Prior to European settlement, the park was part of the territory of the Paramangk Aboriginal people. In the language of the Kaurna, traditional landowners of the Adelaide Plains, Para Wirra means 'river with a scrub'. The park was initially proposed as a reservation in 1950 and subsequently declared a National Park in 1962. It was the second national park in South Australia, after Belair National Park, but renamed as a recreation park in 1972. The park includes some reminders of a 1860s rush to mine alluvial gold, including buildings related to the "Lady Alice" mine. The Lady Alice was noted in 1890 as one of the few mines in the area yielding useful amounts of gold.