One of the most famous phrases in the United States is “national park.” There are currently 63 of them, and states nationwide continue to vie for number 64. National parks bring notoriety, tourism dollars, and maybe more bragging rights.
Currently, there is no single frontrunner but several. These seven, beautiful in their own right as national monuments, national forests, recreation areas, and historical parks, could become the 64th national park.
It requires an act of Congress to change a location’s status, and those states have to do some campaigning to get it done. Until then (and until a bill is actually written), we have no set answer to when or if these places will get elevated.
Tongass National Forest, Alaska
Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States and a vast expanse of temperate rainforest. Encompassing nearly 17 million acres, the forest spans multiple islands and offers diverse ecosystems, from coastal rainforests to alpine tundra.
The Tongass is renowned for its rich biodiversity, including salmon-spawning streams, old-growth forests, and abundant wildlife, such as bears and bald eagles. Visitors can explore the forest through a network of hiking trails, scenic byways, and waterways. The Tongass provides recreational opportunities such as fishing, kayaking, and wildlife viewing, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in Alaska’s pristine landscapes.
Additionally, the forest plays a crucial role in regional ecology and serves as a model for sustainable management practices, ensuring the preservation of its unique natural heritage.
Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona
Chiricahua National Monument, situated in southeastern Arizona, is renowned for its striking rock formations and diverse ecosystems. The monument preserves the unique “Wonderland of Rocks,” a collection of towering pinnacles, balancing rocks, and spires formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.
The Chiricahua Mountains provide a habitat for a rich array of plant and animal species, making it a haven for nature lovers and birdwatchers. The park features numerous trails, allowing visitors to explore the surreal landscapes and gain insights into the geological processes that shaped the region. With its breathtaking vistas and ecological significance, Chiricahua National Monument stands as a testament to the wonders of nature and the need for their preservation.
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, Georgia
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, located in Macon, Georgia, is a significant archaeological site that preserves the remnants of ancient indigenous civilizations. The park spans over 700 acres and is renowned for its earth mounds, including the Great Temple Mound, which stands at 55 feet tall.
These mounds were constructed by the Native American peoples of the Southeastern United States and served as ceremonial and burial sites. The park also features a museum showcasing artifacts and exhibits that provide insight into the prehistoric cultures that once thrived in the region. Visitors can explore the park’s walking trails, witness the diverse wildlife, and gain a deeper understanding of the rich history embedded in the mounds and surrounding landscapes.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, located in northern Maine, is a pristine wilderness encompassing approximately 87,500 acres of diverse ecosystems. Designated as a national monument in 2016, the park is characterized by dense forests, pristine waters, and the iconic Mount Katahdin, the tallest peak in the state.
The monument provides opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, offering hiking trails, paddling routes, and scenic overlooks. Its varied landscapes include woodlands, wetlands, and the East Branch of the Penobscot River. Visitors can experience the serenity of the Maine woods, encounter wildlife such as moose and black bears, and appreciate the conservation efforts that aim to protect this unspoiled wilderness for future generations.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area straddles the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and encompasses around 70,000 acres of protected lands along the Delaware River. Lush forests, riverine landscapes, and rugged terrain characterize the area. Visitors can enjoy various outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, fishing, and boating.
The iconic Delaware Water Gap, a spectacular river cut through the Kittatinny Ridge, provides stunning vistas and recreational opportunities. The park also has historical sites, including old farmsteads and Native American archaeological sites, adding cultural significance to its natural beauty.
Whether exploring the Appalachian Trail or engaging in water-based activities, visitors to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can experience the harmonious blend of nature and history.
Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
Shawnee National Forest, located in southern Illinois, is a vast expanse of woodlands, hills, and waterways that spans over 280,000 acres. The forest offers diverse recreational activities, including hiking, camping, and horseback riding. One of its notable features is the Garden of the Gods Wilderness, where ancient sandstone formations create a dramatic and picturesque landscape.
The forest is also home to the River to River Trail, which crosses the entire area and provides hikers with a chance to experience the beauty of the Illinois Ozarks. With its rich biodiversity, scenic beauty, and outdoor opportunities, Shawnee National Forest serves as a haven for nature enthusiasts and a valuable resource for the surrounding communities.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, located in south-central Idaho, is a captivating landscape shaped by volcanic activity. The monument encompasses vast lava fields, cinder cones, and other volcanic features that create an otherworldly environment. The park’s unique geology resulted from a series of volcanic eruptions between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago, leaving behind a surreal landscape that resembles the surface of the moon.
Visitors can explore lava tubes, caves, and hiking trails that showcase the diverse volcanic formations. The area’s flora and fauna have adapted to thrive in this harsh environment, adding to the park’s ecological significance. Craters of the Moon offers visitors a chance to witness the powerful forces of nature that shaped this distinctive terrain.