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Croatan National Forest

Croatan National Forest

North Carolina

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

308,234 acres (159,885 federal/ 148,349 other)

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

Overview

The sandy soil of North Carolina’s coastal plain is where you will find Croatan National Forest, the land of the longleaf pine (which is the official state tree).  Longleaf pines are adapted to frequent surface fires by going through a “grass stage” when young, so the Forest Service conducts controlled burns in some stands.  Much of the National Forest has standing water (in pocosins and Carolina bays), which is why there is not a single trail through its 31,000 acres of designated Wilderness areas.  Pocosins are raised bogs and home to 11 species of carnivorous plants, including the federally-protected Venus flytrap.  A Carolina bay is one of many oval-shaped depressions typically filled with water that are oriented in a northwest-southeast direction across the coastal plain.  They range in size from small ponds to two miles in diameter, but the exact cause of their formation is unknown.

Highlights

Cedar Point Tideland National Recreation Trail, Flanner Beach, Fishers Landing, Brice Creek canoe trail, Black Swamp OHV Trail, Island Creek Trail, Patsy Pond Nature Trail, Cedar Point Tideland National Recreation Trail, Neusiok Trail

Must-Do Activity

To find some of the 11 species of carnivorous plants in Croatan National Forest, you will have to work a little bit.  Pull off one of the highways that bisect the area and hike to the edge of a pocosin, where scrubby vegetation grows in highly-acidic black soil.  Pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews, and Venus flytraps utilize different methods to capture insects and spiders in order to sap their nitrogen and other nutrients that are scarce in the water-logged soil.  To trigger a tiny Venus flytrap to close, an insect must touch one hair twice or multiple hairs within 20 seconds.  They are often found adjacent to larger pitcher plants, which lure insects inside by color or odor, then are too slick-walled to escape.  Sundews and the butterwort utilize a sticky substance to capture their prey.  The five species of bladderworts float in shallow water where they capture swimming prey that trigger a trap door.

Best Trail

The Cedar Point Tideland National Recreation Trail is a 1.4-mile loop located partially on a boardwalk near the mouth of the White Oak River.  There are also two long trails through the swamps and pine forests: Neusiok Trail (21 miles) and Weetock Trail (14 miles).  There are no designated trails through Croatan National Forest’s 31,000 acres of designated Wilderness areas. 

Watchable Wildlife

Black bears in this region can get very big since they generally do not hibernate in the winter.  Other large mammals found are bobcats, raccoons, river otters, and muskrats.  Great blue herons, snowy egrets, ospreys, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, wild turkeys, woodcocks, and northern bobwhite quail are major bird species.  There are a variety of reptiles and amphibians, including alligators, anoles, cottonmouths, copperheads, canebrake rattlesnakes, pigmy rattlesnakes, and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes.  The tannic-stained blackwater supports fish like warmouth, redfin pickerel, sunfish, bowfin, yellow bullhead catfish, and the rare swampfish (a species of cavefish). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Carnivorous pitcher plants have large showy flowers that bloom in early May.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The major highways (17, 58, 70) that cross the National Forest are paved, and the sandy, unpaved roads are generally in good shape except when flooded.

Camping

There are Forest Service campgrounds at Flanner Beach on the Neuse River and Cedar Point along the White Oak River.

Wilderness Areas

Catfish Lake South Wilderness

Pocosin Wilderness

Pond Pine Wilderness

Sheep Ridge Wilderness

Related Sites

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (North Carolina)

Moores Creek National Battlefield (North Carolina)

Nearest National Park

Congaree

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, longleaf pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, pond pine, eastern redcedar, Atlantic white-cedar

Flowering Tree Species

black gum, umbrella magnolia, southern magnolia, northern red oak, southern red oak, white oak, water oak, chestnut oak, overcup oak, black cherry, sassafras, American holly, yaupon holly, Hercules’ club, sweetgum, red maple, sugar maple, white alder, witch hazel, American beech, black walnut, tulip-poplar, hophornbeam, musclewood, red mulberry, flowering dogwood, loblolly bay, red bay, sweet bay magnolia, titi

Explore More – What is the origin of the National Forest’s name and how does it relate to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site?

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

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Conecuh National Forest

Conecuh National Forest

Alabama

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

171,177acres (83,852 federal/ 87,325 other)

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

Overview

In southern Alabama, Conecuh National Forest was created in 1936 from clearcut and burned-over lands that were replanted with fast-growing slash pine.  Reforestation efforts today focus on native longleaf pine trees that provide habitat for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.  The topography of these coastal plain forests is fairly flat with broad ridges flanked by bottomlands and floodplains.  Conecuh National Forest is primarily developed at two Recreation Areas: Open Pond and Blue Lake.

Highlights

Open Pond Recreation Area, Buck Pond, Blue Spring, Open Pond Fire Tower, Yellow River Basin, Blue Lake Recreation Area, Lake Shore Trail, Conecuh National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

Open Pond Recreation Area (fee) surrounds a 30-acre natural sinkhole lake and has a campground, boat ramps, and a historic 1938 fire tower.  Located only a ten-minute drive away, Blue Lake Recreation Area (fee) offers a day-use picnic area and swimming beach (the only place in the National Forest where swimming is allowed, presumably due to the presence of alligators elsewhere).

Best Trail

The 20-mile long Conecuh Trail was built by the Youth Conservation Corps beginning in 1976 and traverses longleaf pine stands and hardwood bottomlands.  Leaving from Open Pond Recreation Area, the seven-mile long South Loop of the Conecuh Trail passes Blue Spring, but that portion of the trail was closed due to hurricane damage during our visit. 

Watchable Wildlife

Notable wildlife species that inhabit Conecuh National Forest include red-cockaded woodpeckers (see above), wild turkeys, fox squirrels, raccoons, red foxes, gray foxes, bobcats, coyotes, black bears, and alligators.  Fishing is a popular activity, with interesting spiky PVC pipe constructions put in the water to provide habitat for bream, bass, and crappie.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Watch for carnivorous pitcher plants growing in the wet soils on the edge of bogs and baldcypress ponds.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

There is a day use fee at both Open Pond and Blue Lake Recreation Areas, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

Many of the roads in Conecuh National Forest are unpaved, but the sand packs down well and provides a good surface for any vehicle to drive.

Camping

Open Pond Campground contains 75 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Wilderness Areas

None

Related Sites

Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida-Mississippi)

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (Alabama)

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, longleaf pine, slash pine

Flowering Tree Species

American holly, flowering dogwood, southern magnolia, swamp tupelo, pumpkin ash, swamp cottonwood, overcup oak, swamp chestnut oak, cherryark oak

Explore More – Believed to be of Muskogee origin, what does the name “Conecuh” translate as?

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

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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

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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

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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.