Together, our national forests equal the size of Texas. But how much do you know about these public lands that may be closer to home than you think?
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You may know some of our country's most famous national parks by name–Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Everglades National Park–but chances are you live much closer to a national forest. These often overlooked but just as splendid public lands are far more numerous than their national park counterparts and much more accessible to most.

Not only do these lands play a critical role in preserving a sustainable ecosystem for wildlife and humans alike, but they also offer some of the South's most serene and spectacular views. So don't take your local greenery for granted. Take a look at five things you never knew about U.S. national forests and get ready to get out your camping gear.

Anna Ruby Falls At Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia
| Credit: Benjamin Godwin / EyeEm

There's a big difference between national forests and national parks.

They may seem similar at first glance, but the history, use, and management of national parks and national forests are actually quite different. National parks came first, with Yellowstone National Park established in 1872, but national forests weren't far behind. The Forest Reserve Act in 1891 allowed presidents to establish forests reserves, which are now known as national forests.

The biggest difference between national parks and national forests is in the "multiple use" mandate for national forests. The national park service, managed by the Department of the Interior, aims to preserve and protect unique places. These lands are altered as little as possible to safeguard significant historical, cultural, and natural sites across the country. You aren't supposed to pick up a rock and take it home as a souvenir from a national park, for example. Our national forests, on the other hand, are managed by the Department of Agriculture for many purposes, including resource productivity and conservation. In addition to recreation, logging, grazing, and mineral extraction are allowed in these areas.

Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah National Forest
Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina
| Credit: Adam Jones / Getty Images

More than 7 in 10 Americans live within 100 miles of a national forest.  

According to the National Forest Foundation, you might live closer to a national forest than you think. The 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands managed by the National Forest Service more than double the total acreage of our national parks, offering easier access and a wealth of adventure. The forest service even has an interactive map to help you find hiking, campsites, biking, and nature viewing near you.

Talimena Scenic Drive Arkansas
Talimena Scenic Drive in Arkansas
| Credit: zrfphoto / Getty Images

National forests contain 138 scenic byways.

You don't have to get out of the car to take in the view. About 45,000 miles of designated roads will let you soak it all in from the driver's seat. Peppered with places to stop along the way, these roads include paved and unpaved pathways through scenic country and provide access for hiking, biking, camping, boating, picnicking, and the like.  

Monongahela National Forest West Virginia
Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia
| Credit: Bill Swindaman

National forests support more than 3,000 species of wildlife and fish.

From dense forests to lush wetlands, the landscapes of our national forests host diverse ecosystems for animals big and small. There are caves for hibernating, trees for nesting, and room to roam–not to mention an abundance of water. Thousands of miles of streams and rivers offer plenty of real estate for an array of fish. Plus, the Forest Service's Research and Development arm is the largest forestry research organization in the world. An extensive team of scientists works to ensure the variety of life in our forests are protected, enhanced, or restored.

Upper Caney Creek Falls William B. Bankhead National Forest
William B. Bankhead National Forest in Alabama
| Credit: Wirepec / Getty Images

National forests are the largest source of municipal water supply in the nation.

According to the Department of Agriculture, forest service lands play home to rivers and aquifer systems that serve more than 60 million people in 3,400 communities in 33 states. They're far reaching too, supplying water to major cities like Atlanta.