America’s Newest National Parks

Josh SchukmanJanuary 16, 2024

America’s Newest National Parks

America’s newest national park is New River Gorge in West Virginia. Designated as a national park in 2020, New River Gorge joined the historic ranks of our national parks that have been long revered as showcases of natural wonder, diversity, and ecological significance. 

Each park tells a unique story, weaving together history, geology, and biodiversity into an awe-inspiring tapestry. Along with New River Gorge, many new national parks have recently been established in the U.S. 

Let’s discover America’s newest national parks along with some of our other favorites that have been around a bit longer, yet are still new(ish) kids on the block:

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New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

New River Gorge National Park is America's newest national park

Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, the New River Gorge was officially designated a national park in 2020. While the site had long been a nationally known landmark, it reached this new status after decades of enthusiastic local lobbying. 

Known for its rugged beauty, extensive forests, and the powerful New River coursing through the canyon, this park boasts exceptional opportunities for outdoor activities. From whitewater rafting and rock climbing to hiking trails that meander along the rim offering breathtaking vistas, the New River Gorge is a haven for adventurers seeking adrenaline-pumping experiences.

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Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park is one of America's newest national parks

Established in 2019 along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park enchants visitors with its diverse ecosystems. This park showcases the unexpected beauty of sandy beaches, towering dunes, marshes, and lush forests—all within a stone’s throw of the urban landscape of Chicago. It’s a haven for birdwatchers, hikers, and beachgoers, offering a unique blend of natural serenity and accessibility.

Our newest national parks never spring out of nowhere, rather they get established when a natural area reaches a pinnacle of popularity. Indiana Dunes is no exception to this rule. Its beautiful great lake beaches transformed from longtime local favorite to a symbol of national pride. 

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White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

One of the most surreal landscapes in the United States, White Sands National Park, gained national park status in 2019. The park’s shimmering white gypsum dunes stretch over 275 square miles, creating an otherworldly environment that shifts and changes with the wind. 

Visitors can explore the dunes on foot or by sledding down their soft slopes, offering an experience unlike any other on Earth, especially during the captivating sunset hours.

White Sands was designated a national monument in 1933 and re-designated as a national park in 2019 to forever cement its status. 

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Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

Gateway Arch

Any kid who grew up in the Midwest will love seeing that their favorite arch is now one of America’s newest national parks. 

Honoring the historical and cultural significance of the American West, Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis was designated a national park in 2018. Centered around the iconic Gateway Arch, this park commemorates America’s westward expansion, offering visitors a chance to delve into the nation’s pioneering spirit through museums, historical exhibits, and breathtaking views from the arch itself.

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Pinnacles National Park, Central California

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park, located in central California, captivates visitors with its striking rock formations, ancient volcanic remnants, and diverse ecosystems. As a new national park established in 2013, it showcases towering spires, unique rock formations, and hidden caves formed from millions of years of volcanic activity and tectonic movement. 

Hikers and rock climbers find ample opportunities to explore its rugged terrain, while wildlife enthusiasts can spot California condors, prairie falcons, and numerous other bird species. Pinnacles’ serene beauty, coupled with its rich natural history, makes it an inviting haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure amidst stunning geological wonders.

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New(ish) National Parks We Love Talking About

While the next national parks on our list might not be new-iPhone-new, they’re relatively new to the 100+ year history of national parks. They also happen to be some of our favorites, so we wanted to give them a shout-out here:

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park may have started as a national monument in 1932, but it wasn’t until 2004 that it got promoted to National Park status. 

This park stands as a breathtaking testament to nature’s artistry. Towering against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, it hosts the tallest sand dunes in North America, reaching heights of over 700 feet. 

These shifting sands create an otherworldly landscape that beckons explorers. Parkgoers have the chance to sled, hike, or simply marvel at the undulating, golden waves.

And the park isn’t just about dunes. It features diverse ecosystems, from alpine forests to wetlands, that provide habitat for a variety of wildlife. 

Visitors can experience the park’s unique blend of adventure and serenity, whether by sandboarding down the dunes or quietly observing the stars in one of the country’s most enchanting settings.

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Nestled in the rugged terrain of Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an awe-inspiring testament to the forces of nature. Carved over millions of years by the relentless power of the Gunnison River, this dramatic canyon reaches depths of nearly 2,000 feet and features sheer, dark cliffs that earned it the name “Black Canyon.” 

The Black Canyon was designated a national monument in 1933 and re-designated as a national park in 1999.

Visitors are drawn to its stark beauty and sheer walls that offer a glimpse into the Earth’s geological past. Hiking trails along the rim provide stunning vistas, while more adventurous souls can descend into the canyon for challenging hikes and rock climbing. The park’s profound silence and raw, natural grandeur create an unforgettable experience for those seeking solitude amidst one of best new national parks in the American West.

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Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park

Believe it or not, Joshua Tree is a relatively new national park in the U.S. Long existing as a national monument, its status changed to a full on national park in 1994.

The area’s iconic landscape is adorned with the park’s namesake Joshua Trees — otherworldly creations that sit somewhere between a cactus and a palm tree. Visitors are lured by the park’s enchanting blend of arid terrain and unique geological formations. Massive boulders and rock piles invite climbers and hikers to explore their challenging yet rewarding trails. 

The park’s diverse ecosystems provide a home to an array of wildlife, from desert tortoises to bighorn sheep. Joshua Tree National Park serves as a sanctuary for adventurers, artists, and nature enthusiasts alike.

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Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park, situated in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, is a majestic sanctuary celebrating the iconic saguaro cactus, a symbol of the American West. Like Joshua Tree, Saguaro was upgraded from monument status to national park status in 1994. 

Its rugged beauty is defined by vast expanses of desert landscapes adorned with these towering, ancient giants, some reaching heights of over 40 feet. Visitors are treated to a surreal panorama of rolling hills and valleys sprinkled with a diverse array of desert flora and fauna, from prickly pear cacti to agile desert wildlife like javelinas and roadrunners.

The park’s two distinct districts, the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District, offer contrasting experiences. The Tucson Mountain District boasts magnificent cacti forests and scenic drives, while the Rincon Mountain District provides challenging hikes amid breathtaking mountain vistas. 

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The newest (and new-ish) national parks in the U.S. represent a dedication to preserving diverse landscapes and historical legacies. They offer not only recreational opportunities but also serve as educational resources, connecting visitors to the nation’s natural and cultural heritage.

As we celebrate these new parks, let’s cherish and protect our invaluable treasures for generations to come. 

P.S. Be sure to also check out this post on 10 other must-see national parks.

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Josh and his wife gallivanted all over the country in an '88 Airstream for 4+ years of full-time RVing. They made an unexpected pitstop in Montana in 2020 and haven't left since. That's because they got hooked on the glamping resort they run by Glacier National Park. Fittingly, they keep up their RVing love by renting out vintage Airstreams and other retro RVs to travelers hitting Montana.

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