Saturday, November 21, 2015

Are you actually visiting a ‘national park’?

Brandywine Falls at Cuyahoga Valley State Park.
Often local tourism agencies and business groups will refer to the “national park” near their community. If you’ve done any amount of traveling, such statements on websites and in brochures would lead you to believe that there are hundreds of national parks!

The truth of that matter is that many of those agencies and business boosters actually are referring to units administered by the National Park Service. The park service oversees more than 400 units, of which only 59 are actual national parks.

The types of units the park service manages are broken into more than 20 categories. Among the more common ones are national historical parks, national historic sites, national monuments, national memorials, national military parks, national battlefield parks, national battlefield sites, national battlefields, national preserves, and national reserves.

Other agencies also run parklands set aside for public use. The U.S. Forest Service overseas national forests. States and counties typically manage what are smaller versions of national parks and national forests. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handles wildlife refuges while the Bureau of Land Management is in charge of wilderness areas.

As national forests and state parks adjoin national parks, travelers sometimes don’t know when they’ve entered one unit or left another. Sometimes these different units even are operated as a single park, to save costs (as is the case with the array of public lands protecting redwoods in northwestern California).

National parks generally are considered the crown jewels of the park service’s outdoor experiences. When visiting a national park, though, don’t discount the surrounding state parks, national forests, and other recreational areas, as they also offer excellent sights to see. They’re also often less crowded than a national park.

Guides to day hiking trails in our national parks:
• Acadia
• Cuyahoga Valley
• Grand Teton
• Great Smoky Mountains
• Yosemite

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.