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Bogd Khan Uul National Park in Mongolia is one of the earliest preserved areas now called a national park.
National parks often allow protected species to flourish. Pictured are alpine ibexes (Capra ibex) in the Gran Paradiso National Park, Piedmont, Italy. The ibex population increased tenfold since the area was declared a national park in 1922.

A national park is a nature park designated for conservation purposes because of unparalleled national natural, historic, or cultural significance. It is an area of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that is protected and owned by a government. Although governments hold different standards for national park designation, the conservation of 'wild nature' for posterity and as a symbol of national pride [1] is a common motivation for the continued protection of all national parks around the world. National parks are almost always accessible to the public. [2] Usually national parks are developed, owned and managed by national governments, though in some countries with federal or devolved forms of government, "national parks" may be the responsibility of subnational, regional, or local authorities. [a]

The United States established Yellowstone National Park, the first "public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," in 1872. [3] Although Yellowstone was not officially termed a "national park" at the time, in practice [4] it is widely held to be the first and oldest national park in the world. [5] However, the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve (in what is now Trinidad and Tobago; established in 1776) [6] and the area surrounding Bogd Khan Uul Mountain (Mongolia, 1778), which were restricted from cultivation to protect surrounding farmland, are considered the oldest legally protected areas. [7] [8] Parks Canada, established on May 19, 1911, is the world's oldest national park service. [9]

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) have defined "National Park" as its Category II type of protected areas. [10] According to the IUCN, 6,555 national parks worldwide met its criteria in 2006. IUCN is still discussing the parameters of defining a national park.

The largest national park in the world meeting the IUCN definition is the Northeast Greenland National Park, which was established in 1974 and is 972,000 km2 (375,000 sq mi) in area. [11]


Landscapes of the Koli National Park in North Karelia, Finland, have inspired many painters and composers, including Jean Sibelius, Juhani Aho, and Eero Järnefelt. [12]
Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica was listed by Forbes as one of the world's 12 most beautiful national parks. [13]
Beech trees in Mallard Wood, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England

In 1969, the IUCN declared a national park to be a relatively large area with the following defining characteristics: [14]

  • One or several ecosystems not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation, where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educational, and recreational interest or which contain a natural landscape of great beauty;
  • Highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate exploitation or occupation as soon as possible in the whole area and to effectively enforce the respect of ecological, geomorphological, or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment; and
  • Visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educative, cultural, and recreative purposes.

In 1971, these criteria were further expanded upon leading to more clear and defined benchmarks to evaluate a national park. These include:

  • Minimum size of 1,000 hectares within zones in which protection of nature takes precedence
  • Statutory legal protection
  • Budget and staff sufficient to provide effective protection
  • Prohibition of exploitation of natural resources (including the development of dams) qualified by such activities as sport, hunting, fishing, the need for management, facilities, etc.

While the term national park is now defined by the IUCN, many protected areas in many countries are called national park even when they correspond to other categories of the IUCN Protected Area Management Definition, for example: [2] [15]

While national parks are generally understood to be administered by national governments (hence the name), in Australia, with the exception of six national parks, national parks are run by state governments and predate the Federation of Australia; similarly, national parks in the Netherlands are administered by the provinces. [2] In Canada, there are both national parks operated by the federal government and provincial or territorial parks operated by the provincial and territorial governments, although nearly all are still national parks by the IUCN definition. [16]

In many countries, including Indonesia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, national parks do not adhere to the IUCN definition, while some areas which adhere to the IUCN definition are not designated as national parks. [2]


Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, [17] Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, Canada

As many countries do not adhere to the IUCN definition, the term "national park" may be used loosely. In the United Kingdom, and in some other countries such as Taiwan, a "national park" simply describes a general area that is relatively undeveloped, scenic, and attracts tourists, with some form of planning restrictions to ensure it maintains those characteristics. There may be substantial human settlements within the bounds of a national park.

Conversely, parks that meet the criteria may be not be referred to as "national parks". Terms like "preserve" or "reserve" may be used instead.


Early references

Starting in 1735 the Naples government undertook laws to protect Natural areas, which could be used as a game reserve by the royal family; Procida was the first protected site; [18] the difference between the many previous royal hunting preserves and this one, which is considered to be closer to a Park rather than a hunting preserve, [19] is that Neapolitan government already considered the division into the present-day wilderness areas and non-strict nature reserves.[ citation needed]

In 1810, the English poet William Wordsworth described the Lake District as a "sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy." [20] The painter George Catlin, in his travels through the American West, wrote during the 1830s that Native Americans in the United States might be preserved "(by some great protecting policy of government) ... in a magnificent park ... A nation's Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!" [21]

First efforts: Hot Springs, Arkansas and Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, United States

The first effort by the U.S. Federal government to set aside such protected lands was on 20 April 1832, when President Andrew Jackson signed legislation that the 22nd United States Congress had enacted to set aside four sections of land around what is now Hot Springs, Arkansas, to protect the natural, thermal springs and adjoining mountainsides for the future disposal of the U.S. government. [22] [23] [24] It was known as Hot Springs Reservation, but no legal authority was established. Federal control of the area was not clearly established until 1877. [22] The work of important leaders who fought for animal and land conservation were essential in the development of legal action. Some of these leaders include President Abraham Lincoln, Laurance Rockefeller, President Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson to name a few. [25]

John Muir is today referred to as the "Father of the National Parks" due to his work in Yosemite. [26] He published two influential articles in The Century Magazine, which formed the base for the subsequent legislation. [27] [28]

President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress on 1 July 1864, ceding the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias (later becoming Yosemite National Park) to the state of California. According to this bill, private ownership of the land in this area was no longer possible. The state of California was designated to manage the park for "public use, resort, and recreation". Leases were permitted for up to ten years and the proceeds were to be used for conservation and improvement. A public discussion followed this first legislation of its kind and there was a heated debate over whether the government had the right to create parks. The perceived mismanagement of Yosemite by the Californian state was the reason why Yellowstone was put under national control at its establishment six years later. [29] [30]

First national park: Yellowstone

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States; Yellowstone was the first national park in the world.

In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established as the United States' first national park, [31] being also the world's first national park. In some European and Asian countries, however, national protection and nature reserves already existed - though typically as game reserves and recreational grounds set aside for royalty, such as a part of the Forest of Fontainebleau (France, 1861). [32]

Yellowstone was part of a federally governed territory. With no state government that could assume stewardship of the land, the federal government took on direct responsibility for the park, the official first national park of the United States. The combined effort and interest of conservationists, politicians and the Northern Pacific Railroad ensured the passage of enabling legislation by the United States Congress to create Yellowstone National Park. Theodore Roosevelt and his group of conservationists, the Boone and Crockett Club, were active campaigners and were highly influential in convincing fellow Republicans and big business to back the bill. Yellowstone National Park soon played a pivotal role in the conservation of these national treasures, as it was suffering at the hands of poachers and others who stood at the ready to pillage what they could from the area. Theodore Roosevelt and his newly formed Boone and Crockett Club successfully took the lead in protecting Yellowstone National Park from this plight, resulting in laws designed to conserve the natural resources in Yellowstone and other parks under the Government's purview.[ citation needed]

American Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner wrote: "National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." [33]

International growth of national parks

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, East Java, Indonesia
Royal National Park, New South Wales, Australia

The first area to use "national park" in its creation legislation was the U.S.'s Mackinac National Park, in 1875. (The area was later transferred to the state's authority in 1895, thus losing its official "national park" status. [34] [35])

Following the idea established in Yellowstone and Mackinac, there soon followed parks in other nations. In Australia, what is now Royal National Park was established just south of Sydney, Colony of New South Wales, on 26 April 1879, becoming the world's second official national park. [36] Since Mackinac lost its national park status, the Royal National Park is, by some considerations, the second oldest national park now in existence. [35] [37] [38]

Lago Covel in the Stelvio National Park, Italy

Banff National Park became Canada's first national park in 1885. New Zealand established Tongariro National Park in 1887.

Abisko National Park, Sweden, one of the first national parks established in Europe

In Europe, the first national parks were a set of nine parks in Sweden in 1909, followed by the Swiss National Park in 1914. Africa's first national park was established in 1925 when Albert I of Belgium designated an area of what is now Democratic Republic of Congo centred on the Virunga Mountains as the Albert National Park (since renamed Virunga National Park).

Valley of Desolation in the Camdeboo National Park, South Africa

In 1895, the Groenkloof Nature Reserve was established as the first game sanctuary in Africa. In 1926, the government of South Africa designated Kruger National Park as the nation's first national park, although it was an expansion of the earlier Sabie Game Reserve established in 1898 by President Paul Kruger of the old South African Republic, after whom the park was named.

Argentina became the third country in the Americas to create a national park system, with the creation of the Nahuel Huapi National Park in 1934, through the initiative of Francisco Moreno.[ citation needed]

After World War II, national parks were founded all over the world. The United Kingdom designated its first national park, Peak District National Park, in 1951. This followed perhaps 70 years of pressure for greater public access to the landscape. By the end of the decade a further nine national parks had been designated in the UK. [39] Europe has some 359 national parks as of 2010.[ citation needed] The Vanoise National Park in the Alps was the first French national park, created in 1963 after public mobilization against a touristic project.

Viru Bog in the Lahemaa National Park, Estonia, before sunrise

In 1971, Lahemaa National Park in Estonia was the first area to be designated a national park in the former Soviet Union.

In 1973, Mount Kilimanjaro was classified as a National Park and was opened to public access in 1977. [40]

In 1989, the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (QNNP) was created to protect 3.381 million hectares on the north slope of Mount Everest in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. This national park is the first major global park to have no separate warden and protection staff—all of its management consists of existing local authorities, allowing a lower cost basis and a larger geographical coverage (in 1989 when created, it was the largest protected area in Asia). It includes four of the six tallest mountains in the world: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu. The QNNP is contiguous to four Nepali national parks, creating a transnational conservation area equal in size to Switzerland. [41]

In 1993, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was established in Jamaica to conserve and protect 41,198 hectares, including tropical montane rainforest and adjacent buffer areas. [42] The site includes Jamaica's tallest peak ( Blue Mountain Peak), hiking trails and a visitor center. The Park was also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. [43]

National parks services

The world's first national park service was established May 19, 1911, in Canada. [44] [45] The Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act placed the dominion parks under the administration of the Dominion Park Branch (now Parks Canada), within the Department of the Interior. The branch was established to "protect sites of natural wonder" to provide a recreational experience, centred on the idea of the natural world providing rest and spiritual renewal from the urban setting. [46] Canada now has the largest protected area in the world with 450,000 km2 of national park space. [47]

Even with the creation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and nearly 37 other national parks and monuments, another 44 years passed before an agency was created in the United States to administer these units in a comprehensive way – the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). The 64th United States Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act, which President Woodrow Wilson signed into law on 25 August 1916. Of the 429 sites managed by the National Park Service of the United States, only 63 carry the designation of National Park. [48]

Painting ( c. 1900) of the Teufelsschloss in Kaiser-Franz-Joseph-Fjord, East Greenland. The site is now part of the Northeast Greenland National Park.

Economic ramifications

Countries with a large ecotourism industry, such as Costa Rica, often experience a huge economic effect on park management as well as the economy of the country as a whole. [49]


Tourism to national parks has increased considerably over time. In Costa Rica for example, a megadiverse country, tourism to parks has increased by 400% from 1985 to 1999. [49] The term national park is perceived as a brand name that is associated with nature-based tourism and it symbolizes a "high quality natural environment with a well-designed tourist infrastructure". [50]


The duties of a park ranger are to supervise, manage, and/or perform work in the conservation and use of park resources. This involves functions such as park conservation; natural, historical, and cultural resource management; and the development and operation of interpretive and recreational programs for the benefit of the visiting public. Park rangers also have fire fighting responsibilities and execute search and rescue missions. Activities also include heritage interpretation to disseminate information to visitors of general, historical, or scientific information. Management of resources such as wildlife, lake shores, seashores, forests, historic buildings, battlefields, archaeological properties, and recreation areas are also part of the job of a park ranger. [51] Since the establishment of the National Park Service in the US in 1916, the role of the park ranger has shifted from merely being a custodian of natural resources to include several activities that are associated with law enforcement. [52] They control traffic, manage permits for various uses, and investigate violations, complaints, trespass/encroachment, and accidents. [51]


National parks in former European colonies have come under criticism for allegedly perpetuating colonialism. National parks were created by individuals who felt that pristine, natural sections of nature should be set aside and preserved from urban development. In America, this movement came about during the American frontier and were meant to be monuments to America's true history. [53] Yet, in some instances, the lands that were to be set aside and protected in formerly colonized lands were already being inhabited by native communities, who were then removed off of these lands to create pristine sites for public consumption. Critics claim that the removal of people from national parks enhances the belief that nature can only be protected when humans do not exist within it, and that this leads to perpetuating the dichotomy between nature and humans (also known as the nature–culture divide). They see the creation of national parks as a form of eco- land grabbing. [54] Others claim that traveling to national parks to appreciate nature there leads people to ignore the nature that exists around them every day. Still others argue that tourism can actually negatively impact the areas that are being visited. [55]

See also



  1. ^ In Australia, the vast majority of "national parks" are managed by state governments rather than the federal government; for example, Royal National Park, mentioned in this article as one of the earliest national parks, is actually owned and operated by New South Wales. Similarly, the province of Quebec, Canada, uses the designation "national park" for all of its provincially owned and operated parks. National parks in the United Kingdom are devolved to various authorities at the subnational and local levels.


  1. ^ Europarc Federation (eds.) 2009, Living Parks, 100 Years of National Parks in Europe, Oekom Verlag, München
  2. ^ a b c d Gissibl, B., S. Höhler and P. Kupper, 2012, Civilizing Nature, National Parks in Global Historical Perspective, Berghahn, Oxford
  3. ^ "Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920". American Memory - Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 23 January 2017.
  4. ^ Report of the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park for the Year 1872 Archived 3 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine, 43rd Congress, 3rd Session, ex. doc. 35, quoting Department of Interior letter of 10 May 1872, "The reservation so set apart is to be known as the "Yellowstone National Park"."
  5. ^ "Yellowstone National Park". UNESCO. Archived from the original on 3 June 2023. Retrieved 18 July 2023.
  6. ^ "Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve". UNESCO. 17 August 2011. Archived from the original on 15 August 2018. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  7. ^ Hardy, U. (9 April 2017). "The 10 Oldest National Parks in the World". The CultureTrip. Archived from the original on 17 October 2019. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  8. ^ Bonnett, A. (2016). The Geography of Nostalgia: Global and Local Perspectives on Modernity and Loss. Routledge. p. 68. ISBN  978-1-315-88297-0.
  9. ^ Irish, Paul (13 May 2011). "Parks Canada celebrates a century of discovery". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 16 May 2011. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  10. ^ "Category II: National Park". IUCN. 5 February 2016. Archived from the original on 18 November 2019. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  11. ^ Vereinte Nationen; World Conservation Monitoring Centre, eds. (1994). 1993 United Nations list of national parks and protected areas: = Liste des Nations Unies des parcs nationaux et des aires protégées 1993 = Lista de las Naciones Unidas de parques nacionales y areas protegidas 1993. Gland: IUCN/UICN. ISBN  978-2-8317-0190-5.
  12. ^ "History of Koli National Park". Archived from the original on 27 November 2021. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  13. ^ Jane Levere (29 August 2011). "The World's Most Beautiful National Parks". Forbes. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  14. ^ Gulez, Sumer (1992). A method of evaluating areas for national park status.
  15. ^ European Environment Agency Protected areas in Europe – an overview Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine In: EEA Report No 5/2012 Kopenhagen: 2012 ISBN  978-92-9213-329-0 ISSN  1725-9177 pdf Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine doi=10.2800/55955
  16. ^ John S. Marsh, " Provincial Parks", Archived 10 March 2020 at the Wayback Machine, in The Canadian Encyclopedia (Historica Canada, 2018‑05‑30), [accessed 2020‑02‑18].
  17. ^ "Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 3 January 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2024. Oddly shaped rock pillars sculpted by wind and sea create the unique islandscape of the natural reserve
  18. ^ Angela de Sario. "La "Regia Caccia" Di Torre Guevara Nel Settecento" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 October 2021. Retrieved 28 February 2022.
  19. ^ Museo privato Agriturismo Maria Sofia di Borbone, Azienda Agricola Le Tre Querce, Seminara, Calabria, organised by the Study Centre for Environmental Education in the Mediterranean Area of Reggio, Italy
  20. ^ Wordsworth, William (1835). A guide through the district of the lakes in the north of England with a description of the scenery, &c. for the use of tourists and residents (5th ed.). Kendal, England: Hudson and Nicholson. p.  88. sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.
  21. ^ Catlin, George (1841). Letters and Notes on the manners, customs, and condition of the North American Indians: written during eight years' travel amongst the wildest tribes of Indians in North America in 1832, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39. Vol. 1. Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London: Published by the author. pp. 261–262. Archived from the original on 1 May 2016.
  22. ^ a b Shugart, Sharon (2004). "Hot Springs of Arkansas Through the Years: A Chronology of Events" (PDF). National Park Service. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 April 2008. Retrieved 30 March 2008.
  23. ^ Peters, Richard, ed. (1866). "Twenty-Second Congress, Session 1, Chap. 70: An Act authorizing the governor of the territory of Arkansas to lease the salt springs, in said territory, and for other purposes (April 20, 1832)" (PDF). The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to 3 March 1845, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America from December 1863, to December 1865. Vol. 4. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown. p. 505. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2011.
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  25. ^ "Mission & History". National Park Foundation. Archived from the original on 14 February 2022. Retrieved 11 February 2022.
  26. ^ Miller, Barbara Kiely (2008). John Muir. Gareth Stevens. p. 10. ISBN  978-0836883183.
  27. ^ John Muir. "Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park" Archived 2 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine The Century Magazine, Vol. XL. September 1890. No. 5
  28. ^ John Muir. "The Treasures of the Yosemite" Archived 2 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine The Century Magazine, Vol. XL. August 1890. No. 4
  29. ^ Adam Wesley Dean. Natural Glory in the Midst of War: The Establishment of Yosemite State Park In: Abstract. Civil War History, Volume 56, Number 4, December 2010, pp. 386–419 | 10.1353/cwh.2010.0008
  30. ^ Sanger, George P., ed. (1866). "Thirty-Eighth Congress, Session 1, Chap. 184: An Act authorizing a Grant to the State of California of the "Yo-Semite Valley" and of the Land embracing the "Mariposa Big Tree Grove" (June 30, 1864)" (PDF). 38th United States Congress, Session 1, 1864. In: The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America from December 1863, to December 1865. Vol. 13. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 325. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 November 2011.
  31. ^ Mangan, Elizabeth U. Yellowstone, the First National Park from Mapping the National Parks Archived 19 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.
  32. ^ Kimberly A. Jones, Simon R. Kelly, Sarah Kennel, Helga Kessler-Aurisch, In the forest of Fontainebleau: painters and photographers from Corot to Monet, National Gallery of Art, 2008, p.23
  33. ^ "Famous Quotes Concerning the National Parks: Wallace Stegner, 1983". Discover History. National Park Service. 16 January 2003. Archived from the original on 8 May 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  34. ^ "Mackinac Island". Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  35. ^ a b Kim Allen Scott, 2011 "Robertson's Echo The Conservation Ethic in the Establishment of Yellowstone and Royal National Parks" Yellowstone Science 19:3
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  37. ^ "Audley Bottom". Archived from the original on 2 November 2014. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  38. ^ Rodney Harrison, 2012 "Heritage: Critical approaches" Routledge
  39. ^ "History of our National Park". Peak District National Park. Archived from the original on 14 July 2019. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  40. ^ "Kilimanjaro: The National Park". Private Kilimanjaro: About Kilimanjaro. Private Expeditions, Ltd. 2011. Archived from the original on 17 October 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  41. ^ Daniel C. Taylor, Carl E. Taylor, Jesse O. Taylor, Empowerment on an Unstable Planet New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, Chapter 9
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  43. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Blue and John Crow Mountains". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
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