Cultural Landscape Categories

The National Park Service recognizes four cultural landscape categories: historic designed landscapes, historic vernacular landscapes, historic sites, and ethnographic landscapes. These landscape categories help to distinguish the values that make them cultural resources and to determine how they should be treated, managed, and interpreted.

The four cultural landscape categories are not mutually exclusive. A landscape may be associated with a significant event, include designed or vernacular characteristics, and be significant to a specific cultural group. For example, Gettysburg National Military Park is a historic site primarily significant as the scene of the 1863 Civil War battle. The park also includes historic vernacular farm complexes that existed at the time of the battle, as well as a number of designed components added later to commemorate the event, such as a national cemetery, roads, and numerous monuments.

The cultural landscape program focuses on landscapes listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Designed Landscape

A round fountain on a pedestal stands where two paths cross in a garden of colorful flowershs cross in a garden
The Mansion Gardens at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is a designed landscape.


Historic designed landscapes are deliberate artistic creations that reflect a defined style or landscape architecture or exemplify the work of a notable designer. These were consciously designed and laid out either by a master gardener, landscape architect, architect, or horticulturalist to a design principle, or by an owner or other amateur according to a recognized style or tradition. Examples of designed landscapes include the twelve-acre Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C. with its features that evoke elements of French and Italian Renaissance gardens.

Designed landscapes also include those associated with important persons, trends, or events in the history of landscape architecture, such as Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Selected Guidance

Historic Site

Landsape in front of a brick school includes an oval reflecting pool, trees and turf, entrance staircase, buses, and row of houses across the street
Cultural landscape of Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site.


Historic sites are significant for their associations with important events, activities, and persons. Battlefields and presidential homes are examples. At these places, existing features and conditions are defined and interpreted primarily in terms of what happened there at particular times in the past.

Selected Guidance

Historic Vernacular Landscape

Rows of lavender and low plants grow in a wide field in front of a two-story wooden house.
Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is a vernacular landscape.


Historic vernacular landscapes illustrate peoples' values and attitudes toward the land and reflect patterns of settlement, use, and development over time. They act as documents that provide insight into everyday life and culture in a particular place and time. Vernacular landscapes are found in large rural areas and small suburban and urban districts. Agricultural areas, fishing villages, mining districts, and homesteads are examples.

The 17,400-acre rural landscape of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve represents a continuum of land use spanning more than a century. It has been continually reshaped by its inhabitants, yet the historic mix of farm, forest, village, and shoreline remains.

In vernacular landscapes, the expression of cultural values, social behavior, and individual actions over time is manifested in physical features and materials and their interrelationships, including patterns of spatial organization, land use, circulation, vegetation, structures, and objects.

Selected Guidance

Ethnographic Landscape

A group of four people walk across a rolling, open landscape past a small lake
Telaquana Corridor in Lake Clark National Park & Preserve in Alaska is an ethnographic landscape.


Ethnographic landscapes are associated with contemporary groups who use and value the land in ways that continue long-established cultural practices.

These traditional associations and uses pre-date the formation of the park. For example, across the landscapes of the Alaska parks, Native Alaskans continue to hunt, fish, trap, and gather, and imbue features with spiritual significance. At Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, the interrelationships between the dynamic natural system of the Delta region and several cultural groups are evident, spanning many generations. Numerous cultural centers maintain ties to distinctive, long-established groups with ethnic identities.

Ethnographic landscapes may include small plant communities, animals, subsistence, and ceremonial grounds that associated people define as heritage resources.

While landscapes that are primarily significant for their ethnographic value are under the purview of the ethnography program, multiple programs and partners may be involved in their documentation and stewardship.

Selected Guidance

The cultural landscape categories are described in Chapter 7 of NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline.

Last updated: September 20, 2023