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Chippewa National Forest

Chippewa National Forest

Minnesota

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Region

1,599,664 acres (666,623 federal/ 933,041 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/chippewa

Overview

Following passage of the Morris Act in 1902, the Minnesota Forest Reserve was created from 200,000 acres of unallotted lands on Ojibwe Indian reservations.  It was renamed Chippewa National Forest in 1928 and 44% of its acreage remains part of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.  The forest includes 1,300 lakes and ponds, 925 miles of rivers, and 440,000 acres of wetlands, which represents 13% of all surface water within the entire National Forest system and provides habitat for a variety of wildlife.  Three of the ten largest lakes in Minnesota are located here: Lake Winnibigoshish, Cass Lake, and Leech Lake.

Highlights

Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, Avenue of Pines Scenic Byway, Lady Slipper Scenic Byway, Woodtick Auto Trail, Cass Lake, Camp Rabideau, Lake Winnibigoshish, Benjamin Lake, Norway Beach Recreation Area, Leech Lake, Lost 40 Natural Area, Heartland Bike Trail, Simpson Creek Trail, Cut Foot Sioux National Recreation Trail, Big Pine Forest Trail, Chippewa Adventure Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Other than getting out on the water, a great way to explore Chippewa National Forest is by driving one of five designated Scenic Byways: Lake Country, Edge of the Wilderness, Avenue of Pines, Lady Slipper, and the Great River Road.  Chippewa National Forest has more than 3,000 archeological and historic sites, including Camp Rabideau, perhaps the best preserved Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp left from the 1930s.  Free guided tours of the camp are offered in summer, or you can take a self-guided tour around the well-signed buildings during daylight hours.

Best Trail

The Lost 40 is 144 acres of old-growth red and white pine forest that was never logged due to a surveying error that mapped the area as part of Coddington Lake in 1882.  The oldest tree here is more than 250 years old and can be seen on an easy one-mile loop trail with interpretive signs.  There is also an optional 0.2-mile one-way spur to an overlook of Moose Brook.  The trailhead is located east of Blackduck, Minnesota on well-signed back roads and is also popular for snowshoeing in the winter.

Watchable Wildlife

The most vocal and noticeable residents of Chippewa National Forest are its red squirrels, sandhill cranes, and common loons.  Its many rivers and lakes make ideal habitat for its 180 nesting pairs of bald eagles, one of the highest densities in the contiguous U.S.  Rarer wildlife sightings include Canadian lynx, black bears, moose, and trumpeter swans.  Important gamefish include lake trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and muskellunge (muskie). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The largest red pine in the Lost 40 is 120 feet tall and three feet in diameter.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The scenic byways seem to all be paved, but the roads accessing the Lost 40 and Camp Rabideau are unpaved, although well-signed and maintained.

Camping

The National Forest contains 21 developed campgrounds and 68 official dispersed camping locations. 

Wilderness Areas

None

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Superior National Forest (Minnesota)

Nearest National Park

Voyageurs

Conifer Tree Species

northern white-cedar, tamarack, red pine, eastern white pine, jack pine, balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce

Flowering Tree Species

basswood, sugar maple, red maple, northern red oak, bur oak, basswood, American elm, slippery elm, bog birch, yellow birch, paper birch, bigtooth aspen, quaking aspen, balsam poplar

Explore More – The Lost 40 grows on an esker (or glacial ridge); how many years ago did the esker form?

Learn more about Chippewa and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Challis National Forest

Challis National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

2,488,105 acres (2,463,471 federal/ 24,634 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/scnf/

Overview

Challis National Forest covers the southern portion of the co-managed Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho.  It includes the northern parts of Sawtooth National Recreation Area and a section of the Salmon Wild and Scenic River, as well as several northwest-southeast running mountain ranges.  In the forest’s scenic Lost River Range, 12,667-foot Borah Peak is the highest point in Idaho.  Further south near Arco, a steep half-mile trail leads to King Mountain Natural Arch in Bridge Canyon, a limestone formation with an 80-foot span. 

Highlights

Salmon River Scenic Byway, Stanley Museum, Sunbeam Hot Springs, Custer Adventure Motorway, Yankee Fork Hot Springs, Lemhi Range, White Knob Mountains, Camas Meadows, Challis Creek Lakes, Hidden Mouth Cave, Sawtooth Lake, White Cloud Peaks, Grover Creek Lake, Borah Peak

Must-Do Activity

The Salmon River Scenic Byway runs 162 miles to Lost Trail Pass, starting in Stanley where it intersects with the Sawtooth and Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byways.  Challis National Forest manages the free Stanley Museum there inside the historic Valley Creek Ranger Station.  Further down the road, the Sunbeam Bathhouse was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at a hot springs on the Salmon River where people still go to soak seeking the perfect spot between the frigid river and scalding spring water.

Best Trail

We previously covered the trail to stunning Sawtooth Lake in our post on Sawtooth National Recreation Area.  While it is not for everyone due to its strenuousness, we will write here about the route up 12,667-foot Borah Peak.  From its beginning (which we started in the dark) the entire trail is incredibly steep, so much so that we ran back down the final two miles because it was easier on our knees.  The route gains 5,400 feet of elevation in 4.5 miles and often requires the use of your hands, but no special climbing equipment.  Even if you decide to turn around at Chicken-Out Ridge before ascending the Knife Edge, the panoramic scenery is well worth the effort.

Watchable Wildlife

This is a fairly arid portion of the west, so you are more likely to see a ground squirrel or coyote than any other wildlife.  Trout fishing is a popular activity in the Salmon River.  Large mammalian species include elk, mule deer, pronghorns, and black bears.  Ravens and a variety of birds of prey catch the thermals around Borah Peak.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The view of King Mountain Natural Arch’s 80-foot span is arguably better while driving in than it is after ascending the treacherous final mile of road and hiking the steep half-mile trail to its overlook (see below).

Peak Season

Late summer due to snowpack

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The road from Highway 93 to the Borah Peak Campground and Trailhead is well maintained.  The last mile of road to the trailhead for King Mountain Natural Arch requires a high-clearance vehicle, but the nine miles of unpaved roads before that are decent and well signed (although we got a flat tire).

Camping

The campground at the base of Borah Peak is only $5 per night and allows climbers to get an early start.  There are many campgrounds along the Salmon River Scenic Byway and historic Yankee Fork Road/ Custer Adventure Motorway.

Wilderness Areas

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (also in Bitterroot, Boise, Nez Perce, Payette, and Salmon National Forests)

Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (also run by the Bureau of Land Management)

Sawtooth Wilderness (also in Boise and Sawtooth National Forests)

Related Sites

Caribou National Forest (Idaho-Utah-Wyoming)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho-Washington)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone

Conifer Tree Species

Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, limber pine, whitebark pine, Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, water birch, Rocky Mountain maple, boxelder, Bebb willow, blue elderberry, chokecherry, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, white alder, syringa, sagebrush

Explore More – How many Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps were in Idaho during the Great Depression?

Learn more about Challis and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

730,864 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sawtooth/recarea/?recid=5842

Overview

Sawtooth National Recreation Area claims some of the most incredible mountain scenery in the heart of Idaho and spreads across Boise, Challis, and Sawtooth National Forests.  According to a U.S. Forest Service publication, the 217,088-acre Sawtooth Wilderness claims the cleanest air in the continental United States, and it also contains over 270 miles of trails so there is plenty to explore.  In addition to the jagged peaks in the spectacular Sawtooth Wilderness, in 2015 President Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act creating three new Wildernesses that cover an additional 275,665 acres.

Highlights

Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Galena Overlook, Redfish Lake, Salmon River Scenic Byway, Stanley Lake, Cramer Divide, Alpine Lake (there are actually two in different places), Baron Lakes, Sawtooth Lake

Must-Do Activity

On our first drive north on Highway 75, we were not prepared for the beautiful mountain views once we summited 8,701-foot Galena Pass.  It was also a good observation point for a wildfire burning alongside the highway.  The date it ignited was July 4th, 2014 and it was burning near Fourth of July Creek, so naturally it was named the Hell Roaring Fire.  According to Inciweb it eventually closed the road and burned 325 acres.  Once through the smoke, we had great views of the Salmon River Valley on our way to scenic Redfish Lake, which is named for the endangered sockeye (or red) salmon that travel 900 miles and gain 6,500 feet in elevation to arrive here for spawning.  The lake also has chinook (or king) salmon and kokanee salmon (landlocked sockeyes that are not anadromous). We returned in 2022 to backpack 40 miles on trails off of Redfish Lake Creek.

Best Trail

From Iron Creek Trailhead it is 11 miles roundtrip out-and-back with an elevation gain of 1,700 feet to access Sawtooth Lake.  As we hit 8,400 feet in elevation, the ponds were still predominantly frozen over and covered in snow.  We were initially disappointed, as we had originally considered stopping halfway up the trail at deep blue Alpine Lake thinking nowhere could be prettier.  Then we rounded a bend and realized we were wrong.  Our first view of Sawtooth Lake was a soul stirring sight (see Instagram-worthy Photo below).  A surprisingly warm night revealed an incredible firmament above snow-striped mountain peaks that seemed to glow in the dark.  In the morning the quiet here was profound, broken only by the occasional peep of a pika scurrying through the talus slope.  We found it hard to say goodbye to such a picturesque and revitalizing place.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On our first visit to Sawtooth Lake, snowy Mt. Regan was lit by the setting sun and reflected in open leads in the ice, glassy still but for the occasional ripple of a rising trout. 

Peak Season

Late summer after the snow melts

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The side road to Redfish Lake is paved and access to Iron Creek Trailhead was doable with our low-clearance passenger vehicle.

Camping

The shores of crystal-clear Redfish Lake have a lodge and four campgrounds near the scenic lake.  Stanley Lake and Alturus Lake also have popular campgrounds.

Related Sites

City of Rocks National Reserve (Idaho)

Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho-Washington)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Explore More – When was Sawtooth National Recreation Area established?

Chequamegon National Forest

Chequamegon National Forest

Wisconsin

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Region

1,049,540 acres (868,392 federal/ 181,148 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/cnnf

Overview

Chequamegon National Forest gets its name from Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, which is derived from the Ojibwe word for the bay’s prominent sand bar on the east side of Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula.  Managed as Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since 1998, the more western Chequamegon National Forest contains a 61-mile stretch of the North Country National Scenic Trail and 49 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that winds through Wisconsin.  On the Bayfield Peninsula is Moquah Pine Barrens National Natural Landmark, first set aside by the Forest Service in 1935 to study its red pine savannah and upland jack pine barrens.  The Moquah Pine Barrens is notable for its summer wildflower bloom and fall berry picking.

Highlights

Great Divide Scenic Byway, Drummond Woods, Valhalla Recreation Area, South Fork of Flambeau River, Mondeaux Dam Recreation Area, Moquah Barrens National Natural Landmark, Clam Lake, Schumland Wetland Area, Chequamegon Water Flowage, Tucker Lake Hemlocks Natural Area, Morgan Falls, St. Peter’s Dome, West Torch Ski Trail, Mukwonago Ski Trail, Camba Mountain Bike Trail, Mt. Valhalla, Caro Forest Trail, West Twin Lake Trail, Aldo Leopold Commemorative Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail, Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

St. Peter’s Dome and Morgan Falls Recreation Area (fee) is the most developed site in Chequamegon National Forest.  A wide, level trail with new bridges leads 0.75 miles one-way to Morgan Falls, which tumbles 70 feet down a narrow rock crevice.  The trail splits and becomes steeper as it ascends to St. Peter’s Dome, a rock outcropping that offers views north to Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands.  To visit both spots is a 3.8-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 500 feet.  Make sure you have good directions before you go because the drive to the trailhead has unsigned turns on unpaved back roads. 

Best Trail

In the southern portion of the National Forest, the Aldo Leopold Commemorative Trail is a 1.2-mile out-and-back hike that follows a glacial esker above a wetland near the Mondeaux Flowage.  The path is lined with wooden boards with quotes from the famous ecologist who wrote his seminal book A Sand County Almanac (see our Top 10 Books about Trees and Forests) at his Wisconsin farm. 

Watchable Wildlife

Gray wolves and elk have been reintroduced to Chequamegon National Forest, in addition to native moose, black bears, red foxes, raccoons, rabbits, beavers, river otters, and (of course in Wisconsin) badgers.  Common loons with their distinctive calls are the most iconic bird of the North Woods, with other notable species being barred owls, bald eagles, common ravens, turkeys, ruffed grouse, and boreal chickadees.  Fishing is a big deal in this part of the world and Hayward, Wisconsin is home to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (where you can stand in the mouth of a giant muskie sculpture).  Major gamefish include lake trout, rainbow trout, small and largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, northern pike, and muskellunge (muskie). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

It might require a bit of creative climbing to get a good photo of Morgan Falls, located only 1.5 miles roundtrip from the trailhead (fee).

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $5 day-use fee to park at the trailhead for St. Peter’s Dome and Morgan Falls Recreation Area.

Road Conditions

The road through the Moquah Barrens is paved, and even the sand-surfaced roads were all in good shape during our visits.

Camping

There are developed campgrounds throughout the National Forest and nearby Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, but we have always dispersed camped off the back roads on the Bayfield Peninsula, including a pleasant night spent on the Moquah Barrens.

Wilderness Areas

Porcupine Lake Wilderness

Rainbow Lake Wilderness

Related Sites

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (Wisconsin-Minnesota)

Keweenaw National Historical Park (Michigan)

Nearest National Park

Isle Royale

Conifer Tree Species

jack pine, red pine, eastern white pine, balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce, northern white-cedar, tamarack, balsam fir, eastern hemlock

Flowering Tree Species

sugar maple, red maple, mountain maple, black ash, white ash, basswood, yellow birch, paper birch, river birch, northern red oak, white oak, black oak, American beech, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, balsam poplar, white ash, beaked hazelnut, tag alder

Explore More – The 636-acre Moquah Barrens Research Natural Area was established in 1935 and named a Wisconsin State Natural Area in 1970, but when was it designated a National Natural Landmark?

Learn more about Chequamegon and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Chattahoochee National Forest

Chattahoochee National Forest

Georgia

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

1,516,006 acres (750,145 federal/ 765,861 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/conf

Overview

In mountainous northern Georgia, Chattahoochee National Forest stretches 200 miles east to west, bordering North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  In addition to the highest point in Georgia (4,784-foot Brasstown Bald), the National Forest includes the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River and one side of the Chattooga National Wild and Scenic River.  West of the North Georgia Mountains, the Ridge and Valley Scenic Byway traverses the disjunct portion of the National Forest encompassing Johns Mountain, Little Sand Mountain, and Taylor Ridge.

Highlights

Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area, Ridge and Valley Scenic Byway, Keown Falls, Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Brasstown Bald, High Shoal Falls Scenic Area, Lake Conasauga Recreation Area, Anna Ruby Falls, Sosebee Cove Scenic Area, Timpson Falls, Popcorn Overlook, Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site, DeSoto Falls Scenic Area, Angel Falls, Raven Cliff Trail, Helton Creek Falls Trail, Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

One of the National Forest’s most popular spots, 150-foot-tall Anna Ruby Falls is accessed by a short trail northeast of Helen, Georgia on State Route 356.  Large tulip-poplar and yellow buckeye trees grow in 175-acre Sosebee Cove Scenic Area, even though it is a second growth forest.  We will have a separate blog post on Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area, which surrounds Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the 2,185-mile long Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Best Trail

Chattahoochee National Forest started when the Forest Service purchased 31,000 acres from the Gennett family in 1911 for $7 per acre.  Visitors can still see their namesake Gennett Poplar (a tulip-poplar tree more than five feet in diameter) by hiking 1.8 miles out-and-back with two stream crossings on the Bear Creek Trail.  The rows of holes in the old tree’s trunk were made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers, a type of woodpecker.  The trail continues and connects with the Pinhoti Trail to form a 6.6 to 9-mile long loop.

Watchable Wildlife

In addition to the plentiful white-tailed deer, other large mammals found in Chattahoochee National Forest include black bears, coyotes, bobcats, red foxes, squirrels, beavers, and river otters.  There are a wide variety of songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors, as well as wild turkeys.  One insect species of note is the blue ghost firefly, which produces a distinctive blue phosphorescence.  Panther Creek is among the approximately 2,000 miles of rivers and streams popular for fishing.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a small waterfall at Barnes Creek Picnic Area, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Most of the major routes in Chattahoochee National Forest are paved.  Forest Service Road 42 that accesses the Springer Mountain Trailhead is unpaved and full of potholes, but it is doable in a passenger vehicle (as are the dirt roads to Hickey Gap Campground and Bear Creek Trail). 

Camping

The riverside Hickey Gap Campground is so nice that it made it into our list of the Top 10 Campgrounds in National Forests; the best part is: it is free.  We once overnighted at the Locust Stake ORV Area Trailhead north of Atlanta, which was fine until someone decided to ride their motocross bike at 2 a.m.

Wilderness Areas

Big Frog Wilderness (also in Cherokee NF)

Blood Mountain Wilderness

Brasstown Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness (also in Cherokee National Forest)

Ellicott Rock Wilderness (also in Nantahala and Sumter National Forests)

Mark Trail Wilderness

Raven Cliffs Wilderness

Rich Mountain Wilderness

Southern Nantahala Wilderness (also in Nantahala National Forest)

Tray Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park (Georgia)

Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, Table Mountain pine, pitch pine

Flowering Tree Species

flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, pawpaw, American beech, white basswood, red maple, mountain maple, moosewood maple, tulip-poplar, sweet buckeye, yellowwood, yellow birch, cucumber magnolia, black cherry, sourwood, pale hickory, mockernut hickory, rock chestnut oak, scarlet oak, black oak, Catawba rhododendron, yellow birch, sweet bay magnolia, mountain-ash, ninebark

Explore More – How many acres are within the Cohutta Wilderness, the largest designated Wilderness east of the Mississippi River?

Learn more about Chattahoochee and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.