The 10 Oldest National Parks in the World

Waterton Lakes National Park is part of a Unesco World Heritage site in Alberta, Canada
Waterton Lakes National Park is part of a Unesco World Heritage site in Alberta, Canada | © Panoramic Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Uniqua Hardy

Nearly 100 countries around the world have stunning natural landscapes classified as national parks but which ones have been around the longest? Boasting scenic views and spectacular wildlife, here are the oldest national parks in the world, from the United States through to Mongolia and New Zealand.

1. Bogd Khan Uul National Park, Mongolia (1783)

Natural Feature

Lone Mongolian horseback rider travels through grasslands, Bogd Khan Mountain Protected Area, Mongolia. Credit Line: © Kraig Lieb
© Kraig Lieb / Alamy Stock Photo

Many mistakenly think America’s Yellowstone National Park is the oldest in the world but there’s one that was created a century earlier. Established by the Mongolian government in 1778, the area surrounding Bogd Khan Uul Biosphere Reserve is actually the oldest in the world. It is located south of the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and takes three to four hours to hike. You’ll find many cultural sites surrounding the park, including the ruins of Manzushir Monastery, Buddha Park, and Zaisan Memorial.

2. Yellowstone National Park, USA (1872)


Grand Prismatic Spring, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Yellowstone National Park is the oldest in the United States and the second oldest in the world. Located between the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, the park is home to hot springs and the world’s largest collection of geysers, including the iconic Old Faithful. Yellowstone River runs through the park, with several waterfalls and mountain ranges, and the area’s notorious wildlife includes almost 60 mammal species, including the gray wolf, grizzly bear, bison, lynx, and elk.

3. Royal National Park, Australia (1879)

Natural Feature

Curracurrong Falls, Royal National Park
© Destination NSW

Established in 1879, Royal National Park is Australia‘s oldest and spans the area between the coastline and Hacking River in Sutherland Shire, about an hour south of Sydney. The park has several hiking trails, picnic areas, and campsites surrounded by diverse landscapes, including scenic beaches, blue lagoons, eucalyptus bushlands, and waterfalls. At 26km (16 miles) long, the popular Coast Track is a two-day trail from the Bundeena village to Otford, with opportunities for bird-watching, kayaking, whale-watching, and snorkelling along the way.

4. Banff National Park, Canada (1885)


View from Little Jimmy over Bow Lake, Banff National Park
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Banff, the oldest national park in Canada was established in 1885, in the Alberta Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Calgary is the nearest city, and the main commercial center of the park is in the town of Banff, in the Bow River valley. Known for mountainous terrain and alpine landscapes, including more than 1,000 glaciers, ice fields, forests, valleys, meadows, and rivers, the park is part of UNESCO’s Canadian Rocky Mountain World Heritage site. Natural sites around Banff include Canada’s largest cavern system, Castleguard Caves, numerous glacier-fed lakes such as Lake Louise, and the Legacy Trail, where you can walk, cycle, or even practice your inline skating.

5. Yoho National Park, Canada (1886)


Two Females Exploring The Iceline Trail in Yoho National Park
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Yoho National Park, also located in the Rocky Mountains, is part of the Unesco Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site. Along the western slope of the Continental Divide, it’s bordered by Kootenay National Park on the southern side and Banff National Park on the eastern. Yoho features spectacular rock walls, breathtaking waterfalls, and 28 soaring peaks more than 9,800ft (3,000m) high. Some of the points of interest at Yoho include the Spiral Tunnels railway, Takakkaw Falls in the Yoho Valley, the charming Village of Field, and the turquoise waters of Emerald Lake.

6. Tongariro National Park, New Zealand (1887)

Natural Feature

Mount Ngauruhoe and the Rangipo Desert, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
© Travellinglight / Alamy Stock Photo

Tongariro is the oldest of the 13 official national parks in New Zealand. Located halfway down North Island, the park has many towns around it including Ohakune, Waiouru, Horopito, Pokaka, Erua, National Park Village, and Whakapapa skifield. Home to several sacred religious sites, Tongariro is the former terrain of a native Māori tribe called the Ngāti Tuwharetoa, and was gifted to the Crown by their chief. Because of the outstanding cultural and natural value, Tongariro is one of the 28 mixed-cultural and natural Unesco World Heritage sites. In terms of nature, the park contains three active volcanic mountains, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, which are all located in the centre of the park.

7. Sequoia National Park, USA (1890)

Forest, Park

McKinley tree, a giant sequoia at Sequoia National Park, United States
© Jordi Clave Garsot / Alamy Stock Photo
Established in 1890, Sequoia National Park is located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. The park’s natural wonders include gigantic mountains, canyons, caverns, and some of the world’s largest trees. Mount Whitney, 14,500ft (4,418m) above sea level, is the highest point on the US mainland and one of Sequoia’s main attractions. Sequoia’s Giant Forest contains five of the 10 largest trees in the world, including the General Sherman tree. Today, Kings Canyon National Park, established in 1940, is jointly administered with Sequoia.

8. Yosemite National Park, USA (1890)


Tourist photographing, Valley View overlooking El Capitan and Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, USA
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
First placed under deferral protection by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, Yosemite wasn’t officially established as a national park until 1890. Located in California’s Sierra Nevada, it is one of the oldest, largest, and best-known national parks in the United States. It contains granite cliffs, clear streams, huge sequoia groves, diverse wildlife, and the beautiful Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. The Yosemite Valley lies in the center of the park, with giant vertical rock formations rising around it, namely the Half Dome and El Capitan. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness, and it’s known to be home to many rare plant and animal species.

9. Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada (1895)

Park, Natural Feature

High view of Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada
© Image Source / Alamy Stock Photo
Waterton Lakes National Park is located in the southwest corner of Alberta in Canada. Known for mountains and wilderness, Waterton was established in 1895 and named after Victorian conservationist Charles Waterton. The park is open all year, offering many activities, including scenic treks, such as the premium Crypt Lake trail, which runs through forests and passes the Hellroaring Falls. The park is part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995, and its ecosystem is so distinctive, it has been designated a biosphere reserve.

10. Mount Rainier National Park, USA (1899)


Wildflowers in meadow and view to Tatoosh Range from Skyline Trail in Paradise area; Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.
© Greg Vaughn / Alamy Stock Photo
Mount Rainier is an active volcano in the state of Washington, with both Seattle and Portland located within a 186mi (300km) radius. It was established as a national park in 1899 by President William McKinley. Despite encompassing a volcano, its high elevation means there are many subalpine meadows and 25 glaciers, with the 14,000ft(4,300m) apex found on the Cascades mountain range. There are also beautiful valleys, waterfalls, and primeval forests surrounding the mountains.

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