6 Presidents with Surprising Connections to U. S. National Parks

Destination: U. S. National Parks

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park

With Presidents’ Day coming up next Monday, I was  interested when I received a press release about various U.S. Presidents and their connections to National Parks. I thank Xanterra, the lodging company, for giving me this idea, and for supplying some of the information.

The President responsible for starting the ball rolling, never visited. The President who loved the west found ways to protect it. One President was a park ranger, one experienced a national park when he did a TV show.  Read about Six Presidents and the National Parks.

President Grant
This picture was probably made around 1870 while Grant was sitting president.

1. Ulysses S. Grant

I always think of President Theodore Roosevelt in relation to U.S. Parks, because of his deep interest in the outdoors and the wilderness areas of the west, but it was actually Ulysses S. Grant who signed the bill in 1872 creating the first National Park in the U.S. and the world, Yellowstone. That launched the system we enjoy today.  But although he traveled all over the world, Grant never visited Yellowstone himself.





President Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt, c. 1915

2. Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt

The National Park Service history includes this information about Theodore Roosevelt and the parks:

 As chief executive from 1901 to 1909, he signed legislation establishing five national parks: Crater Lake, Oregon; Wind Cave, South Dakota; Sullys Hill, North Dakota (later redesignated a game preserve); Mesa Verde, Colorado; and Platt, Oklahoma (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area). Another Roosevelt enactment had a broader effect, however: the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906. While not creating a single park itself, the Antiquities Act enabled Roosevelt and his successors to proclaim ãhistoric landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interestä in federal ownership as national monuments.

Roosevelt did not hesitate to take advantage of this new executive authority. By the end of 1906 he had proclaimed four national monuments: Devils Tower, Wyoming, on September 24 and El Morro, New Mexico, Montezuma Castle, Arizona, and Petrified Forest, Arizona, together on December 8. He was also prepared to interpret the authority expansively, protecting a large portion of the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908. By the end of his term he had reserved six predominantly cultural areas and twelve predominantly natural areas in this manner.

Roosevelt made his final visit to Yellowstone National Park in 1903. (You can read an article detailing Roosevelt’s 1903 trip here.) During that trip he also laid the cornerstone for the Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance to the park. The arch bears the inscription: “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” The northern part of the park was one of my favorite parts because it is more rugged and less visited. The lodge serving that part of the park is the Roosevelt lodge and cabins–true to its namesake, more primitive than the fancy Old Faithful lodge.

President Roosevelt also visited the Grand Canyon – in 1903, before it was a national park and again in 1911. When he visited the Grand Canyon in 1903,  the Harvey company had big plans for development. While he welcomed some of the efforts of the railroads and hoteliers to open the area to tourists, he put them in his place with this remark: “Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

There are now 5 National parks named after Roosevelt, including the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, more than any other president except Lincoln, who also has five.

President Chester A. Arthur
Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President.Portrait by Ole Peter Hansen Balling – 1881

3. Chester Arthur

In 1883, President Chester Arthur rode a horse from the southern to the northern entrance of Yellowstone and met supporters at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel entrance before departing the area aboard the newly completed Northern Pacific Railroad. Although it was still under construction and lacked a complete roof, President Arthur dined at the Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room before his departure.





President Calvin Coolidge
President Calvin Coolidge

4. Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge, known as “Silent Cal,” visited Yellowstone in 1927. Although Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright tried to engage President Coolidge in park-related politics, Coolidge was more interested in fishing than talking.

Coolidge was also pivotal in granting funding for Mount Rushmore. In 1927, he visited Custer State Park in South Dakota’s Black Hills, not far from the site where sculptor Gutzon Borglum planned to carve the giant faces of Mount Rushmore. Borglum hired a plane to fly over the lodge where Coolidge was staying and dropped a wreath from the plane with an invitation for Coolidge to attend a dedication ceremony for the mountain. Coolidge not only agreed to attend but following the ceremony, he promised federal funding for the project.

President Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford, Time Magazine Cover 1976

5. Gerald Ford

I had the great good fortune to meet and talk to President Gerald Ford after his presidency. I was a great fan of the kind and decent man, and thought I had read all about him, but did not realize that  when he visited Yellowstone National Park in 1976, he was already familiar with the park. Ford had been a 23-year-old National Park Service ranger in 1936. One of his duties was to meet and greet VIPs at the Canyon Lodge. He also protected other park rangers who fed bears at the bear-feeding truck, a popular visitor attraction at the time.



President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan, 40th President. Portrait by Aaron Annie Shikler, 1980

6. Ronald Reagan

Long before he became president, actor Ronald Reagan visited Death Valley in 1948 when it was still a national monument. Reagan was a regular host of the wildly popular “Death Valley Days.” Sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax – which was appropriate because the discovery of borax was pivotal in the history of the region – “Death Valley Days” was originally a radio program and then also achieved stunning success as a television program, airing for 16 years before its final episode in 1968. Death Valley was designated a national park 1994.




If you take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway, you are in good company. Grand Canyon Railway has hosted numerous U.S. presidents before, during and after their terms. Those presidential passengers included Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, 1911 and 1912; William Howard Taft in 1909; Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 and Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1950.

Happy President’s Day weekend. Perhaps you should visit a park.  What “Presidential memories” do you have from visiting National Parks? Know any trivia to add to this trove?

Note: The photographs here are from Flickr and used with Creative Commons License. Most are in the public domain, including the one of Theodore Roosevelt which comes from the Library of Congress, via Wikipedia.  Please do click on the photos to learn about the person who contributed them because several have a lot of information connected to the link.


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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

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