How Many U.S. National Parks Are There? Hint: Way More Than 63

by Jon D. B.

Our incredible U.S. National Parks come in many shapes, sizes, and naming designations, and not all of them are named as such! Which begs the question: How many NPS sites do we actually have?

Few entities embody America like our national parks. From the world’s most visited – Great Smoky Mountains National Park – to the world’s first – Yellowstone National Park – NPS sites have become synonymous with our country.

Yet even as a NPS enthusiast and lead writer in charge of covering national parks for Outsider, I wash shocked to discover the actual number of national parks in America. The common answer?

There are 63 U.S. National Parks that hold that specific title.

But these parks – ranging from the enormous to the more quaint – are only the beginning. In fact:

The National Park System encompasses 423 U.S. NPS Sites in total.

Which means – if anyone asks you “How many U.S. National Parks are there?” – you can now answer them truthfully with not 63, but a whopping 423.

In total, NPS sites encompass more than 84 million acres. And there are, in fact, parks in every single state – extending into U.S. territories, too, like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. Indeed, our NPS sites come in many different shapes, sizes, and more importantly: designations.

The Main Types of U.S. National Parks

  • U.S. National Parks: These are the big NPS names we think of, and there are 63 in total.
  • National Monuments: There are 129 national monuments in total. Only 85 of these, however, are administered by the NPS.
    • Examples: Devils Tower National Monument, Statue of Liberty National Monument, Stonewall National Monument
  • National Preserves: There are 21 national preserves in the U.S. Only 19 of these, however, are official NPS units.
    • Examples: Denali National Park and Preserve, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
  • U.S. National Historic Parks: There are 61 national historic parks, each marking a specific place, time, and/or person in of great significance in American history.
    • Examples: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, First State National Historical Park, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park
  • National Historic Sites: 74 of America’s 81 national historic sites are NPS units. Each also highlights a specific site of great significance in American history.
    • Examples: Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Harry S Truman National Historic Site, Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
  • National Memorials: There are 31 national memorials that are NPS units. An additional 5 are also affiliates.
    • Examples: Lincoln Memorial, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Benjamin Franklin National Memorial

Other Types of NPS Sites:

  • National Battlefield Parks
  • National Battlefields
  • US National Military Parks
  • National Cemeteries
  • National Recreation Areas
  • US National Heritage Areas
  • US National Parkways
  • National Seashores
  • National Lakeshores
  • US National Rivers
  • National Historic, Scenic Trails
  • International Historic Sites

But don’t just take our word for it! We tend to focus on our specific big-name national parks, but there are hundreds more to explore in every single state. To find a NPS site near you, check out the NPS Find Your Park tool here.

How Does NPS Designate Their Sites?

Photo credit: Getty Images, Outsider

For a place to be an NPS site, it has to be Congressionally-designated and protected. It must also be an area operated by the National Park Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior.

As for why, the U.S. designates an NPS site for natural beauty, unique geological features, diverse ecosystems, and recreational opportunities. On all NPS sites, hunting and extractive activities are also illegal.

All NPS sites stand on equal ground of importance with the same mission in mind. It’s our main national parks, however, that tend to become bucket list destinations for Outsiders worldwide. Which is exactly why Outsider is your go-to destination for all things NPS.