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When you think of large parks, you probably imagine Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, or Death Valley. You might not think protected parks can exist in cities. But amazing local urban parks exist all over the country. Today, we’ll look at the largest city parks in the United States.
Let’s dive in!
What Is a City Park?
City parks are sometimes called urban, metropolitan, municipal, or public parks. They’re designed and maintained by local government agencies.
Sometimes there are “friends of” groups that help operate city parks. Depending on their size, city parks may have playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, sports fields, boat ramps, and more.
Is a City Park Different From a State Park?
The main difference between national, state, county, and city parks is who manages the facilities. They’re all protected areas operated by federal, state, or local government agencies. Typically, national parks are the largest, followed by state, country, and city parks.
Where Is the Largest Urban Park in the United States?
Alaska is home to the largest national parks. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve covers a whopping 13.2 million acres. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve comes in second with 8.5 million acres. The Denali and Katmai are the third and fourth largest national parks in the United States.
So, it will come as no surprise that the largest city park in the United States is also in Alaska. Chugach State Park in Anchorage spans just over 495,000 acres. It’s also the largest park in the world contained within a metropolitan area.
Anchorage lies to the west of the park, the Knik River lies to the north, the Prince William Sound sits to the east, and the Turnagain Arm sits to the south. The Chugach National Forest extends farther west.
Popular activities in Chugach State Park include hiking, biking, and paddling. In the winter, there are 110 miles of skiing, snowmobiling, and fat-tire biking opportunities. Of course, wildlife viewing and scenic driving are always part of the Alaska experience.
What Are the Next Largest City Parks in the United States?
Because it’s in Alaska, Chugach State Park is often ignored as the largest urban park in the United States. Most people want to know about the largest city parks in the contiguous United States.
So, here are the top five. They exist in the Southwest to the Northeast and lie just minutes from the bustling city center.
1. McDowell Sonoran Preserve
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Size: 30,500 acres
About: In Scottsdale, Arizona, McDowell Sonoran Preserve has over 180 trails. There is no entrance fee, and visitors can access the park from sun up to sun down.
Many popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and horseback riding. It’s best to visit the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in the spring or fall when the temperatures are mild and comfortable.
2. Franklin Mountains State Park
Location: El Paso, Texas
Size: 27,000 acres
About: Franklin Mountains State Park lies entirely within the city limits of El Paso. Its highest peak, North Franklin Mountain, reaches 7,192 feet. The mountain range is 23 miles long and stretches into New Mexico.
Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, and scenic driving. This state park is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, so you’ll likely see hawks, mule deer, juniper trees, and barrel cactus.
3. Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Size: 27,190 acres
About: The next largest city park in the United States is the Bayou Saugave Urban National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans. It’s the largest urban wildlife refuge in America. Waterfowl and wading birds visit seasonally, but the brown pelican lives here year-round.
Bald eagles, alligators, fish, crabs, shrimp, and small mammals also live here. This city park is a premier birding destination with a peak population of 75,000.
Keep in Mind: Are State Parks Free? Let’s dive in and see!
4. South Mountain Park
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Size: 16,281 acres
About: Designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride, South Mountain Park preserves the native vegetation of Phoenix. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy more than 50 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, as well as the roadways for biking throughout the park.
Dobbins Lookout, the highest point in South Mountain Park, is 2,330 feet and a popular spot to enjoy panoramic views of the valley.
5. Government Canyon State Natural Area
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Size: 12,244 acres
About: Finally, the fifth largest city park in the United States (outside of Alaska) is Government Canyon State Natural Area in San Antonio. A unique aspect of this city park is that it was designated a natural area to protect the natural features of the area.
As a result, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department can restrict access and activities to protect the environment if necessary. Visitors enjoy exploring more than 40 miles of trails, camping, picnicking, and geocaching. There’s also a Junior Ranger Program and playscape for the kids.
What Is the Most Visited City Park in the United States?
With 8.8 million residents and over 10 million visitors yearly, New York City is a hubbub of activity year-round. It’s no wonder Central Park, situated between the Upper West Side and Upper East Side neighborhoods of Manhattan, is the most visited city park in the United States. It’s estimated that 42 million people visit Central Park annually.
Although not large like the parks mentioned above, Central Park first opened to the public in 1858. About eight years later, they completed the park. Today, its 843 acres contain popular attractions like the Central Park Mall, Delacorte Theater, Central Park Zoo, Central Park Carousel, and Wollman Rink.
It’s also known for its beautiful landscapes like the Ramble and Lake, Hallett Nature Sanctuary, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and Sheep Meadow.
Keep in Mind: Looking to get the national park lover in your life the perfect Christmas gift? Check out these National Parks Gifts They’ll Actually Love
Support Your Local City Parks and Enjoy the Great OutdoorsiIn an Urban Environment
Urban parks are an oasis in the middle or outskirts of a metropolitan area. Consider that the largest city parks in the United States are in some of the most bustling cities like San Antonio, Phoenix, and New Orleans.
You probably don’t think of large green spaces or outdoor recreation when you think of cities. But these parks provide serenity, beauty, and recreation just minutes from traffic, shopping, and dining,
This camping season, consider supporting local parks by visiting county and city parks in your region.
What new places will you discover?