The USA's oldest national park, Yellowstone, is 145 years old this year. As a testimony to the kind of protection that national park status brings, Yellowstone remains one of the best wildlife habitats in the country. Not only are there both grizzly and black bears, here you can also find wolves, bison, elk, moose, several species of deer, mountain goats and mountain lions.
Here are the 12 oldest national parks in the USA, all of which existed before the National Parks Service was formed in 1916.
1) Yellowstone: 1 March 1872
Straddling Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone was the first National Park in the USA. It was, created by an Act of Congress signed by President Grant, after there had been plans to put the land up in a public auction. As well as its wildlife and jaw-dropping scenery, it's most famous for its geysers, most notably Old Faithful.
How to See It: Audley Travel has a self-drive tour, On the Trail of the Bison.
2) Sequoia: 25 September 1890
Also in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, Sequoia National Park is where you'll find the Giant Forest. This contains five of the ten largest trees on the planet, including the General Sherman tree, a giant sequoia which is the biggest tree in the world and estimated to be at least 2,300 years old.
How to See It: Exsus has an adventure-themed self-drive holiday that takes in California's natural wonders.
3) Yosemite: 1 October 1890
Located in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite is the third oldest and third most visited National Park (after the Great Smoky Mountains and the Grand Canyon). It's a diverse area with mountains, lakes, waterfalls, giant sequoias, glaciers, and granite cliffs that attract rock climbers.
How to See It: Stay at the historic Majestic Yosemite Hotel right in Yosemite National Park with Scott Dunn.
4) Mount Rainier: 2 March 1899
Mount Rainier stands out prominently from its surroundings, making it one of the most photographed places in Washington state. The park which includes and surrounds the mountain is noted for its 26 glaciers, including the Carbon Glacier which is the largest in the lower 48 states.
How to See It: American Sky's self-drive tour through Washington and Oregon includes a visit to Mount Rainier National Park.
5) Crater Lake: 22 May 1902
Crater Lake in Oregon is the deepest lake in the United States, situated in the crater of a volcano that collapsed over 7,700 years ago. It's famous for the blue clarity of its water, and with two volcanic islands within the lake it's incredibly photogenic.
How to See It: Visit Crater Lake on a National Parks tour through Oregon and Washington with Trailfinders.
6) Wind Cave: 9 January 1903
Wind Cave in South Dakota is one of the longest cave networks in the world, and even if you don't venture below ground the national park is worth seeing for the bison which roam its prairies.
How to See It: See Wind Cave National Park as part of a luxury self-drive holiday bookable through Exsus.
7) Mesa Verde: 29 June 1906
Mesa Verde in Colorado is famous for its cliff dwellings. The Ancient Puebloan people lived in this area for over 700 years and left behind homes and tunnels carved out of the rock.
How to See It: You can visit Mesa Verde National Park on a Canyon Country self-drive holiday with Wexas.
8) Glacier: 11 May 1910
Glacier National Park in Montana has 26 glaciers and 130 lakes. It also has one of the most beautiful drives in the USA, along Going-to-the Sun-Road. The park also provides a refuge for two threatened species, the grizzly bear and the Canadian lynx.
How to See It: You can book a self-drive Montana holiday with Abercrombie & Kent, including a stay close to Glacier at the ranch resort at Paws Up.
9) Rocky Mountains: 26 January 1915
Black bears and mountain lions roam in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, alongside moose, elk, coyotes and an abundance of wildlife. Here you'll find lakes, forests, tundra, mountains like Longs Peak (14,259 feet/4346 metres) and the dramatic drive along Trail Ridge Road.
How to See It: American Sky has an escorted tour through Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
10) Haleakalā: 1 August 1916
On the island of Maui on Hawaii, Haleakalā National Park's main feature is its huge volcanic crater which is 6.99 miles (11.25 kms) across. Much of the park is wilderness and it shelters more endangered species than any other national park
How to See It: Stay at an old school beach hotel on Maui with Scott Dunn.
11) Hawaii Volcanoes: 1 August 1916
Any visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has a thrill element as it contains two active volcanoes, one of which, Kīlauea, is the most active volcano in the world. You can still see what are called the 1790 Footprints, from an eruption that year in which people who were on the volcano perished.
How to See It: Trailfinders has a Hawaiian island-hopping holiday which includes Volcanoes National Park.
12) Lassen Volcanic: 9 August 1916
The last National Park to be created before the forming of the National Park Service, Lassen National Park in California's Cascade Range is famous for Lassen Peak (10,457 feet/3,187 metres). This is one of the largest lava domes in the world, and is the largest plug dome volcano in the world. The park is also home to black bear, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and many other creatures.
How to See It: Audley Travel has a Pacific Coasts and Volcanoes Self-Drive trip through California, Oregon and Washington.
* All photos courtesy of National Park Service.
* Mark Hodson is Editor of 101 Holidays
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