Discovering Our National Parks

Contributor: Tara Ondra. Lesson ID: 13133

Amazing rock formations, spectacular hiking trails, protected wildlife, and opportunities to explore the past — all this and more can be found in our National Parks. But how did it all begin?


United States, United States

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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quote about national parks

Watch the video below to see just what America is!

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  • What are national parks, and how did they begin?

A national park is an area of land protected by the federal government for the general public's enjoyment or the preservation of wildlife. National parks protect nature for future generations and are symbols of national pride.

That's right, the national parks belong to every American. They own 61 protected areas in the United States with stunning views.

Watch the video below to hear how they belong to all Americans!

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But national parks didn't always exist.

Toward the end of the 19th century, there was a growing awareness that the exploration of the lands from sea to shining sea had come at a cost. In many places, nature has been destroyed along the way.

Voices began to speak out, calling for Congress to protect the natural splendors of places like Yosemite and Yellowstone. In 1872, Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone the first truly national park in the world.

The next major advocate for conservation was President Theodore Roosevelt (president 1901-1909). He is credited with preserving 230 million acres of public lands during his presidency.

While the National Park Service wasn't established until after his presidency, these lands would eventually become national parks, forests, and bird sanctuaries.

John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt on horseback, Yosemite Valley

Unfortunately, as parks were being created and preserved, no central organization existed to manage them. Private interests became involved, often exploiting the lands' resources.

This changed in 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act creating the National Park Service. The first director of the National Park Service (NPS) was millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather, whose aim was to protect the parks while promoting their use by all people.

The National Park Service oversees many culturally, scientifically, and historically important sites besides parks. These areas fall into any one of 19 categories the NPS uses to describe its properties (including military parks, lake shores, recreation areas, etc.).

Today, the United States has 61 national parks, with at least one in every state except Delaware.

  • How many national parks can you name?
  • Which ones do you think are visited the most?

Check out the Best U.S. National Parks for 2023-2024 to learn more about the most popular parks.

When ready, head over to the Got it? section to review and explore!

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