The National Park System is constantly changing and has proposed new national parks over the years. New parks are added while other parks receive new designations.
Since the National Park System was established in 1872, when Yellowstone was designated the world’s first national park, hundreds of other places worthy of protection have been added. From historic sites to cultural ruins, these places are our nation’s national treasures.
In 2023, the National Park Service has proposed several national parks and sites that could be upgraded to national park status. These places are already protected by the NPS, but have other designations.
There are currently a total of 63 national parks in the United States. The most recent new designation was New River Gorge
National Park and Preserve in West Virginia, which received national park status in December 2020.
All told, the National Park Service manages 424 units. These areas cover 85 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Eighty-three units are
National Monuments, 74 are National Historic Sites, 63 are National Parks, and 63 are National Historic Parks.
How does an area become a national park?
National parks generally encompass more land and resources than the other designations within the National Park System. However, an area must have scenic or historic significance to be classified as a national park.
For example, the Grand Canyon is one of the natural wonders of the world. This is considered scenic significance.
The park must also protect the environment or culture of an area. For example, Everglades National Park protects hundreds of species of wildlife, including the endangered Florida panther and subtropical wetlands.
In fact, the Everglades was the first national park designated to protect an ecological system when it joined the NPS in 1947.
Finally, a national park must be open for the public to enjoy and experience. Thus, no one can privately own the land. Anyone can go to the park, pay the entrance fee and enjoy the beauty and history of the area.
The NPS often sets additional criteria for an area to be protected as a national park, but these are the general guidelines for evaluating new park proposals.
A few proposed national parks for 2023
As mentioned earlier, the National Park System is constantly changing as it adds new sites or renames existing ones. Below are some of our favorite proposed national parks for 2023, and we would love to see the status of these parks improved.
1st Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
Location: New Jersey, Pennsylvania
The longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi, the Delaware River and its environs are a beautiful stretch of land on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border.
Popular activities include camping, horseback riding, hiking, biking, paddling, fishing, and boating. The National Recreation Area is also home to numerous waterfalls that offer quiet places of solitude.
But it’s not just beautiful scenery. The region is also historically significant, as it is home to the earliest known culture in the New World, the Paleo-Indians. You can also visit important Native American archaeological sites and colonial-era structures here.
2. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.
Craters of the Moon preserves the history of our nation’s vast volcanic past. The landscape of lava flows, caves, cinder cones, and sagebrush is unlike any other place in America.
The 7-mile Loop Road provides guests with easy access to the trails and caves. Along the scenic route, visitors have countless opportunities to take photos. Many outdoor enthusiasts also enjoy backpacking trips through the wilderness.
3. Mt. Hood National Forest
With millions of visitors exploring Mt. Hood National Forest each year, it welcomes more people than many national parks. It covers 1.1 million acres, and about one-third of the area is designated wilderness.
Although dormant, Mt. Hood is a stratovolcano that rises over 11,000 feet. On its cap are 11 glaciers that flow into dozens of waterfalls.
About 10,000 climbers attempt to climb the volcano each year. Mt. Hood National Forest offers visitors year-round recreational opportunities.
4th Atchafalaya National Heritage Area
The state of Louisiana has only six NPS units. According to the criteria for proposed national parks, which state that the site should “represent a natural or cultural theme not yet adequately represented,” the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area meets these requirements.
The largest freshwater marsh in the country, the Atchafalaya River Basin is home to sugarcane and cotton fields, ancient oaks, towering cypress trees, alligators, bears, birds, catfish, crayfish, and more.
But like the Delaware Water Gap, this area is rich in cultural history. The Cajun culture, as well as European, African, Caribbean and Native American peoples, call this land home. Native music, food and festivals make this area emblematic of Louisiana’s melting pot of cultures.
Don’t forget: These national parks are the least visited in the U.S., but they still deserve your attention!
5th Allegheny National Forest
In 2023, the Allegheny National Forest will celebrate its centennial as a National Forest. Let’s make it an even bigger celebration by making this proposed national park one of the big 63.
As the only National Forest in Pennsylvania, it is one of the least populated areas east of the Mississippi River. Over 514,000 acres invite visitors to hike, bike, four-wheel drive, paddle, and camp in the ancient forests.
The Allegheny National Forest also features two wilderness areas, two scenic areas, and two scenic rivers. Like Mt. Hood National Forest, it has about four million visitors annually, more than many of our national parks.
6th Avi Kwa Ame National Monument
Located in southwestern Nevada, Avi Kwa Ame is also called “Ghost Mountain” and serves as sacred land to the Paiute Hopi and Chemehuevi peoples and ten Yuman-speaking tribes.
This region of the Mojave Desert offers breathtaking landscapes, a biodiverse ecosystem, and cultural significance. It is home to the largest Joshua Tree forest in the Americas. National Park status would also protect numerous endangered species in the area.
Avi Kwa Ame National Monument certainly meets the criteria for “a resource closely associated with the lives of persons of national significance to the history of the United States.”
7th Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
Over 87,000 acres in northern Maine beckon people who want to get away from it all and get into nature. There are rest stops along the 17-mile Katahdin Loop Road to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
There are also ports of call for short hikes. The changing seasons offer numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation, from hiking, biking, camping and fishing in the warmer months to snowmobiling, ice fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument protects not only the rivers, marshes, mountains, and streams of northern Maine, but also the culturally significant lands of the Penobscot Nation.
What was the most recent addition to the national park system?
The most recent addition to the National Park System was the New Philadelphia National Historic Site in Illinois. It was designated a national park on December 9, 2022.
On the same day, Pullman National Monument in Illinois became Pullman National Historical Park. In 2022, Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park in Kansas became a national historic site.
What was the most recent site to be rededicated as a national park?
As proposed national parks undergo annual evaluation, some will receive this status while others will retain their previous designation.
The New River Gorge National River in West Virginia was recently designated a national park and preserve on December 27, 2020.
The year before, in December 2019, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico became White Sands National Park.
Don’t forget: How many national parks are there in the US? Click on the link to decipher the national park system!
Which proposed national parks have your vote?
With these seven proposed national parks (and a few more) under consideration, the question is which one has your vote to be one of the big 63? Will the National Park System be expanded by one more park in 2023, or will it be expanded by a few parks?
Whatever happens in Congress, these seven places offer scenic beauty, cultural significance, and biodiversity worth protecting. When you visit them, please follow the Leave No Trace principles and do your part to honor sacred lands and preserve wildlife and plants for generations to come.
Have you ever visited any of these seven places? Which of them do you think should be given national park status?