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


I'm almost done writing a book on this topic actually, which features 70 locations for proposed National Parks. Each of the ones you listed are in it, but without giving them all away I would say that the other best candidates are:

Colorado National Monument (and surrounding BLM lands)

Big South Fork

Hells Canyon

Mount St. Helens

Owyhee Canyonlands

The Scablands

As I mentioned, there are nearly 60 other sites that are also worthy, especially when you take the Canadian or UK models of creating parks for every ecoregion/different landscape. Even with the places you suggest, there are tremendous complications. Maine polititians are mostly against the North Woods, Utah hates the idea of creating a new National Park because of their distrust of federal lands and the Wind River Range is in Wyoming which has laws limiting the Antiquities Act and Wyoming (not to mention wilderness lovers) would be staunchly against the establishment of a new National Park.

I love that you've finally broached this topic and would love to see more editorial thoughts in the future.

These areas are beautiful and worth preserving, but don't forget about the east too. My mom runs a non-profit in northern Florida (Florida's Eden) and just for the reason of preserving alone...all the freshwater springs in North Florida are in danger. The hold something like Lake Superior worth of water, but because you don't see the water, it isn't as sexy, almost all of the counties are below the poverty level, and they are being rigorously exploited by bottle water companies. Some of them are State Parks, some of them are commercially owned, but all of them are connected much the way that your vascular system is connected. They are beautiful, a wildlife haven, and the lifeblood of Florida.


I have to mention Custer State Park in South Dakota. I am sure that state is not ready to make it a N.P. but the scenery, history, and the wildlife make this well cared for park a gem. It is on the northern edge of Wind Cave N.P.

Don't forget the proposed High Allegheny NP in northern West Virginia! Awesome place in my home state. Unfortunately, the state govt's obsession with gas fracking will prevent this.

Wind River Range, Owyhee Canyonlands, and Maine North Woods would be awesome additions.

The San Gabriel Mountains deserve to be a new National Park. The NPS proposed a piddling National Recreation Area that falls way short of the needs or merits of this area.

It makes me sick to always read how (new) parks

- would pump money into the surrounding towns

- would bolster the region's economy


As if this would be the purpose of National Parks.

Back on topic: how about a Big Sur NP?

Here are a few quick additions.

* Giant Sequoia — California
* Golden Gate (expansion) — California
* Santa Ana Mountains — California
* Virginia Key — Florida
* Ocmulgee (expansion) — Georgia
* Tule Springs — Nevada
* Maha'ulepu — Hawaii
* Ka’u Coast — Hawaii
* Valles Caldera — New Mexico
* Cape Fear — North Carolina
* Mount Hood — Oregon
* Oregon Caves — Oregon
* Great Trinity Forest — Texas
* Lone Star — Texas
* Canyonlands (expansion) — Utah
* Glen Canyon (expansion) — Utah
* North Cascades (expansion) — Washington

I would mention Dolly Sods but that would just encourage more people to go there which would ruin the entire place. National Parks are amazing places but they attract entirely too many people, which means they attract more roads, easy to walk trails, and concessions. I much prefer keeping some places wilderness. Imagine Vermillion Cliffs and The Wave - hot, over crowded, the beauty completely overwhelmed by porta-potties and icecream stands. I guess I am in the Edward Abbey camp... National Park designation is nice but there are too many drawbacks that come with it.

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