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Davy Crockett National Forest

Davy Crockett National Forest

Texas

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

394,200 acres (160,647 federal/ 233,553 other)

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

Overview

The pine forests and blackland prairies of Davy Crockett National Forest are situated between Lufkin and Crockett, Texas.  The National Forest is located within the Trinity and Neches River basins, where the Big Slough Canoe Trail explores the swampy 3,639-acre Big Slough Wilderness.  David Crockett was a frontiersman, soldier, and Tennessee politician who died at the infamous Battle of the Alamo in 1836 and later became an almost-mythical American folk hero known as the “King of the Wild Frontier.”  This swampy stretch of eastern Texas is a fitting place to be his namesake.

Highlights

Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area, Holly Bluff Campground, Neches Bluff Overlook, Neches River, Big Slough Canoe Trail, Tall River Trail, Four C Trail

Must-Do Activity

Davy Crockett National Forest’s most developed site is Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area, where several trails run near the campsites that surround the 45-acre lake, including one end of the 20-mile-long Four C National Recreation Trail.  The site also has a bathhouse, picnicking and swimming areas, and boat ramps.

Best Trail

The 20-mile Four C National Recreation Trail connects Ratcliff Lake Recreation Area with Neches Bluff Overlook, although hurricane damage closed the northern portion of the trail in 2019.  The trail is named after the Central Coal and Coke Company, which had a sawmill at Ratcliff Lake.  Much of the well-marked route follows abandoned tramways built by the company to haul logs.  The two trailheads are easily accessible from highways, but no backpack camping is allowed during deer hunting season (November through January).

Watchable Wildlife

Fishing is a major draw to Ratcliff Lake, as is hunting for white-tailed deer, fox squirrels, northern bobwhite quail, doves, wild turkeys, and various waterfowl.  Beavers and American alligators are also found at Ratcliff Lake.  Longleaf pine forests are managed to provide habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers, an endangered species.  We saw an armadillo while hiking a swampy section of the Four C National Recreation Trail along the Neches River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is not much vertical topography in eastern Texas, so Neches Bluff Overlook stands out and commands an expansive view, including Caddo Mounds State Historic Site.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Access to Neches Bluff Overlook is by a well-maintained unpaved road that would be drivable by an RV.

Camping

There is free primitive camping allowed at Neches Bluff Overlook, which is located just south of Highway 21 near Caddo Mounds State Historic Site.  No backpack camping is allowed on the Four C National Recreation Trail during deer hunting season (November through January), when dispersed camping is also restricted to 20 designated hunter camps.

Wilderness Areas

Big Slough Wilderness

Related Sites

Angelina National Forest (Texas)

Sabine National Forest (Texas)

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

Nearest National Park

Hot Springs

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, longleaf pine, eastern redcedar

Flowering Tree Species

blackjack oak, post oak, southern red oak, white oak, swamp chestnut oak, willow oak, sweetgum, red maple, swamp red maple, green ash, swamp cottonwood, black willow, water hickory, pignut hickory, hophornbeam, sassafras, slippery elm, water elm, winged elm, American holly, yaupon holly, red buckeye, redbud, rough-leaf dogwood, flowering dogwood

Explore More – When were the mounds created at nearby Caddo Mounds State Historic Site?

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

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Coronado National Forest

Coronado National Forest

Arizona

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,859,807 acres (1,786,620 federal/ 73,187 other)

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

Overview

Coronado National Forest is sprinkled across the southeastern Arizona landscape, encompassing many forested “sky islands” that rise above the surrounding Sonoran Desert.  The isolation of these ranges has led to the evolution of some endemic species of plants and animals unique to this region.  That isolation also allows for clear night skies, so there are several peaks with astronomical observatories.  The most visited portion of the forest is the Santa Catalina Mountains, easily accessible along the paved 35-mile-long Catalina Highway east of Tucson, Arizona. 

Highlights

Catalina Highway, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Mt. Lemmon, Windy Point, Madera Canyon, Sky Island Scenic Byway, Mt. Graham, Onyx Cave, Madera Canyon, Mt. Hopkins Observatory, Pena Blanca Lake, Ramsey Canyon, Miller Peak, Cochise Stronghold

Must-Do Activity

The Santa Catalina Mountains offer many recreational opportunities, from road biking to downhill skiing at the top of 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon (the southernmost ski area in the U.S.).   The scenic beauty and expansive vistas along the Catalina Highway are worth the many switchbacks, and you might drive past some of the most famous triathletes in the world who train here in the winter.  The drive ascends through multiple life zones from saguaro-dotted desert to ponderosa pine forest.  At the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains is the busy Sabino Canyon Recreation Area (fee).

Best Trail

Box Camp Trail is special to us as it was the site of our first date, marriage proposal, and wedding ceremony.  Over the course of 13 miles, Box Camp Trail drops 5,000 feet in elevation from ponderosa pine forest through pinyon-juniper woodland to the desert of Sabino Canyon dominated by saguaro cacti.  The rugged trail disappears in places, but offers incredible views along the way.  Route finding is required as the trail is somewhat overgrown (with downed trees from wildfires), plus the one-way hike requires two cars, one left at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area and one at the trailhead on the Catalina Highway. 

Watchable Wildlife

The Sonoran Desert is home to numerous unique wildlife species from roadrunners to Coues white-tailed deer.  Many of the animals are nocturnal to avoid the heat of the day, including ringtails (or ring-tailed cats), kangaroo rats, and javelinas (or collared peccaries).  The “sky islands” provide habitat for black bears, coyotes, skunks, mountain lions, bobcats, pronghorns, mule deer, and elk.  Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is known for its coatis, relatives of raccoons that typically travel in packs.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Windy Point is a spectacular overlook along the Catalina Highway in the pinyon-juniper woodland zone.  Not a bad spot for wedding photos, if we do say so ourselves.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

There is a fee to park at Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, plus a charge for the tram ride. Check the USFS website for details.

Road Conditions

The paved Catalina Highway is sometimes closed due to snow and ice in the winter.  There are some rough roads in this part of the Sonoran Desert, and especially be aware of the potential for flash flooding.

Camping

There are designated campgrounds along the Catalina Highway and throughout Coronado National Forest.  We dispersed camped near Dragoon Springs Station south of Interstate 10, but the access roads were in bad shape.

Wilderness Areas

Chiricahua Wilderness

Galiuro Wilderness

Miller Peak Wilderness

Mount Wrightson Wilderness

Pajarita Wilderness

Pusch Ridge Wilderness

Rincon Wilderness

Santa Teresa Wilderness

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Tumacácori National Historical Park (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Saguaro

Conifer Tree Species

two-needle pinyon pine, alligator juniper, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Apache pine

Flowering Tree Species

Emory oak, Arizona oak, Mexican blue oak, Arizona rosewood, black alder, Arizona walnut, velvet ash, Arizona sycamore, quaking aspen

Explore More – Who was the famous ecologist that studied the similarity of increasing elevation to increasing latitude more than a century ago in the Santa Catalina Mountains?

Learn more about this 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.

Coeur d’Alene National Forest

Coeur d’Alene National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

801,759 acres (725,797 federal/ 75,962 other)

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

Overview

Coeur d’Alene National Forest is located on both sides of Interstate 90, east of the city of Coeur d’Alene, which was the French name given to the indigenous people.  In 1973, it was joined with Kaniksu and St. Joe National Forests to form Idaho Panhandle National Forests.  A good base for exploration, Wallace is a silver mining boomtown that refused to die despite its close call during the infamous Big Burn of 1910 (read more about it and the Pulaski Tunnel in Timothy Egan’s book).  On the Montana border, Lookout Pass Ski Area provides permits, equipment rentals, and shuttles for the famous Route of the Hiawatha bicycling trail (that is technically in St. Joe National Forest).

Highlights

Lake Hayden, Lookout Pass, Prichard Bridge, Stevens Lake, Willow Creek Falls, Steamboat Rock, Grassy Mountain Lookout, Lake Hayden, Settler’s Grove of Ancient Cedars, Pulaski Tunnel Trail

Must-Do Activity

North of Wallace, a good dirt road follows the West Fork of Eagle Creek to the Settler’s Grove of Ancient Cedars.  This 173-acre stand contains western redcedar trees up to seven feet in diameter, as well as large western hemlocks.  Fire has burned through the understory of this grove freeing nutrients for a lush growth of ferns and devil’s-club.  Look for a geocache near the sign that reads “end of Cedar Grove Trail” and points uphill to Trail No. 162, which continues another three miles.

Best Trail

The Idaho Centennial Trail follows the mountainous Idaho-Montana border on the eastern side of Coeur d’Alene National Forest, although it does dip west to cross Interstate 90 near the town of Mullan.  The old Mullan Road was cut through this rugged area in 1859-61; the terrain was so steep that workers had to construct 47 bridges to cover a distance of only 28 miles. 

Watchable Wildlife

Coeur d’Alene National Forest is home to mule deer, elk, moose, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions.  This close to Canada, it is also possible to find grizzly bears and gray wolves.  Common large birds include ospreys, golden eagles, bald eagles, wild turkeys, and ravens.  Although the National Forest does not encompass Lake Coeur d’Alene, it does contain many of the rivers and creeks that feed it, which provide incredible fishing opportunities.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are some impressive western redcedar trees growing in the Settler’s Grove of Ancient Cedars.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Even the paved roads we drove north of Wallace were slow going—very steep with hairpin switchbacks.  Once we got on the unpaved road following the West Fork of Eagle Creek, it was wide and flat.  We drove through Coeur d’Alene National Forest to access Bullion Pass on a four-wheel-drive-only road up a steep three-mile-long grade about a mile west (on a paved frontage road) from the Dena Mosa-Lookout Pass Rest Area on eastbound Interstate 90.

Camping

There are campgrounds located throughout the National Forest, including Mokins Bay Campground on Hayden Lake and Bell Bay Campground on Lake Coeur d’Alene.  We found a good dispersed campsite along the West Fork of Eagle Creek on the road to the Settler’s Grove of Ancient Cedars.

Wilderness Areas

None

Related Sites

Challis National Forest (Idaho)

Clearwater National Forest (Idaho)

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

Nearest National Park

Glacier

Conifer Tree Species

western redcedar, Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, western white pine, Douglas-fir, western hemlock, grand fir, subalpine fir, Pacific yew, western larch

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Pacific dogwood, red alder, balsam poplar, dwarf birch, paper birch, Piper’s hawthorn, boxelder, Bebb willow, western mountain-ash, choke cherry, western serviceberry, red alder, mountain alder

Explore More – How did the Coeur d’Alene tribe get its French name?

Learn more about this 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.

Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest

Arizona

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

2,013,804 acres (1,855,955 federal/ 157,849 other)

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

Overview

Coconino National Forest has an elevation range of 10,000 feet from the Verde River up to 12,637-foot Mt. Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona.  It borders four other National Forests: Kaibab, Prescott, Sitgreaves, and Tonto.  The National Forest encompasses two busy recreational areas: the red rocks around Sedona and the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff.  While in college for three years at Northern Arizona University, Scott probably hiked 100 different trails and more than 1,000 miles through Coconino National Forest.  He and his Siberian husky would often wake up early to get a hike in before class, including one moonlit summiting of Mt. Humphreys completed in time for an 8 a.m. lecture.

Highlights

Oak Creek Canyon, Bell Rock, Vultee Arch, Cathedral Rock, Sycamore Canyon, Honanki Ruins, Wet Beaver Creek, San Francisco Peaks, Mt. Humphreys, Lockett Meadow, Mt. Elden, West Clear Creek, Upper Lake Mary, West Fork Trail, Kachina Trail, Bear Jaw Canyon Trail

Must-Do Activity

North of Sedona is the deep, shady Oak Creek Canyon that houses a diversity of plant species, including riparian trees like sycamore and walnut.  The steep, forested walls make for beautiful scenery, but also create ideal conditions for crown fires as evidenced in 2006 and 2014.  The steep Wilson Mountain South Trail #10 provides extraordinary panoramas and the shady West Fork Trail #108 is perfect on hot summer days, though in the winter it is also beautiful covered in snow and ice.  The remains of the historic lodge and orchard at the latter site provide a glimpse into the past of a place immortalized in Zane Grey’s novel The Call of the Canyon.  Continue driving north up Highway 89A for unforgettable hairpin turns that lead to Oak Creek Vista and on to Flagstaff.

Best Trail

The San Francisco Peaks are the remains of an extinct volcano that forms the dramatic mountain skyline north of Flagstaff.  You cannot actually see the highest summit (12,637-foot Mt. Humphreys) from town, but you will if you drive Highway 180 toward Grand Canyon National Park.  The shortest route to the top leaves from 8,800 feet at Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort and is nine miles roundtrip.  For the more adventurous: start on the Inner Basin Trail from Lockett Meadow, hike 19 miles roundtrip via the Weatherford Trail, or tack on seven miles to Snowbowl on the scenic Kachina Trail.  The San Francisco Peaks are beautiful (especially when aspen trees turn in the fall), but can be dangerous during thunderstorms that occur almost every afternoon during monsoon season.  

Watchable Wildlife

Elk are the most prevalent charismatic megafauna in Coconino National Forest, although mule deer and pronghorns are also common.  We have encountered black bears in the San Francisco Peaks and rattlesnakes in Sycamore Canyon.  Tassel-eared squirrels are the noisiest residents of the ponderosa pine forests, enough so that Bertie the talking squirrel became the main character in the children’s book Scott illustrated while working for the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The cliff dwelling in Sedona’s Lost Canyon is in a beautiful spot overlooking a wide green valley that cuts between the red rock buttes and escarpments.  There is water in this narrow canyon, feeding the tall Arizona cypress trees below.  Just outside the cave, juniper trees offered firewood, pinyon pine produced edible nuts, and yucca plants provided thread for its former residents.  To the north numerous canyons drain the ponderosa pine forests where elk and mule deer reside in the summer.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

A day-use fee applies at nearly every trailhead in Sedona, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

Most of the dirt roads through Coconino National Forest are well maintained, especially around Sedona.  One exception to that is Woody Mountain Road that requires high-clearance once you get past the first 20 miles or so towards the Mogollon Rim above Sycamore Canyon.

Camping

Lockett Meadow Campground is special place that came in at #4 on our Top 10 Campgrounds in National Forests list.  The coveted campsites in Oak Creek Canyon on scenic Highway 89A are full throughout the summer and fall.

Wilderness Areas

Fossil Springs Wilderness

Kachina Peaks Wilderness

Kendrick Mountain Wilderness (also in Kaibab National Forest)

Mazatzal Wilderness (also in Tonto National Forest)

Munds Mountain Wilderness

Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness

Strawberry Crater Wilderness

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness (also in Prescott and Kaibab National Forests)

West Clear Creek Wilderness

Wet Beaver Wilderness

Related Sites

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (Arizona)

Montezuma Castle National Monument (Arizona)

Walnut Canyon National Monument (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, limber pine, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, two-needle pinyon pine, Douglas-fir, subalpine fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce, alligator juniper, one-seed juniper, Utah juniper, Rocky Mountain juniper, Arizona cypress

Flowering Tree Species

Gambel oak, quaking aspen, New Mexico locust, boxelder, bigtooth maple, Arizona sycamore, Arizona walnut, Arizona alder, velvet ash

Explore More – What is largest natural lake in the state of Arizona, which is found atop Coconino National Forest’s Anderson Mesa (although it is often dried up in the summer)?

Learn more about this 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.

El Morro National Monument

El Morro National Monument

New Mexico

Managed by National Park Service

Established 1906

1,278 acres

Website: nps.gov/elmo

Overview

A small pool of reliable water at the base of a sandstone bluff has attracted humans and animals for centuries in this arid region.  Ancestral Puebloans built a village atop the 200-foot-tall mesa and Spanish explorers carved their names alongside petroglyphs at a place they dubbed “el morro” (the headland).  Today, El Morro National Monument is located about 125 miles west of Albuquerque, about 42 miles off Interstate 40.

Highlights

Inscription Rock Trail, Atsinna Pueblo ruins, Mesa Top Trail

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service visitor center offers a 15-minute film and the half-mile paved Inscription Rock Trail loop to view the carvings.  Pick up a free guidebook that provides details on the earliest European inscriptions that date back to 1605 and the petroglyphs that may be around 1,000 years old. 

Best Trail

The Mesa Top Trail loop climbs to the top of the bluff where there are Ancestral Puebloan ruins and great views of the volcanic El Malpais National Monument.  The hike is about two miles roundtrip, with interesting steps carved into the soft sandstone in places.  The trail may be closed during thunderstorms during the summer and after heavy snowfalls in the winter.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is worth the short but steep climb to check out the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo (built in the late-1200s) atop the sandstone bluff.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The short entrance road is paved from Highway 53.

Camping

The small primitive campground at El Morro National Monument is open year round (except during snowstorms), plus there is a private RV park located near the entrance.

Related Sites

El Malpais National Monument (New Mexico)

Cibola National Forest (New Mexico)

Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Explore More – Who were the first Anglo-Americans to inscribe their names at El Morro in 1849?