It is important to evaluate the development level of nature reserves. In this study, we aimed to assess the development level of nature reserves under the administration of China’s forestry department in 31 provincial-level regions from 2005 to 2017 (excluding Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macao Special Administrative Region, and Taiwan Province). For this purpose, we analyzed the spatial and temporal evolution of nature reserve development in different regions using projection pursuit and spatial econometric methods. In terms of temporal distribution, the development level of nature reserves has been steadily improving, and the growth rate showed the trend of “strong fast” and “weak slow”. However, the development gap among different provinces is large. In terms of spatial distribution, the development of nature reserves presented the characteristics of “high in the west and low in the east” and “high in the north and south and low in the middle.” The endowment of natural resources, scientific research, and investment has a considerable effect on the development level of nature reserves. This study provides suggestions for the differential construction and sustainable development of nature reserves in China.