What’s the bigest national park in the world? Great question, and one that’s not necessarily very easy to answer. The issue comes with the definition of what a national park actually is. We go into this in some detail further down the page.
The below list of the world’s largest national parks covers all areas of protected, recreationally accessible land in the world – including marine reserves, transnational parks (where bordering national parks from two or more countries have combined into one protected area), and ‘national monuments’ in the US (areas similar to national parks, but created from land controlled by the federal government and by proclamation of the president).
So, without further ado (but with the above caveats in mind), here are the largest national parks in the world:
The world’s 15 largest national parks
1. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, US (Hawaii): 1,510,000 km sq
2. Northeast Greenland National Park, Greenland: 972,000 km sq
3. The Kavago Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Angola: 519,912 km sq
4. Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Republic of Kiribati: 408,250km sq
5. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia: 344,400 km sq
6. Galapagos Marine Reserve, Ecuador: 133,000 km sq
7. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park , South Africa, Mozambique & Zimbabwe: 99,800 km sq
8. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, US (Alaska): 78,051 km sq
9. Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Canada: 77,538 km sq
10. Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Canada: 61,765 km sq
11. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania: 54,600 km sq
12. Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve, US (Alaska): 53,321 km sq
13. Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana: 52,000 km sq
14. Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia: 49,768 km sq
15. Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada: 44,807 km sq
Map of the world’s largest national parks
What exactly is a national park?
A true ‘national park’ is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), who declared in 1969 that a national park is a relatively large area of land with these characteristics:
- One or several ecsystems not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation, where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educational, and recreational interest or which contain a natural landscape of great beauty;
- Highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate exploitation or occupation as soon as possible in the whole area and to effectively enforce the respect of ecological, geomorphological, or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment; and
- Visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educative, cultural, and recreative purposes.
In 1971 IUCN subsequently expanded on the above criteria to attempt to clarify further what a national park is:
- Minimum size of 1,000 hectares within zones in which protection of nature takes precedence
- Statutory legal protection
- Budget and staff sufficient to provide sufficient effective protection
- Prohibition of exploitation of natural resources qualified by such activities as sport, hunting, fishing, the need for management, facilities, etc.
So, strictly speaking a national park should meet these 7 ICUN criteria. However in many countries national parks do not adhere to the IUCN definition, while some areas which adhere to the IUCN definition are not designated by governments as national parks.
Interested in reading more about more about national parks in Africa? We have a section on the SafarisAfricana dedicated to both reviews of individual national parks, and overviews of national parks in all countries across East and Southern Africa. We’ve also put together this rather popular post on the largest national parks in Africa.