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America’s National Parks: the Northwest

Continuing our four-part series on America’s parklands during the National Park Service’s (NPS) 100th-anniversary year, this time we’ll explore the Northwest, which we’ve defined as including Nebraska, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

This region boasts some of the nation’s most iconic scenic splendors, including those long protected for future generations within Yellowstone, the world’s first national park. Yellowstone was authorized in 1872, a full 44 years before the NPS itself was created and, thus, was administered initially only with the assistance of the U.S. Army.

Other great Northwestern parks established prior to 1916 include Mount Rainier in Washington, Crater Lake in Oregon, Wind Cave in South Dakota and Montana’s Glacier. Subsequent years, however, have seen the addition of more than a dozen additional officially named and equally spectacular national parks, such as Grand Teton in Wyoming, Badlands in South Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota, Olympic and North Cascades in Washington, and a plethora in Alaska, among them Denali, formerly Mount McKinley; Gates of the Arctic; Glacier Bay; Katmai, famous for its bears; Kenai Fjords; Kobuk Valley; Lake Clark; and the country’s largest, Wrangell-St. Elias, which is eight times the size of Yellowstone and bigger than the entire nation of Switzerland.

However, incredible scenery can also easily be found at numerous national monuments, many of which were created by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act of 1906, among them Devils Tower, first to be so named by Theodore Roosevelt. Other national monuments now found in the Northwest are Agate Fossil Beds, Homestead and Scotts Bluff in Nebraska; Jewel Cave in South Dakota; Fossil Butte in Wyoming; Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana; and Craters of the Moon, Hagerman Fossil Beds and Minidoka Internment in Idaho. John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon is an off-the-beaten-path personal favorite.

National historical parks, which by definition include multiple sites, are Nez Perce in Idaho, Lewis and Clark in Oregon, Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska and Washington, Sitka in Alaska, and San Juan Island in Washington. Northwestern single-location national historic sites are just a bit more numerous: Minuteman Missile in South Dakota, Fort Union Trading Post in North Dakota and Montana, Knife River Indian Villages in North Dakota, Fort Laramie in Wyoming, Grant-Kohrs Ranch in Montana, and Fort Vancouver and Whitman Mission in Washington. Of course, the massive stone heads of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt can be found at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Three national recreation areas administered by the NPS are located in Northern Washington: Lake Roosevelt, Lake Chelan and Ross Lake. Another, Bighorn Canyon, straddles the Montana/Wyoming line. Rivers under NPS jurisdiction include the Missouri Recreational River, the Niobrara National Scenic River and the Alagnak Wild River. Finally, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway connects Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in Wyoming, and Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana preserves the site of a Nez Perce encampment attacked by the U.S. Cavalry.