Tag Archives: National Forest

Cleveland National Forest

Cleveland National Forest

California

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region

568,634 acres (439,281 federal/ 129,353 other)

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

Overview

In southwestern California, Cleveland National Forest was established in 1908 and named for the U.S. President who added 21-million acres to the Forest Reserve system in the 1890s.  The National Forest is notable for its Mediterranean climate and low elevation (its highest point is 6,271-foot Monument Peak).  Most of its acreage is chaparral, not forest, making it more prone to frequent wildfires.  Despite its proximity to San Diego and the densely-populated Pacific Coastline, it contains four designated Wilderness areas. 

Highlights

Sunrise Scenic Byway, Henshaw Scenic Vista, Monument Peak, Three Sisters Falls, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, Cedar Creek Falls, Sunset Trail, Noble Canyon National Recreation Trail, Agua Tibia Trail, San Juan Loop Trail, Desert View Nature Trail, Pioneer Mail Trail, Observatory Trail

Must-Do Activity

Located ten miles north of Highway 76, Palomar Mountain is best known as the home of Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, which was established in 1928.  It is open daily for tours of the A.W. Greenway Jr. Visitor Center and the 200-inch Hale Telescope, which reigned as the world’s largest from 1949 until 1975.  Two miles downhill is the Forest Service’s Observatory Campground and the trailhead for the 2.2-mile one-way Observatory National Recreation Trail.  An Adventure Pass is required to park here, but not if you start at the observatory.  The trail gains about 900 feet in elevation as it climbs through an oak-pine forest to the Palomar Observatory (that sits at 5,598 feet in elevation) providing views of the Mendenhall Valley. 

Best Trail

The Sunset Trail makes a 4.6-mile loop from the Meadows Trailhead at mile marker 19 on the Sunrise Scenic Byway.  The trail provides a view of the Pacific Ocean after passing meadows, ponds, and oak savannahs. 

Watchable Wildlife

Despite its proximity to the San Diego metropolitan area, Cleveland National Forest is home to black bears, gray foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  Black-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, and coyotes are more likely to be encountered by visitors.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Look for acorn woodpeckers’ seed caches riddled into some of the Jeffrey pine trees in the forest.

Peak Season

Winter

Fees

An Adventure Pass is required to park at several trailheads (including the Observatory Trail) throughout the National Forest, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

The Sunrise Scenic Byway and the road to Palomar Observatory are both paved, although there are many unpaved routes through the National Forest.

Camping

Two miles downhill from the Palomar Observatory is the Forest Service’s Observatory Campground, a great place to stay if you plan to attend a star party on moonless nights.  Palomar Mountain State Park also has a campground.

Wilderness Areas

Agua Tibia Wilderness (also run by the Bureau of Land Management)

Hauser Wilderness

Pine Creek Wilderness

San Mateo Canyon Wilderness

Related Sites

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Nearest National Park

Joshua Tree

Conifer Tree Species

Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine, white fir, California juniper, Arizona cypress, Tecate cypress

Flowering Tree Species

Engelmann oak, coast live oak, California black oak, manzanita

Explore More – Who was the U.S. President that established the first 13-million acres of Forest Reserves starting in 1891, prior to Grover Cleveland?

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

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Clearwater National Forest

Clearwater National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

1,722,132 acres (1,679,952 federal/ 42,180 other)

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

Overview

In central Idaho, Clearwater National Forest was established in 1908 and administratively combined with Nez Perce National Forest in 2012.  A great place to start is the Forest Service visitor center at Lolo Pass on the Idaho-Montana border southwest of Missoula, where you will learn about the Corps of Discovery’s visit in 1805.  Elsewhere, the North Fork of the Clearwater River ends in the Dworshak Reservoir where a separate section of the National Forest can be explored on the White Pine Scenic Byway and Elk River Backcountry Byway.  The latter accesses Giant Cedar Grove and Elk Creek Falls, which is three separate waterfalls totaling a 140-foot drop.

Highlights

White Pine Scenic Byway, Lolo Pass, Lolo Motorway, DeVoto Memorial Grove, Colgate Licks, Jerry Johnson Hot Springs, Shoestring Falls, Elk Creek Falls, Giant Cedar Grove, Aquarius Natural Area, Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, Down River Trail, Beason Meadows National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

Most of the recreational activity in Clearwater National Forest occurs along the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (Highway 12), which runs west from the Lolo Pass visitor center along the Lochsa National Wild and Scenic River.  The legendary dirt road called the Lolo Motorway (see below) can be accessed from several points along this route.  Both the famous Jerry Johnson Hot Springs and the smaller Weir Creek Hot Springs are reachable from roadside trailheads.  Also along Highway 12, short trails lead through the DeVoto Memorial Grove of western redcedars and Colgate Licks mineral springs.

Best Trail

From parking areas on both sides of Highway 12, it is only about a one-mile easy walk to Jerry Johnson Hot Springs where multiple pools can be found creekside and uphill at the source.  The trail continues along Warm Springs Creek into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and beyond. 

Watchable Wildlife

The North Fork of the Clearwater and the Lochsa Rivers provide habitat for fish and water-loving animals like moose, raccoons, river otters, muskrats, beavers, fishers, ospreys, and bald eagles.  The mountains are home to elk, mule deer, mountain goats, black bears, martens, red foxes, gray wolves, and mountain lions.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A short trail leads through the DeVoto Memorial Grove of western redcedars, named for author Bernard DeVoto.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The scenic 73-mile Lolo Motorway is a single-lane, dirt road that tracks both the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trails.  Also labeled Forest Road 500, it follows a ridgeline north of the Lochsa River and several steep access roads climb to meet it from Highway 12.  High-clearance vehicles (or motorcycles) are a must and four-wheel drive is required on the rougher western end of the route.  Driving up Parachute Hill Forest Road 569 and down Saddle Camp Forest Road 107 makes for a good four-hour loop with short stops at the Indian Post Office and Devils Chair.

Camping

Although it is close to Highway 12, the pleasant Jerry Johnson Campground is one of several campgrounds found along the Lochsa National Wild and Scenic River and located only a short drive from the trailhead for the hot springs.

Wilderness Areas

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

Related Sites

Challis National Forest (Idaho)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Montana)

Nearest National Park

Glacier

Conifer Tree Species

western redcedar, western larch, grand fir, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, western white pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, limber pine, whitebark pine, Pacific yew, Rocky Mountain juniper

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Pacific dogwood, red alder, balsam poplar, paper birch, Piper’s hawthorn

Explore More – What famous group built the 73-mile-long Lolo Motorway in the 1930s?

Learn more about Clearwater 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.

Cibola National Forest

Cibola National Forest

New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

2,103,528 acres (1,633,783 federal/ 469,745 other)

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

Overview

Cibola National Forest is spread across many mountain ranges in central New Mexico, including the Bear, Datil, Magdalena, San Mateo, Gallinas, Manzano, and Zuni Mountains.  Due to their proximity to Albuquerque, the most visited are the Sandia Mountains, which have a ski resort that is only open during good snow years.  You can reach the top by riding the aerial tramway (admission fee), driving Sandia Crest Scenic Byway (fee), or hiking La Luz Trail that climbs 3,800 feet in elevation. 

Highlights

Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, Tajique Canyon, Continental Divide Loop Auto Tour, Mt. Taylor, Cienega Canyon Picnic Area, McGaffey Lake, Mt. Withington, Kelly ghost town, South Baldy Peak, Whitehorse Canyon, Paxton Cone, La Luz Trail, Kiwanis Trail

Must-Do Activity

Sandia Peak rises to 10,678 feet in elevation, dominating the skyline east of Albuquerque.  The mountain makes a great backdrop for photos during the International Balloon Fiesta held every October, but we can imagine it would also be fun to watch the balloons launch or do their night lighting from the summit.  Once atop the busy peak, the North Crest, 10K, and South Crest Trails are all good hiking options that do not lose too much elevation.  Some hikers choose to ride the aerial tramway up and then take a steep trail back down to the parking lot (trekking poles recommended).

Best Trail

In the Manzano Mountains, both the Red Canyon (3.5 miles one-way) and Fourth of July Trails (two miles) climb to the 22-mile-long Crest Trail, which offers stunning views along its length.  Further south, the Crest Trail also accesses 10,098-foot-tall Manzano Peak.  In the San Mateo Mountains north of Interstate 40, a trail (six miles roundtrip) summits 11,301-foot Mt. Taylor, an extinct stratovolcano that is one of four mountains sacred to the Navajo.

Watchable Wildlife

The “sky islands” of Cibola National Forest rise high above the surrounding landscape, providing habitat for numerous isolated and rare species.  Mule deer and pronghorn are the two main large ungulates found in Cibola National Forest, while its carnivores include black bears, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  Due to its proximity to the Rio Grande Valley, many migratory birds pass through the National Forest during the spring and fall.  If you take the Sandia Peak tramway, watch for birds of prey flying the updrafts along the steep mountain grades.

Instagram-worthy Photo

From either the point where the Sandia Peak aerial tramway unloads passengers or the end of the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, it is an easy one-hour roundtrip hike through the subalpine forest to the Kiwanis Cabin and its awesome views.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is a day-use fee to park along the Sandia Crest Scenic Byway, although you can use the America the Beautiful Pass. Sandia Peak Tramway tickets are about $29 roundtrip.

Road Conditions

The Sandia Crest Scenic Byway is paved to the top, but Road 165 offers a rough dirt road alternative partway up.  Most of the roads in the Manzano Mountains are well-maintained gravel.

Camping

The Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque are a great place for dispersed camping, and there are also several campgrounds.

Wilderness Areas

Apache Kid Wilderness

Manzano Mountain Wilderness

Sandia Mountain Wilderness

Withington Wilderness

Related Sites

Carson National Forest (New Mexico)

El Morro National Monument (New Mexico)

Petroglyph National Monument (New Mexico)

Nearest National Park

White Sands

Conifer Tree Species

Rocky Mountain juniper, alligator juniper, Engelmann spruce, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, subalpine fir

Flowering Tree Species

Gambel oak, quaking aspen, bigtooth maple, boxelder, New Mexico locust, Fremont cottonwood, netleaf hackberry

Explore More – How did the Manzano Mountains get their name?

Learn more about Cibola 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.

Top 10 National Forests for Backpacking

We have only backpacked in about 35 National Forests of the 155 total, but we have camped in many of the most famous Wildernesses in America.  Our best memories from National Forests were made in these remote areas where the only way in is on foot or horseback (which is perfect if the physical requirements of carrying all of your gear is too much).  We hope you are inspired to don your backpack and hit the trail.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists.

10. Mt. Baker (Washington)

There is a short backpacking season in this snowy National Forest, but the mountain scenery is unparalleled

9. Talladega (Alabama)

Incredible views can be found on the Pinhoti Trail, Bartram National Recreation Trail, and Cheaha Falls Trail

8. Routt (Colorado)

Both the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and Never Summer Wilderness (also in Arapaho National Forest) are worth exploring

7. Bitterroot (Montana)

Blodgett Canyon is incredibly beautiful and we hope to return to explore this area more

6. Shoshone (Wyoming)

Like our #1 National Forest, this one shares the Wind River Range, plus we have backpacked the Beartooth Plateau and Clarks Fork Canyon

5. Challis (Idaho)

The incredible Sawtooth National Recreation Area is spread across Boise, Challis, and Sawtooth National Forests

4. Ashley (Utah-Wyoming)

This is more of a vote for the High Uintas Wilderness, which is shared with Wasatch National Forest

3. Medicine Bow (Wyoming)

We have backpacked all over our local National Forest and highly recommend a trip into the Snowy Range

2. Gila (New Mexico)

The Gila Wilderness was the first designated in the world (in 1924) and remains one of the best for backpacking

…and finally our #1 National Forest for backpacking:

1. Bridger (Wyoming)

Titcomb Basin (photo above) and the Cirque of the Towers are overrun, but there are so many other great options in the Wind River Range

Honorable Mentions

Nebraska (Nebraska)

Not on most backpackers’ bucket lists, but we have enjoyed the solitude of the Soldier Creek Wilderness and Pine Ridge National Recreation Area

Los Padres (California)

If you like hot springs and poison-oak, then this foggy forest on the Pacific Ocean might be for you

Roosevelt (Colorado)

You may not expect to see moose in Colorado, but we typically see them in the Mummy Range north of Rocky Mountain National Park

Ouachita (Oklahoma-Arkansas)

This is more of a future pick, as we would like to backpack part of the Ouachita National Recreation Trail

La Sal (Utah)

The stunning canyons of the Dark Canyon Wilderness are included in Bears Ears National Monument

Wallowa (Oregon)

We have only been to the Eagle Cap Wilderness once, but it is famous among backpackers for a reason

Learn more about backpacking in all 155 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.

Chugach National Forest

Chugach National Forest

Alaska

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Alaska Region

6,908,540 acres (5,384,460 federal/ 1,524,080 other)

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

Overview

Roughly the size of New Hampshire, Chugach National Forest stretches from Seward, Alaska to the east beyond Cordova.  It encompasses 3,500 miles of shoreline in scenic Prince William Sound, one of the sport fishing world’s top destinations for halibut, ling cod, and salmon.  It is the northernmost and westernmost of all 155 National Forests, and 30% of its acreage is covered by glaciers (including 22 tidewater glaciers).  Chugach National Forest was established in 1907 from part of a Forest Reserve originally created in 1892, only 25 years after Alaska was purchased from Russia.

Highlights

Seward Scenic Byway, Turnagain Arm, Portage Glacier, Porcupine Campground, Russian River, Columbia Glacier, Million Dollar Bridge, Childs Glacier, Grayling Lake, Porcupine Creek Falls, Hope Point Trail, Iditarod National Historic Trail, Johnson Pass Trail, Russian Lakes Trail

Must-Do Activity

Cut off from the road system of Alaska, Cordova is a fishing village on Prince William Sound at the end of the Copper River Delta, which is considered the largest contiguous wetlands complex on North America’s Pacific coast.  Surrounded by Chugach National Forest, Cordova’s road network was dramatically shortened in 2011 when the mighty Copper River washed out a bridge 36 miles outside of town.  Now if you want to get to the dramatic Million Dollar Bridge or stunning Childs Glacier you have to arrange a trip by air boat.  Starting in 1911, the Million Dollar Bridge brought railcars full of copper ore from Kennecott Mine (which is now part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve).  Just across the Million Dollar Bridge, a short climb up a small hill provides great views of Miles Lake and the surrounding area.

Best Trail

There are over 500 miles of designated trails in the National Forest, including several long trails on the Kenai Peninsula, which is accessible by paved roads from Anchorage.  Three trails popular with backpackers are the 23-mile Johnson Pass Trail, 22-mile long Russian Lakes Trail (with three Forest Service cabins for rent along its route), and 39-mile Resurrection Pass Trail (with eight Forest Service cabins). 

Watchable Wildlife

Chugach National Forest provides nesting habitat for millions of birds, including a huge population of bald eagles and more than 200 colonies of seabirds.  Large mammals include moose, caribou, Sitka black-tailed deer, Dall sheep, mountain goats, pine martens, coyotes, gray wolves, black bears, and grizzly/brown bears.  Marine mammals include humpback whales, minke whales, Dall’s porpoises, Steller sea lions, and sea otters.  Rivers and creeks provide spawning beds for all five species of Pacific salmon: chinook/king, sockeye/red, coho/silver, chum/dog, and pink/humpback. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Boat tours out of the beautiful port of Valdez get close to the massive Columbia Glacier, a tidewater glacier that produces so many icebergs that it is inaccessible from the water.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

There are not many roads in Chugach National Forest, and to access the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier outside Cordova you will need to arrange a trip by air boat since a bridge washed out in 2011.

Camping

There are 16 campgrounds in Chugach National Forest, including the Porcupine Campground in Hope near a creek popular for salmon fishing.

Wilderness Areas

Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area

Related Sites

Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Nearest National Park

Kenai Fjords

Conifer Tree Species

Sitka spruce, western hemlock, mountain hemlock, yellow-cedar

Flowering Tree Species

thinleaf alder, balsam poplar, paper birch, Scouler willow, Bebb willow, feltleaf willow, undergreen willow, Barclay willow, netleaf willow, arctic willow, Sitka willow, Sitka mountain-ash, Oregon crab apple

Explore More – Chugach National Forest covers nearly seven-million acres of land, but how many miles of Forest Service roads are there?

Learn more about Chugach 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.