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Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest

Tennessee, North Carolina

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

1,204,847 acres (655,598 federal/ 549,249 other)

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

Overview

The southern Appalachian Mountains have some of the highest biodiversity in the United States, with more than 20,000 species of plants and animals.  In the heart of this region, Cherokee National Forest is located north and south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee.  Abundant rainfall and steep terrain make whitewater rafting a popular activity, especially on the Ocoee National Wild and Scenic River.

Highlights

Cherohala Skyway, Hiwassee River, Bald River Falls, Ocoee Scenic Byway, Boyd Gap Observation Site, Turtletown Creek Falls Scenic Area, Ocoee Whitewater Center, Coker Creek Scenic Area, Dudley Falls Picnic Area, Watauga Lake, Rock Creek Gorge Scenic Area, Laurel Fork Falls, Bald Mountain Ridge Scenic Area, Unaka Mountains Scenic Area, Doe River Gorge Scenic Area, Backbone Rock, Rogers Ridge Scenic Area, Conasauga River Blue Hole, Gee Creek Falls, Roan High Knob, Falls Branch Falls, Tanasi Trail System, John Muir National Recreation Trail, Margarette Falls Trail, Warrior’s Passage National Recreation Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Cherokee National Forest is celebrated for its numerous waterfalls, two highlights being 60-foot-tall Margarette Falls and 65-foot Benton Falls, both accessible by short hikes.  If you visit during the fall foliage season, popular driving routes include the 26-mile Ocoee Scenic Byway and 43-mile Cherohala Skyway that climbs over 4,500 feet in elevation into North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.  We were intrigued by reading about the Conasauga River Blue Hole, where visitors can snorkel with fish and turtles in the shallows and deep pools. 

Best Trail

On the north side of Ocoee Lake, the Clemmer Trailhead is located right along Highway 30, a quarter mile off Highway 64.  From here one trail follows picturesque Rock Creek Gorge, which is known for its waterfalls.  Mountain bikers can follow several other trails and connect into the trail system around Benton Falls and McCamy Lake in the Chilhowee Recreation Area.  Altogether, the National Forest boasts 700 miles of trail, including a famous stretch of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through the Roan Highlands.

Watchable Wildlife

Large mammals found in Cherokee National Forest include white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, river otters, beavers, squirrels, bobcats, red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, and black bears.  In addition to songbirds common to eastern forests, watch the skies for turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and a variety of hawks.  This area is known for its high diversity of salamanders, including hellbenders and Jordan’s salamanders.  This region also has many reptiles, like eastern box turtles, common snapping turtles, southeastern five-lined skinks, timber rattlesnakes, northern copperheads, and rat snakes (like the one we saw on the Benton Falls Trail). The many streams and rivers support rainbow, brook, and brown trout, while lakes have largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappies.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The whitewater rapids are less intense on the Hiwassee River, which is also followed by Highway 30, the 21-mile long John Muir National Recreation Trail, and a portion of the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail. 

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $3 day-use fee at the Chilhowee Recreation Area and there are likely fees to park elsewhere in this massive National Forest. 

Road Conditions

The scenic byways we drove were all paved, but we found the gravel road up to Chilhowee Recreation Area to be rough and steep, though still easy enough for any passenger car.

Camping

There are countless campgrounds in Cherokee National Forest, but Chilhowee Campground near McKamy Lake seemed nice and provided access to an extensive trail system.

Wilderness Areas

Bald River Gorge Wilderness

Big Frog Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Big Laurel Branch Wilderness

Citico Creek Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Gee Creek Wilderness

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (also in Nantahala National Forest)

Little Frog Mountain Wilderness

Pond Mountain Wilderness

Sampson Mountain Wilderness

Unaka Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (Tennessee)

Manhattan Project National Historical Park (Tennessee-New Mexico-Washington)

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

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

Explore More – The National Forest’s Ocoee Whitewater Center hosted events during the Summer Olympics in what year?

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

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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.

Caribou National Forest

Caribou National Forest

Idaho, Utah, Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,085,966 acres (987,216 federal/ 98,750 other)

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

Overview

Co-managed as Caribou-Targhee National Forest since 2000, Caribou National Forest is located in the southeastern corner of Idaho.  To add to the jurisdictional muddle, Caribou National Forest has also administered the 263,940-acre Idaho portion of Wasatch-Cache National Forest since 1973 (see previous blog post).  However, nearly 50 years later all of the wooden signs in this area still read Cache National Forest.  Despite the signage, U.S. Forest Service publications and topographic maps identify Minnetonka Cave and Paris Ice Cave as being in Caribou-Targhee National Forest, so we went with that.  Confused?  So are we, so much so that we made a phone call to a Forest Service employee in this ranger district that still did not clear up the bureaucratic mess.

Highlights

Pioneer Historic Scenic Byway, Minnetonka Cave, Paris Ice Cave, Caribou City ghost town, Malad Range, Tincup Mountain, Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway, Lander Cutoff, Oneida Salt Works, Cherry Springs Nature Area, Montpelier Canyon, Bloomington Lake, Scout Mountain Nature Trail

Must-Do Activity

In Montpelier, Idaho, the National Oregon/California Trail Center is managed by the U.S. Forest Service on the Pioneer Historic Scenic Byway.  To the southwest, Minnetonka Cave is one of the few developed cave tours offered by (a concessionaire for) the Forest Service.  The natural entrance to Minnetonka Cave was widened and the route lighted by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s when 444 stairs were installed to allow large groups to visit.  The tour goes out and back on the same route so the steep downward sections become climbs on the return trip, but guides make multiple stops in both directions to allow you to catch your breath at this high elevation.

Best Trail

Further north than Minnetonka Cave, a 9.5-mile long dirt road drive up to 7,800 feet in elevation leads to the short boardwalk through the Paris Ice Cave.  This photogenic natural tunnel is open at both ends so it does not require a flashlight, but does retain snowpack deep into the summer months.  Signs at both caves still say Cache National Forest even though this district has not been managed by them since 1973.

Watchable Wildlife

This is a fairly arid portion of the west, so you are more likely to see a ground squirrel, coyote, or mule deer than any other wildlife.  In Minnetonka Cave, our tour guide pointed out a couple Townsend’s big-eared bats, which is why they screen all visitors for white-nosed bat syndrome.  We disturbed a nesting robin when exiting the Paris Ice Cave.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the Idaho-Utah border, the 109-square-mile Bear Lake has been called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” because of its water’s intense turquoise color, due to suspended limestone sediment.  The naturally-formed lake sits at 5,924 feet in elevation and its maximum depth is 208 feet.  Both states have their own Bear Lake State Park with boat ramps and beaches for swimming. 

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

It costs $12 per person for the 80-minute Minnetonka Cave Tour that you must pay before driving up to the actual cave, but we did not come across any other fees.

Road Conditions

Access to Minnetonka Cave is paved and the 9.5-mile long dirt road drive up to Paris Ice Cave was good enough for our passenger vehicle to handle.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds on the way to Minnetonka Cave and we found a large, flat dispersed camp along the road to Paris Ice Cave.

Wilderness Areas

None

Related Sites

Targhee National Forest (Idaho-Wyoming)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah)

Nearest National Park

Grand Teton (Wyoming)

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, river birch, boxelder, Rocky Mountain maple, Bebb willow, blue elderberry, red osier dogwood, chokecherry, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, sagebrush

Explore More – The Caribou Mountains were named for a gold miner nicknamed “Cariboo Jack,” but what was his real name?

Learn more about Caribou 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.

Cache National Forest

Cache National Forest

Utah, Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,216,778 acres (701,652 federal/ 515,126 other)

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

Overview

Cache National Forest surrounds Logan, Utah on three sides covering the Bear River Range and Wellsville Mountains, which are considered to have the steepest grade in the entire nation.  Since August 2007, Cache National Forest is officially part of the massive Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest that sprawls across northeastern Utah.  To add to the bureaucratic confusion, the 263,940 acres of Cache National Forest in Idaho have been administered since 1973 by Caribou National Forest (see our next blog post).  When you subtract that land area, it only includes 437,712 acres of federal land, making it one of the smallest National Forests in the western U.S.

Highlights

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, Wind Cave, Jardine Juniper, Tea Pot Rock, Old Limber Pine Nature Trail, Ogden River Scenic Byway, Pineview Reservoir, Tony Grove Lake Campground, Causey Reservoir, Wellsville Mountains, Naomi Peak National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway follows Highway 89 and the beautiful Logan River up to a pass with views of Bear Lake, a naturally-formed body of water that gets its turquoise color from suspended limestone sediment (earning it’s the nickname “Caribbean of the Rockies”).  Logan Canyon is especially busy in the fall when the leaves change on quaking aspens and three species of maples: boxelder, canyon/bigtooth maple, and Rocky Mountain maple. 

Best Trail

Logan Canyon has two popular, but steep trails that lead to Wind Cave and the Old Jardine Juniper, the world’s largest Rocky Mountain juniper estimated to be at least 3,000 years old.  The 3.6-mile out-and-back trail to Wind Cave starts from a roadside pullout across from Guinavah-Malibu Campground and gains more than 900 feet in elevation.  Hiking to the Old Jardine Juniper requires a climb of over 2,100 feet along the five-mile one-way trail, which continues further into the Mt. Naomi Wilderness.

Watchable Wildlife

Trout fishing is a popular activity due to all of the rivers and streams in Cache National Forest.  Large mammalian species include elk, mule deer, pronghorns, and black bears.  Watch the skies above Logan Canyon for ravens and a variety of birds of prey.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The limestone arches of Wind Cave originally formed underground then were exposed when the Logan River cut its steep canyon.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Logan Canyon (Highway 89) and Ogden River (Highway 39) Scenic Byways are both paved.  We did not drive any unpaved roads, but we did notice that the dirt roads around Bear Lake Summit (on Highway 89) looked very rutted and four-wheel-drive only.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds along both the Logan Canyon and Ogden River Scenic Byways.  We did not notice any dispersed campsites in these areas, although there probably are some options in more remote portions of the National Forest.

Wilderness Areas

Mt. Naomi Wilderness

Wellsville Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Golden Spike National Historical Park (Utah)

Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah)

Wasatch National Forest (Utah-Wyoming)

Nearest National Park

Grand Teton (Wyoming)

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, river birch, boxelder, canyon/bigtooth maple, Rocky Mountain maple, Bebb willow, blue elderberry, chokecherry, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, sagebrush

Explore More – In what year did the Cache Valley host the second-ever rendezvous of fur-trapping mountain men?

Learn more about Cache 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.