America’s National Parks have long been celebrated as “America’s best idea”. These are indeed iconic places, managed primarily to highlight natural beauty and provide visitor experiences. So ingrained are National Parks in our cultural identify that family trips to Yellowstone, Yosemite or Grand Canyon National Park are revered as highlights in our nostalgic childhoods.
But here’s the problem. National Parks are overrated. Here’s four reasons why they’re overrated and why you should visit a National Forest for your next nature getaway.
National Parks are Limited
Compared to the different types of federally managed public lands, National Parks are quite limited. They cover a grand total of 89.6 million acres. While this is most certainly a large area, it pales in comparison to other public lands. Our National Forests and Grasslands, for example, contain an impressive 193 million acres of public land – more than twice the size of the entire National Park system. And the Bureau of Land Management manages an incredible 247.3 million acres. Of our federally managed public lands, National Parks are by far the smallest subset.
(Some) National Parks are Overcrowded
The high regard with which Americans hold National Parks has led to a very big problem in managing visitation – at least for the popular parks. Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia National Parks – are dealing with incredible overcrowding problems. Social media and technology and the popularity of sites are only adding to the problem of overcrowding. In 2016 alone National Parks saw an unprecedented 330 million visitors. As visitation increases, managers are struggling to deal with the impacts of visitation: overcrowding, long lines, traffic congestion and trash.
A survey of entry rates for our National Parks will show that they are variable. In Montana, which contains two of the most popular National Parks – Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks – entrance fees vary from $20 – $35. And they are only going to increase. Why? As the popularity of our parks boom, we will undoubtedly see increased visitation fees to help defray the costs of ensuring visitor experiences are positive in the face of surging. Other federally managed public lands on the other hand, are free.
National Parks are also not friendly to most user groups. That is, your experience in a National Park is largely relegated to paved sidewalks and boardwalks. There are strict limitations on where you can and cannot go. Unless you’re an intrepid adventure seeking to get off the paved path, your experience in a National Park will be strikingly similar to walking on a sidewalk. For those looking to mountain bike, kayak, snowmobile, you’re best suited to find another place.
National Forests are Better
If you’re getting tired of long lines and expensive park visits, here’s my recommendation – discover your National Forests.
Our National Forests contain 193 million acres of awe-inspiring land. It’s the crown jewel of our public land system, and it’s sitting right under your nose.
Benefits of National Forests include:
- Free access
- A diversity of activities – snowmobile, atv, hiking, hunting, fishing, etc.
- No overcrowding
- 2/3 of Americans live within 100 miles of a National Forest.
- Awe-inspiring beauty