In April 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt spent two weeks vacationing at Yellowstone Park, after which he designated the area as America’s first national park, laying a cornerstone at its main entrance. “Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors,” he said during his remarks. “This park was created, and is now administered, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Today, some 120 years later, the National Park Service (NPS), established in 1916, manages more than 400 sites, including about 60 that are designated as national parks. Most are free to enter, allowing the millions who visit each year to enjoy hiking, biking, camping, climbing and exploring these protected lands. Spanning the nation—from California’s Joshua Tree to Shenandoah in Virginia, from Glacier Bay in Alaska to the National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific—NPS has helped preserve thousands of acres from sea to shining sea and worked to protect the many species of wildlife that call the parks home. What makes them so special? Take a look.