25 Rare Vintage Photos of America’s National Parks
Take a look back in time to see how much America's National Parks have changed over the years.
1910s: Honeymooning in Yellowstone
Shirley’s grandparents, Herman and Agnes Licht, traveled from Madison, Wisconsin, to Yellowstone National Park on their honeymoon in 1916. Yellowstone became America’s first national park on March 1, 1872. If you want to camp in a national park, these are the best places to do that.
Camp Curry in Yosemite Valley
She was only 7 at the time but Patricia has never forgotten the excitement of her family’s automobile trip to the Yosemite Valley in the summer of 1918. A farewell sign hangs at the edge of Camp Curry, now known as Half Dome Village, to wish visitors well as they leave and start their journey home.
1920s: Roadside attractions
Peggy grew up in Montana, and she traveled to Yellowstone National Park with her family every summer in the late 1920s and ’30s. Bears were a roadside attraction in the park’s early years. These photos of America’s national parks will leave you awestruck.
1930s: Lower Falls, Yellowstone
Peggy and her sister, Mildred, posed at the bottom of Lower Falls in Yellowstone during the 1930s. Are you a thrill-seeker? These vintage circus photos will make you “ooh” and “ahh.”
Sitting on the fender of the family’s 1927 Willys-Knight automobile, Ernie posed with his father and mother, Ernest and Clara, and sister, Ruthellen, in 1936 after driving through the Wawona Tree in Yosemite National Park. For a little more color, check out these photos of national parks in full bloom.
Five days through the mountains
Gordon and his buddies had a barrel of fun driving from Detroit, Michigan, to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee in 1938. It took five days. They each spent $5 during the trip.
Mount Rainier winter fun
After a crash course in downhill skiing, visiting Mount Tacoma, the locals’ name for Mount Rainier, became Ruth’s winter tradition.
1940s: Boy Scout Camp
Burt recorded many memories with his Kodak Baby Brownie camera, including a trip to Boy Scout Camp at Hidden Lake, Yosemite National Park, in 1940. If you’re planning to visit, make sure you never take these pictures in national parks.
Getting close to Mount Rushmore
In 1940, Roy climbed to the top of Mount Rushmore and took pictures of the faces while standing on the heads of the presidents. This, of course, is strictly prohibited today.
Red buses loaded with tourists take a break at Logan Pass, the apex of the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road, which cuts through Glacier National Park, where Herman worked as a tour bus driver, or “gear jammer” in the 1940s.
In 1946, Florence and her husband, Bob, bought a Kozy Coach house trailer and set off for California. In Arizona, they left the trailer at a gas station and drove down the narrow, rocky road to the Grand Canyon. These national parks look even more beautiful in the fall.
Making new friends
When Diane’s family visited Mount Rainier in 1947, a black-tailed deer took a liking to her—or maybe it was the bread in her hand.
Betty’s father was a painter and must have had a contract with the Forest Service because every spring, starting in 1947 when she was 5 months old, her family packed up a truck, trailer, and boat and headed for Yellowstone National Park. They had a special camping spot at Fishing Bridge with several other families. The Fishing Bridge Museum, designed by architect Herbert Maier, is designated as a National Historic Landmark. In this photo, big sister Linda holds Betty’s hand.
1950s: Can I get a ride?
In the summer of 1950, Howard snapped this picture as a bear leaned into the backseat of his Plymouth at Yellowstone. It almost looks like a carhop taking an order at a drive-in. If you want to avoid the crowds and see more animals, try visiting one of these national parks that are off the beaten path.
Traveling for weeks
In 1954, Richard took an 11,000-mile road trip from New Jersey to the West Coast with his friend, Boris. About five nights a week, they slept in the 1948 Pontiac Convertible. It took a month to reach Seattle after stops in the Badlands, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks.
Back in 1956, Uncle Walt and cousins Mark and Ken picked up Jim and his Dad, Les, in Illinois, for an unforgettable trip to the East Coast. Ken seemed unfazed by the monuments and memorials found at Gettysburg National Military Park, while Mark and Jim perched jauntily on the wheels of a cannon.
Marguerite’s dad (in red) loved Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. In his younger days, he climbed far up Rainier itself (in the background). This 1957 photo shows him on his favorite hike, at the top of Pinnacle Peak.
Watching a geyser
Road tripping was a blast for the Solem family in their 1958 Rambler station wagon. At Yellowstone National Park, brothers Paul and Tim observe a geyser. These national parks are even more spectacular on starry nights.
1960s: Roadside bears
In 1966, Anita traveled to Yellowstone with her husband and daughter for vacation. She says they saw so many bears sitting by the roadside—nearly 70 in one week!
Resting on the mountain
The Worley family takes a breather after hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1967.
Cross country trip
At the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, David, age 7, took a picture of his parents, Bob and Roberta, and sister, Debra, on part of a 23-day cross country road trip in 1969.
1970s: Rock souvenir
Cindy, at age 9, holds a chunk of mineralized wood she got at the Petrified Forest National Park in 1970. Today she still has that same piece of rock. If you want to bring Fido on your trip, visit one of these dog-friendly national parks.
Take in the views
In 1971, my grandparents, Beverly and Walton, road-tripped with friends to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here they are on the Skylift, taking in views around Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
First summer of exploring
Newlyweds Judy and Patrick spent their first summer together exploring Yellowstone in 1972. They fished for trout, hiked the trails, admired the elk herds and flew around the park in a helicopter.
Snowfalls up to 27 inches made winter camping in Grand Teton National Park very memorable for Katherine and her husband, Larry, in 1973. For more photos of parks in the winter, check out these national parks covered in snow.