Where to Go
How varied are your expedition options? Let's put it this way: a National Park is not a National Forest is not a National Recreation Area. Below are the different designations that you will come across in your expeditions. And note: these don't even include the parks and landmarks on the state, county and local level. So if you say you don't know where to go, you're not looking hard enough.
National Parks are areas of national significance containing a variety of resources and encompassing a large land or water area. Each Park has been set aside for the preservation and protection of the resources and dedicated to public use and inspiration, and at times including significant historic assets. Hunting, mining and consumptive activities are not authorized. National Parks are only created by Acts of Congress.
~~Prime Example: Yellowstone National Park, WY/MT/ID: In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law declaring that Yellowstone would forever be "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," and made it the first National Park.
A National Monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. They are generally smaller than a National Park, but instead of being created by Congress, the President can unilaterally declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic, natural or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments.
~~Prime Example: Devil's Tower National Monument, WY: Using the authority of the newly created Antiquities Act, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower America's first National Monument on September 24, 1906.
National Preserves are areas having characteristics associated with National Parks, but in which Congress has permitted continued public hunting, trapping, oil/gas exploration and extraction. Many existing National Preserves, without sport hunting, would qualify for National Park designation.
~~Prime Example: Big Thicket National Preserve, TX: Big Thicket was the first Preserve in the National Park System established October 11, 1974, and protects an area of rich biological diversity. It was later designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
=National Historic Site
A National Historic Site contains a single historical site, building, and object of national historical significance that was directly associated with its subject. Derived from the Historic Sites Act of 1935, a number of historic sites were established by various Secretaries of the Interior.
~~Prime Example: Salem Maritime National Historic Site, MA: Salem Maritime, the first National Historic Site in the National Park System, was established to preserve and interpret the maritime history of New England and the United States.
=National Historical Park
Much like National Historical Sites, this designation generally applies to historic sites that extend beyond single properties or buildings.
~~Prime Example: Independence National Historic Park, PA: Independence National Historical Park, located in downtown Philadelphia, is often referred to as the birthplace of our nation. At the park, visitors can see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. A section of the park where Benjamin Franklin's home once stood is dedicated to teaching about Franklin's life and accomplishments. Spanning approximately 45 acres, the park has about 20 buildings open to the public.
A National Memorial is commemorative of a historic person or episode of national significance; it need not occupy a site historically connected with its subject.
~~Prime Example: General Grant National Memorial: The granite and marble structure was completed in 1897 and remains the largest mausoleum in North America. Is the home of the legendary "Grant's Tomb," where General Grant and wife, Julia Dent Grant, are buried.
These areas are associated with American military history and this general title includes areas designated as national battlefields, national battlefield parks, national battlefield sites, and national military parks. National Cemeteries are often located within National Battlefields. These Parks are established by Acts of Congress.
~~Prime Example: Manassas National Battlefield Park, VA: Established in 1940 to preserve the scene of two major Civil War battles and provides the opportunity for visitors to explore the historic terrain where men fought and died for their beliefs a century ago.
=National Recreation Area
National Recreation Areas are diverse areas which include lands and waters set aside for recreation use, including areas in urban centers. These parks combine scarce open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources and important natural areas in location that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people. The major difference between National Recreation Areas and National Parks are that motorized vehicles are allowed in the backcountry and waterways of Recreation Areas.
~~Prime Example: Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV/AZ: Lake Mead was the first National Recreation Area created and offers a wealth of things to do and places to go year-round. Its huge lakes cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers.
=National Seashore/National Lakeshore
National Seashores and Lakeshores preserve shoreline areas and off-shore islands and have been set aside to preserve natural values while at the same time providing water orientated recreation. Some are developed and some relatively primitive. Hunting is allowed at many of these sites.
~~Prime Example: Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC: Stretched over 70 miles of barrier islands, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a fascinating combination of natural and cultural resources, and provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities.
There are several variations to this category: National River & Recreation Area, National Scenic River, Wild River, Wild & Scenic River, etc. Rivers are designated as wild, scenic or recreational and are classified according to the natural qualities they possess. The first was authorized in 1964 and others were established following passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.
~~Prime Example: Buffalo National River, AR: Established as America's first National River, the Buffalo River is one of the few remaining unpolluted, free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states offering both swift-running and placid stretches. The Buffalo National River encompasses 135 miles of the 150-mile long river.
The term "parkway" refers to a roadway and the parkland paralleling the roadway. These parks were intended for scenic "recreational" motoring along a protected corridor and often connect cultural sites.
~~Prime Example: Blue Ridge Parkway, NC/VA: The Blue Ridge Parkway, sometimes called "America's Favorite Drive", is the most visited unit of America's National Park System. A trip down the Parkway provides stunning, long range vistas and close-up looks at the natural and cultural history of the southern Appalachian mountains. The 469 mile drive is designed as a drive-awhile and stop-awhile experience, so no need to rush.
There are four types of trails: congressionally designated long-distance National Scenic Trails and National Historic Trails, side or connecting trails and National Recreation Trails.
~~Prime Example: The Appalachian Trail: This National Scenic Trail is the king of long distance trails. It stretchs from Maine to Georgia and 11 states in between, and provides for wonderful hiking as it hugs the crests of the Appalachian Mountains.
=National Forest/National Grassland
While National Parks emphasize strict preservation of pristine areas. National Forests, on the other hand, emphasize not only resource preservation, but other kinds of use as well. Under this concept of "multiple use", national forests are managed to provide Americans with a wide variety of services and commodities, including lumber, cattle grazing, mineral products and recreation with and without vehicles. National Forests and National Grasslands are managed by the United States Forest Service (which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture),
~~Prime Example: Shoshone National Forest, WY: The first National Forest created consists of some 2.4 million acres of varied terrain ranging from sagebrush flats to rugged mountains.