The Different Units Within the National Park Service

The Nation­al Park Ser­vice might be best known for its col­lec­tion of amaz­ing Nation­al Parks, but along­side the 58 Nation­al Parks that span the coun­try, there are also an addi­tion­al 350 units with­in the Nation­al Park Ser­vice (408 total). Some of these addi­tion­al areas are small, some are huge and all offer sig­nif­i­cant cul­tur­al, his­tor­i­cal and envi­ron­men­tal val­ues that are worth check­ing out. And while the list is long, to help you under­stand the mean­ing behind the dif­fer­ent NPS des­ig­na­tions, as well as give you an idea of which ones to vis­it, here is a com­plete list of the dif­fer­ent units with­in the Nation­al Park Service.

©istockphotoNation­al Parks
The cream of the crop in the NPS, there are 58 Nation­al Parks spread through­out the coun­try with each pro­vid­ing their own unique land­scapes to explore. From the bot­tom of Grand Canyon Nation­al Park to the peak of Mount Rainier Nation­al Park, from the vis­tas of Shenan­doah Nation­al Park to the soli­tude of Isle Roy­al Nation­al Park, unbe­liev­able beau­ty can be found around every cor­ner of our nation’s Nation­al Parks, all wait­ing for you to explore.

Nation­al Monument
The dis­tinc­tion between a Nation­al Mon­u­ment and Nation­al Park is that a Nation­al Mon­u­ment holds with­in itself objects of his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and/or sci­en­tif­ic inter­est. For exam­ple, the George Wash­ing­ton Birth­place Nation­al Mon­u­ment has clear his­tor­i­cal val­ue, the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty Nation­al Mon­u­ment holds deep­en­ing cul­tur­al val­ue, and the John Day Fos­sil Beds Nation­al Mon­u­ment is a great place for sci­en­tif­ic discovery.

©istockphotoNation­al Preserve
Of the 19 Nation­al Pre­serves super­vised by the NPS, 10 of them are in Alas­ka. Not much dif­fer­ent than the Nation­al Parks, Nation­al Pre­serves dif­fer by per­mit­ting cer­tain resource extrac­tion with­in their bor­ders. That means you can fish, hunt, and trap in both Denali and Gates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park and Pre­serve, and oil extrac­tion is reg­u­lat­ed by the Park Ser­vice in Big Thick­et Nation­al Pre­serve in Texas.

©istockphotoNation­al His­toric Park & Nation­al His­toric Site
Of the 78 Nation­al His­toric Sites, every sin­gle one of them focus­es on one par­tic­u­lar build­ing or grounds where his­to­ry took place (i.e. MLK Jr.’s home at the Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Nation­al His­toric Site). A Nation­al His­toric Park on the oth­er hand gen­er­al­ly goes beyond the spe­cif­ic site and has a larg­er area to explore (i.e. Cha­co Cul­ture Nation­al His­tor­i­cal Park). With­in these two cat­e­gories also lies the NPS’s only Inter­na­tion­al His­toric Site, Saint Croix Island.

©istockphotoNation­al Bat­tle­field Park / Mil­i­tary Park / Bat­tle­field / Bat­tle­field Site
Nation­al Bat­tle­field Parks, Mil­i­tary Parks, Bat­tle­fields, and a sin­gu­lar Bat­tle­field Site (Brices Cross Roads) make up the 25 bat­tle sites pre­served by the NPS for their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. A few famil­iar bat­tle sites in these cat­e­gories may include Anti­etam Nation­al Bat­tle­field, Rich­mond Nation­al Bat­tle­field Park, and Get­tys­burg Nation­al Mil­i­tary Park.

©istockphotoNation­al Memorial
With­out too much of a stretch of the imag­i­na­tion, Nation­al Memo­ri­als are des­ig­nat­ed to com­mem­o­rate cer­tain events or peo­ple sig­nif­i­cant to nation­al his­to­ry. The most com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed place for memo­ri­als is Wash­ing­ton D.C. which includes memo­ri­als such as the Lin­coln Memo­r­i­al and Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Memo­r­i­al, but there are also many oth­ers includ­ing Flight 93 Memo­r­i­al in Penn­syl­va­nia and Wright Broth­ers Nation­al Mon­u­ment in North Carolina.

©istockphotoNation­al Recre­ation Area
Nation­al Recre­ation Areas with­in the Unit­ed States are main­ly run by the NPS, but oth­ers fall with­in the sanc­tion of the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment and the For­est Ser­vice. Of the Nation­al Recre­ation Areas man­aged by the NPS, many are cen­tral­ly based on water reser­voirs includ­ing Lake Chelan Nation­al Recre­ation Area in Wash­ing­ton and the first NRA, Lake Mead, in Ari­zona. Oth­ers are based on sur­round­ing metrop­o­lis­es includ­ing the first “Urban Nation­al Park”, the Gold­en Gate Nation­al Recre­ation Area.

©istockphotoNation­al Seashore and Nation­al Lakeshore
What the NPS lacks in cre­ativ­i­ty for their nam­ing process, they make up for in a wide range of scenic beau­ty. As in the title, Nation­al Seashores and Lakeshores are areas of land bor­der­ing great bod­ies of water, and whether you get to vis­it the Cape Cod or Point Reyes Nation­al Seashore, or you check out Apos­tle Islands and Indi­ana Dunes Nation­al Lakeshore, you are guar­an­teed quite the sight and appre­ci­a­tion for these near water locations.

©istockphotoNation­al River
There aren’t too many Nation­al Rivers under the NPS, only five in fact, but as you can guess they cov­er a lot of ground. Includ­ing in this cat­e­go­ry is the Buf­fa­lo Nation­al Riv­er, which is one of the few remain­ing undammed rivers in the Unit­ed States, and the New Riv­er Gorge Nation­al Riv­er in West Vir­ginia which is a mec­ca for kayak­ers, climbers, and base jumpers from across the world. Also includ­ed in this list are Big South Fork Nation­al Riv­er and Recre­ation Area, Mis­sis­sip­pi Nation­al Riv­er and Recre­ation Area, and the Ozark Nation­al Scenic Riverways.

©istockphotoNation­al Reserve
Fit­ting right in with Nation­al Pre­serves, a Nation­al Reserve is an area of cul­tur­al or bio­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance pro­tect­ed from fur­ther devel­op­ment. And like pre­serves, the two Nation­al Reserves with­in the NPS also offer some of the best recre­ation oppor­tu­ni­ties you can find includ­ing the rock climb­ing at City of Rocks Nation­al Reserve in Ida­ho and scenic hikes to be found at Ebey’s Land­ing Nation­al His­toric Reserve in the Puget Sound of Washington.

©istockphotoNation­al Parkway
Nation­al Park­ways are per­haps the only units with­in the NPS that rep­re­sent true auto­mo­bile trav­el. But we’re not talk­ing about the Auto­bahn here, instead, the 4 Nation­al Park­ways — Blue Ridge, George Wash­ing­ton Memo­r­i­al, John D. Rock­e­feller, and the Natchez Trace Park­way — all encour­age plen­ty of pullovers and a strict speed lim­it that hov­ers around 35 miles per hour.

©istockphotoNation­al Scenic Trail
While there are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent Nation­al Scenic Trails, Nation­al His­toric Trails, and Nation­al Recre­ation Trails in the Unit­ed States, the NPS only offi­cial­ly claims three Nation­al Scenic Trails under their reg­u­la­tion. These three trails are the 450-mile Natchez Trace Nation­al Scenic Trail, the mul­ti-sport Potomac Her­itage Nation­al Scenic Trail, and per­haps the most famous trail of them all, the Appalachi­an Nation­al Scenic Trail.