The World's Largest National Park Is 77 Times the Size of Yellowstone
By May 14, 2014-
- I went to Yellowstone for the first time last summer, and the guides and plaques there make much of the sheer size of the reserve: 3,472 square miles, bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It takes hours to drive across the park—you can spend weeks there and not come close to seeing the full variety of the landscape. But Yellowstone isn't the world's biggest park. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, in Alaska, is much bigger than Yellowstone, but both are tiny in comparison to the world champ. If you want to see the national park where 100 Yellowstones could fit comfortably, head north to Greenland.
- In 1974, the Greenlandic Council and Danish environmental ministry decided to govern the uninhabited part of northern Greenland as a national park—the northernmost in the world. Today the park covers 375,000 square miles. That’s bigger than Pakistan, bigger than Venezuela, bigger than France. In fact, there are only 30 nations on Earth larger than this single park.
- The permanent population of this vast area? Exactly zero. In the mid-1980s, a census counted 40 people in the park, all living at the coastal military outpost of Mestersvig. But after cleaning up their mining operations in the area, the crew pulled out. During a typical winter, you’ll find a dozen park rangers and a handful of weather scientists in Northeast Greenland National Park, along with their 110 dogs. That’s it, in an area about the size of the U.S. eastern seaboard.
- The park’s non-human population is much bigger. There are abundant polar bears, hares, foxes, caribou, and walruses, as well as almost half the world’s population of musk oxen, about 15,000 head. It’s also an important biosphere reserve for many species of birds and fragile tundra vegetation. Inuit hunters from a nearby village have special permission to hunt and trap there, but no one else is allowed.
- In fact, it’s hard to get to Northeast Greenland National Park at all. Only about 500 people set foot there every year, most of them stopping off during Arctic cruises. The park is not entirely the vast, featureless icecap they might be expecting. The southern part of the coast is sunny enough to be called the “Arctic Riviera,” and even the northern tip is mostly ice-free, a stunningly rugged desert called Peary Land. The stark beauty of the tundra might be worth a trip—if you don’t get lonely easily, that is.
Explore the world's oddities every week on CondeNastTraveler.com with Ken Jennings. Check out his book Maphead for more geography trivia.
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