In the second half of the twentieth century, after World War II, American tourism to national parks surged. With the National Park Service’s hundredth anniversary fast-approaching in 1966, the U.S. government launched an initiative called Mission 66 to improve and revitalize national parks throughout the country to meet the new visitor demand as well as commemorate the anniversary.
As part of this improvement initiative, Mission 66 planners and architects developed the concept of the “visitor center” to streamline and standardize visitor services at federal parks nationwide. During the ten-year program, architects built approximately one hundred new visitor centers. Most of these “Mission 66 visitor centers” followed then-contemporary modernist architectural sensibilities and focused on creating open space to highlight the natural environment. Several of the most notable visitors centers are in the Intermountain West. Some of these have become historic sites in and of themselves, and all remain in operation today.