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Conifer Tree Descriptions

In each one of our National Forest blog posts we have included a list of conifer tree and flowering tree species common to that forest.  Now, we thought it would be a good idea to include some brief descriptions of each of those species, starting with the conifers.  The term “conifer” (literally “cone bearer”) refers to all Gymnosperms (“naked seeds”), as opposed to Angiosperms with seeds enclosed within a carpel.  Conifers are sometimes referred to as Pinophyta (after their Division) and include well-known evergreens like pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, junipers, and yews, as well as a couple deciduous species like baldcypress and tamarack.  Our list is not broken down by Family (i.e. Pinaceae, Cupressaceae, etc.), but simply alphabetically by scientific name (Latin binomial composed of Genus and specific epithet). 

We hope our descriptions inspire you to further research some species of interest.

Conifers dominate subalpine forests at high elevations
Abies amabilis
Pacific silver fir
Named for its needles’ silvery undersides, this species thrives in cool, wet forests where it can reach 236 feet in height and more than eight feet in diameter.  This commonly planted ornamental tree has a spirelike crown.
Abies balsamea
balsam fir
Found in boreal forests throughout eastern Canada and the bordering states, balsam fir is a medium-sized tree grown for pulpwood and Christmas trees (due to its pyramidal crown and pleasant aroma).
Abies concolor
white fir
White fir is a drought-tolerant tree found from 5,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation in the mountains of New Mexico to southern Idaho.  Its shade tolerant lower needles can reach more than three inches in length.
Abies fraseri
Fraser fir
A tree of high elevations alongside red spruce, Fraser fir rarely reaches more than 50 feet in height due to its harsh growing conditions.  It has been heavily impacted by the balsam woolly adelgid and acid rain.  Although its future in natural stands is in doubt, the species is grown widely for Christmas trees. 
Abies grandis
grand fir
Identifiable by its needles’ silver undersides, grand fir can reach nearly seven feet in diameter on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, but rarely three feet further inland.  It is among the tallest true fir species, with a maximum height of 267 feet.
Abies lasiocarpa
subalpine fir
Subalpine fir has an impressive distribution stretching from Alaska to Arizona and an even more extraordinary elevation range from sea level to 12,000 feet.  Its southern growth form is known as corkbark fir because of its thick, light gray bark that is free of resin blisters and feels spongy when pressed.
Abies lowiana
Sierra white fir
Oregon represents the northernmost distribution of Sierra white fir, a shade tolerant tree planted ornamentally and in Christmas tree farms.  Compared to the related white fir in the Rocky Mountains, this species grows much larger (up to 245 feet tall and nine feet in diameter).
Abies magnifica
California red fir
This shade tolerant tree with reddish bark can reach a maximum of five feet in diameter and more than 200 feet in height.  It also has one of the largest cones of any fir at nine inches, although they are seldom seen since they disintegrate while on the tree and do not fall in one piece.
Abies procera
noble fir
Living up to its name, noble fir can reach 295 feet in height and nine feet in diameter.  Its natural range is limited to the Cascades, although it is widely planted for lumber and Christmas trees.
Callitropsis nootkatensis
yellow-cedar
This species has a variety of common names (including Alaska-cedar), but is best known for its drooping branches and shallow root system that allows it to survive in extremely wet soils.  Found from sea level up to 7,000 feet, it regularly lives more than 1,000 years, growing slowly with chemicals compounds that prevent wood rot.
Calocedrus decurrens
incense-cedar
In the mountains of California and Oregon, incense-cedar is known for its aromatic wood used to make pencils, closets, and exterior siding.  These trees struggle to grow more than 100 feet tall, but their buttressed trunks regularly reach four feet in diameter (with a maximum of nearly 13 feet).
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
Port Orford-cedar
A popular ornamental tree, moisture-loving Port Orford-cedar trees can reach a maximum of 229 feet in height and 16 feet in diameter.  Generally found in the coastal fog belt on the Oregon-California border, there is a disjunct population on Mt. Shasta.
Chamaecyparis thyoides
Atlantic white-cedar
A tree of freshwater swamps and bogs found in sandy coastal areas from Maine south to Florida. It has decay-resistant wood and often grows in pure stands.
Hesperocyparis arizonica
Arizona cypress
This rare, slow-growing tree reaches its most impressive size (100 feet in height and more than four feet in diameter) at the bottom of canyons.  It is planted as an ornamental due to its attractive turquoise foliage and reddish bark.
Juniperus californica
California juniper
This drought tolerant shrub or small tree grows up to 5,000 feet in elevation in the mountain foothills and into the Mojave Desert where it can be found alongside Joshua trees. 
Juniperus communis
common juniper
Typically growing as a sprawling shrub or ground cover, common juniper does not have the scale-like leaves of other North American juniper species.  It is circumpolar in its range and is considered the most widely distributed native conifer in the world.
Juniperus deppeana
alligator juniper
Blocky, gray bark that looks like alligator skin gave this tree its name.  Even in the arid regions where it typically grows, this long-lived tree can reach 50 feet in height and four feet in diameter.  Its scale-like needles are usually somewhat blue-green in color.
Juniperus monosperma
one-seed juniper
This multi-stemmed juniper is limited to the Southwest U.S. where it rarely grows more than 25 feet tall.  It is used for fenceposts and fuel, and its juicy cones (or “berries”) are important for wildlife.  Like some other juniper trees, it is dioecious, meaning only female trees produce “berries.”
Juniperus occidentalis
western juniper
Western juniper is widespread in the rain shadow forests of central and eastern Oregon where it can survive more than 2,000 years and reach a multi-stemmed diameter of 16 feet.  In California’s Sierra Nevada it can be found up to 10,000 feet in elevation.
Juniperus osteosperma
Utah juniper
Growing in some of the driest places in the Great Basin Desert, the hearty Utah juniper can reach 40 feet in height and several feet in diameter.  The “berries” that grow on female trees were eaten by American Indians and its fibrous bark used to make ropes, sandals, bags, and mats.
Juniperus scopulorum
Rocky Mountain juniper
Found throughout the Rocky Mountains north into Canada, this species is more likely than other junipers to grow a single stem, which can reach fifty feet in height and eight feet in diameter.  Its aromatic wood has chemicals that make it resistant to rot and especially suited for fenceposts.
Juniperus virginiana
eastern redcedar
This species of juniper is native to 37 states, Nebraska being the westernmost of them.  Its aromatic, red heartwood is prized for closets, chests, fenceposts, and carvings, and was historically used to make pencils.  Its “berries” are a type of cone consumed by a variety of wildlife, including the cedar waxwing.
Larix laricina
tamarack
Also called eastern larch, this deciduous conifer has a transcontinental range.  It is known for its durable lumber, although it rarely reaches 80 feet in height.
Larix lyallii
subalpine larch
A slow-growing, spindly tree that grows near timberline, this deciduous conifer is often found in pure stands or next to other high-elevation species like whitebark pine, subalpine fir, and Engelmann spruce. 
Larix occidentalis
western larch
One of the few deciduous conifer trees, western larch is famous for its bright yellow fall colors and pyramidal crown.  An early successional species, it can reach 180 feet in height and sometimes form nearly pure stands in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana.
Picea breweriana
Brewer spruce
Often referred to as Brewer’s weeping spruce because of its drooping branches evolved to shed snow, this tree named for a Yale professor of agriculture is only found in the mountains on the Oregon-California border.
Picea engelmannii
Engelmann spruce
This mountain species with a range from southeastern Arizona to British Columbia is named for a German-American physician and botanist.  Commonly found alongside subalpine firs, its needles are often bluer than Colorado blue spruce (with which it can hybridize).
Picea glauca
white spruce
The most important commercial species in the boreal forests of Canada, white spruce is also found in an isolated population in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It is less tolerant of poor soils than black spruce and can reach a larger size (up to four feet in diameter and 184 feet in height).
Picea mariana
black spruce
Transcontinental in its range, the slow-growing black spruce is synonymous with boreal forests, tolerating the wet soils of sphagnum bogs and growing in dense stands to the northern limits of tree growth above the Arctic Circle.
Picea pungens
Colorado blue spruce
Less widespread than its lookalike Engelmann spruce (with which it can hybridize), this species can be found growing near timberline, shaped by wind and snow.  Its bluish foliage and drought resistance makes it a prized ornamental tree, and it can reach 100 feet in height when nurtured.
Picea rubens
red spruce
Often found growing on mountaintops in pure stands or alongside balsam fir, this shade tolerant tree can live more than 400 years and reach up to 150 feet in height and four feet in diameter.
Picea sitchensis
Sitka spruce
The official state tree of Alaska is only found along the coast, where it can grow more than 200 feet tall and eight feet in diameter (though its trunk can reach 17 feet in width on the Olympic Penninsula of Washington).  Its lumber is commercially important and was especially prized during the early age of aeronautics (for example, the Spruce Goose was built of its wood).
Pinus albicaulis
whitebark pine
A species familiar to hikers in the subalpine zones of the mountainous northwest U.S., this windswept tree rarely reaches more than 30 feet in height.  Its large pine nuts are an important food source for Clark’s nutcrackers, as well as black and grizzly bears.
Pinus aristata
Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine
A resident of the subalpine zone in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, these short, twisted trees are among the oldest living species in the world, reaching upwards of 2,400 years old.
Pinus balfouriana
foxtail pine
Related to bristlecone pines, this species similarly retains decades of needles and can survive for more than 2,000 years.  The tree is only found above 5,000 feet in the mountains of California where it can reach 50 feet in height, but is more often found growing stunted at timberline.
Pinus banksiana
jack pine
The fast-growing, short-needled jack pine has semi-serotinous cones that open when subjected to temperatures in excess of 140°F, such as during a wildfire.  Its native range is mostly in Canada, but includes areas south of the upper Great Lakes. 
Pinus clausa
sand pine
Endemic to Florida in two separate populations, sand pine has semi-serotinous cones and shorter needles than the faster growing slash pine.
Pinus contorta
lodgepole pine
One of the most widely distributed trees in the western U.S., this fire-adapted tree with semi-serotinous cones can be found in scrubby form on the Pacific shoreline to nearly pure stands of thin, straight stems in South Dakota.
Pinus coulteri
Coulter pine
Coulter pine is famous for having the heaviest pine cones in the world, up to five pounds with thickly spined cone scales.  It is native to California and Mexico where it was collected in 1831 by Irish botanist Thomas Coulter.
Pinus echinata
shortleaf pine
Widely distributed on upland sites throughout the southeast U.S., shortleaf pine is an important lumber and pulpwood tree that can reach 100 feet in height and three feet in diameter.
Pinus edulis
two-needle pinyon pine
Also called Colorado piñon, this drought-tolerant tree often grows alongside junipers in woodlands where it typically reaches no more than 30 feet in height.  Traditionally, its edible pine nuts were an important food source for American Indians in the dry southwest and continue to be harvested today.
Pinus elliottii
slash pine
Slash pine is naturally found in wetter soils than the similar loblolly pine, and its fast growth rate makes it a valuable plantation species in Florida and Brazil.
Pinus engelmannii
Apache pine
Most of this species’ natural range lies within Mexico, where it can reach 70 feet in height and two feet in diameter.  Similar to longleaf pine, it has a tendency to form a “grass stage” when it develops a deep tap root prior to it beginning to grow vertically and branch.
Pinus flexilis
limber pine
Limber pine gets its name from its drooping branches that help it shed snow.  It is one of several pines that grow at high elevations and have a mutualistic symbiotic relationship with Clark’s nutcrackers that cache its seeds.
Pinus jeffreyi
Jeffrey pine
John Jeffrey was a nineteenth-century Scottish botanist who discovered this tree that grows from southern Oregon to Mexico.  It looks similar to ponderosa pine, but its bark and twigs have a stronger vanilla scent.
Pinus lambertiana
sugar pine
Central Oregon represents the northern extent of sugar pine, a species found throughout California’s Sierra Nevada.  The large tree is known for its giant, 18-inch pine cones that weigh down the tips of its long, horizontal branches.
Pinus longaeva
Great Basin bristlecone pine
Unassuming in size due to their subalpine habitat, Great Basin bristlecone pines are the world’s oldest single-stemmed tree reaching more than 5,000 years of age (see Inyo National Forest).  Growing seasons are short and winters harsh at the high elevations where they grow, so their pine needles can persist on branches more than 30 years.
Pinus monophylla
singleleaf pinyon pine
With a range further west than two-needle pinyon pine, this small, drought tolerant tree is found throughout the Great Basin, which is why it is the official state tree of Nevada.  Its edible “pine nuts” are eaten by many birds and mammals, particularly packrats.
Pinus monticola
western white pine
The straight, self-pruning stems of this tree species made it a target of nineteenth-century loggers from the Pacific Coast to the Inland Empire.  Its maximum size has been measured at 239 feet tall and 8.4 feet in diameter.
Pinus palustris
longleaf pine
Longleaf pine forests were heavily cut by European settlers to produce naval stores, so that they are now only found on 3% of their original acreage.  The tree is recognizable by its needles that reach 18 inches in length and its pointy pine cones that grow up to a foot long.
Pinus ponderosa
ponderosa pine
Perhaps the most widespread conifer in western North America, ponderosa pine is found from the Black Hills of South Dakota west to the arid mountains of Mexico and north into Canada.  Young trees have dark bark and are often referred to as “blackjack pine,” while older trees develop cinnamon-colored plates that lent them the name “yellowbelly pine.”
Pinus pungens
Table Mountain pine
Table Mountain pine grows on rocky outcroppings throughout the southern Appalachians often alongside pitch pine, rarely reaching more than 40 feet in height.
Pinus radiata
Monterey pine
Grown in plantations around the world, this fog belt species is rare in its native California where it grows alongside Monterey cypress.
Pinus resinosa
red pine
Sometimes given the misleading name Norway spruce, this North American native tree forms an eye-pleasing, oval crown.  It grows in mixed forests, in soils sandier than those preferred by eastern white pine, but wetter than those dominated by jack pine.
Pinus rigida
pitch pine
Often found growing on poor soils, pitch pine has a range that takes it from Georgia north into Maine. Historically it was an important species for producing naval stores, though it rarely reaches more than 60 feet in height.
Pinus sabiniana
gray pine
A small tree of the dry California foothills known for its characteristic egg-shaped pine cones that remain attached to the tree for many years.
Pinus strobiformis
southwestern white pine
Considered by some a variety of limber pine (with which it can hybridize), this species is restricted to the high elevations of the southwest where it can reach 80 feet in height and three feet in diameter.
Pinus strobus
eastern white pine
Found throughout the northeast U.S., this tree’s straight, clear boles up to six feet in diameter were targeted by loggers for centuries.  Since then, this fast-growing species has aggressively colonized abandoned farm fields.
Pinus taeda
loblolly pine
The most important timber tree in the southeast U.S., loblolly pine is a fast-growing tree that thrives in a variety of soil types making it ideal for planting.
Pinus virginiana
Virginia pine
Found throughout the Appalachians, this old field pioneer forms thickets of trees not usually more than 40 feet tall or a foot in diameter, tolerating dry sites where other conifers cannot grow.
Pseudotsuga macrocarpa
bigcone Douglas-fir
Found only in southern California, this drought- and fire-tolerant relative of the major timber tree Douglas-fir has larger cones (four to eight inches in length) with the same iconic trident bracts that stick out from beneath its cone scales.
Pseudotsuga menziesii
Douglas-fir
The most commercially important tree species in North America, Douglas-fir is not a true fir and has been given its own unique Genus.  It is sometimes separated into two subspecies, one for the dry Rocky Mountain growth form and another for the wet Pacific Coast where it can reach more than 300 feet in height and ten feet in diameter.
Sequoia sempervirens
coast redwood
Coast redwoods only grow within 50 miles of the Pacific Ocean where they rely on fog to help water them throughout the long summer dry period.  They are the tallest trees on the planet, with one named Hyperion measured over 379 feet and still growing within Redwood National Park. 
Sequoiadendron giganteum
giant sequoia
The world’s twelve largest trees by volume are all giant sequoias, with the top being the General Sherman tree at 52,508 cubic feet and in second place the General Grant tree at more than 40 feet in diameter.  This fire-adapted species can have bark up to 31 inches thick.  Giant sequoia trees are only found in 75 groves on the western slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada.
Taxodium distichum
baldcypress
Baldcypress is one of the few deciduous conifer trees in North America and is found along river bottoms, coastal marshes, and lake margins.  Capable of growing buttressed trunks up to 17 feet in diameter, its decay-resistant wood was targeted by loggers.  They are famous for their “knees” that rise from their roots up to seven feet high, possibly helping submerged roots breathe. 
Taxus brevifolia
Pacific yew
Rarely reaching more than 50 feet in height, this shade tolerant shrub can be found from sea level up to 8,000 feet in elevation.  Its bark was the original source of taxol, a cancer drug that is now synthetically produced.
Thuja occidentalis
northern white-cedar
This popular ornamental tree is native from the Great Lakes region east to Maine where it grows in swamps and limestone uplands.  It is also called eastern arborvitae, which literally translates as “tree-of-life” because tea made from its foliage and bark prevents scurvy. 
Thuja plicata
western redcedar
More well-known as a coastal species used by indigenous people to build canoes and totem poles, western redcedar is also found inland up to 6,600 feet in elevation.  An important commercial tree for shingle manufacturing, it can reach 21 feet in diameter and more than 270 feet in height.
Torreya californica
California nutmeg
Not a true nutmeg, but a rare conifer endemic to the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and central coast of California. Its long, sharp needles and is a sporadic ornamental planting.
Tsuga canadensis
eastern hemlock
Shade tolerant eastern hemlocks inhabit cool, moist coves in the southern Appalachians where they can survive more than 500 years and reach seven feet in diameter.  Their population has been severely diminished by an outbreak of hemlock wooly adelgids in this region.
Tsuga heterophylla
western hemlock
This shade tolerant tree is one of the most commercially important species in the Pacific Northwest, with a straight, clear stem capable of growing more than four feet in diameter.
Tsuga mertensiana
mountain hemlock
This shade tolerant tree is well distributed from Alaska through the Rocky Mountains, found from sea-level to 11,000 feet in elevation.  In subalpine areas it can often grow as a sprawling shrub, while in temperate rainforests it can reach 197 feet in height and seven feet in diameter.
Ponderosa pine bark with lichen growing on it

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

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Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area

Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area

Georgia

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Chattahoochee National Forest

23,330 acres

Overview

Your first question is probably, “Who is Ed Jenkins?”  Edgar Lanier Jenkins (1933-2012) was a politician who served as one of Georgia’s U.S. Congressional representatives from 1977 to 1993.  This spot was initially proposed as Springer Mountain National Recreation Area, but was renamed when established in 1991.  If Springer Mountain sounds familiar, that is because it is the southern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that runs 2,185 miles to Katahdin in Maine through numerous National Forests (as well as Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks).  A memorable part of Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods takes place in Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area.

Highlights

Benton MacKaye Trail, Owen Vista, Appalachian National Scenic Trail southern terminus

Must-Do Activity

The southern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail was at Mt. Oglethorpe until 1958, when it was moved 14 miles northeast due to increased development.  Thru-hikers can access the bronze plaque and trail register at the top of Springer Mountain by hiking 8.5 miles from Amicolola Falls State Park.  An easier option is to start from potholed Forest Service Road 42 and ascend 0.9 miles south to the summit.  Some thru-hikers choose to spend the night in the open-front trail shelter near the top, but many simply turn around to head back north.

Best Trail

Similar to summiting Katahdin at the northern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, thru-hikers have to hike to the end of the trail, and then turn around.  For day hikers, a nice option is to add the eastern part of the Benton MacKaye Trail to make a 4.7-mile loop that passes Owen Vista.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It was quite foggy when we visited, so we did not get any great vistas, but you have to photograph the bronze plaque marking the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Peak Season

Spring

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Forest Service Road 42 that accesses the trailhead is dirt and full of potholes, but it is doable in a passenger vehicle. 

Camping

Some thru-hikers choose to spend the night in the open-front trail shelter near the summit of Springer Mountain.  If you have a car, we recommend you drive west in Chattahoochee National Forest to the free Hickey Gap Campground (which made our Top 10 Campgrounds in National Forests list).

Related Sites

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Georgia)

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (Georgia)

Appalachian National Scenic Trail (Maine to Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Explore More – How many National Forests does the 2,185-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail cross?

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

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Bridger National Forest

Bridger National Forest

Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,744,705 acres (1,736,115 federal/ 8,590 other)

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

Overview

The peaks of the Wind River Range not only represent the Continental Divide, but also a division between Bridger-Teton National Forest and Shoshone National Forest which happen to be in two different U.S. Forest Service Regions.  These mountains are our favorite place to go backpacking in the entire world with jagged peaks that rival the Teton Range for picturesqueness and a fraction of the visitors (except at overcrowded Titcomb Basin and the Cirque of the Towers).  Read more about our 120-mile trip on the Highline Trail in our newspaper article.

Highlights

Fremont Lake, Kendall Warm Springs, Green River Lakes, Wind River Range, Titcomb Basin, Periodic Spring geyser, Lake Alice, Wyoming Range National Recreation Trail, Highline Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

From Pinedale, Wyoming, a 50-mile partially-paved drive leads to the campground at Green River Lakes, which opens up into a beautiful valley that frames photogenic Squaretop Mountain.  Hiking around the northerly of the two lakes makes a great couple-hour jaunt, but if you are looking for a unique destination add the two-mile spur to fascinating Clear Creek Natural Bridge.  Here the water pours through and continues to widen a four-foot tall gap in the limestone.  Starting from the campground, the Highline Trail is a 72-mile one-way trek popular with backpackers.  The first ten miles are very flat following the river to Beaver Meadows, which offers 360° mountain views. 

Best Trail

Further south in the Wind River Range than stunning Squaretop Mountain, it is only eight miles from Big Sandy Trailhead to the Cirque of the Towers, which is famous among rock climbers and actually in neighboring Shoshone National Forest.  Even though there were a lot of campers back there, we found a secluded spot between Big Sandy Lake and Clear Lake in Bridger National Forest.  When we finally made it over 10,800-foot Jackass Pass to the cirque, it was full of fog and hail was dropping from the sky.  Although we have been back on a sunny day, that was the more memorable experience, which is why we selected a photo from that morning for the cover of our new guidebook Out in the Woods (see bottom of this post).

Watchable Wildlife

On the way to Green River Lakes outside Pinedale, Wyoming, make time for a quick stop at Kendall Warm Springs where the water is a constant 85°F but is protected from human bathing.  The main attraction is a fish less than 2-inches long, the endangered Kendall Warm Springs dace.  During spawning (which occurs frequently throughout the year due to the warm water), the males turn purple and the females light green.  U.S. Forest Service biologists keep careful track of the population and if you’re lucky, you’ll meet them when they are out there conducting a survey.  On the trails and roads, keep an eye out for moose, elk, mule deer, pronghorns, both black and grizzly bears, and badgers (even in the middle of the day).  Trout fishing is also a major attraction to this area’s many lakes and streams.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This incredible view of Squaretop Mountain and Green River Lakes is at the end of a long drive down a washboard dirt road; maybe that is why it is on the Wyoming license plate.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The long dirt roads back to the trailheads at Big Sandy and Green River Lakes are well maintained, and we have never had a problem accessing them in a passenger vehicle.  Limited parking when you get there is the bigger problem.

Camping

The campground at Green River Lakes has an incredible view of Squaretop Mountain (which is on the Wyoming license plate).  There are more dispersed campsites on the road to Big Sandy Trailhead than Green River Lakes.

Wilderness Areas

Bridger Wilderness

Related Sites

Shoshone National Forest (Wyoming)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Grand Teton (Wyoming)

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, bog birch, Booth’s willow, red osier dogwood, sagebrush

Explore More – What is the entire length of the stream that is the only place where the endangered Kendall Warm Springs dace lives (before it pours into the chilly Green River, home to a genetically distinct dace population)?

Learn more about Bridger 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.