The National Park System
The world’s first national park, Yellowstone, was created by an act of Congress in 1872 as a “pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people in order to protect for all time this outstanding natural area.” As Congress created more parks, the need for an agency to administer the park system became clear, yielding the National Park Service in 1916. The National Park System Organic Act, which created the Park Service, also set the purpose of the park system: “The fundamental purpose of the parks is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Today, the National Park System’s more than 400 units, covering more than 83 million acres, include sites ranging from the homes of historic figures to Civil War battlefields, from Alaska’s gigantic, 13.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve to Ford’s Theater National Historic Site, commemorating where President Lincoln was assassinated. In addition to national parks, the park system includes national monuments, seashores, recreation areas, historic sites, military parks, battlefields, and other designated units. Through this variety, the park units compose a system of sites that represent the heritage and spirit of America.
The National Park Service is required to keep park units in an unimpaired state in perpetuity. Areas in parks designated as natural zones must be managed to ensure that natural ecological processes operate unimpaired unless otherwise specifically provided for in the law creating them. Historic zones must be managed to provide full protection for cultural resources. The Park Service also is required to provide the highest quality of use and enjoyment of the National Park System by visitors today and in the future. The Service also is required to manage native animal life for its essential role in natural ecosystems.
Explore the Parks > >
Planning a park visit? Consider visiting our "Explore the Parks" web feature first! We've profiled our national parks so you get the information you need before you go. This section includes beautiful pictures of the parks, as well comments from park visitors. Explore the Parks > >
Learn More > >
If you would like to learn more, the National Park Service's complete guide to the parks, The National Parks: Index 2009-2011, is available online. This 131-page book is an administrative listing of parks and areas in the National Park System.