On the face of it, understanding which country has the most national parks is a pretty simple question to answer. The country with the most national parks is Australia.
However, there are some things to consider, not least what we mean by the term “national park”, a topic we explain in some detail further down the page.
The below list of the number of national parks per country covers only IUCN recognised national park – no game reserves, private land given over to wildlife, or land protected by a country outside of IUCN recognition.
So, without further ado – but with the above caveats in mind – here’s our take on the countries with the most national parks in the world:
Top 10 countries with the most national parks
Australia leads the list of countries with the most national parks by an incredible distance, home to over 600 national parks. This compares to second position Thailand where there are 147 national parks.
Here’s the top 10 list:
# National Parks
Pelicans at Kakadu National Park, Australia
Top 10 countries with the largest land area given over to national parks
When we look at the area of land given over to national parks, Australia slips down into number two position and a new winner emerges – Canada, with over 377,000 km² of the country given over to 47 national parks. (Interested in seeing the largest national parks in the world?)
Here’s the full list of the top 10 countries for national parks by area:
# National Parks
Total Area km²
Canada’s largest national park – the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge
Top 10 countries with the largest % of land area given over to national parks
There are not many countries in the world that can match Canada or Australia for sheer size, so another relevant way of understanding the impact national parks have on a country is to look at the percentage of total land area given over to national parks. On this measure the are many interesting changes to the top 10, and the addition of a couple of African countries in Zambia and Namibia. In fact, Zambia is the top country in the world for % of land given over to national parks.
Read on for the top 10:
# National Parks
% of Country Area
A hyena strolling in Kafue National Park, Zambia
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 ecosystems 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;
The 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 recreational 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.
And that’s our take on which countries have the most national parks. What do you think – any surprises? Let us know in the comments section below!