As I’ve said through all my blog posts, we’ve camped and visited state parks, national parks and even national monuments and forests. I thought it might be time to offer some general explanations about the differences between these parks and where you can find specific information about them.
State parks are an economical camping destination for families just starting out. Usually, there are no fees to visit the parks. However, camping in state parks does require nominal fees, depending on amenities available.
To find information about specific state parks, try googling “state parks in [state you wish to visit].” When I did this, a list of state parks appeared with a picture of each park. I could then click on the park to find information.
Most times, it is first come, first serve for campsites at state parks and some are primitive, which means no electrical hook-ups, pit toilets, no showers or pool or playground. But there is fishing and hiking and swimming in lakes or ponds and star gazing. You can bring your canoe and rafts, but you need to check park rules to be sure you can use motorized boats in the water. The larger lakes and interconnected waterways have rules about washing water craft so as not to spread invasive shell creatures. See my post about the zebra mussels in New York State waterways.
A National Monument is established by presidential proclamation. No vote in Congress is necessary, although Congress can create a national monument by legislation.
Wikipedia has a wonderful list of National Monuments in the United States. It also has a good definition and history of the classification of a park being called a National Monument. Mostly, they are places of historic, prehistoric, and/or scientific interests.
National Forests encompass national grasslands and national recreation areas and wilderness
Wilderness areas have no buildings or amenities and are left raw and rugged. Some of these forests and recreation areas lie inside or adjoin national parks and monuments. Some forests cross into state parks as well. I just learned that New Jersey is among the ten states that do not have a national forest. Our forests are state parks.
A National Park is set aside by an act of Congress. After approval from Congress, the president's signature is required to make the land a national park. You can find a National Park in a particular state here.