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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?

Apalachicola National Forest

Apalachicola National Forest

Florida

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

634,042 acres (563,403 federal/ 70,639 other)

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

Overview

Apalachicola National Forest is the largest of the four National Forests in Florida and also manages the tiny 1,152-acre Choctawhatchee National Forest (which is off limits to the public on a military base, so we did not include it in our total of 155 National Forests).  The forests proximity to the state capital of Tallahassee makes it an outdoor recreation destination in the Florida Panhandle.

Highlights

Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway, Fort Gadsden Historic Site (closed), Ochlockonee River, Rock Bluff Scenic Area, Leon Sinks Geological Area (closed), Morrison Hammock Scenic Area, Silver Lake Recreation Area, Camel Lake Recreation Area, Post Office Bay, Florida National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

When we visited Apalachicola National Forest in April 2021, two of its biggest attractions were closed from hurricane damage: Fort Gadsden Historic Site and Leon Sinks Geological Area (a series of sinkholes in limestone karst).  We finally ended up at Camel Lake Recreation Area (day-use fee) where the beach was closed due to alligator presence, so we opted to hike a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail.  We also made a stop to see the swamp at Big Gully Landing boat launch where Equaloxic Creek flows six miles west to the Apalachicola River.  We read that canoeing the Ochlockonee River is a popular activity.

Best Trail

Apalachicola National Forest includes 67 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST).  We hiked a portion of it at Camel Lake Recreation Area hoping to find where it connected to the Trail of Lakes nine-mile loop, but we never did locate the junction.  We read that the segment of the FNST from Oak Park Trailhead along the Sopchoppy River bluffs is especially beautiful.  Closer to the capital city, busy trails include the 14.4-mile Tallahassee Saint Marks Historic Rail Trail, 30-mile Vinzant Horse Trail, and 8.3-mile Munson Hills Trail (which is popular with mountain bikers).

Watchable Wildlife

When we think of Florida wildlife the first animal that comes to mind is the alligator, so it was no surprise that the swimming beach at Camel Lake Recreation Area was closed due to their presence.  Other places to see alligators are Tate’s Hell Swamp and the Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness.  Cottonmouth snakes and plentiful mosquitoes also make the swamps uninviting to guests.  We were surprised to see signs warning of black bears since that is not an animal we associate with Florida.  Other wildlife includes turkeys, fox squirrels, gray foxes, bobcats, raccoons, and armadillos.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stands of longleaf pine and turkey oak had us reminiscing about hiking the sandy trails on the coastal plains of North Carolina’s Croatan National Forest.

Peak Season

Winter

Fees

There was a day-use fee at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but it was half-off with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

The unpaved roads were hard-packed sand, so they were in really good shape during our visit.

Camping

There was a nice 10-site campground (fee) suitable for RVs at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but there is no camping at Silver Lake Recreation Area closer to Tallahassee, Florida.

Wilderness Areas

Bradwell Bay Wilderness

Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness

Related Sites

Osceola National Forest (Florida)

Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida)

Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Everglades (Florida)

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, pondcypress, longleaf pine, spruce pine, pond pine, slash pine, loblolly pine, Atlantic white-cedar

Flowering Tree Species

magnolia bay, sweetbay, black titi, myrtleleaf holly, swamp cyrilla, black cherry, sassafras, Darlington oak, southern red oak, live oak, bluejack oak, turkey oak, laurel oak, diamondleaf oak, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, water hickory, persimmon, black gum, flowering dogwood, southern magnolia, basswood, American beech, sweetgum, ogeechee lime, swamp azalea, swamp cottonwood, pop ash, black willow, red buckeye, horse sugar tree

Explore More – Black titi is a shrub in this part of the world, but in Puerto Rico it grows as a large tree with what common name?

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Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument

California

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

353 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd872458.pdf

Overview

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument was authorized on March 12, 2019 to commemorate the 431 lives that were lost when an 185-foot tall concrete gravity dam failed on the same date 91 years earlier only two years after its completion. The death toll is second in the history of California to the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.  Other dams from that time period remain in use as part of the Los Angeles aqueduct system.  Currently, a California Historical Landmark is located 1.5 miles south at Powerhouse No. 2, but there is nothing developed at the actual site.

A detailed historical account is available on Wikipedia.

Highlights

Ruins of dam, California Historical Landmark #919

Must-Do Activity

There are plans to build a National Memorial at the dam, but currently it is a pile of rubble heavily spray-painted by local teenagers.  After its fall in 1928, authorities further toppled the structure with dynamite, bulldozers, and jackhammers to discourage sightseers and souvenir hunters.  The site is located in a scenic canyon where the leaves were just turning yellow for winter during our mid-November visit.  It is less than a mile walk to the site from the unmarked pulloff on the east side of San Francisquito Canyon Road in Angeles National Forest.  The pathway is the heavily overgrown original roadbed that was abandoned after a storm in 2005 and it reeked of urine.  It will be interesting to see how the Forest Service cleans up the area in the future.

Best Trail

There is no official trail, and it is quite a steep drop from the paved remnants of old San Francisquito Canyon Road to the actual rubble pile down at creek level.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The dam disaster site is not much to look at right now, but there are some angles where you can avoid getting graffiti in your photo.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

San Francisquito Canyon Road is paved, but exercise caution as there is currently no sign for the parking areas nor is there a turn lane on this high-speed two-lane highway.

Camping

There are numerous Forest Service campgrounds in the area, with Spunky Canyon and South Portal being the closest to the north.

Related Sites

Santa Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Sand to Snow National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Explore More – How many billions of gallons of water were released when the St. Francis Dam failed in 1928?

Allegheny National Forest

Allegheny National Forest

Pennsylvania

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Eastern Region

742,693 acres (513,175 federal/ 229,518 other)

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

Overview

The only National Forest in Pennsylvania was created in 1923 utilizing the federal government’s ability to purchase land under the Weeks Act of 1911.  However, they could not afford the subsurface or mineral rights, which has created issues in this oil-producing area.  Before it became Allegheny National Forest, most of the hillsides were clearcut to feed the area’s wood chemical plants, allowing black cherry and early successional species to dominate the second growth forests.  The National Forest contains two Wild and Scenic Rivers: the Clarion River (51.7 miles) and Allegheny River (87 miles in three separate sections).

Highlights

Allegheny National Recreation Area, Hearts Content Scenic Area, Willow Bay Recreation Area, Old Powerhouse, Timberdoodle Flats Interpretive Trail, Minister Creek, Buzzard Swamp Hiking Area, Clarion Wild and Scenic River, Allegheny Wild and Scenic River, Buckaloons Recreation Area, Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area, North Country National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A good place to start exploring Allegheny National Forest is by driving the Longhouse Scenic Byway, a 36-mile loop, which includes views of the Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam, plus a side trip up to Jakes Rocks Overlook.  We drove in from the east and found the easy walks on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail to be a good introduction to this region.  This is one of the few places in Pennsylvania with old-growth forests, so be sure to stop at Hearts Content Scenic Area or Tionesta Scenic and Research Natural Areas. 

Best Trail

Huge eastern hemlock and eastern white pine trees up to 400 years old can be found in the 20-acre Hearts Content Scenic Area.  This National Natural Landmark has a picnic area constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is located across from a nice campground.  There are two short, flat loop trails located here, but you can also connect into 7.8 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing routes.  Other popular hiking destinations include Rimrock Trail and a 10-mile section of the North Country National Scenic Trail within the Tracy Ridge Hiking Trail System (see our post on Allegheny National Recreation Area for more information).

Watchable Wildlife

As hard as it is to believe given their prevalence now, low populations of white-tailed deer in the 1920s allowed this new National Forest to grow back quickly.  Campers should exercise caution with their food and trash since black bears are in the area.  Turkeys, bald eagles, barred owls, Canada geese, black-capped chickadees, and pileated woodpeckers are common bird species.  Hall Barn Wildlife Viewing Area is known for its summer population of 1,000 roosting bats.  There is also evidence of beavers on the Timberdoodle Flats Wildlife Interpretive Trail.  Allegheny Reservoir has walleye, trout, bass, catfish, northern pike, and muskellunge, and small native brook trout can be found in the Farnsworth Stream and other creeks. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Kinzua Dam was completed in 1965 and stands 179 feet tall and 1,897 feet in length.  Kinzua is a Seneca Indian word that translates as “place of many big fishes.”  Watch for fish that gather in eddies at the edges of the Allegheny Reservoir near the dam, but remember that fishing and feeding the fish is prohibited at this spot.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

There is an entrance fee at both Willow Bay and Buckaloons Recreation Areas, but it is half price with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

All roads are paved to Willow Bay Recreation Area and Hearts Content Scenic Area, which are popular with RV campers. 

Camping

Allegheny National Forest contains 15 campgrounds with more than 1,000 sites, and Willow Bay Recreation Area also has cabins for rent.  We enjoyed our stay at Heart’s Content Campground, but found Buckaloons Campground to be too crowded.  Allegheny Islands Wilderness has seven islands that can be used for boat-in dispersed camping.

Wilderness Areas

Allegheny Islands Wilderness

Hickory Creek Wilderness

Related Sites

Allegheny National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania)

Grey Towers National Historic Site (Pennsylvania)

Fort Necessity National Battlefield (Pennsylvania)

Nearest National Park

Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine

Flowering Tree Species

sugar maple, black maple, red maple, striped maple, silver maple, mountain maple, yellow birch, sweet birch, black walnut, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, sycamore, American beech, white ash, tulip-poplar, green ash, cucumber magnolia, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, black cherry, pin cherry, choke cherry, northern red oak, basswood, American elm, slippery elm

Explore More – Timberdoodle is a local nickname for which native bird species that nests in this forest?