National Forests

National Parks vs. National Forests: What’s the Difference?

by Three Bears Lodge on May 26, 2010 Category: Did You Know?

Mount Rainier National Park Entrance

For the average person, there’s a little-known distinction between our National Parks and our National Forests. Many believe them to be more or less the same thing, and in many ways, they can be! Both are large, natural areas owned and managed by the Federal government, both are devoted to the protection of America’s natural heritage, and both are intended to educate and entertain us when we feel that urge to reconnect with the world around us.

America’s First National Park

National Park Service Logo

Logo of the National Park Service

In 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act establishing Yellowstone as the country’s first National Park. Yellowstone, home to Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful, was the first in a legacy of National Parks that stretches nearly a century and a half into the future.

Created in 1916, the primary purpose of the National Park Service is to manage the 84.9 million acres of land in the National Park System. The Park Service has a minimal impact policy when it comes to protecting the National Parks. Most people have heard this policy in the form of slogans, such as “Leave only footprints, take only pictures.”

Here’s some quick facts about the National Park Service:

  • Of the 84.9 million acres under management, Alaska has 55 million acres
  • 3.6% of all land in the U.S. is in the National Park System!
  • Hunting, fishing, and logging are not allowed on National Park land
  • There are 26,830 campsites, located in a total of 776 campgrounds!
  • There are a total of 55 National Parks
  • The National Park Service also manages 24 historic National Battlefields, 74 National Monuments, 10 National Seashores, and 54 Wilderness Areas
  • There were 272 million visits to National Park Service lands in 2007
  • 154,000 volunteers donated 5.1 million hours of time in 2007, saving the Park Service over 92 million dollars

Here at Three Bears Lodge, we’re lucky to be located near a protected natural haven of our own. Our cabins are located just moments outside Mount Rainier National Park, and provide an inspiring opportunity to spend the day discovering the Northwest’s richest arboreal treasures. You can explore it almost any way you like, from ranger-guided tours to motorcycle or the seat of a car, on two wheels for biking the trails or two feet for hiking them. While hunting and fishing are prohibited, feel free to capture as many wild animals on film as you like (or mountain meadows, blossoming flowers, bubbling streams, and alpine lakes)!

National Forests: “The Greatest Amount of Good for The Greatest Amount of People”

US Forest Service Logo

Logo of the US Forest Service

Unlike the National Park Service, which defends and protects our National Parks, the US Forest Service acts more as a steward to our National Forests. Where the National Parks function somewhat like a forested museum, the National Forests operate as a natural resource to the public at large.

Though the land is owned by the government, commercial activities such as logging, grazing livestock, and recreational pastimes are all allowed and regulated. Many popular skiing and snowboarding destinations are located on National Forest land, and hunting, fishing, camping, water sports, and picnicking are all popular outdoor activities.

The first Chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, offered a simple and accurate summary of the National Forests’ purpose: “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.” The National Forests are a functional complement to the grandeur and treasured beauty of the National Parks.

Here’s some quick facts about the US Forest Service:

  • There are over 192 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands located in 42 states
  • 122,000 campsites located in 4,300 campgrounds
  • An average of 205 million visits to National Forests annually

National Parks and National Forests Working Together

Here in Ashford you get the best of both worlds. Though our cabins are located next to the National Park entrance, most of the land to the South of the park, including Mount St. Helens, is part of Gifford Pinchot National Forest. One of our cabins even backs up to National Forest right in the back yard!

To the North of the National Park, you’ll find the beginning of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which winds its way North through the Cascades all the way to the Canadian border. Both forests offer a truly rugged outdoor experience and allow many activities that you might not be able to do in the National Park, not to mention allowing dogs.

Photo courtesy Kane Jamison