There are over 420 national park sites in the United States covering over 84 million acres, in every state as well as in the American territories (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam). I’ve been fortunate to visit just a small number of these over many years – and still have a large number to go! (Twenty states have no “national parks” – Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin – but do have sites managed by the National Park System.)
Within the National Park System there are 20 national park types; 63 sites include “National Park” as part of their proper name, and there are 85 National Monuments which are usually smaller than a national park and intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource.
Outside the National Park System there are also BLM reserves, state parks and Indian reservations:
- National Park Service (NPS) – 85 million acres across 420 parks. Entry fees vary by park, with the America the Beautiful annual pass covering all of them.
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – a federal agency which oversees 247.3 million acres (one eighth of the country’s landmass). All parks are covered by the America the Beautiful pass. Dogs and mountain-biking are generally allowed on BLM land.
- State parks: Most US states have reserves they manage – there are 10,336 state park areas with the highest number in California and New York. The entry pass system works differently in each state (many states offer an annual unlimited entry pass for the entire state or for a specific park).
- Indian reservations: Some states (in particular Arizona) have reserves governed by a federally recognized Native American tribal nation. Where these are publicly accessible, there is generally an entry fee payable for each visit.
National Parks of the Grand Circle
The Grand Circle encompasses ten National Parks located in the Four Corners region of the US (covering most of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and a small part of Nevada). You can visit all of the Grand Circleparks in about two weeks – or you can easily spend a couple of months exploring them more thoroughly. We visited most of the parks (some fairly fleetingly) in an 11-day road trip from Los Angeles.
- Arches National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Great Basin National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Zion National Park
Within Arizona are 22 parks within the National Parks systems, including three “national parks” (Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Saguaro), and another four national monuments administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Additionally, there are a number of Indian reserves that can be visited, which are just as spectacular as the national parks (Monument Valley, Havasupai Indian Reservation).
California has nine national parks – more than any other state – with some well-known parks such as Death Valley, Joshua Tree and Yosemite. An additional 19 sites are managed by the National Park System.
Utah is home to five world-renowned National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. In addition there are eight more National Monuments, National Recreation Areas and National Historic Sites – and a few National Historic Trails that traverse multiple states.