Belair National Park has important natural, cultural, historical and recreational values and is the birthplace of the national parks system in South Australia.
The first European people known to have visited the Belair area were crewmen from the ship Coromandel in 1837. Governor Gawler later set this land aside as a government farm in 1840 upon which sick horses and bullocks could be agisted. A few years later the government gained legal title to the farm and proceeded to grow hay and take care of stock belonging to the survey and police departments.
Between 1849 and 1852, the Commissioner of Police took charge of the farm and used it for horses employed in the Gold Escort and other police services.
In the early 1880s, an attempt to subdivide the land was rejected and a bill was passed stating the farm could not be sold. While the farm could not be sold, there were no restrictions on what the land could be used for, so, in 1886, 202 hectares were handed over to the Woods and Forest Department as a forest reserve.
Dedicated in 1891, Belair became the first national park to be established in South Australia and the second national park in Australia. In 1892, the first board of commissioners was appointed.
By the 1920s, after pressure from groups such as the Native Fauna and Flora Protection Committee, policies changed in regards to the conservation of native plants and animals in the park. As a result, the last large scale planting of non-Australian species in the park occurred in 1922 - 700 Japanese cherries were planted on six hectares of land in Sparkes Gully - and in 1923 it was decided all future plantings were to be native to the state.
By 1929, the now well-established Belair National Park had developed 42 tennis courts, several pavilions and ovals and a well-developed road network. This was to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and play an important social function during and after the years of the Great Depression. The park's facilities were also used for military camps during the Second World War.
In 1934, trees were cleared to make way for a nine hole golf course which was built as a means to raise revenue for the park. This course was later extended to an 18 hole golf course in 1941.
In 1972, the National Parks Commission was terminated and control of the park was passed to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Belair Recreation Park was gazetted in 1972 and was re-dedicated to Belair National Park in 1991.