What’s the Difference between State Forests and National Forests?

forest ranger fishing in a west virginia stream

Have you ever searched for a forest to explore and wondered why West Virginia has state and national forests? Whats the difference? Simply put, state forests are owned by the state and managed at a state level, while national forests are federal lands owned by the American people and managed at the federal level. Oftentimes, national forests are larger than state forests but there are also many similarities between the two.

Heres what you need to know about them both.

State Forests in West Virginia

State forests are public lands owned by the state and are used to manage West Virginias natural resources. State forests are rugged, often undeveloped and encompass nearly 70,000 acres of land all over the state. They are managed by both the West Virginia Division of Forestry and the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Recreation Section.

Like state parks, West Virginias state forests are open to the public for outdoor recreation. Some even have cabins and campgrounds where you can spend the night during a trip or vacation. But unlike parks, forests have uses beyond recreation. Not only are hunting and fishing in season permitted in state forests, theyre also open for timber production as well as watershed and wildlife management and research.

Cabin in Cabwaylingo State park

Want to learn more about West Virginias state forests? Click the links below to see what each forest has to offer.

National Forests in West Virginia

National forest lands compose almost 7 percent of West Virginias surface area and are located in 14 counties along the states eastern and southeastern mountains. Portions of three lie within West Virginias borders. They are:

Like state forests, national forests also are public lands. While West Virginias national forests are part of the Mountain State, they are federal public lands and their management policies are set by the U.S. government. The land that makes up these national forests are open to and belong to all Americans and are managed and staffed by locals right here in West Virginia.

logging in west virginia forests

The U.S. Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, manages national forests under a multiple use concept, which permits things like timber production, grazing, mineral extraction and recreation.

How are state and national forests similar?

Both state and national forests are multi-use public lands open to mineral development, resource extraction, logging and recreation. The most popular use among the public is recreation, so make sure you get out and enjoy a forest near you.

Want to learn more about West Virginias forests or forestry in general? Follow @wvforestry on Facebook and Twitter.

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Forest Legacy Program

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Fall Foliage

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Managed Timberland Program

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Industry Assistance

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Planting Trees

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News Releases

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Project Learning Tree

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Invasive Species

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Conservation Education


The West Virginia Division of Forestry is committed to protecting, nurturing, sustaining, and promoting the wise utilization of our state’s forest resources.


Established in 1909, as a declaration of the state government for the need of forest protection and research, the West Virginia Division of Forestry protects and conserves the state’s forest resources.