You are here

Traveler's Five Picks For New National Parks

Pretty enough to be within a national park. Green River Lakes, Wind River Range. Photo by G. Thomas via Wikipedia.

Creating national parks doesn't happen every day. Lately, it seems the quickest way to create one is to legislatively redesignate a national monument as a national park (See Pinnacles National Park). But it doesn't hurt to dream, does it?

Here are five picks from the Traveler for new national parks. We offer up these nominees without consideration to fiscal impact because once you start to consider the costs -- mainly economic costs, but also political -- the possible can become impossible. With that understood, we view the following locations as truly spectacular places that should be preserved for future generations.

* Wind River Range, Wyoming

The Wind River Range in west-central Wyoming visibly defines spectacular. With 40 peaks that soar above 13,000 feet, including the state's highest point at 13,809 feet, glaciers, grizzlies, elk, bighorn sheep, lakes and trout streams, this craggy range runs roughly 100 miles north to south and 30 miles east to west.

Currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the range contains officially designated wilderness and is one of the country's premier hiking and backpacking areas. The range also harbors the headwaters of the Green River.

You can lose yourself in the Winds for days on end, spot North America's largest herd of bighorn sheep, find challenging climbing routes, or fancy yourself as a latter-day mountain man.

* Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho

This 756,000-acre NRA long has been considered for inclusion in the National Park System. Indeed, back in 1911 a group of women in Idaho called for such a move, according to a history of the NRA's creation.

Alternate Text
Stanley Lake in the Sawtooth NRA. Photo by Fredlyfish4  via Wikipedia.

In 1960, then-U.S. Sen. Frank Church introduced legislation to have the area considered for park status, and six years later even introduced a bill calling for Sawtooth National Park, but local opposition derailed it.

This wide expanse of wild lures river runners, climbers, backcountry skiers, anglers, backpackers and more. Cyclists challenge themselves on attacking the highway over Galena Summit, while families carry on long traditions of camping at Redfish Lake.

* Maine North Woods, Maine

New England needs another national park, and the one proposed for the North Woods would not just be gorgeous, but would benefit wildlife species such as Canada lynx, Atlantic salmon and the eastern timber wolf threatened with extinction for lack of habitat and protect the "wild forests of New England."

The hardwood forests, lakes, and rivers would help build a strong recreation sector that would pump money into the surrounding towns. The streams and lakes here long have been plied by canoeists.

Talk of creating such a national park extends back over two decades. Proponents, along with pointing to the natural resources that could be protected, believe the cachet of a "Maine North Woods National Park" would bolster the region's economy through businesses that cater to park visitors.

* Ancient Forest National Park, California and Oregon

With climate change under way, protecting migrational routes, and providing migrational routes, for wildlife and even plants is vital to help ensure their survival.

Alternate Text
The boundaries of the proposed Ancient Forest National Park run from Oregon south into California.

Park Service Director Jon Jarvis back in August of 2011 called for establishing "a national system of parks and protected sites (rivers, heritage areas, trails, and landmarks) that fully represents our natural resources and the nation's cultural experience." He also cited the need for creation of "continuous corridors" to support ecosystems.

The proposed 3.8-million-acre Ancient Forest National Park spanning parts of southern Oregon and northern California would meet those goals.

Within its proposed borders there already exist officially designated wilderness and roadless areas, places perfect for both recreation and wildlife.

The proposal is to set aside a solid block of land 3.8 million acres from the Rogue River in Oregon to the Eel River in California. It will forever allow the free migration of species from the coast and Redwood National Park to semi arid inland canyons. The park would include already established wilderness areas and already designated critical wildlife areas along with about 1 million acres of unprotected inventoried roadless areas.

* San Rafael Swell, Utah

Talk of turning the Swell into a national park has simmered for decades, going back to the 1930s when local officials proposed a "Wayne Wonderland National Monument." The proposal went nowhere, for the Swell, but is pointed to as an impetus for Capitol Reef National Park.

Nevertheless, the wondrous landscape of colorful reefs of rock, deep canyons, and sandstone walls bearing ancient pictographs remain. So, too, do the tales of outlaws such as Butch and Sundance losing possees by galloping into the maze of canyons. Within the Swell you can find ancient granaries, stone arches, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, feral horses and mules, homesteader cabins, and old mining operations. There are opportunities for canyoneering, river running, backpacking and day hiking and more.

Today there are fewer and fewer pristine and preserved areas left in the country, a fact that has the clock ticking on the few remaining places that deserve national park status. While much opposition no doubt exists to each of the above proposals, they could be crafted in such a way to mollify many of the critics.

By creating a "national park and preserve," the enacting legislation could be written in a way to allow some traditional ways of life, whether they involve grazing livestock, hunting, or logging in a sustainable fashion. Communities could remain in place, with the "park-and-preserve" boundaries excluding them. 

What other places do you think should be added to the park system?

Featured Article


Cavalierly handing out grades based on subjective "criteria" like "grandeur" also cheapens the brand. Having eye candy in the National Park System is good and we've got that fairly well covered in the system currently.

Size--now that is more objective. I've spent cherished time in the back country of Yosemite, Wrangell-St Elias, Maine Woods and more so I understand the specialness of those places. I agree, Yellowstone and others ought to be expanded. But week after week of eye candy gets to be boring. The national park experience must offer more and be more available to more people.

Fortunately there are other criteria for inclusion in the National Park System. Geology (really fascinating geology, not subjective "scenery" that too often gets passed off as "geology"), history, archaeology, biodiversiy and other objective fields of study need to be more equal parts of the evaluation.

Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest is only about 4 to 5 squre miles, surrounded by Farm land. Only about 2 miles of that area is of a unique rock feature. The area is not large enough to create a very good National Park out of. Very much similar to Natural Bridge in Virginia. They are trying to do the same thing there. The original intent for National Monuments was for areas like these. But, now there are a lot of proponents out there that want to create these into National Parks, just because they think if Garden of the Gods in Shawnee NF had that NP label that all the sudden millions would flock there and it would be just like going to the Tetons and Yellowstone.

See where i'm going? Those lands, while interesting, are not A+ landscapes, or habitats for flora/fauna. Maybe a good B-, or C+, but I doubt it's going to attract busloads of German and Japanese tourists with cameras in hand. Garden of the Gods worth protecting? Yes. It already is protected as a National Forest.

3.2 million or even a 1 million acre National Ppark in Maine. Awesome. That's a large park. A 30 acre park in Illinois or Wisconsin. Ummm....ugh.

I agree that spectacular scenery is not the only criteria. I personally prefer the word, spectacular habitat. Congaree, Everglades, and Dry Tortugas meet this criteria. Congaree is a fairly intact bottomland swamp with some of the largest old growth forests outside of California. Dry Tortugas contains one of the most spectacular preserved coral reefs in the USA, Channel Islands has remarkable kelp forest and ocean habitat. These areas are definitely worthy because they are some of the best habitats of nature of their ecoystem. But, when you start adding every 100 acre park from some urban setting just because it has a rare plant, or because Wisconsin doesn't have one of the 59 National Parks, it does cheapen the brand. The National Park Service, which I am a major proponent of does require funding. Each new park will require additional funds, and additional resources. With each additional park, it does truly cut into the pool. I've witnessed that with the recent sequestor. There should probably be about 200 of the 400 parks in the current NPS system that should be given to the states, or given to conservancy non-profits.

Cuyahoga is a prime example of what is going wrong today with all these new designations that keep popping up, or are planned. Cuyahoga should be a state park, or a urban park for Cleveland and Akron. It is not on any remote level a true National Park. Sure I can close my eyes and say "you know what this is a spectacular place", but the few places in that park like the ledges, and the 2 or 3 waterfalls are not that spectacular when compared to other places in the National Park System. Also i've been to Colorado National Monument. It's a mini-canyonlands, and reminds me a little bit of a miniature version of Cathedral Valley in Capital Reef. Most of the best parts of that canyon are already preserved in the Monument. Expanding it out would be doing so just for the sake of making a bigger, but not necessarily better park. The boundary already butts up to Grand Junction, and to the west of it is a lot of barren ranch land that is kind of atypical of that area.

You are a proponent of just designating everything as a National Park, which I don't want to see. I prefer that the National Park label means that these are the A+ ecosystems and best examples of thier habitat. Sure, by all means there probably should be a large hundred squre mile prairie park in the Northern plains. But, on the same token, Theodore Roosevelt has two small units. In between those units is land that is just as spectacular (those badlands run for a few hundred miles) and the habitat just as grand, and it's protected as a national grasslands, but right now it's being heavily exploited for Oil and Gas. I think it would be more beneficial to expand, and maybe connect those two units together, then to create 50 more small acre "national parks all over the plains". This is why I don't agree with your theory. Unless they can make a large scale park, I think just creating a bunch of pseudo-state parks is only cheapening the overall National Park brand.

Many of these places you want protected are better off in the National Forest system or in the State forest or state park systems (cuyahoga). Not everything should be a national park.

I also don't think we are losing a lot of land. In fact, there are more forests today due to trees reclaiming old farms in the USA then there were a hundred years ago. Now, you could argue that other areas of the world like the Congo and the Amazon are in touble, and i'd agree with you. But, this country has already been preserving land for well over a century and a half. We are well ahead of most countries. Most of the best areas have already been locked up in varying degrees of protection. And Canada has also done a good job protecting some of the crown jewels of their country.

I can understand what you are up against in Maine, and it's one of the few "best spots left" where a remarkable habitat is under private ownership. And the clock is ticking, and more than likely that region will become more and more fractured to the point where it will be impossible to create a large scale park out of it. I get that, and I hope you are successful in pulling it off before it is too late. But, on the same token, there are not many areas left in the country that are in private hands that do need to become National Parks.

There are a lot of lands locked up in the USA, and I don't think we are in any sort of catastrophe. I've been around the country to realize that there are a lot of open spaces out there. Every state in this country has varying degrees of protected lands. And i'm pretty content with what this country currently has. As long as we can keep it going, and make some of it better, I don't think kids 50 years or even 200 years from now will hate us for it.


I understand your points and they are not unreasonable. I of course appreciate your support for Maine Woods as a national park. And I agree that we need to be true to the vision and standards of the National Park System.

But I think we need to change the way we think about the role of the National Park System. Spectacular scenery is not the only important value. By that standard, Everglades, Voyageurs, Congaree, Dry Tortugas, and several other areas should not be national parks.

Today, we need to be thinking of national parks and wilderness to save and restore America's ecological health. The Forest Service, BLM, and state land agencies certainly will not do it. Two-thirds of America's ecoregions have little or no representation in the National Park System or National Wilderness Preservation System. That means they have little or no protection. We cannot afford to write off two-thirds of our ecological heritage.

I do agree that just renaming a national monument as a national park is a good idea. Although I agree that Organ Pipe Cactus and Dinosaur should be upgraded to national parks, I think they should also be expanded. Along those same lines, Colorado National Monument would be a spectacular national park if it were expanded to 500,000 acres, including adjacent BLM and Forest Service lands.

That brings me to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Yes, it is flawed and it is too small. But we need to work with what we have in the East. Cuyahoga is the only significant tract of truly protected land in the entire Erie Drift Plan EPA Level III ecoregion.

We can't look at the National Park System as a zero sum game. Why is it bad to have more of a good thing? Adding more art museums doesn't lower the value of the National Gallery of Art or NY Metropolitan Museum of Art. We should want as many parks as possible, because they and wilderness areas offer the best possible protection.

Most of them will be restoration parks. Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, Big Bend, and Theodore Roosevelt are all restoration parks. I am sure there were people at the time they were designated who thought they were not spectacular and unspoiled enough to be national parks. Not too many people would argue that today.

Regarding the idea of 100 new parks by the centennial, special places across the country are being destroyed far faster than we are protecting them. We need to protect them before it is too late. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, it is a perfect time to launch a nationwide campaign for more parks.

I am not worried that future generations will complain that we have created too many national parks. But they will have a right to complain if we create too few and leave them with degraded places that could have been parks.

Hi Drew,

All good choices. Being from the Midwest, I agree that the region needs more parks. Here are a few possibilities from my list.

* Shawnee (National Forest)— Illinois

* Hoosier (National Forest) — Indiana

* Loess Hills — Iowa

* Cross Timbers — Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas

* Cumberland Plateau — Kentucky, Tennessee

* Land Between the Lakes (NRA) — Kentucky, Tennessee

* Mammoth Cave (expansion) — Kentucky

* Drummond Island — Michigan

* Huron Mountains — Michigan

* Huron River Valley — Michigan

* Keweenaw Peninsula — Michigan

* Lake Michigan — Michigan

* Manistique River — Michigan

* Menominee River — Michigan

* Saginaw Bay — Michigan

* Three Great Lakes (Hiawatha) — Michigan

* Big Two-Hearted River — Michigan

* Boundary Waters (Superior NF) — Minnesota

* Osage Plains — Missouri

* Ozark (Mark Twain NF)— Missouri

* Nebraska Sandhills — Nebraska

* Oglala-Pine Ridge (NG)— Nebraska

* Darby Prairie — Ohio

* Hocking Hills — Ohio

* Mohican — Ohio

* Muskingum River — Ohio

* Shawnee (State Forest) — Ohio

* Wayne (NF)— Ohio

* Western Lake Erie — Ohio

* Black Kettle (NG) — Oklahoma

* Osage Prairie — Oklahoma

* Baraboo Range — Wisconsin

* Sand Plains — Wisconsin

I don't know if I like the 100 new park wish. Out of the 59 National Parks in the system, there are two that I think should be placed on a lower totem - Cuyahoga and Hot Springs. The rest are definitely worth the recognition of a National Park, although I have never stepped foot in the parks outside the lower 48, and still need to get out to Acadia, Badlands, Wind Cave and the Everglades.

Regardless, just making parks for the sake of, really does cheapen the brand of a National Park. When you start stacking the Yellowstones against the Cuyahogas, and the Cuyahogas outnumber the Yellowstones, it really does cheapen the NPS brand and logo. Granted, there are perhaps 10 or so more places that could be made into National Parks, and the list that they posted above is a good list. Although, i'm sure the national forest lands in the very pro-logging area of Southern Oregon and Northern California would be a very hard undertaking to create a National Park due to the opposition. And major battles would have to be waged just to establish the Maine Woods (as i'm sure youre well aware of), Winds, Sawtooths, and St Helens that it would take a decade or more to see maybe 2 of them come to light. So, the 100 new parks is really ambitious and would cheapen the National Park brand. I think it's very important to protect that brand and not to cheapen it by designating 50 urban parks, or more parks like Cuyahoga, just for the sake of. I'm more in favor of seeing Yellowstone expansion by incorporating existing wilderness outside of the park. There are about 20 current national parks that could expand a bit. And also don't forget that not all the current parks are 100% protected. There are many private inholdings inside the park that still need purchased. So, each time a new Cuyahoga makes its way into the system, that's less money that can be thrown at getting all the private inholdings in Zion protected.

I really don't like the idea of creating a park just to boost tourism. I think the brand of a National Park gets cheapened when every Cuyahoga comes into the system. Currently, it looks like there are about 50 National Monument proposals out there, and already the National Monument brand is being cheapened with the recent inclusion of new monuments ran by the blm/usfs that allow grazing, and hunting, and all other forms of extractive activies.

I don't think Colorado National Monument is really worthy of National Park Status. It's a mini-canyonlands, but without the iconic raw experience of grandeur that you experience in Canyonlands. Although, I can understand why they are upgrading most of the natural National Monuments into parks.

Same goes with Hells Canyon, and Big South Fork. Hells Canyon is ok, but it doesn't have the grandeur of Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, etc. Parts of the Owyhees could fit the bill, but it will take the landscape a century to recover from all the abuse that has hit it over the last century thanks to the cows. These areas have beauty to them, but they are better in their current slots as National Recreation Areas / New wilderness areas.

Now, the Sawtooth/White Clouds, Maine Woods, and Wind Rivers. Those are national park worthy landss.. But, I think that there are only a handful of parks remainig to be included into the system. Not every public land should be a national park. That would really ruin the overall brand. When I go to National Parks I expect overwhelming natural experiences that are realitively unique. Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Great Smokies all those parks in Utah, definitely meet those criteria.

Places like High Allegheny... no thanks. Too much private land cut all around that place. It's another Cuyahoga, a place that you get to, and wonder what the heck were the senators smoking when they designated it as a park. Parts of it are very beautiful but overall it's not National Park worthy. Granted, i'm a bit of a snob when it comes to landscapes and wildlife habitats. So,I think they have to really contain something to meet the criteria, and also should be of a realitively large size of protected habitat. High Allegheny would remind me of a national park in Europe with all that pastoral farm land surrounded by just a few protected mountain top areas.

Unfortunately so much in the midwest and east have been so cut up and segmented that to carve good national park lands out of it would be a major undertaking that would take centuries. Recently they are trying to create a National Park in Virginia with Natural Bridge, and I think once again, it's not worthy of inclusion. They built a freaking state road over the bridge, so it's already got a few strikes against it, because that scar from that road will always be there no matter what they attempt to do. It's lost. I cant see many places left in the east and midwest, except for Maine Woods. That place could meet the bill, and over time, they could let some existing roads become decomissioned, and convert back into nature or turn to just hiking trails. That area has potential. High Allegheny? Not unless they pull a Smokies and Shenandoah and buy up private lands and create a park out of it.

Hi Quiet please,

I work for RESTORE: The North Woods, the group that has been working to create a 3.2-million-acre Maine Woods National Park & Preserve.

BTW, for others concerned about hunting, dogs, mountain biking, etc., the National Preserve portion would allow those uses.

I am not advocating turning everything into national parks, but the National Park System is far from complete. A good start would be adding 100 new parks by the 2016 National Park Service centennial.

I agree with you that money talks on this issue and everything else.

Best, Michael

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments