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Allegheny National Forest

Allegheny National Forest

Pennsylvania

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region

742,693 acres (513,175 federal/ 229,518 other)

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

Overview

The only National Forest in Pennsylvania was created in 1923 utilizing the federal government’s ability to purchase land under the Weeks Act of 1911.  However, they could not afford the subsurface or mineral rights, which has created issues in this oil-producing area.  Before it became Allegheny National Forest, most of the hillsides were clearcut to feed the area’s wood chemical plants, allowing black cherry and early successional species to dominate the second growth forests.  The National Forest contains two Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Clarion River (51.7 miles) and Allegheny River (87 miles in three separate sections).

Highlights

Allegheny National Recreation Area, Hearts Content Scenic Area, Willow Bay Recreation Area, Old Powerhouse, Timberdoodle Flats Interpretive Trail, Minister Creek, Buzzard Swamp Hiking Area, Clarion Wild and Scenic River, Allegheny Wild and Scenic River, Buckaloons Recreation Area, Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area, North Country National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start exploring Allegheny National Forest is by driving the Longhouse Scenic Byway, a 36-mile loop, which includes views of the Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam, plus a side trip up to Jakes Rocks Overlook.  We drove in from the east and found the easy walks on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail to be a good introduction to this region.  This is one of the few places in Pennsylvania with old-growth forests, so be sure to stop at Hearts Content Scenic Area or Tionesta Scenic and Research Natural Areas. 

Best Trail

Huge eastern hemlock and eastern white pine trees up to 400 years old can be found in the 20-acre Hearts Content Scenic Area.  This National Natural Landmark has a picnic area constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is located across from a nice campground.  There are two short, flat loop trails located here, but you can also connect into 7.8 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing routes.  Other popular hiking destinations include Rimrock Trail and a 10-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail within the Tracy Ridge Hiking Trail System (see our post on Allegheny National Recreation Area for more information).

Watchable Wildlife

As hard as it is to believe given their prevalence now, low populations of white-tailed deer in the 1920s allowed this new National Forest to grow back quickly.  Campers should exercise caution with their food and trash since black bears are in the area.  Turkeys, bald eagles, barred owls, Canada geese, black-capped chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers are common bird species.  Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area is known for its summer population of 1,000 roosting bats.  There is also evidence of beavers on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail.  Allegheny Reservoir has walleye, trout, bass, catfish, northern pike, and muskellunge, and small native brook trout can be found in the Farnsworth Stream and other creeks. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Kinzua Dam was completed in 1965 and stands 179 feet tall and 1,897 feet in length.  Kinzua is a Seneca Indian word that translates as “place of many big fishes.”  Watch for fish that gather in eddies at the edges of the Allegheny Reservoir near the dam, but remember that fishing and feeding the fish is prohibited at this spot.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is an entrance fee at both Willow Bay and Buckaloons Recreation Areas, but it is half price with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

All roads are paved to Willow Bay Recreation Area and Hearts Content Scenic Area, which are popular with RV campers. 

Camping

Allegheny National Forest contains 15 campgrounds with more than 1,000 sites, and Willow Bay Recreation Area also has cabins for rent.  We enjoyed our stay at Heart’s Content Campground, but found Buckaloons Campground to be too crowded.  Allegheny Islands Wilderness has seven islands that can be used for boat-in dispersed camping.

Wilderness Areas

Allegheny Islands Wilderness

Hickory Creek Wilderness

Related Sites

Allegheny National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania)

Grey Towers National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

Nearest National Park

Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine

Flowering Tree Species

sugar maple, black maple, red maple, striped maple, silver maple, mountain maple, yellow birch, sweet birch, black walnut, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, sycamore, American beech, white ash, tulip-poplar, green ash, cucumber magnolia, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, black cherry, pin cherry, choke cherry, northern red oak, basswood, American elm, slippery elm

Explore More – Timberdoodle is a local nickname for which native bird species that nests in this forest?

Newspaper article, part 3 of 4

Sunday we had our third article published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, the local daily in our hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. It talks about our recent travels in California as we get closer to our goal of hiking in all 155 National Forests! Please find the entire article below:

Article 1

Article 2

Article 4

Wilderness experiences in northern California’s Mendocino National Forest

The first shock of dipping my bare foot into the frigid water of the South Fork of Stony Creek temporarily made my brain go blank. I was already a bit cold since the air temperature was in the 40s, but thankfully it was not breezy at the bottom of this steep, forested canyon. My wife, Tiff, held my forearm and in my other hand I grasped a stick I picked up on shore to help balance on the rounded rocks. The creek was only ten feet across, but it was running deep and fast enough that there was no way to hop across it. We made it through quickly together, taking turns moving and providing stabilization, but as we approached the opposite side the burning sensation in my feet was quite unpleasant. As I sat down to put my socks and shoes back on, I was grateful for the steep climb ahead of me so I could warm up on my way to Deafy Glade.

I was in northern California to visit Mendocino National Forest, the second to last stop in my quest to hike in all 155 national forests. Tiff and I rolled into the forest after dark, driving up to 3,000 feet in elevation from the valley and setting up a dispersed campsite. The view looking east the next morning was beautiful, the mountains of the Coast Range lit up by the rising sun. As we drove the winding road to the trailhead, we passed campgrounds full of RVs that were getting ready for a motorcycle event that weekend. Our hike took us far from any road noise, past congregations of lady bugs that numbered in the hundreds as we climbed steeply to 5,300 feet in elevation. The trail continued to the summit of 7,056-foot Snow Mountain, but we already found great views of the Rice Valley and decided to turn around at the 4.5 mile point, just inside the official boundary of the Snow Mountain Wilderness.

Despite its relative proximity to the densely-populated San Francisco Bay area, the Snow Mountain Wilderness feels quite remote. Our drive west of Interstate 5 into Stonyford, California cut through a rural area of the state with more cattle than people. Once we crossed the boundary into Mendicino National Forest we saw even fewer signs of civilization. The 915,532-acre National Forest stretches north-south along the Coast Range covering parts of six counties. There are 18 National Forests in California, the most of any state, but Mendocino is the only one not crossed by a paved highway. It is a wonderful destination for outdoor recreation, both motorized and non-motorized.

Wildfire

We originally scheduled a visit to Mendocino National Forests last summer, but about half the forest was closed due to firefighting efforts and the rest had awful air quality conditions. That wildfire eventually burned more than one-million acres, and this was only two years after the Mendocino Complex Fire burned 284,000 acres, including the entire Snow Mountain Wilderness. Heartbreakingly, a firefighter was killed by falling debris during that incident. Tragedy previously struck here in 1953, when one U.S. Forest Service employee and 14 volunteer firefighters died in the Rattlesnake Fire.

Firefighting annually consumes more than half the Forest Service’s $7-billion budget, especially in western states where forests are naturally evolved to burn periodically. Less than 25 years ago that was not the case, but the agency’s spending drastically shifted over time. We expected a desolate landscape after reading about the recent fires, but about three-quarters of the trees along the Deafy Glade Trail were still alive and showed only minor charring at their bases.

Much of the vegetation in Mendocino National Forest is chaparral, a mix of shrub species that are adapted to a frequent fire return interval. Ceonothus, mountain-mahogany, and manzanita are examples of shrubs that bounce back quickly after burning. Even the native tree species, like Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and sugar pine, grow thick bark to survive surface fires. Knobcone pine and gray pine adapted serotinous cones that remain on the tree for decades, opening up to release their seeds by the heat of a fire. Unique species like Sargent cypress and the shorter McNab cypress grow on outcrops of serpentine rock where there is less vegetation to carry flames. These trees can tolerate the high magnesium levels in the soil of this bedrock that are toxic to other plants. Both species of cypress can be found growing along Frenzel Creek near Little Stoney Campground.

Wilderness Areas

The Snow Mountain Wilderness covers 60,076 acres entirely within Mendocino National Forest and since 2015 the new Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. There are three other Wilderness areas designated in this national forest: Sanhedrin, Yuki and Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel (which also spreads into Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests). According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, a Wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The law states a Wilderness must be at least 5,000 acres in size and expressly prohibits road building, oil exploration, mining, and logging. It also bans the use of all motorized equipment, in addition to bicycles and hang gliders (which are actually quite popular on Hull Mountain in Mendocino National Forest).

Forty years before passage of the Wilderness Act, the 558,014-acre Gila Wilderness in New Mexico became the world’s first designated Wilderness due to the efforts of forward-thinking people like Forest Service Supervisor Aldo Leopold. Many of the 109-million acres of Wilderness areas in the United States today would not meet his definition of an area “big enough to absorb a two weeks’ pack trip.” While the majority of National Park Service land is Wilderness (nearly 44-million acres), this does not officially include some of its wildest areas, like Yellowstone National Park. About 18% of the Forest Service’s land holdings are designated Wilderness (more than 36-million acres). My travels in national forests took me to some extremely remote mountainous areas like Wyoming’s Fitzpatrick Wilderness, as well as swampy Indian Mounds Wilderness in eastern Texas that is literally bisected by a paved road.

The first Wilderness designated in a U.S. territory was created in 2005 in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest, the final destination in my journey to all 155 National Forests. I look forward to sharing my experiences from the only tropical national forest with you in a few weeks.

Tiff near where we turned around in the Snow Mountain Wilderness

Raven About The Parks in the newspaper

Today we had our first ever article published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, the local daily in our hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. It talks about our recent travels across the U.S.A. hiking in all 155 National Forests! Here is the link and the entire article:

Article 2

Article 3

Article 4

Local author close to hiking in all 155 National Forests

We stopped to catch our breath after coming over 11,115-foot Lester Pass in the Wind River Range, when we heard a soft, mournful wail from our left. My wife and I came to an abrupt stop, looked at each other wide-eyed as new voices joined with the first – wolves howling in the faint light diffused by leaden skies. Sound carried far in the treeless alpine bowl and we determined the wolves were a mile away behind a rocky ridge. They soon quieted, but not before awakening awe to the untrammeled beauty surrounding us. This experience was one of many that we had while backpacking for eight days in Wyoming’s Bridger National Forest and reinforced why we seek out wild places.

Scott and Tiff backpacking near Lester Pass in Wyoming’s Wind River Range

That was in the summer of 2020 when a global pandemic had us (and many others) looking for places to vacation far from crowds. We had previously discussed visiting all 155 National Forests in the U.S.A. and figured now would be a good time to start seriously pursuing that goal. Some of our favorite memories as a couple were hiking and camping in these publicly owned lands. After all, our first date was in Arizona’s Coronado National Forest and it was love at first hike. In 2009, we returned to that trail for our wedding ceremony. My wife, Tiff, was still working full-time at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, so she would not be able to accompany me to all 40 states that have National Forests, but I could complete the mission with some help from my recently retired mother.

Up to 2020 our travels mainly focused on exploring 367 of the 423 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system. We created a travel website (RavenAboutTheParks.com) about NPS sites and published a guidebook focused on the value of seeking solitude in the National Parks. It is much easier to find space in National Forests, which are less crowded and less regulated. To this day, my beloved mother still doesn’t know the difference between a National Park and a National Forest, so part of our motivation was to bring our love of the forests and their history to others.

History

The U.S. Forest Service was established in 1905 during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, and his good friend and fellow conservationist Gifford Pinchot was named the agency’s first head. Their aim was to protect federal lands from unlawful timber cutting and bring the millions of acres of Forest Reserves into one cohesive system. Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve in northwest Wyoming was the first established in 1891. It was divided and renamed on numerous occasions and now goes by Shoshone National Forest.

Even though they share a designation, National Forests are extremely diverse in the ecosystems they protect and the ways they’re managed. Tonto National Forest in Arizona is primarily desert with more cacti than trees. Delta National Forest in Mississippi is flooded most of the year to provide wildlife habitat. Many forests have private inholdings within their boundaries, and some, like South Carolina’s Sumter National Forest, include more private acreage than federal. Timber harvesting is still a major component of some National Forests, but has mostly disappeared in other regions.

In contrast to the NPS, National Forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Interior. They offer much more freedom for hunting, dispersed camping, driving ATVs, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Additionally, there is no admission fee to enter a National Forest, except at developed campgrounds, some busy trailheads, and a few scenic drives. Even there you can typically use your annual America the Beautiful Pass to cover the day-use fee; plus, Senior, Military, and Access Passes give a 50% discount on campsites.

Tiff backpacking in the Snow Range within Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming

Our Objectives

In addition to creating memories like the one described above in the Wind Rivers, our major objective of visiting all 155 National Forests is to publish a guidebook. Each forest will get its own chapter with a brief overview, name origin, list of popular spots, and description of nearby points of interest. We will also highlight one tree species and a hiking trail that will give readers a good introduction to what that National Forest is all about. I will even put my Ph.D. in forestry to good use by including pertinent information on ecology and dendrology.

Our first priority when deciding to hike in all the National Forests was to decide just how many there really are. To expedite management many forests were combined in the 1970s, like our own Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. We considered those two different forests and even went so far as to split Idaho Pandhandle National Forest into its original three units to add up to 155 forests. Unlike some lists, we did not include Lake Tahoe Basin Management Area, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, nor the 20 National Grasslands that are also managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

At the start of our efforts we determined that we already had hiked and traveled enough to write about 55 National Forests in places we previously lived, including Alaska, Arizona, California, North Carolina, and Wyoming. That left 100 more to go. Of course, that did not stop us from returning to a few favorites along the way, like Black Hills, Bridger, Gila, Medicine Bow, Nebraska, and Roosevelt National Forests.

Scott backpacking Gila National Forest in New Mexico

Our Journey

On August 17, 2020, my adventurous 68-year-old mother and I embarked on a four-week camping trip along the west coast to hike in 31 National Forests. In April 2021, we got together again to drive 10,000 miles from Texas to New Hampshire visiting another 34 forests. My wife and I have made shorter trips throughout the past year, including a recent two-week jaunt through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, to bring our current total to 152 National Forests, three short of our goal.

Due to wildfires, we were unable to enter California’s Angeles and Mendocino National Forests last summer. Dodging fires has been a major hurdle throughout our journey and we have had to change plans to avoid closed areas. We are currently planning to drive to California in mid-November and have tickets to fly to Puerto Rico to visit El Yunque National Forest in early December.

While we often discuss our National Forests by number, we do not aim to “collect” them, but rather to have the unique experiences that only they can provide. We hope to lay the foundation for exploration so more people can go to the forests and have amazing experiences. After all, memories last longer the sooner they are made.

We will continue to share our journey through these last three National Forests over the next few weeks.

Also, check out our just released coloring book: A Page to Yourself: Color and Discover America’s National Parks

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.

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

Overview

Since 1972, about 255 miles of the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers have been protected along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.  It is a popular route for paddlers and tube floaters, in addition to providing invaluable habitat for a variety of wildlife, including beavers, great blue herons, and 40 species of native mussels.  There are a few dams along the rivers and regulations vary by who manages different sections, so it is important to know the rules before you launch your boat.

Highlights

Trego Nature Trail, Sandrock Cliffs, Interstate State Parks

Must-Do Activity

There is a long scenic byway that follows the St. Croix River north from its confluence with the Mississippi River (south of Minneapolis) near the Great River Road Visitor Center in Prescott, Wisconsin.  The National Park Service (NPS) manages the seasonal Namekegon River Visitor Center on a stretch of water that is good for floating.  If you do not have a boat, just down the road try the 2.8-mile roundtrip Trego Nature Trail that follows the Namekegon River through a forest of white pine, bigtooth aspen, and paper birch trees.

Best Trail

Wisconsin Interstate State Park is located on the St. Croix River and is the western terminus for the partially completed 1,200-mile long Ice Age National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Both Minnesota and Wisconsin Interstate State Parks are great places to learn about potholes (up to 15-foot deep bowls carved into solid rock) formed by boulders caught in whirlpools during glacial melting.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/sacn/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All main roads are paved, but some (like the side road to Trego Nature Trail) are good gravel.

Camping

Developed campgrounds can be found in the numerous state parks and state forests along the rivers.  Only designated riverside campsites can be used by those paddling (except in the Stillwater Islands area), but no reservations are accepted.

Related Sites

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)

Explore More – A major proponent of creating this park, Senator Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin and helped pass the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as founding what annual holiday in 1970?

Fire Island National Seashore

Overview

Established in 1964, Fire Island National Seashore stretches across 26 miles of the 32-mile long barrier island off the southern coast of New York’s Long Island.  It encompasses 17 communities that were present when it was created, but otherwise it is mostly roadless and wild.  Backcountry camping is allowed in the Otis Pike Wilderness (1,363 acres), the only federally designated Wilderness area in the state of New York.

Highlights

Fire Island Lighthouse, William Floyd Estate, Sunken Forest Trail, Otis Pike Wilderness

Must-Do Activity

About 2.2-million visitors come to Fire Island annually, but not necessarily to the National Seashore, which is primarily accessed by ferry boats from Long Island.  A short walk down the coast can usually escape the crowds, but be aware that the area around Fire Island Lighthouse is an unofficial nude beach.  Visitors can also tour the home and grounds at William Floyd Estate, a 613-acre historical site on Long Island once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Best Trail

There are nature trails at Fire Island Lighthouse, Sailors Haven, Watch Hill, and Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Centers, plus the beach is wide and good for walking.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The 167-foot tall Fire Island Lighthouse was built in 1858.  It is run by a nonprofit organization that offers a free museum inside, but charges a fee to climb to the top.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for ferries and to climb to the top of Fire Island Lighthouse

Road Conditions

There are no roads in the National Seashore, but you can drive to the western and eastern edges in Robert Moses State Park and Smith Point County Park, respectively.

Camping

Only reachable by boat, Watch Hill has a campground with restrooms and provides access to backcountry camping in Otis Pike Wilderness (permit required).

Related Sites

Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (New York)

Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Explore More – How old are the American holly trees that grow along the 1.5-mile Sunken Forest boardwalk trail at Sailors Haven?