On 28 July 1954, the catchment areas of Lake Waikaremoana, Lake Waikareiti and other Crown reserves were gazetted as a national park, and by 1957 proposals were well underway to add the rest of the Crown land in Te Urewera north of Ruatahuna. This proposal was formalised in November 1957 when an additional 1,350 km² were added. Further additions were made in 1962, 1975 and 1979, with smaller acquisitions and boundary alterations in the intervening period.
The lake bed and Māori enclaves were not included in the park gazetting. The Crown had leased the lake bed, which was managed by the Department of Conservation.
Te Urewera is the traditional home of the Tuhoe people. Due to its geographical isolation, it was one of the last regions to be claimed by the British during colonisation in the 19th century. Te Kooti, the Māori leader, found refuge there from his pursuers among Tuhoe, with whom he formed an alliance.
In March 2013, Tuhoe signed a deed of settlement, settling the tribe's claims at the Waitangi Tribunal. Under the deal, Tuhoe will get $170 million and more control over Te Urewera. Te Urewera ceased to be a national park under the Te Urewera–Tūhoe Act in 2014. The area is now administered by the Te Urewera Board which comprises joint Tūhoe and Crown membership. It is still open to the public and the Department of Conservation will continue to work in Te Urewera and maintain the tracks and facilities in conjunction with the Board.