From Alaska to the Virgin Islands, the United States claims 59 protected areas known as national parks in 27 states and two U.S. territories. Operated by the National Park Service, which was created in 1916 as an agency of the Department of the Interior, these pristine and largely agrestic venues were established by an act of Congress on March 1, 1872 for Yellowstone to the nation’s most recent entry Pinnacles National Park on January 10, 2013.
Defined by everything from granite peaks to coral reefs and volcanic lakes, national parks range in size from Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias Park and Preserve at 13.2 million acres to Hot Springs, Arkansas, at less than 5,550 acres.
As national parks are deemed protected areas, visitors are welcome to observe and experience nature, endangered species, and natural resources from geysers to glaciers, flying foxes to peregrine falcons, battling bighorn sheep to bubbling hot springs, and Bigtooth maples. Statistics tell us national parks attract approximately 280 million annual visitors from all points of the globe, with accommodations that run the gamut from baronial lodges to rudimentary wooden platforms for a favorite sleeping bag and that special “let’s sleep under the stars” adventure. And if the temperature soars or falls, if the wind whips at 80 or 90 mph, or if it rains or snows, depending on where you are and at what time of year, you can always run for cover or even pack up and go home. But bearing in mind that national parks are not part of the controlled environment, and consequently capricious weather can impact a visit, knowing what you’re getting into before venturing out is probably a good idea.
According to the National Weather Service, each year places like California and Nevada’s Death Valley–a national park designated on October 31, 1994–experience searing temperatures that have topped 130 degrees, not to mention fierce, corrosive sandstorms that replicate wintry white-out conditions. At Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park, the U.S.’s northernmost park, established on December 2, 1980, a “balmy” day might see temperatures hovering around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wilderness, caves, canyons, mountain ranges, mesas, estuaries, and more, how do our national parks stack up in terms of extremes, such as cold, heat, wind, and snow?