The United States (US) contains 61 national parks that protect the nation’s natural scenery and wildlife. Operated by the National Parks Service, which is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior, these parks are distributed across 29 US states. Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is the country’s oldest national park. The US national parks protect and preserve various types of terrain, including flat forested lowlands, vast deserts, high mountain ranges, and coastal waters. As such, they contain distinct species of flora and fauna, unique geological features, and unusual ecosystems. Denali National Park and Preserve is the highest national park in the US.
The Five Highest National Parks in the US
1. Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali National Park and Preserve is the highest national park in the US. Established on February 26, 1917, the park encompasses an area of 24,464 km2 in Interior Alaska and is renowned for containing North America’s highest peak, Mount Denali, which has an elevation of 6,190 m. Vegetation in the park gradually changes from forest at lower altitudes to taiga and tundra in the middle altitudes, to bare rock and snow-capped peaks at the top. Denali has a significant population of grizzly bears and black bears, as well as a variety of other mammals, including wolves, moose, caribou, coyotes, shrews, beavers, snowshoe hares, lynxes, and wolverines. Ten species of fish are known to inhabit the park, plus many species of migratory and resident birds.
2. Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve is located in south-central Alaska. Established in 1980 through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the park is part of an International Biosphere Reserve, as well as part of the Kluane / Wrangell–St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park covers an area of 53,320.57 km2 and includes many of the tallest peaks within the Saint Elias Mountains. The highest point in Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve is Mount Saint Elias, which has an elevation of 5,489 m. The park's natural features were shaped by glaciation and volcanism, and its elevation ranges from sea-level to the peak of Mount Saint Elias. The forests located at lower elevations give way to taiga, tundra, and then permanent snow cover at the highest elevations. The animals that inhabit Wrangell–St. Elias National Park are similar to the species in Denali National Park and Preserve.
3. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
With a maximum elevation of 4,700 m, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is the third highest national park in the US. Established on December 2, 1980, the park is located in southeastern Alaska and covers an area of 13,044.57 km2. The park is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was created in 1979. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is inhabited by wolves, bears, moose, black-tailed deer, porcupine, mountain goats, and sheep. Numerous species of birds, such as the bald eagle, golden eagle, woodpecker, hawk, osprey, and owl have also been recorded in the park. Additionally, various marine mammals including the sea otter, orca, minke whale, and humpback whale inhabit the park's offshore waters.
4. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park has a maximum elevation of 4,421 m, making it the fourth highest national park in the US. Established in 1890, the park encompasses an area of 1,635 km2 and protects part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Visalia, California. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, is located within Sequoia National Park. The giant sequoia trees are the park's most notable feature. Additionally, the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman tree, also grows within the park.
5. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is located in the US state of Washington. Established in 1899, the park encompasses an area of 956.60 km2 and protects part of the Cascade Range. Mount Rainier National Park includes valleys, waterfalls, subalpine meadows, and Mount Rainier strativolcano. The highest point in the park is the peak of Mount Rainier, which has an elevation of 4,392 m. More than 25 glaciers descend the slopes of the mountain, and it is a popular destination for climbers. A variety of animal life has been recorded in Mount Rainier National Park, including the black bear, porcupine, cougar, bobcat, beaver, shrew, and pika. Bird species such as the northern goshawk, willow flycatcher, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, and gray jay also inhabit the park.
High Elevation National Parks in the US
Many US national parks are located in mountainous areas. Additionally, they also encompass a range of elevations, which impacts the type of flora and fauna within a park. For example, vegetation cover becomes more sparse as elevation above sea level increases and high elevation areas in many parks are permanently covered in snow and ice. The climate within these national parks can also be harsh, especially in winter. As a result, the animals living in high elevation habitats are usually adapted to the extreme cold and difficult terrain.