How much U.S. land is dedicated to national parks?

August 21, 2019

In the post How big are the national parks?, we took an initial look at park size. Let’s now revisit that topic and get an idea of how park area is distributed across the United States.

According to census.gov, the entire area of the United States and its territories is ~2.5 billion acres, or ~3.8 million square miles. Of this area:

  • 27.4% is owned by the federal government (most of this is in the west and Alaska)
  • 3.5% is in National Park Service sites
  • 2.1% is in national parks

I was fascinated to learn that almost 85% of Nevada is owned by the federal government.

In which states is the majority of the total national park land located?

Pie image

It is no surprise that 62.3% of total national park land is located in Alaska. Of the top 10 largest parks, 7 are in Alaska. California has the fifth largest, Death Valley National Park, and 8 others. Each of the reamaining top 6 states in this chart have at least one very large park and a number of smaller ones. The remaining states are grouped into the ‘Other’ category.

N.B. This plot is technically incorrect. Three of the national parks are in two or more states: Yellowstone is in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana; Great Smoky Mountains is in North Carolina and Tennessee; and Death Valley is in California and Nevada. The state where the majority of the park’s area is located was chosen for each park for reporting purposes.

Chart image

This plot tells us which parks have the most area dedicated to national parks. Alaska wins again with 7.5% of its total area designated as national park land. Interestingly, Hawaii is in third place for this metric because it is such a small state, with over 5% of Hawaii dedicated to national parks.

Data Sources

The list of 419 official park units (as of 5/1/2019) broken out by designation comes from the National Park System page at nps.gov. Park size data is from the report, “Park Acreage Reports (1997 – Last Calendar/Fiscal Year)” found on the NPS Stats website. Individual U.S. state area is from the State Area Measurements and Internal Point Coordinates table at census.gov.

Using the Scripts

Instructions to run the scripts are found in the readme in the GitHub repository found here.


Written on August 21, 2019