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The (Many) Different Types of Public Land

America passes down a wonderful legacy from generation to generation. Our unique system of public lands is preserved and protected for all to enjoy.

The country can hike through national parks, camp in national forests, or collect seashells along a national seashore. Boating at Corps of Engineers sites or riding ATVs on designated Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcels is a right of all Americans.

Our public lands, whether they be federal, state, or local, are gifts that keep on giving.

What Are Public Lands Used For?

From national parks to wildlife refuges, America’s public lands protect fragile landscapes, flora, and fauna. Moreover, they preserve events, activities, places, and people essential to our country’s history and success. You can discover trails, seashores, historic sites, and wild rivers. Visit national battlefields to learn how Americans fought for freedom. A

dditionally, you can camp in a favorite national forest, where all can enjoy the public lands.

Many types of public lands have that designation to provide recreation for those who camp, boat, fish, or hike. Others prevent flooding, as with some Corps of Engineers lands. On the other hand, some federal entities manage underground minerals and protect natural resources, as with the BLM. 

What’s the Difference Between Private and Public Land?

Individuals own private land, while a community, state, or federal government owns public land. Private land has property taxes paid for by the land owners.

Meanwhile, public land benefits from citizens’ taxes for its upkeep and maintenance. As a result, the land is for public activities, preservation, and protection. 

Man hiking in Yosemite National Park
National parks are some of the most popular public land areas in the US.

The (Many) Different Types of Public Land

Public land comes in many varieties and has as many purposes as there are entities that manage land. Below, we give you the different types and the services that administer public land use and preservation:

National Parks

We are most familiar with the 63 national parks in the U.S. They preserve spectacular landscapes and special locations that hold unique wildlife and plant life. The total amount of land administered by the National Park Service is 84 million acres.

National Forests

National forest land is all across the country. They protect and improve forests and secure watersheds. And because they are working forests, the U.S. has a continuous supply of lumber. More than 188 million acres are under the National Forest umbrella, and Americans use these forests for outdoor recreation.

Pro Tip: Add these Best National Forests to Visit this Summer to your road trip bucket list.

National Wildlife Refuges

Land and waters managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have this designation to protect, conserve and, in some cases, restore fish, plants, and wildlife. Currently, there are 568 wildlife refuges in the U.S., covering over 150 million acres. 

Man hiking through mountains
Hit the trails by hiking through the USA’s many stunning public lands.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Lands

President Harry Truman created the BLM to oversee the country’s 700 million acres of subsurface minerals and land. Subsequently, those lands are now up to 247 million acres, stretching mainly across 12 western states.

Pro Tip: Want to stay on BLM land? Find out What is BLM Land Camping and how you can spend the night on this type of public land.

Wilderness Areas

The National Wilderness Preservation protects federal wilderness lands, keeping them in their natural state for generations to enjoy. The lands under federal protection equal more than 109 million acres, all within 760 wilderness areas.

National Monuments

One hundred and twenty-nine protected areas now come under the designation of national monuments. Managed under the National Park Service (NPS), these monuments protect historic and prehistoric structures and other objects of scientific interest.

The impetus to create national monuments came under the Antiquities Act, allowing the President to protect prehistoric Indian sites. There are almost 14 million acres set aside as national monuments today.

Person laying in hammock tied to trees
Sleep under the stars in a national forest.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

The National Wild and Scenic Rivers System protects water quality and preserves the natural, cultural and recreational qualities of our nation’s most beautiful riverways. So, 226 rivers fall under the administration of a combination of local agencies and the NPS.

State-Managed Public Lands

All states have some public lands that they manage, for example, state parks, state wildlife areas, and even state forests. These parcels may be called public land trusts. Most are for outdoor recreation, such as camping, fishing, boating, and hunting. Some of these public lands are also for grazing, farming, and mining.

Local/Regional Conservation Areas

These protected areas are managed locally and include nature and conservation areas created to preserve landscapes, wildlife, and plant life. In addition, many have conservancies set up to fund and administer the areas, keeping everything local.

How Do You Like to Use Public Land?

There are more than 640 million acres of public land owned by the federal government. They have been set aside as national parks, monuments, battlefields, and seashores. Likewise, wild and scenic rivers, memorials, historical sites, wildernesses, and wildlife refuges. T

hey are all for your exploration, discovery, and enjoyment. So, make sure you spend time escaping to many of these destinations to appreciate the gifts they bestow.

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: