UK: +44 (0)1479 420 020
US: 1-866-740-3890
National Geographic - Best Adventure Travel Companies

Top 5 differences between National Parks in the US and UK

Posted on May 27, 2015 by Alex Kendall

Can you compare the Cairngorms National Park with Yosemite?

Wilderness Guide, Alex Kendall looks at the Top 5 differences between National Parks in the US and UK.

1. Wilderness

There is no doubt that the size and remoteness of the US national parks adds to their claim to wilderness. They even have a ‘Wilderness’ designation attached to areas where modern human impact should essentially be zero.

In the UK, people live and work in the national parks, and there are open mines, active forestry and farming within their boundaries. Within the Wilderness of the US parks, some of the larger wildlife must be more carefully considered than the wildlife in the UK.

Protecting food from bears can be a big issue in parks such as Yosemite in the US. However, will larger predators make a return to the UK?

Top 5 differences between National Parks in the US and UK

Black bears roaming close to a main pathway in Yosemite. Photo by Anna from the office after her trip last year.

2. Motive

Check out these articles on the Cairngorms

Although it is great to think of the altruistic influences that set national parks aside for nature conservation and public access to the outdoors, this was more evident in the UK rather than the US.

The UK national parks were finally created following the second world war to get people into nature and were led by a grass roots movement that was dedicated to access.

In the US, although the desire for conservation was there, the main driver behind the creation of Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, was the desire from the railway companies to open up holiday destinations, and get people to them via rail. The national park designation was partly to stop others developing it.

3. Management

Land ownership is very different in the UK and the US, where national parks were designated by the government and remain government property, managed by the national park bodies.

In the UK on the other hand the parks were created in areas where thousands of people had homes and livelihoods where the land was in private ownership.

National park authorities only own tiny amounts of land within the parks, and act more as planning authorities able to veto new development. Having said that, charities like the National Trust do own a lot of land within national parks, and mostly have similar objectives to the park authorities.

The Wilderness Scotland office is located within the Cairngorms National Park, making it a very inspiring place to work!

Top 5 differences between National Parks in the US and UK

The view from the Wilderness Office inside the Cairngorms National Park.

4. Access

The freedom to roam where we want in the hills was the result of years of fighting in the UK. England and Wales have open access lands in most mountainous areas, meaning people can walk where they like.

In Scotland this freedom is more widespread, and the assumption is that an area has public access. Because of the restrictions south of the border before open access rules came along, a vast rights of way network grew up, which frequently crosses moors, goes through fields and leads up mountains.

In the mountains of Scotland this type of network was never needed, so people have become far more used to heading up a mountain with no sign of a path. This attitude has been remarked on by American visitors, who are used to the set trails through US national parks and trekking outside of these paths is less common.

5. Adventure

Despite the many differences between the UK and the US national parks, especially in size and amount of development, the opportunities for adventure are pretty equal!

It’s incredible to think we live on an island which at one end has vineyards and at the other, the arctic plateau of the Cairngorms. So wherever you live, get out there and see the national parks when you can; they were hard won, and each have a lifetime of adventure to offer.

Why not come hiking in the UK’s National Park with us?

Explore one or both of Scotland’s National Parks or join us for a journey around four National Parks in Scotland and Northern England.

Wilderness Walking - The West Highland Way

West Highland Way
Location: Multi-Location
  • Take on the challenge of Scotland's most famous and one of the world's greatest long distance trails - the West Highland Way.
  • Immerse yourself in the spectacular scenery as you walk through the beautiful landscapes of Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe.
  • With the knowledge and experience of an expert guide, learn about the area's history and legends, as well as the flora and fauna along the route.

Price: from £1,495

View Trip Details

Wilderness Walking - National Parks of the UK

National Parks of the UK
Location: Multi-Location
  • Enjoy some of the finest hiking in Britain on this tour of National Parks in Scotland and England
  • Discover the amazing contrast of landscapes from the majestic mountains of the Highlands to the rolling Dales of Yorkshire
  • Try the various Scottish and English delicacies such as whisky in the Highlands, cream tea in Yorkshire and Kendal Mint Cake in the Lakes

Price: from £2,195

View Trip Details

Wilderness Walking - Cairngorms National Park & Royal Deeside

Location: Cairngorms and Central Highlands
  • Hike on ancient whisky smugglers' trails and visit Scotland's first licensed whisky distillery.
  • Discover the majesty of the deep glens, clear rivers and wild lochs on expertly guided walks.
  • Enjoy the huge variety of wildlife to be found in the Cairngorms National Park.

Price: from £1,395

View Trip Details

Wilderness Walking - High Points of the Cairngorms National Park

hiking high points of the cairngorms
Location: Cairngorms and Central Highlands
  • Explore the high reaches and hidden corners of the beautiful Cairngorm Mountains
  • Hike on good trails across the high tundra, looking out for rare wildlife as you walk
  • Enjoy the warm hospitality of our private lodge, with all meals included

Price: from £1,495

View Trip Details

About the author

Alex Kendall

Mountain running fanatic, Alex has adventured all over the planet.

Read more articles by Alex | View Alex's Profile

Popular Categories....

walking Road Cycling Sea Kayaking Mountain Biking How To Video