What do you think of when you hear "extreme?" The word is meant to describe a subject that goes beyond any other measure related to it. An "extreme" temperature, for example, is hotter (or colder) than what is typical for that time of year.
These parks from the National Park Service run the gamut of "extreme." Some are the biggest parks, some are the most obscure, while others are extreme in other ways. Would you dare visit these locations?
The Coldest National Park
The coldest national park is in the state where you might expect it to be — Alaska, the most northern state in the U.S. The cold temps reach down to negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit at their most bitter cold! This happens at Denali, the national park named after the tallest mountain in North America (formerly named Mt. McKinley, after the nation’s 25th president).
The national park takes up more than just the mountain it’s named after, however — in fact, Denali National Park is just shy of 9,500 square miles in size. Most of the coldest temps happen on the mountain itself, but we recommend dressing warm, whether you’re scaling the mountain or just enjoying other parts of the park.
The Hottest National Park Is Also ‘Deadly’
You probably guessed from the title that the hottest national park also has a gruesome sounding name. The prize for the hottest park in the National Park Service goes to none other than Death Valley National Park, which straddles parts of California and Nevada.
Average temperatures at this park will cause quite a thirst. In the summertime near Furnace Creek, you can expect temperatures to be near 115 degrees Fahrenheit — but that’s not the hottest it’s been. In 1913, a record was set when Death Valley recorded a temperature of 134 degrees! Whether you’re expecting a record-breaking day or not, be sure to hydrate when you visit.
The Oldest Park Is Home To ‘Old Faithful’
The oldest national park in the National Park Service is one that most people probably think about when they think "national park." The one that startws it all is Yellowstone National Park, which was designated the first national park in the world in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant.
Designation of the park by the United States government as a national landmark helped to keep many of its natural splendors from becoming tourist attractions that could have diminished their brilliance. Among the most notable attractions inside Yellowstone is Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts with impeccable (and punctual) timing, shooting hot liquid many yards into the air.
The Most Hiking Trails
Most every national park has great hiking trails, including many on this list we’ve compiled for you. But if you’re a hiking aficionado, you’re probably wondering which park has the MOST hiking trails.
In fact, the park with the most trails is one that we have already featured — Yellowstone National Park. The distance of trails is so long, in fact, that if you lined them up in a straight line, it’d go from New York to Kansas City. This is definitely a hiker’s dream destination, especially given the rare finds you’ll see on the trails, but we recommend not trying to take on all of the trails at once! Be sure to pace yourself, and pack a lot of water.
Least Amount Of Trails (As In, Zero)
Maybe hiking isn’t your thing — or maybe, you like to make your own trails. You’re in luck, either way, because the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska has zero marked trails within it. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to do here: there are still plenty of areas to walk within the park.
It’s best to come to this park in the summertime, which is typically short, being so far north. But those who have traveled there say it’s worth it, and though there aren’t any trails to stay on, there’s plenty of areas for people to backpack on.
The Easiest To Get To
Cuyahoga Valley National Park probably isn’t the most popular destination on our list, but it’s one that the most number of people can get to the quickest. That’s because more than 101 million Americans live within 400 miles of this national park — a statistic that puts it within a league of its own.
The park is also great because it provides great activities all year round. There are hiking trails and waterfalls to see in the spring and summer months, biking trails available for whenever the paths are cleared, and in the winter, you can cross-country ski! There’s also a rail line that goes through the entirety of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is open throughout each of the seasons as well. It even transforms into the Polar Express train in the winter!
The Hardest One (For Most) To Reach
If Cuyahoga Valley National Park has the most people closest to it, then this park has the least amount of people within its distance, making it the "most remote" national park in the NPS. The War In The Pacific National Historical Park in Guam tells the history of the United States’ involvement in World War II within the Pacific Theater. It boasts of walking/history trails, snorkeling, picnic sites, and other things common to outdoor parks in the NPS.
But to get there, you’ve got to travel to Guam — an island territory of the U.S. that is 5,000 miles from the West Coast, and 3,000 miles from Alaska.
Which Park Is The Wettest?
Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State is known as the wettest park in the country. It’s name, ironically, is derived not by how wet the conditions there are, but from a man who served in the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy more than 200 years ago, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.
The average snowfall and rainfall at this park is monumental. It snows 53 feet per year at this national park. The rainfall numbers are much smaller, but still unbelievably high — nine feet throughout the year. In fact, for 180 days out of every year on average, there’s some form of precipitation happening at Mount Rainier National Park!
Least Amount Of Freshwater (Not Counting Rain)
Very few parks have no amount of water surrounding them. This next park is, indeed, located on the furthest island within the Florida Keys, so it is surrounded by ocean saltwater. However, what Dry Tortugas National Park has in beaches and tropical climate, it lacks in actually having a source of fresh water.
It does rain, however, within the park, with September being its rainy season, with about 6-7 inches of rain falling in that month. If you travel there, take advantage of the overnight beachfront camping, where you can enjoy the sounds of the ocean while looking into the night sky. But be sure to pack extra canteens of water!
This Park Gets More Visitors Than Any Other
The National Parks Service sees plenty of visitors across its various national parks and designated units annually, but only one national park can be deemed "the most popular" one. The decisive winner for that title is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which encompasses much of the San Francisco area.
There’s more to do here than hang out at the Golden Gate Bridge, in fact. You can visit Kirby Cove, Muir Beach, Alcatraz Island, and much more. The park itself stretches for several miles beyond San Francisco, in both north and south directions, and contains more than 80,000 acres of land. One could indeed plan a weeklong vacation focusing on this park alone.
The Smallest Park Is Actually A House
Parks come in all shapes and sizes, but even the smallest National Park should be big enough to run around in…right? Well, that’s not the case with the National Park Services’ smallest park of all. That’s because this park is actually inside a house — and a small one at that. If your parents ever told you not to run about the house, this is the perfect place to do them proud.
The Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia is just 0.02 acres big — or rather, 871 square feet. It features the living space that was rented out by Kosciuszko, a military engineer from the Revolutionary War. Everything in the house is kept just the way it was when he was alive — down to the glasses he wore, sitting on the end table near his bed. Sure, it’s not a "big" park, but there’s a lot of stories to be told here nonetheless!
The Largest Park Is Bigger Than Some States!
The largest national park in the U.S. is massive. So naturally, it’s got to exist in the largest state in the Union. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is an astounding 13,175,799 acres. To put that into terms you might better understand, that’s the size of about 10 million football fields — or about 17 Rhode Islands, give or take.
The park itself nestles itself up with the Canadian border on Alaska’s western side. There are many different things to see inside the park itself, which would take days to travel through, including glaciers, mountains, plenty of wildlife, and the occasional mining-ghost town, too!
This Park Has The Least Amount Of Visitors…
You would think that the "most remote" national park (in Guam) would also be the least visited park, but that’s not the case. The Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve only hosts 200 visitors to its site per year.
Typical visitors are likely adventurers who like to go to strange destinations (the park sits on a volcanic caldera and requires a floatplane from a remote village to get there), or tourists who are trying to "check off" their list of traveling to all the NPS national parks in the country. Either way, it’s a beautiful park…just one that doesn’t get a lot of attention!
The Deadliest National Park
This probably isn’t a stat that any park wants to brag about too much, but if you’re wondering about which park is the deadliest in the United States National Parks Service, it’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area, between the borders of Arizona and Nevada.
About 25 deaths occur yearly at Lake Mead, but if your family is planning a trip there, don’t worry: the deaths that happen are usually preventable. With swimming and other popular water activities being common there, most deaths at Lake Mead are due to drowning, with a few heat-related deaths thrown in the mix as well.
Chances Of Death At Lake Mead Are Actually Small
While 25 people reportedly die, on average, while visiting Lake Mead (again, mainly due to drowning or heat-related incidents), the number of deaths could also be higher than other parks simply due to the fact that millions of people visit the area annually. In fact, from 2006 to 2016, 81 million people ended up visiting the park, as it’s situated an hour east of Las Vegas and a few hours’ drive west of the Grand Canyon.
Your chances of dying while visiting are very low — according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, you have about a 99.9997 percent chance of surviving your visit there.
The Park With The Best Scenic Drive
The person who came up with the idiom, "Getting there is half the fun," probably had Blue Ridge Parkway in mind when they were saying it. This scenic drive stretches from the western edge of North Carolina, 469 miles toward the northern edge of Virginia, between the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks.
But the Blue Ridge Parkway is itself a National Parks Service unit! Described as "America’s favorite drive," the parkway will get the kids off of their electronic devices for sure. They’ll be too busy ooh-ing and ahh-ing at what they see outside their windows.
A (Much) Shorter Drive
Sometimes, a good, long drive with a scenic view is very appreciated. Other times, a long drive can cause you problems — for instance, I get a backache just thinking about the 469-mile drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway!
If you want a much shorter — yet, equally as beautiful — drive through a national park, the Cadillac Mountain Road, located at the Acadia National Park in Maine, is the place for you. The drive goes up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, where you’ll see plenty of breathtaking views of the area. Best of all: it’s only a 3.5-mile drive.
The Biggest Trees
Most national parks in the NPS have trees, and if you’re looking to spend some time looking at the foliage, you’re not going to have a hard time finding a park that suits your needs. But this is the list of "extreme" national parks — not just any old tree will do. Which park boasts of the BIGGEST trees?
For that answer, you needn’t look any further than Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in California. Boasting of more than 8,000 giant sequoias, you will probably strain your back and neck muscles looking up at these burly behemoths. And if you’re lucky, you’ll run into the biggest one of all…
The biggest tree at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is "General Sherman," named after the famed Civil War general. In fact, General Sherman is known as the largest single-stem tree on the planet! Not a bad "natural monument" to visit within the National Parks Service.
The tree itself is 25 feet in diameter, and is believed to be between 2,300 to 2,700 years old. General Sherman also stands at 275 feet tall — about the same height as the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. If you are into extremely tall trees, this is the mecca of them all!
The Newest Park
The newest park in the National Park Service is Indiana Dunes National Park. It rests on the coast of Lake Michigan and includes many trails, dunes, campsites, and more to enjoy. It is the 61st place to be designated as having a "national park" status.
Prior to that, which occurred in 2019, Indiana Dunes Park was listed as a NPS "unit," which carries with it a different set of rules to follow. Units are places that are in need of federal protection but don’t quite reach "national park" designation. There are always new units being added — as of right now, there are about 419 of them, but just 10 years ago only 390 NPS units were around.