National Park Or National Forest?

The view from the parkway of a large rock dome (Looking Glass Rock) in Pisgah National Forest. The forest stretches to the horizon.
The Parkway travels through four national forests in Virginia and North Carolina. Many overlooks along the parkway offer spectacular views of the surrounding national forests, such as this view of Looking Glass Rock in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.

Harold Blackwood photo.


What's in a Name?

National Park or National Forest. Park ranger or forest ranger... Is there a difference between these often confused names? The answer is yes! National parks and national forests have very different purposes, but together they provide us all with a wide spectrum of uses.

National parks focus on protecting natural and historic resources "unimpaired for future generations." Park rangers work for the National Park Service (NPS) under the Department of Interior.

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. The national forests are managed by forest rangers with the US Forest Service (USFS) under the Department of Agriculture.

But is the Blue Ridge Parkway a National Park?

The National Park Service preserves the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The system includes 414 areas covering more than 84 million acres. National Park Service units are located in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. National Park Service areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, the White House...and four national parkways. Each unit tells a unique piece of the American story. And all operate under National Park Service rules.

Learn more about national park designations.

Differing Rules and Regulations

Because they have different purposes, national forests adjoining the parkway have very different rules. For example, the parkway forbids hunting, while some national forests allow it. Because the Blue Ridge Parkway travels through several national forests, visitors need to pay attention to where they are. A perfectly legal activity in a national forest may be against the law on the parkway.

When you visit the Blue Ridge Parkway, stop at a visitor center to pick up a free map to see where you are and which rules apply, or ask a park ranger. In this case, there is a lot in a name.

Visit the US Forest Service website to learn more about National Forests.

National forests surrounding The Blue Ridge Parkway:

Last updated: December 26, 2022

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