Tag Archives: mountains

Bitterroot National Forest

Bitterroot National Forest

Montana, Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

1,655,753 acres (1,587,070 federal/ 68,683 other)

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

Overview

First established as the 4.1-million-acre Bitter Root Forest Reserve in 1898, the smaller Bitterroot National Forest today flanks both sides of Highway 93 and the Bitterroot River Valley.  This stretch of the Idaho-Montana border is rough, mountainous country and about half this National Forest is designated Wilderness (see below).  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail follows a portion of the boundary between Bitterroot National Forest and Beaverhead National Forest, heading northeast from Lost Trail Pass where Highway 93 crosses into Idaho.

Highlights

Nez Perce Auto Trail, Lost Trail Pass, Lake Como, Magruder Massacre Site, Trapper Peak, Skalkaho Falls, Blodgett Canyon, Boulder Creek Falls, Palisade Mountain National Recreation Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are trails going west up seemingly every canyon in the Bitterroot Mountains, while Lost Horse Creek has a road that follows it nearly to the Idaho border.  Wildfire smoke obscured the views during our visit in July 2021, but the glacier-carved mountain scenery was still impressive on Blodgett Creek Trail.  We imagine on a clear day the views would rival California’s Yosemite Valley.  There are many more roads (and some trails) to explore in the Sapphire Mountains east of Highway 93.

Best Trail

Blodgett Creek Trail leads 12.6 miles one-way to Blodgett Lake, but you do not have to go that far to appreciate its incredible beauty.  The trail climbs steadily as it follows the creek, passing the memorial to smokejumper Don Mackey on its way to two waterfalls: the first at 4.5 miles hidden in a slot canyon and the second a wide cascade only a half-mile further (for a cumulative elevation gain of 1,637 feet).  Leaving from a nearby trailhead, Blodgett Overlook Trail is a steep 2.8 miles out-and-back.  A similar trek with outstanding views, Bear Creek Overlook Trail climbs about 1,000 feet as it switchbacks 2.6 miles one-way.

Watchable Wildlife

On our backpacking trip into Blodgett Canyon we saw bats, many trout and a beaver dam in the creek, plus a variety of bird life, including a dipper (or ouzel) and a hairy woodpecker.  We also heard hermit thrushes and pikas calling in the rocky scree slopes.  The Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains are home to elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose, as well as mountain lions, black bears, and grizzly bears (which were reintroduced starting in 2003).  Wildlife watchers should drive the U.S. Forest Service’s Sula Deer, Elk, and Bighorn Driving Tour.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you hike the Blodgett Creek Trail keep an eye on the ridgeline to the south for a massive natural arch that punches a hole in the skyline.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last three miles to Blodgett Trailhead were well-groomed dirt road and the route from Hamilton, Montana had signs at every turn.

Camping

Located on a creek, Blodgett Campground (fee) seemed like a nice spot, though it was a bit noisy and smoky on a weekend in mid-July.  We also read that Deep Creek Campground is nice and is located near the ruins of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest)

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

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (also in Nez Perce, Clearwater, and Lolo National Forests)

[Allan Mountain Roadless Area]

Related Sites

Beaverhead National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Glacier (Montana)

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, whitebark pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, western redcedar, subalpine larch, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, grand fir, western yew

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, black cottonwood, bog birch, Rocky Mountain maple, red alder, red-osier dogwood, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Trapper Peak, the highest point in Bitterroot National Forest?

Beaverhead National Forest

Beaverhead National Forest

Montana

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

2,199,013 acres (2,130,671 federal/ 68,342 other)

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

Overview

Co-managed since 1996, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is spread across multiple mountain ranges in the southwest corner of Montana.  The dividing boundaries between the two forests are unclear, though Beaverhead National Forest tends to be more southeast than Deerlodge National Forest and includes portions of the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Centennial, Gravelly, Madison, Pioneer, Tendoy, and Tobacco Root Mountains.  Bordering Idaho’s Salmon National Forest, 7,323-foot Lemhi Pass is located on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.  This is where the Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide in 1805 and is why the Sacajawea Memorial Area was established here in 1932.

Highlights

Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, Lemhi Pass, Sacajawea Memorial, Chief Joseph Pass, Pintler Falls, Upper Potosi Hot Springs, Charcoal Kilns, Gravelly Range Auto Tour, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

It is about a 17-mile drive from Harrison, Montana back to the free Potosi Campground, but it is well signed and worth the effort.  From here a 0.8-mile trail leads to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, a clear 100°F pool with room for about six adults.  Further west, about ten miles north of Highway 278, is the privately owned Elkhorn Hot Springs (fee), a great place to relax after hiking around Big Hole National Battlefield (managed by the National Park Service).  If you keep driving north on Wise River Polaris Road (FR 484), there are plenty of dispersed campsites and trailheads for several long hikes into the Pioneer Mountains.

Best Trail

We only hiked less than a mile trail to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, but that trail keeps climbing three miles to the top of the ridge.  We read good reviews for Louise Lake National Recreation Trail (see note on Road Conditions below), Pioneer Lake National Recreation Trail, Browns Lake Trail, Blue Creek Trail, Sand Lake/Lily Lake Trail, and Gold Butte Trail.  Hopefully we will make it back here to go backpacking someday.

Watchable Wildlife

Beaverhead National Forest still has most of its pre-settlement carnivores: grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, Canadian lynx, coyotes, and gray wolves.  Grazing ungulate species include moose, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and pronghorns.  We saw bald eagles and ospreys on our drive out from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Mountain whitefish, golden trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, lake trout, arctic grayling, and burbot are some of the gamefish sought by fishermen.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The ruins of a developed hot springs resort (located on private land) are visible from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Watch for moose downhill in South Willow Creek and a cute little garter snake that hangs out in the rocks by the pool (possibly year round if it stays warm enough not to hibernate).

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The dirt roads to Potosi Campground and over Lemhi Pass are both in very good condition, but we do not know about all the other dirt roads that cross the Continental Divide.  We read the access road to Louise Lake National Recreation Trail is pretty rough, requiring four-wheel drive the last two miles.

Camping

There are more than 20 spots to set up at Potosi Campground, which is free and located near the trailhead for Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  You will want a high-clearance vehicle to drive across South Willow Creek to the official trailhead, but there are also pedestrian bridges.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Deerlodge and Bitterroot National Forests)

Lee Metcalf Wilderness (also in Gallatin National Forest)

Related Sites

Deerlodge National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, balsam poplar, Bebb willow, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Hilgard Peak, the highest point in Beaverhead National Forest?

Ashley National Forest

Ashley National Forest

Utah, Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,402,656 acres (1,382,346 federal/ 20,310 other)

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

Overview

Ashley National Forest is located on the Utah-Wyoming border and includes the High Uintas Wilderness and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (which we will discuss in our next blog post).  The Uinta Mountains are a popular destination for campers, hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and anybody who is into magnificent mountain peaks and picturesque lakes.  It is one of the few east-west running ranges in North America and includes the highest point in Utah: 13,528-foot tall Kings Peak.  In 2019, Congress set aside 173,475 acres of the National Forest as the Ashley Karst National Recreation and Geologic Area, the first such designation in the U.S.

Highlights

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Red Cloud Loop Scenic Backway, Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway, Indian Canyon Scenic Byway, Outlaw ATV Trail, Moon Lake, Strawberry Peak, Swett Ranch, Kings Peak, Highline Trail

Must-Do Activity

The High Uintas Wilderness is a premier backpacking destination with numerous lakes and 545 miles of trails.  The Wilderness is actually found in both the Wasatch and Ashley National Forests, but not Uinta National Forest.  Even if that makes sense to you, you will probably still need a good map to navigate your way to the highest point in Utah.  Summiting Kings Peak is a minimum 30 miles roundtrip from the Henrys Fork Trailhead in Wasatch National Forest to the north, and even further from the southern trailheads.

Best Trail

We backpacked into the High Uintas Wilderness on a 41-mile lollipop loop leaving from the Uinta Canyon Trailhead.  The first portion along the Uinta River Trail was flat, then started climbing when we split off on the Chain Lakes-Atwood Trail to cross Roberts Pass and Trail Rider Pass into Painter Basin, a beautiful area that sits below Kings Peak.  At more than 90 miles in length, the Highline Trail runs east-west through the area and is accessible from many side-trails, including the ones we were on.

Watchable Wildlife

Flaming Gorge Reservoir is known for its large population lake trout, as well as kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and burbot.  The reservoir also hosts a large nesting colony of ospreys, as well as many other raptors.  In the mountains, watch for moose, elk, mule deer, mountain goats, and black bears.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Leaving from the Uinta Canyon Trailhead, after about an hour of walking the Uinta River Trail reaches a bridge across its namesake.  The river is popular with fisherman and we spotted a moose grazing near the water.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

Every boat launch and day-use area in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area requires a recreation pass ($5 per day, $15 per week) or America the Beautiful pass, but there is no charge to drive the Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway or cross the dam.  We did not encounter any fees in the rest of Ashley National Forest, except in campgrounds.

Road Conditions

The 82-mile Flaming Gorge-Uinta Scenic Byway is paved the whole way, but there are many unpaved roads off it including access to popular Red Canyon and Sheep Creek National Geological Area.  Many roads are closed seasonally, like Red Cloud Loop and Spirit Lake Scenic Backways.

Camping

There are numerous campgrounds on and off the lake in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, mostly open May to September, although Dripping Springs is open year round.  There are also campgrounds near most of the trailheads that access the High Uintas Wilderness.  We found dirt roads off Highway 191 to be packed with dispersed campers and RVs in mid-July 2020.

Wilderness Areas

High Uintas Wilderness (also in Wasatch National Forest)

Related Sites

Dinosaur National Monument (Utah-Colorado)

Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Nearest National Park

Arches (Utah)

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, blue elderberry, Gambel oak, bigtooth maple, boxelder, western birch, red osier dogwood, narrowleaf cottonwood, sagebrush

Explore More –Ashley National Forest is named after whom?

Arapaho National Forest

Arapaho National Forest

Colorado

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region

770,604 acres (724,678 federal/ 45,926 other)

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

Overview

Arapaho National Forest is managed jointly with Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland in northern Colorado.  Easily accessible from Interstate 70 west of Denver, the National Forest is best known for its many ski resorts.  Mt. Evans Highway and Guanella Pass Scenic Byway provide access to the high country in the summer when a rainbow of wildflowers bloom, both above and below treeline.

Highlights

Arapaho National Recreation Area, Mt. Evans, St. Mary’s Glacier, Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, Devil’s Thumb Lake, Berthoud Falls, Ute Peak, Boardwalk Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Located just west of Denver, the Mount Evans Highway (the highest fully-paved road in North America) provides access to the rarely-seen world above 14,000 feet in elevation.  On the way up, a stop at Mt. Goliath Research Natural Area provides an interpretive hike through a forest of long-lived Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine trees.  Keep your eyes sharp for bighorn sheep and mountain goats along the road once you hit the switchbacks around Summit Lake.  While the Crest House is no longer in business near the summit, you can still park there and walk the remaining one-hundred feet to the top of the 14,264-foot peak for unsurpassed views.

Best Trail

The easiest way to access the aptly-named Never Summer Wilderness is from the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park.  You can backpack the 18-mile loop of Baker Gulch to Bowen Gulch in either direction, but keep an eye out for moose as we saw six along the way!  High elevation dwellers like yellow-bellied marmots and pikas were also abundant along the trail, which enters Routt National Forest on the west side of Fairview Mountain.

Watchable Wildlife

Moose and elk can be found throughout the National Forest, but are often easiest to locate around the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Bighorn sheep and mountain goats are known to approach cars on the paved road to the top of Mt. Evans.  During our January visit to Arapaho National Recreation Area we spotted a river otter and ouzel (or dipper, a swimming songbird) in one of the few sections of unfrozen creek.

Instagram-worthy Photo

North of the ski resort town of Winter Park is Fraser Experimental Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.  In winter, roads within Fraser Experimental Forest are closed and turn into routes for cross-country skiers and snowshoers with no entry fee charged.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

A $15 fee is charged per vehicle (or use your America the Beautiful pass) to drive the one-way Mt. Evans Highway during its short open season.  Also during the summer, day-use fees apply at Fraser Experimental Forest and Arapaho National Recreation Area.

Road Conditions

The road to the top of Mt. Evans is paved the whole way, but there are plenty of rough dirt roads to explore throughout Arapaho National Forest.  The road back to Monarch Lake is closed seasonally in Arapaho National Recreation Area.

Camping

Campgrounds fill up in the summer and even the dirt roads around the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park can be jam-packed with dispersed campers.  There are some scenic campgrounds around Fraser Experimental Forest near Winter Park, Colorado.

Wilderness Areas

Byers Peak Wilderness

Eagles Nest Wilderness (also in White River National Forest)

Indian Peaks Wilderness (also in Roosevelt National Forest)

Mt. Evans Wilderness (also in Pike National Forest)

Never Summer Wilderness (also in Routt National Forest)

Ptarmigan Pass Wilderness

Vasquez Peak Wilderness

Related Sites

Arapaho National Recreation Area (Colorado)

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (Colorado)

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (Colorado)

Nearest National Park

Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Conifer Tree Species

Engelmann spruce, Colorado blue spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, narrowleaf cottonwood, mountain ash, dwarf willow, Scouler willow, mountain willow, alpine fen willow, purple-twig willow, sandbar willow, Geyer’s willow, Wolf’s willow

Explore More – When did research begin in Fraser Experimental Forest on the response of conifer species to different harvesting techniques, insect outbreaks, and climate conditions?

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Apache National Forest

Apache National Forest

Arizona, New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,876,891 acres (1,813,601 federal/ 63,290 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/asnf/home

Overview

Growing up in Arizona, we only ever heard this referred to as Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest since it was merged in 1974.  The more eastern Apache National Forest section represents about 69% of the combined forests total acreage and partly spills into New Mexico.  On its west side it borders the Fort Apache and the San Carlos Indian Reservations, only containing one side of Mt. Baldy (which is famous for its ski resort).  The National Forest contains the eastern portions of the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim, a forested escarpment that cuts 200 miles across much of the state of Arizona.

Highlights

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, Mt. Baldy, Butler Canyon, Escudilla National Recreation Trail, Hannagan Meadow, Chitty Canyon, Big Tree Trail, Eagle National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) is a narrow, winding paved road that runs 120 miles north-south through Apache National Forest and is the best way to explore.  Near the northern end of the highway, a steep unpaved road leads east up to the trailhead for Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  A fire burned the 10,912-foot mountain that the trail summits and on our hike in May 2020 we counted 75 downed trees that we had to step over, both on the three miles in and the three miles out.  To the east, the remote Blue Range Primitive Area was created in 1933, but has yet to receive Wilderness designation.  About 18 miles south of Alpine make a stop at the historic Hannagan Meadow lodge, the only place to get gas along the route (or air if like us you have to put on your spare tire).  The highway continues south dropping down from the Mogollon Rim into a more desert-like environment.

Best Trail

A short, but worthwhile hike descends west from Sardine Saddle near the southern end of the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.  At the end of the 0.4-mile trail is the largest Arizona cypress tree growing in the United States (97 feet tall with a 181-inch trunk circumference).  There are also some big alligator juniper trees growing near the bottom of the canyon, and if you see their bark you will realize why they got their name.

Watchable Wildlife

We were excited to find horned lizards (a.k.a. frogs or toads) along the Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  The cliffs of the Mogollon Rim provide good thermal updrafts so are a good place to looks for turkey vultures and a variety of raptors.  The ranges of mule deer and Coues whitetail deer overlap in this part of the country.  We saw turkeys on the road back to Rose Spring Trail (Forest Road 54).

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are great views from atop the Mogollon Rim at Blue Point Overlook on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Highway 191 is paved, but is a slow drive due to its many curves.  Many of the side roads are very rough and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.  We got a flat tire on the rocky Forest Road 54.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds, including one at Luna Lake and several along the East Fork of the Black River.  Dispersed camping options abound, including on the road to Escudilla National Recreation Trail and we found a nice campsite near the entrance to Forest Road 54.

Wilderness Areas

Bear Wallow Wilderness

Escudilla Wilderness

Mount Baldy Wilderness

[Blue Range Primitive Area]

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest (Arizona)

Conifer Tree Species

Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Emory oak, Arizona white oak, turbinella oak, New Mexico locust, Rocky Mountain maple, pointleaf manzanita

Explore More – The Apache arrived in this area from the north in the 1300s and their name comes from a Zuni word translated as what?

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