Skip to main content

National Park

July 2024
1min read

Wondering which are overrated (none) or underrated (all)

Most Overrated National Park:

Out here in the Rocky Mountains we have just celebrated with appropriate pomp and oratory the 125th birthday of Yellowstone, the first national park, so the question you pose is timely, though not particularly easy to address. There may be an overrated national park somewhere in our country, but I don’t know where it is.

Most Underrated National Park:

As for an underrated national park . . . well, in the present circumstances, you could say (and I do) that all national parks are underrated. Not by the people; the American people always have loved their parks—banal but true—and they prove their affection year after year in the most direct manner possible: by visiting them in staggering numbers (in 1996 an estimated 265 million people). The parks, as James Bryce, former British ambassador to the United States, once said, may be the best idea America ever had, and most Americans know that.

But if most Americans do not undervalue their national parks, the same can’t be said for a lot of Americans in positions of power, such as many of those in the present Congress. Every year, the Park Service has to plead just to get enough money out of Congress to operate even at a minimally substantial level, much less to launch and maintain badly needed ecological research programs, transportation studies, educational programs, trail improvements, road and facilities maintenance, and other necessary tasks. Even while congressional pinch-penny artists are making it increasingly difficult for the National Park Service to do its work, there are those in and out of Congress who rise up to snipe at the agency every single time it attempts to do what it can to adhere to its administrative mandate to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Overrated? I don’t think so. Underrated? You bet.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.