In 1872, the U.S. government signed the Yellowstone National Park Act into law and created what the National Park Service (NPS) refers to as "the world's first true national park."

Today, there are thousands of national parks throughout the world, and four of them — Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes — are in Colorado.

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Each of the Centennial State's national parks holds a rich history. But exactly how old are they? Let's find out.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve | Southern Colorado

According to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), President Herbert Hoover designated the Great Sand Dunes as a national monument in 1932. However, it did not become a national park until 2004 — making it Colorado's youngest national park.

Matt Noble // Unsplash
Matt Noble // Unsplash
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Despite this, NPS reports that people first set foot in the area around 11,000 years ago.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park | Western Colorado

Uncover Colorado reports that Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the sixth-youngest one in the U.S. and the second-youngest one in Colorado.

Ryan Milrad // Unsplash
Ryan Milrad // Unsplash
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According to NPS, like the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, President Herbert Hoover designated the area as a national monument in 1933, but it became a national park 66 years later in 1999.

Rocky Mountain National Park | Northern Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is Colorado's second-oldest national park. According to NPS, President Woodrow Wilson designated the park on January 26, 1915.

Dave Willhite // Unsplash
Dave Willhite // Unsplash
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NPS reports that, similar to the Great Sand Dunes, humans first ventured into the area around 11,000 years ago. Stacker notes that, in terms of designation, Rocky Mountain National Park is the ninth-oldest one in the U.S.

Mesa Verde National Park | Southwest Colorado

According to Stacker, Mesa Verde National Park is the seventh-oldest one in the U.S., but it is the oldest national park in Colorado.

Laura Seaman // Unsplash
Laura Seaman // Unsplash
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NPS notes that while the Ancestral Pueblo people came to the area about 1,400 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Mesa Verde National Park on June 29, 1906.


See the must-do activities at every national park in the gallery below.

LOOK: Must-do activities at every national park

Stacker lists the must-do activities at every national park ranked by the annual number of visitors. 

LOOK: Stunning vintage photos capture the beauty of America's national parks

Today these parks are located throughout the country in 25 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The land encompassing them was either purchased or donated, though much of it had been inhabited by native people for thousands of years before the founding of the United States. These areas are protected and revered as educational resources about the natural world, and as spaces for exploration.

Keep scrolling for 50 vintage photos that show the beauty of America's national parks.

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