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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.

Below are a list of our holidays that visit National Parks:

About the author

Alex Kendall

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

Read more articles by Alex | View Alex's Profile

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