Why is That A National Park, Forest, Monument, Wilderness or Memorial?

by joeheg

There are many reasons why people enjoy visiting national parks. One of the key reasons is to witness the natural beauty and awe-inspiring landscapes, wildlife, and geological formations that the parks have to offer. National parks also provide a chance to disconnect from the frantic pace of everyday life and completely immerse oneself in nature. National parks also present educational opportunities to learn about the area’s history and cultural significance.

However, there are many more options available than just national parks. There are also national monuments, national monuments and national memorials. Once you start to look around, you’ll notice a variety of names describing the areas. Here’s a quick lesson on what each name means and what you can expect when visiting.

National Park

a man and woman standing in front of a sign

Yosemite National Park

The national parks are the shining gems of the public lands. With over 400 locations nationwide (and around the world – National Park of American Samoa anyone?) National Parks can only be created by Congress and protect the natural and historical nature of the area. They are run by the National Park Service and try to preserve the lands for future generations.

National Forest

a sign on a building

Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests

National Forests can be just as beautiful as National Parks. However, there are some distinct differences. While parklands are protected, forests can have mixed uses not limited to recreation, hunting, forestry and grazing.

National Wildlife Refuges

The wildlife refuges are there to safeguard wildlife populations and their habitats. There’s one of these almost in our backyard. The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge is in Central Florida. The rivers that feed the Everglades start right in the backyards of Disney and Universal.

National Monuments

a man and woman standing in front of a cliff

Montezuma Castle National Monument

National Monuments are created to protect a specific natural, cultural or historic feature. Many of the places that are now National Parks (or Historic Sites, which we’ll cover in a bit) were first designated monuments. Even some of our most iconic parks, like the Grand Canyon, started as a monument.

National Memorials

a woman peeking through a fence

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

These locations memorialize a historic figure or tragic event. While many of the best-known locations are around Washington D.C., there are memorial sites located all around the US, like Hamilton Grange located in Harlem, NY.

National Battlefields

These locations are exactly what you’d imagine. They can go under many different names such as national military park, national battlefield park, national battlefield site and national battlefield but all of them are sites of famous battles. They try to preserve our military history while giving us an opportunity to learn from our past.

Final Thoughts

These are the most popular of the US national sites. There are several others, like National Recreation Areas, National Historical Parks and National Seashores. For the full list, check out this site from the US Department of the Interior.

I’m a bit of a National Park collector but over the years I’ve enjoyed visiting many of these other locations just as much as our visit to the parks. National Parks aren’t the only ones worth visiting as there are countless state parks worth checking out.

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1 comment

pm September 20, 2023 - 9:58 pm

There are 63 National Parks (and not worldwide; they’re all located with a US state or American territory).


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