Apparently Craters of the Moon National Monument wants to become a National "Park" instead of a monument. We know that a national forest is USDA vs. Interior, but what difference does it make if an area is a national monument instead of a national park? Is there any legal difference in ownership, use, or rules? In a national park, for example, I am restricted to camping in designated spots only. But in the national forests that surround it, I can usually boondock or do dispersed camping as I like.

Put another way, if I visit a national park, are there things I can't do if its only a monument, or vice versa?

  • @CGCampbell It's borderline, but I think the last sentence makes it relevant.
    – choster
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 15:43
  • This question should be migrated to The Great Outdoors.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 16:08
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about categories of protected areas in the USA, which is not specific to travel. It fits much better on The Great Outdoors.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 16:09
  • I think this is a reasonable question. I assume the intent is to focus on differences that are relevant to travelers visiting such areas, and maybe an edit can make that even more explicit. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 20:20
  • 1
    I think this question fits both sites and since it was asked here, I'm going to cast the missing reopen vote. Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 14:03

1 Answer 1


Protected Areas

Internationally speaking, both natural parks and natural monuments are defined as protected areas, which, according to its current definition from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN), means:

A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

The ICUN states that this is the most widely used definition internationally. Indeed, any protected area listed on the World Database of Protected Areas must comply with it.

Regulatory Categories

Moreover, the ICUN divides protected areas into 7 categories, in which we can find natural parks and natural monuments:

  • Category Ia — Strict Nature Reserve
  • Category Ib — Wilderness Area
  • Category II — National Park
  • Category III — Natural Monument or Feature
  • Category IV — Habitat/Species Management Area
  • Category V — Protected Landscape/Seascape
  • Category VI – Protected Area with sustainable use of natural resources

These categorical distinctions provide guidelines to the purpose and regulation to be applied to different areas. Quoting from the ICUN website:

II: National Park

Similar to the objectives of Wilderness Areas, National Parks provide protection for functioning ecosystems, but tend to be more lenient with human visitation and the supporting infrastructure. National Parks are managed in a way that may contribute to local economies through promoting educational and recreational tourism on a scale that will not reduce the effectiveness of conservation efforts. The surrounding areas of a National Park may be for consumptive or non-consumptive use, but should nevertheless act as a barrier for the defence of the protected area's native species and communities to enable them to remain sustainable in the long term.

III: Natural Monument or Feature

These are comparatively smaller areas that are specifically allocated to protect a natural monument and its surrounding habitats. Natural Monuments or Features can be natural in the wholest sense, or include elements that have been influenced or introduced by humans. The latter should hold biodiversity associations or could otherwise be classified as a historical or spiritual site, though this distinction can be quite difficult to ascertain. As such,The classification then falls into two subcategories, those in which the biodiversity in uniquely related to the conditions of the natural feature, and those in which the current levels of biodiversity are dependent on the presence of the sacred sites that have created an essentially modified ecosystem. Natural Monuments or Features have a high cultural or spiritual value which can be utilised to gain support for conservation challenges.

USA National Monuments and Parks

According to Wikipedia, in the USA the difference between a national park and a national monument lie in the fact that the former can be declared by the President of the USA, without him having to seek the approval of Congress.

In terms of the general general regulatory differences between monuments and parks in the USA, I think that a a single answer cannot be formulated. This is partly due to the fact that protected areas in the USA are not managed by a single entity. Indeed some are county-, other are state-managed. Moreover, some protected areas are used for commercial exploitation. Here is a bit more info on protected areas in the USA. Bottom line is that different areas have different rules, so always check in advance.

As a final thought I would say that the USA regulations tend to follow the guidelines set by the ICUN. For example, this is true for national parks, which are often not only open to tourists but also "exploitable" (fishing, camping, etc.).

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