National Parks That No Longer Exist
In 1872, the very first national park of the United States — Yellowstone — was created as “a public park…for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” By 1916, 35 parks had been opened to the public, and the National Park Service (NPS) was created to protect them.
Today, 58 national parks and hundreds of national monuments and memorials managed by NPS are found in all 50 states, collectively comprising more than 84 million acres of land.
However, not all national parks that were created over the last 147 years have made it to modern day. Many have been downgraded to state parks, and a few have completely disappeared.
Learn the where, when and why about the parks, monuments and memorials that have slipped through the NPS system.
Mackinac National Park, Michigan
The second national park in the United States after Yellowstone, Michigan’s Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-aw) National Park consisted of more than 1,000 acres connected to Fort Mackinac, overlooking Lake Michigan.
It was a national park for just 20 years, from 1875 to 1895, before the state asked to take control and it became the first state park in Michigan.
Today, Mackinac Island State Park is a summertime hotspot and home to the beautiful Grand Hotel, which has been a mainstay and draw to the island since 1887. The National Historic Landmark, with its limited automobile access, daily tea service and nightly dancing to the sounds of an in-house orchestra, is the grand dame of the island, offering a step back in time.
Per the 1895 agreement, if Mackinac Island State Park is not properly maintained by the state, it will revert back to a national park.
Shoshone Cavern National Monument, Wyoming
One of the officially lost national monuments is Shoshone Cavern, originally designated in 1909 by President William Taft. Requiring a hike up Cedar Mountain to reach, the 2,500-foot cavern is encrusted with rock crystals. Considered too expensive to develop into a full-fledged park with infrastructure, the NPS dropped the monument and transferred all 210 acres of land in 1951 to the city of Cody, Wyoming, just 4 miles from the site.
Today, Shoshone Cavern is called Spirit Mountain Cave and is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Permits must be obtained from the Bureau in Cody in order to visit the cave, and the mountain is no longer serviced as a park in any form.
General Grant National Park, California
General Grant National Park was named after Ulysses S. Grant, the great general who commanded the Army of the North during the Civil War and went on to become president of the United States.
Designated in 1890, the park was actually created to preserve a 267-foot tree named for Grant. The third largest tree in the world, the giant sequoia was deemed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 and declared a national shrine by President Dwight D. Eisenhower — the only living thing declared a shrine in the U.S.
The tree still stands, although today it is within General Grant Grove, a section of Kings Canyon National Park. General Grant National Park was expanded and renamed in 1940 to encompass more natural features. Along with neighboring Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon — with its mile-deep valley carved by a glacier, giant sequoias and 14,000-foot mountain peaks — is today one of the country's most popular national parks.
Old Kasaan National Monument, Alaska
Outside of Ketchikan, Alaska, the old Haida village of Kasaan was an unincorporated native village discovered by cruise passengers who were so taken with its totem poles and other native Alaskan ornaments and buildings that they spread the word. From the late 1800s through the early 1900s, it became a popular excursion stop for tourists.
The people of the village abandoned Kasaan in 1903, and the U.S. government honored the cultural site as a national monument in 1916. However, the allure of the village faded as items were removed and there was nothing more to see. The national monument was transferred to the Forest Service in 1955.
The former village is these days part of the 16.7-acre Tongass National Forest stretching along Alaska’s panhandle, visited mainly by cruise-ship passengers on Inner Passage expeditions. Ranger services are available for deeper exploration.
Papago Saguaro National Monument, Arizona
The Phoenix-area national monument Papago Saguaro was designated by President Woodrow Wilson, who praised its “splendid examples of the giant and many other species of cacti and the yucca palm" and "numerous prehistoric pictographs of archaeologial and ethnological value."
The Sonoran Desert park was home to rock formations used by the Hohokam people to mark changing seasons, as a hole in the rock could be monitored like a sundial and created a natural calendar.
When the park was returned to the state of Arizona in 1930, Papago Saguaro became the first national park to be "abolished." The state took control in an effort to curb its deterioration; vandals were painting the rocks with graffiti and stealing saguaro cacti, and there was insufficient federal funding to fix the damage.
Today, the municipal Papago Park is one of Phoenix’s most popular parks, located just outside its city limits. Spanning across 1,200 acres, the park also houses the Phoenix Zoo, which – with more than 1,400 animals – is the largest privately-owned zoo in the country. It is owned and operated by the Maytag family, of appliance fame.
Sullys Hill National Park, North Dakota
Located on the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe reservation in North Dakota, Sullys Hill National Park was named for an American general who commanded troops during the Northern Plains Indian Campaigns, which included the Dakotas. After General Alfred Sully passed away in 1879, President Theodore Roosevelt honored him with this national park bearing his name in 1904.
The park was comprised of 1,600 wooded, hilly acres fringing North Dakota's largest lake, Devils Lake (the reservation itself once totaled 8 million acres). After finances became scarce during the Great Depression, the park was transferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1931.
Today, Sullys Hill National Game Preserve is a hunting and wildlife refuge, and home to a large herd of American bison. Nearby, the reservation now operates the Spirit Lake Casino and Resort.
Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument, Montana
President Teddy Roosevelt named this national monument for the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who stopped near the limestone cavern during their cross-country expedition.
The cavern, along with its surrounding wilderness, was named a national monument on the same day in 1908 that the Grand Canyon became a national park. But while the Grand Canyon went on to become one of our most popular national parks, the cavern didn’t receive the same notoriety and funding.
In 1937, the cavern — which Lewis and Clark never visited on their Montana tour — was returned to state control. The cavern and its surrounding wilderness, including miles of hiking trails, now comprise a state park that was Montana’s first. Spanning more than 3,000 acres, the park boasts plenty of above-ground activities to go with the underground geological wonder that remains its star attraction. Tours lead visitors through the limestone cavern that dates back 70 million years.
Father Millet Cross National Monument, New York
At just 320 square feet, this site became the smallest-ever national monument when it was designated as such by President Calvin Coolidge in 1933.
Its namesake is Father Millet, a priest who, on Good Friday, erected a cross and called a prayer for “the plague-stricken men” of Fort Niagara who were succumbing to a harsh winter and disease. President Coolidge also wanted the monument to honor other priests who headed into the American wilderness during the country’s formation.
The site became an official monument of the NPS in 1933. But just 12 years later, in 1945, Fort Niagara stopped its service as an Army fort, and its land was transferred to New York for use as a state park. The original monument was abolished and merged into the state-run Fort Niagara State Park.
That park welcomes visitors to experience its military demonstrations, costumed period actors portraying the fort’s history, and special events. It’s within an hour's drive of Niagara Falls, and makes an excellent side trip when visiting the area.
Holy Cross National Monument, Colorado
Colorado’s “Lost National Monument” is Holy Cross, a mountain that stands more than 1,400 feet tall and is named for its unique tree line that creates a natural cross when covered in snow. President Herbert Hoover declared the mountain a national monument in 1929, but after pilgrims stopped trekking to the site and tourism dropped, the NPS transferred care of the land to the Forest Service in 1950.
Located near Vail, the mountain is no longer operated as a park but can be climbed via four mountain trails, including the main Half Moon Pass Trail on the North Ridge.
You can take in views of the Holy Cross from Notch Mountain, by following the Fall Creek Trail.
New Echota Marker National Memorial, Georgia
Before the Cherokee Indian tribe was forced to follow the Trail of Tears and relocate from the South to the Midwest, its capital was New Echota, in northwest Georgia near the Tennessee border. Relocation of the Cherokees began in 1836, and nearly 100 years later, the government sought redemption by naming the New Echota area a national memorial.
By 1950, however, the site was transferred to the care of the state, becoming the New Echota State Park. Honoring the Cherokee tribe with 12 original and reconstructed buildings that showcase the city as it looked when it was a native capital, New Echota also became a National Historic Landmark in 1973.
Today, visitors can enjoy nature trails, interactive exhibits in the buildings and a film showcasing the history of the Cherokee tribe.
Wheeler National Monument, Colorado
Like nearby Holy Cross, Wheeler National Monument is another bygone park in Colorado. Located in the Rio Grande National Forest, the area is found in the La Garita Mountains, and requires lots of hiking and horseback-riding across rugged terrain to take in views of spires, pinnacles and other geologic formations that date back 25 centuries.
In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt set aside 300 acres of land to comprise this national monument, though it was not serviced by the NPS until 1933. Without roads to visit the area, tourism dropped as automobiles became the main mode of transportation for American travelers, and the NPS dropped the monument from its care in 1950.
Today, Wheeler is part of the 1.83-acre Rio Grande National Forest. Hikers can still make their way to the area, although most of the land is covered by snow until late summer. The entire area is managed by the Forest Service.
Platt National Park, Oklahoma
Once more popular that Yellowstone or Yosemite, Platt National Park in Oklahoma became the country’s seventh national park in 1906. The park was named for Orville Platt, a senator who established Sulphur Springs Reservation for the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations just a few years earlier.
Despite its popularity and the amount of money poured into the park to create an extensive collection of trails and roads, by the 1970s it merged with the Arbuckle Mountains Recreation Area to become the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
Today, the 10,000-acre recreation area, featuring hot springs and the gorgeous Lake of the Arbuckle, welcomes more than 1 million visitors each year.
Castle Pinckney National Monument, South Carolina
Castle Pinckney is a fortification with a fascinating history.
It was initially built to protect Charleston, South Carolina’s harbor from the French in 1804, and was later used as protection against the British in the War of 1812 – although, interestingly, it never actually saw battle. One of a trio of forts in the harbor (the others being Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie), it also served as a prison camp for northern prisoners during the Civil War.
Although the fort was designated a national monument in 1924 by President Coolidge, it fell into such disarray that the NPS gave it to the state of South Carolina in 1956.
Today, the Sons of Confederate Veterans owns the castle, but the group has not preserved the site. It continues to rot on overgrown land, and visitors are not allowed to explore its grounds.
Fossil Cycad National Monument, South Dakota
When fossilized cycads dating back 120 million years were found in South Dakota in the late 1800s, they were believed to comprise one of the largest concentrations of fossilized plants in the world.
President Warren G. Harding ordered the NPS to take over the land in 1922 and turn it into a national monument. But due to poor protective services, thieves deprived the area of its precious fossils.
The national monument was undesignated as such in 1956, after years of hoping to find more fossils proved to be futile. Today, there is no need for the land to be a national park, and the area is operated by the Bureau of Land Management.
Verendrye National Monument, South Dakota
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Verendrye explored South Dakota with his sons 60 years before Lewis and Clark as a French-Canadian fur trader, setting up trading posts on 101 hectares of land. In honor of the family, the Verendrye National Monument encompassed the land they explored, as well as Crowhigh Butte, where the family was known to camp in the early 1700s.
First made a national monument in 1917, it lost its NPS association in 1956 when a dispute arose over where the camp actually had been located. Lewis and Clark are also associated with the butte, and although new research proves the area was correctly identified for the Verendrye family, the area has not regained its status.
A plaque now commemorates the location of the butte, renamed Crow Flies High Butte. Located near Badlands National Park, it welcomes visitors to enjoy fantastic views of Lake Sakakawea from 565 feet.
Oklahoma City National Memorial, Oklahoma
The last NPS site to lose its status is the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which honored those who were killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995. The memorial was established in 1997 under President Bill Clinton on the site of the bombing, the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. In 2004, the NPS transferred the site to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation, which had raised the money to create it.
Although the NPS relinquished authority in 2004, it continues to provide services to the 3.3-acre memorial to this day. Visitors can walk the outdoor Symbolic Memorial, and explore a museum dedicated to those who have lost their lives to domestic terrorism.