There are 21 protected areas of the United States designated as national preserves. They were established by an act of Congress to protect areas that have resources often associated with national parks but where certain natural resource-extractive activities such as hunting and mining may be permitted, provided their natural values are preserved.The activities permitted in each national preserve vary depending on the enabling legislation of the unit. All national preserves are managed by the National Park Service (NPS) as part of the National Park System.
Eleven national preserves are co-managed with national parks or national monuments; because hunting is forbidden in those units, preserves provide a similar level of protection from development but allow hunting and in some cases grazing. Nine of those are counted as separate official units, while New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve are each single units, though there is no administrative difference. The remaining ten are stand-alone units. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve has a preserve site that is managed like one, but is not distinguished as a national preserve in the authorizing legislation and is not listed here. The Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve is a unique designation that is dissimilar to national preserves.
National preserves are located in eleven states; Alaska is home to ten of them, including the largest, Noatak National Preserve. Their total area is 24,651,566 acres (99,761 km2), 86% of which is in Alaska. All national preserves except Tallgrass Prairie permit hunting in accordance with local regulations. A national preserve differs from a national reserve as management of reserves can be delegated to the state in which they are located.
The first national preserves were Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, both established in 1974. The Big Cypress Swamp, adjacent to Everglades National Park and originally intended to be included in it, was at risk of destruction by a proposed airport. Opposition by conservationists and studies showing the swamp's role in water protection led to its cancellation after one runway was built, and President Richard Nixon proposed the area's preservation as Big Cypress National Fresh Water Reserve to protect the local water supply.Congressional deliberation resulted in a new designation of a national preserve that bought out private landowners to conserve "the natural, scenic, hydrologic, floral and faunaI, and recreational values of the Big Cypress Watershed," though off-road vehicle use, oil extraction, hunting, and traditional use by the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribes are permitted.
The Big Thicket, a large area of swamps and forests, was originally proposed to be preserved as a state park or national park, but these were opposed by timber firms who wanted to retain their logging lands. A 1967 survey by the National Park Service proposed establishing nine units representative of the variety of plant life in the region, but because the thicket was already fragmented by roads and logging, it would not qualify as a national park. National monument was also deemed a suboptimal designation, and compromise on the boundary and management provisions eventually led to its establishment as a national preserve.The bills creating both preserves were signed on the same day by President Gerald Ford and contained similar wording limiting construction, agriculture, and mineral extraction to that still assuring the area's "natural and ecological integrity in perpetuity," while permitting hunting.
Following President Jimmy Carter's 1978 establishment of 17 national monuments in Alaska, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 redesignated four as national preserves and six as national parks or monuments paired with a preserve. These had been recommended during the legislative process as early as 1974 to resolve the issue of sport hunting at Lake Clark after it was used for Big Thicket and Big Cypress.While this was not the primary factor in the naming of the original national preserves, it presented a compromise to protect scenic lands and allow hunting in the National Park System without breaking precedent in parks and monuments that forbid it. The national preserves are managed in the same way as national parks, except that regulated hunting, fishing, and trapping for sport and subsistence are permitted, though the NPS can close areas to such practices as needed. Although hunting was also allowed at most national recreation areas, this was a major change in NPS wildlife management with a fifth of its land now open to it.
Five new units were established from 1988 to 2000, two of which are partnerships with local governments and landowners. The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve includes sites owned by Florida State Parks, the city of Jacksonville, and private landowners. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is so designated to accommodate a public-private partnership reducing federal land ownership,and it is almost entirely owned by The Nature Conservancy. Valles Caldera National Preserve was originally established in 2000 to be operated by an independent trust, but its management was transferred to the National Park Service in 2015.
The four most recently established national preserves were all expansions or redesignations of existing NPS sites. Great Sand Dunes National Monument was redesignated a national park, and the mountainous wilderness area transferred to it from the U.S. Forest Service became the preserve.President Bill Clinton expanded Craters of the Moon National Monument using the Antiquities Act, and most of the expanded area was redesignated a national preserve two years later to permit hunting. Oregon Caves National Monument gained its preserve lands from Rogue River–Siskiyou National Forest, increasing the unit's size ninefold. Ten percent of New River Gorge National River was redesignated a national park where hunting was disallowed, and the remainder became New River Gorge National Preserve with little change.
Preserves paired with a national park or monument do not have visitation separately recorded. Their combined visitor counts are marked in italics, as the number visiting the preserve portions may be substantially smaller. Among these eleven, only Lake Clark and Gates of the Arctic have most of their facilities in the preserve.
|Name||Image||Location||Managed with||Date established||Area||Visitors (2020)||Ref|
|Aniakchak|| Alaska ||Monument||Dec 2, 1980||464,117 acres (1,878.2 km2)||36||The coastal plains and mountains of the Aleutian Range around Mount Aniakchak, a 3,700-year-old volcanic caldera, make up this facility-free preserve reachable only by plane. In addition to hiking and hunting, some visitors raft down the Aniakchak River, a National Wild River, from the volcano to the sea, though its inaccessibility and unpredictable weather make it the least-visited unit of the National Park System.|
|Bering Land Bridge|| Alaska ||–||Dec 2, 1980||2,697,391 acres (10,916.0 km2)||2,642||The pristine Seward Peninsula is what remains of the ice age Bering land bridge. The Chukchi Sea coast, Imuruk Lake volcanic field, maar lakes, and tundra support Arctic animals including migrating caribou, polar bears, walrus, muskox, and ribbon seals. Visitors snowmobile, watch for 170 species of birds, soak in hot springs, and hike on tundra and lava fields.|
|Big Cypress|| Florida ||–||Oct 11, 1974||720,564 acres (2,916.0 km2)||1,181,930||Adjoining Everglades National Park, the Big Cypress Swamp is home to mangroves, cypress trees, alligators, and Florida panthers. It can be accessed by hiking along the start of the Florida Trail, biking, canoeing, kayaking, airboat, and swamp buggies.|
|Big Thicket|| Texas ||–||Oct 11, 1974||113,121 acres (457.8 km2)||309,053||The Big Thicket includes several diverse ecosystems within the Piney Woods, with upland pine habitats, open grassy areas, sloped deciduous forests, floodplains, prairies, and swamps intertwined together, but little old-growth forest remains. They are home to nine-banded armadillos, bobcats, river otters, alligators, and 33 snakes. Nine major units are connected by six waterway corridors along the Neches River and its tributary creeks.|
|Craters of the Moon|| Idaho ||Monument||Aug 21, 2002||410,733 acres (1,662.2 km2)||250,872||This preserve covers most of the lava fields of the Great Rift of Idaho that erupted 15,000 to 2,000 years ago. Its volcanic features include many cinder cones and spatter cones, lava tubes and fissures, and tree molds made of ʻaʻa, pahoehoe, and block lava. These basaltic flows support wildflowers, shrubs, limber pines, and Rocky Mountain junipers.|
|Denali|| Alaska ||Park||Dec 2, 1980||1,334,117 acres (5,399.0 km2)||54,850||With the national park centered around Denali, the national preserve has two sections: one to the northwest encompassing lakes in the Highpower Creek and Muddy River areas and one including the southwest end of the Alaska Range around Mount Dall and Dall Glacier, the Kichatna Mountains, and the Yentna River.|
|Gates of the Arctic|| Alaska ||Park||Dec 2, 1980||948,608 acres (3,838.9 km2)||2,872||The preserve has two sections, one on the northeast of the park around the Itkillik River and the other on the south side around the Kobuk River. Beyond viewing and hunting black bear, grizzly bear, Dall sheep, moose, and smaller game, visitors can float and fish on the Kobuk, a designated Wild River.|
|Glacier Bay|| Alaska ||Park||Dec 2, 1980||58,406 acres (236.4 km2)||5,784||While Glacier Bay and its surrounding mountainous icefields and tidewater glaciers make up the national park, the preserve is a flatter area in the northwest between the Alsek River, its Dry Bay delta, and the Deception Hills. Visitors fish and hunt, raft the river, and ATV on trails.|
|Great Sand Dunes|| Colorado ||Park||Nov 22, 2000||41,686 acres (168.7 km2)||461,532||This preserve includes the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including Tijeras Peak and Mount Herard, that rise above North America's tallest sand dunes in the national park. Trails among the montane forests lead up to alpine lakes and Mosca Pass.|
|Katmai|| Alaska ||Park||Dec 2, 1980||418,698 acres (1,694.4 km2)||51,511||Nonvianuk Lake and Kukaklek Lake, source of the Alagnak Wild River, and Moraine and Funnel Creeks are rich with salmon that attract a large population of bears. There are no roads but it has fly-in access to fly fishing, backpacking, and bear and moose hunting.|
|Lake Clark|| Alaska ||Park||Dec 2, 1980||1,410,293 acres (5,707.3 km2)||4,948||Lake Clark and other glacially carved lakes near the Chigmit Mountains are important spawning grounds for sockeye salmon. The valley and foothill areas are rich with boreal forests that provide habitat for brown and black bears, Dall sheep, moose, caribou, peregrine falcon, and timber wolf.|
|Little River Canyon|| Alabama ||–||Oct 24, 1992||15,291 acres (61.9 km2)||802,375||The Little River flows atop Lookout Mountain, with waterfalls, bluffs, and cliffs along its canyon. A scenic highway runs along the rim, with hiking trails down to the river for rock climbing, fishing, and kayaking.|
|Mojave|| California ||–||Oct 31, 1994||1,547,955 acres (6,264.4 km2)||608,633||The Mojave Desert is characterized by its warm but temperate climate, featuring Creosote bush, cholla cacti, and a Joshua tree forest. The region includes the 600 ft (180 m) tall Kelso Dunes that sing, the Cima volcanic field with dozens of cinder cones and lava fields, and abandoned homesteads and mines.|
|New River Gorge|| West Virginia ||Park||Dec 21, 2020||65,165 acres (263.7 km2)||1,054,374||The New River, one of the oldest rivers in North America, carved this V-shaped canyon in the Appalachian Mountains with sandstone and shale cliffs popular for advanced rock climbing. Its ancient Appalachian mixed mesophytic forest on varied topography connects northern mountain and Atlantic coastal species for a highly diverse ecosystem. The river's enormous rapids provide for excellent whitewater rafting.|
|Noatak|| Alaska ||–||Dec 2, 1980||6,587,071 acres (26,656.9 km2)||12,533||The pristine Noatak River basin lies between the Baird and De Long Mountains of the Brooks Range, connecting tundra to taiga. It is a migration route for hundreds of thousands of caribou, Alaska moose, and brown bears.|
|Oregon Caves|| Oregon ||Monument||Dec 19, 2014||4,070 acres (16.5 km2)||22,789||While the marble Oregon Caves extend deep under the national monument, above ground the preserve has forests, meadows, streams, and mountains. Hiking trails lead to Mount Elijah and the Bigelow Lakes with views of the Siskiyou Mountains.|
|Tallgrass Prairie|| Kansas ||–||Nov 12, 1996||10,882 acres (44.0 km2)||29,009||Nearly all of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem has been replaced by farmland, and this area of the Flint Hills maintains its diverse plant and animal life at a former ranch. Controlled burns and a reintroduced bison herd keep the land fertile.|
| Timucuan Ecological and|
| Florida ||–||Feb 16, 1988||46,262 acres (187.2 km2)||1,017,373||These wetlands at the mouth of the Nassau and St. Johns Rivers have salt marshes, tropical hardwood hammocks, and coastal dunes. Archeological excavations have found Timucua artifacts dating back thousands of years. It also includes the Kingsley Plantation and Fort Caroline National Memorial.|
|Valles Caldera|| New Mexico ||–||July 25, 2000||89,766 acres (363.3 km2)||30,434||The Valles Caldera was formed in an volcanic eruption 1.25 million years ago and still has an active geothermal system. Its rim is 13 mi (21 km) in diameter, with wide grassy meadow valleys divided by resurgent domes including Redondo Peak. There are large populations of elk, Gunnison's prairie dogs, badgers, and golden eagles.|
|Wrangell–St. Elias|| Alaska ||Park||Dec 2, 1980||4,852,644 acres (19,638.0 km2)||16,655||Paired with America's largest national park, this preserve is generally the lower-elevation areas around the Wrangell Mountains, including the Kennicott and Nabesna Glaciers that flow into the Nizina and Nabesna Rivers, respectively, that can be rafted. The abandoned Kennecott Mines were once a major source of copper and are now the preserve's main historic attraction.|
|Yukon–Charley Rivers|| Alaska ||–||Dec 2, 1980||2,526,512 acres (10,224.4 km2)||666||Including the entirety of the Charley River watershed and 130 mi (210 km) of the Yukon River, this preserve protects their surrounding mountains and bluffs that are habitat for diverse Arctic wildlife like peregrine falcons, caribou, and salmon. Summer visitors float down the rivers and see remnants of gold mining, and in the winter dog sledders race in the Yukon Quest.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to National Preserves of the United States .|
The National Park Service (NPS) is an agency of the federal government of the United States that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations. The United States Congress created the agency on August 25, 1916 through the National Park Service Organic Act.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is an American national park and preserve in southwest Alaska, notable for the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and for its brown bears. The park and preserve encompass 4,093,077 acres, which is between the sizes of Connecticut and New Jersey. Most of the national park is a designated wilderness area. The park is named after Mount Katmai, its centerpiece stratovolcano. The park is located on the Alaska Peninsula, across from Kodiak Island, with headquarters in nearby King Salmon, about 290 miles (470 km) southwest of Anchorage. The area was first designated a national monument in 1918 to protect the area around the major 1912 volcanic eruption of Novarupta, which formed the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a 40-square-mile (100 km2), 100-to-700-foot-deep pyroclastic flow. The park includes as many as 18 individual volcanoes, seven of which have been active since 1900.
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is an American national park that protects portions of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska. The park is the northernmost national park in the United States, situated entirely north of the Arctic Circle. The park is the second largest in the US at 8,472,506 acres, slightly larger in area than Belgium.
Congaree National Park is a 26,276-acre American national park in central South Carolina, 18 miles southeast of the state capital, Columbia. The park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. The lush trees growing in its floodplain forest are some of the tallest in the eastern United States, forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world. The Congaree River flows through the park. About 15,000 acres are designated as a wilderness area.
Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is a U.S. National Monument and National Preserve, consisting of the region around the Aniakchak volcano on the Aleutian Range of south-western Alaska. The 601,294-acre (243,335 ha) monument is one of the least-visited places in the National Park System due to its remote location and difficult weather. The area was proclaimed a National Monument on December 1, 1978, and established as a National Monument and Preserve on December 2, 1980. The National Monument encompasses 137,176 acres (55,513 ha) and the preserve 464,118 acres (187,822 ha). Visitation to Aniakchak is the lowest of all areas of the U.S. National Park System, according to the NPS, with only 100 documented recreational visits in 2017. Most visitors fly into Surprise Lake inside Aniakchak Crater, but the frequent fog and other adverse weather conditions make landing in the lake difficult. It is also possible to fly into the nearby village of Port Heiden and proceed overland to the Aniakchak Crater.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is an American national park located in Southeast Alaska west of Juneau. President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the area around Glacier Bay a national monument under the Antiquities Act on February 25, 1925. Subsequent to an expansion of the monument by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the national monument by 523,000 acres on December 2, 1980, and created Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The national preserve encompasses 58,406 acres of public land to the immediate northwest of the park, protecting a portion of the Alsek River with its fish and wildlife habitats, while allowing sport hunting.
Kobuk Valley National Park is an American national park in the Arctic region of northwestern Alaska, located about 25 miles (40 km) north of the Arctic Circle. The park was designated in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to preserve the 100 ft (30 m) high Great Kobuk Sand Dunes and the surrounding area which includes caribou migration routes. Park visitors must bring all their own gear for backcountry camping, hiking, backpacking, boating, and dog sledding. No designated trails or roads exist in the park, which at 1,750,716 acres, is slightly larger than the state of Delaware. Kobuk Valley is one of eight national parks in Alaska, the state with the second most national parks, surpassed only by California which has nine. The park is managed by the National Park Service.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is an American national park in southwest Alaska, about 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Anchorage. The park was first proclaimed a national monument in 1978, then established as a national park and preserve in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The park includes many streams and lakes vital to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, including its namesake Lake Clark. A wide variety of recreational activities may be pursued in the park and preserve year-round. The park protects rainforests along the coastline of Cook Inlet, alpine tundra, glaciers, glacial lakes, major salmon-bearing rivers, and two volcanoes, Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna. Mount Redoubt is active, erupting in 1989 and 2009. The wide variety of ecosystems in the park mean that virtually all major Alaskan animals, terrestrial and marine, may be seen in and around the park. Salmon, particularly sockeye salmon, play a major role in the ecosystem and the local economy. Large populations of brown bears are attracted to feed on the spawning salmon in the Kijik River and at Silver Salmon Creek. Bear watching is a common activity in the park.
Wrangell—St. Elias National Park and Preserve is an American national park and preserve managed by the National Park Service in south central Alaska. The park and preserve were established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The protected areas are included in an International Biosphere Reserve and are part of the Kluane/Wrangell–St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park and preserve form the largest area managed by the National Park Service with a total of 13,175,799 acres, an expanse that could encapsulate six Yellowstone National Parks. The park includes a large portion of the Saint Elias Mountains, which include most of the highest peaks in the United States and Canada, yet are within 10 miles (16 km) of tidewater, one of the highest reliefs in the world. Wrangell–St. Elias borders on Canada's Kluane National Park and Reserve to the east and approaches another American national park to the south, Glacier Bay. The chief distinction between park and preserve lands is that sport hunting is prohibited in the park and permitted in the preserve. In addition, 9,078,675 acres (3,674,009 ha) of the park and preserve are designated as the largest single wilderness in the United States.
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is a United States federal law signed by President Jimmy Carter on December 2, 1980. ANILCA provided varying degrees of special protection to over 157,000,000 acres (64,000,000 ha) of land, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, wild and scenic rivers, recreational areas, national forests, and conservation areas. It was, and remains to date, the single largest expansion of protected lands in history and more than doubled the size of the National Park System.
Noatak National Preserve is a United States National Preserve in northwestern Alaska that was established to protect the Noatak River Basin. The Noatak River system, located just north of the Arctic Circle, is thought to be the last remaining complete river system in the United States that has not been altered by human activities. The roadless basin was proclaimed a United States National Monument in 1978 and a National Preserve in 1980 through the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Noatak National Preserve borders Kobuk Valley National Park on the south and Gates of the Arctic National Park on the east. Unlike the national parks that it borders, sport hunting is allowed in Noatak National Preserve.
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is a United States National Historic Site located in the states of Washington and Oregon. The National Historic Site consists of two units, one located on the site of Fort Vancouver in modern-day Vancouver, Washington; the other being the former residence of John McLoughlin in Oregon City, Oregon. The two sites were separately given national historic designation in the 1940s. The Fort Vancouver unit was designated a National Historic Site in 1961, and was combined with the McLoughlin House into a unit in 2003.
A national recreation area (NRA) is a protected area in the United States established by an Act of Congress to preserve enhanced recreational opportunities in places with significant natural and scenic resources. There are 40 NRAs, which emphasize a variety of activities for visitors, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing, swimming, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing, in areas that include multiple-use management for both conservation and limited utilization of natural resources. They have diverse features and contexts, being established around reservoirs, in urban areas, and within forests. Due to their size, diversity of activities, and proximity to population centers, NRAs are among the most visited units of the National Park System, with six among the thirty most visited sites.
The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a unit of the United States National Park Service (NPS) designed to protect and maintain the New River Gorge in southern West Virginia in the Appalachian Mountains. Established in 1978 as a national river and redesignated in 2020, the park and preserve stretches for 53 miles (85 km) from just downstream of Hinton to Hawks Nest State Park near Ansted. The park is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities. New River Gorge is home to some of the country's best whitewater rafting, mainly from the Cunard put-in to the Fayette Station take-out, and is also one of the most popular climbing areas on the East Coast.
The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is one of the most remote United States national park areas, located on the Seward Peninsula. The National Preserve protects a remnant of the Bering Land Bridge that connected Asia with North America more than 13,000 years ago during the Pleistocene ice age. The majority of this land bridge now lies beneath the waters of the Chukchi and Bering Seas. During the glacial epoch this bridge was a migration route for people, animals, and plants whenever ocean levels fell enough to expose the land bridge. Archeologists disagree whether it was across this Bering Land Bridge, also called Beringia, that humans first migrated from Asia to populate the Americas, or whether it was via a coastal route.
Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in South Florida, about 45 miles west of Miami on the Atlantic coastal plain. The 720,000-acre (2,900 km2) Big Cypress, along with Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, became the first national preserves in the United States National Park System when they were established on October 11, 1974. In 2008, Florida film producer Elam Stoltzfus featured the preserve in a PBS documentary.
Yukon–Charley Rivers National Preserve is a United States national preserve located in east central Alaska along the border with Canada. Managed by the National Park Service, the preserve encompasses 130 miles (208 km) of the 1,800-mile (3,000 km) Yukon River and the entire Charley River basin. The preserve protects the undeveloped Charley River and a significant portion of the upper Yukon. The interior Alaskan region experiences extremes of weather, with temperatures that can vary from −50 °F (−46 °C) in winter to 97 °F (36 °C) in summertime. The Yukon provided a means of access to the region, which is entirely roadless, during the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Gold rushes in Alaska brought prospectors, who operated gold dredges to recover significant quantities of placer gold from area creeks. Today the preserve includes part of the route of the annual Yukon Quest dogsled race, which runs every February. During the summer float trips are popular on the Yukon and Charley Rivers.
The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) of the United States protects federally managed wilderness areas designated for preservation in their natural condition. Activity on formally designated wilderness areas is coordinated by the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness areas are managed by four federal land management agencies: the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.