"We are a nation rich in rivers." ~ Charles Kuralt

Lone kayaker standing on river bank looking at mountains.


The National Park Service (NPS) protects, conserves, recognizes, or manages rivers with various government agencies and private groups in a number of ways. Hundreds of rivers are located in the national parks, protecting both the river and land areas surrounding them.

River Centered Parks

Certain national parks protect and maintain rivers or river segments as their central features; for example, the Colorado River is a main element in the Grand Canyon National Park.

River Centered Parks

National Recreation Areas

These are designated by Congress and provides opportunities for visitors to partake in recreational activities such as swimming, boating, hiking, and camping. Of the 18 NRA's, several have rivers as their central features. NRA's designations are established in naturally outstanding areas. Most emphasize both water based and non water based recreational opportunities (this list includes only free-flowing river valleys, and not rivers impounded as reservoirs).

National Recreation Areas (NRA)

National Rivers

These rivers are designated by Congress and and are preserved with their surrounding environments, essentially as a park. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the Nation's first and only scenic waterway, protecting 134 miles of Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, it includes 19 historic or archaeological sites.

National Rivers

National River and Recreation Areas

National River and Recreation Areas combine the attributes of National Rivers and National Recreation Areas.

National River and Recreation Areas

Wild & Scenic Rivers

Wild and Scenic Rivers are designated by Congress. These rivers are free flowing and protected from damaging development and use. They must contain outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, cultural, historic or similar qualities. As of October 2018, a total of 209 rivers have wild and scenic status, with the National Park Service managing 32 within our boundaries. In addition the National Park Service works cooperatively with states, tribes and partnerships to manage other Wild and Scenic Rivers outside of our boundaries. Learn more about Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The following rivers were added to the National Park System because of their designation as National Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Wild and Scenic River Centered Parks

Eligible Suitable Rivers

Eligible Suitable Rivers are those rivers/river segments that have been found through various National Park Service study processes to be eligible and sometimes suitable to become designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers. The listing of Eligible Suitable Rivers within National Park Service boundaries continues to grow through these studies of eligibility and suitability.

Nationwide Rivers Inventory

The Nationwide Rivers Inventory (NRI) is a listing, maintained by the National Park Service, of more than 3,200 free flowing rivers segments believed to have outstanding and remarkable values (including scenic, recreational, geologic, fish, wildlife, prehistoric/historic and other values), making them potentially eligible for a Wild and Scenic designation. Federal Agencies evaluate potential eligibility of NRI segments on lands that they manage. Private land rivers have not gone through the potential eligibility study process. There are currently 389 NRI segments within our boundaries. Learn more about Nationwide Inventory Rivers in each state.

Last updated: September 24, 2018