a more modern concept, the surrounding area usually holds some significance dating further into the past. For example, you can visit the log cabin in Kentucky where Abraham Lincoln was born. The Cumberland Gap served as a central passageway for indigenous peoples, and the NPS has worked to preserve the region as a historical park.
National Recreation Areas
Most recreation areas managed by the NPS can be found near the nation’s largest reservoirs. You’ll probably enjoy some water-based fun during a trip to one of these spots. Pennsylvania may not have a traditional park, but you can visit the Allegheny National Recreation Area to get outside.
The NPS also manages a few sites near large cities to allow residents to gather outdoors. These locations may not offer water recreation, but they give visitors a chance to get outdoors.
We think our favorite national park alternatives might be national seashores. If you love birdwatching, tide pooling, or sunbathing, you’ll enjoy these sites too. The NPS manages ten of these coastal areas.
The NPS also manages three shorelines along the Great Lakes. Notably, you can scuba dive to shipwrecks and explore sandstone caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshores in Wisconsin.
You can always check out state parks if you don’t find an NPS site you’d like to visit during your next trip. The US has over 6,600 state parks covering 14 million acres of land, and you’ll usually find reasonable camping rates in safe locations.
State governments usually designate a park to preserve natural beauty, wildlife, or other points of interest. Exploring new state-managed areas in new places can be very exciting. We love visiting different parks because we almost always learn something new and have novel experiences along the way.
Is Visiting a National Park Alternative Worth It?
While national parks certainly warrant a visit, their alternatives do too. You can experience untouched natural beauty carefully preserved by the NPS. Travelers can go back in time by visiting historical sites. Get your fill of salty air and wind-blown hair with a trip to a national seashore.
Whatever adventure you choose, thank a park ranger when you see one. For over a century, the NPS has done incredible work ensuring that we can experience the outdoors and that the next generation will too.
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
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As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
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