Tag Archives: Scenic Byway

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

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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.

Chippewa National Forest

Chippewa National Forest

Minnesota

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Region

1,599,664 acres (666,623 federal/ 933,041 other)

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

Overview

Following passage of the Morris Act in 1902, the Minnesota Forest Reserve was created from 200,000 acres of unallotted lands on Ojibwe Indian reservations.  It was renamed Chippewa National Forest in 1928 and 44% of its acreage remains part of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.  The forest includes 1,300 lakes and ponds, 925 miles of rivers, and 440,000 acres of wetlands, which represents 13% of all surface water within the entire National Forest system and provides habitat for a variety of wildlife.  Three of the ten largest lakes in Minnesota are located here: Lake Winnibigoshish, Cass Lake, and Leech Lake.

Highlights

Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway, Avenue of Pines Scenic Byway, Lady Slipper Scenic Byway, Woodtick Auto Trail, Cass Lake, Camp Rabideau, Lake Winnibigoshish, Benjamin Lake, Norway Beach Recreation Area, Leech Lake, Lost 40 Natural Area, Heartland Bike Trail, Simpson Creek Trail, Cut Foot Sioux National Recreation Trail, Big Pine Forest Trail, Chippewa Adventure Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Other than getting out on the water, a great way to explore Chippewa National Forest is by driving one of five designated Scenic Byways: Lake Country, Edge of the Wilderness, Avenue of Pines, Lady Slipper, and the Great River Road.  Chippewa National Forest has more than 3,000 archeological and historic sites, including Camp Rabideau, perhaps the best preserved Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp left from the 1930s.  Free guided tours of the camp are offered in summer, or you can take a self-guided tour around the well-signed buildings during daylight hours.

Best Trail

The Lost 40 is 144 acres of old-growth red and white pine forest that was never logged due to a surveying error that mapped the area as part of Coddington Lake in 1882.  The oldest tree here is more than 250 years old and can be seen on an easy one-mile loop trail with interpretive signs.  There is also an optional 0.2-mile one-way spur to an overlook of Moose Brook.  The trailhead is located east of Blackduck, Minnesota on well-signed back roads and is also popular for snowshoeing in the winter.

Watchable Wildlife

The most vocal and noticeable residents of Chippewa National Forest are its red squirrels, sandhill cranes, and common loons.  Its many rivers and lakes make ideal habitat for its 180 nesting pairs of bald eagles, one of the highest densities in the contiguous U.S.  Rarer wildlife sightings include Canadian lynx, black bears, moose, and trumpeter swans.  Important gamefish include lake trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and muskellunge (muskie). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

The largest red pine in the Lost 40 is 120 feet tall and three feet in diameter.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The scenic byways seem to all be paved, but the roads accessing the Lost 40 and Camp Rabideau are unpaved, although well-signed and maintained.

Camping

The National Forest contains 21 developed campgrounds and 68 official dispersed camping locations. 

Wilderness Areas

None

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (Minnesota)

Superior National Forest (Minnesota)

Nearest National Park

Voyageurs

Conifer Tree Species

northern white-cedar, tamarack, red pine, eastern white pine, jack pine, balsam fir, black spruce, white spruce

Flowering Tree Species

basswood, sugar maple, red maple, northern red oak, bur oak, basswood, American elm, slippery elm, bog birch, yellow birch, paper birch, bigtooth aspen, quaking aspen, balsam poplar

Explore More – The Lost 40 grows on an esker (or glacial ridge); how many years ago did the esker form?

Learn more about Chippewa 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.

Challis National Forest

Challis National Forest

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

2,488,105 acres (2,463,471 federal/ 24,634 other)

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

Overview

Challis National Forest covers the southern portion of the co-managed Salmon-Challis National Forest in central Idaho.  It includes the northern parts of Sawtooth National Recreation Area and a section of the Salmon Wild and Scenic River, as well as several northwest-southeast running mountain ranges.  In the forest’s scenic Lost River Range, 12,667-foot Borah Peak is the highest point in Idaho.  Further south near Arco, a steep half-mile trail leads to King Mountain Natural Arch in Bridge Canyon, a limestone formation with an 80-foot span. 

Highlights

Salmon River Scenic Byway, Stanley Museum, Sunbeam Hot Springs, Custer Adventure Motorway, Yankee Fork Hot Springs, Lemhi Range, White Knob Mountains, Camas Meadows, Challis Creek Lakes, Hidden Mouth Cave, Sawtooth Lake, White Cloud Peaks, Grover Creek Lake, Borah Peak

Must-Do Activity

The Salmon River Scenic Byway runs 162 miles to Lost Trail Pass, starting in Stanley where it intersects with the Sawtooth and Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byways.  Challis National Forest manages the free Stanley Museum there inside the historic Valley Creek Ranger Station.  Further down the road, the Sunbeam Bathhouse was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at a hot springs on the Salmon River where people still go to soak seeking the perfect spot between the frigid river and scalding spring water.

Best Trail

We previously covered the trail to stunning Sawtooth Lake in our post on Sawtooth National Recreation Area.  While it is not for everyone due to its strenuousness, we will write here about the route up 12,667-foot Borah Peak.  From its beginning (which we started in the dark) the entire trail is incredibly steep, so much so that we ran back down the final two miles because it was easier on our knees.  The route gains 5,400 feet of elevation in 4.5 miles and often requires the use of your hands, but no special climbing equipment.  Even if you decide to turn around at Chicken-Out Ridge before ascending the Knife Edge, the panoramic scenery is well worth the effort.

Watchable Wildlife

This is a fairly arid portion of the west, so you are more likely to see a ground squirrel or coyote than any other wildlife.  Trout fishing is a popular activity in the Salmon River.  Large mammalian species include elk, mule deer, pronghorns, and black bears.  Ravens and a variety of birds of prey catch the thermals around Borah Peak.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The view of King Mountain Natural Arch’s 80-foot span is arguably better while driving in than it is after ascending the treacherous final mile of road and hiking the steep half-mile trail to its overlook (see below).

Peak Season

Late summer due to snowpack

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The road from Highway 93 to the Borah Peak Campground and Trailhead is well maintained.  The last mile of road to the trailhead for King Mountain Natural Arch requires a high-clearance vehicle, but the nine miles of unpaved roads before that are decent and well signed (although we got a flat tire).

Camping

The campground at the base of Borah Peak is only $5 per night and allows climbers to get an early start.  There are many campgrounds along the Salmon River Scenic Byway and historic Yankee Fork Road/ Custer Adventure Motorway.

Wilderness Areas

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

Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness (also run by the Bureau of Land Management)

Sawtooth Wilderness (also in Boise and Sawtooth National Forests)

Related Sites

Caribou National Forest (Idaho-Utah-Wyoming)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho-Washington)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, water birch, Rocky Mountain maple, boxelder, Bebb willow, blue elderberry, chokecherry, curlleaf mountain-mahogany, white alder, syringa, sagebrush

Explore More – How many Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps were in Idaho during the Great Depression?

Learn more about Challis 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.

Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

730,864 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sawtooth/recarea/?recid=5842

Overview

Sawtooth National Recreation Area claims some of the most incredible mountain scenery in the heart of Idaho and spreads across Boise, Challis, and Sawtooth National Forests.  According to a U.S. Forest Service publication, the 217,088-acre Sawtooth Wilderness claims the cleanest air in the continental United States, and it also contains over 270 miles of trails so there is plenty to explore.  In addition to the jagged peaks in the spectacular Sawtooth Wilderness, in 2015 President Obama signed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act creating three new Wildernesses that cover an additional 275,665 acres.

Highlights

Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Galena Overlook, Redfish Lake, Salmon River Scenic Byway, Stanley Lake, Cramer Divide, Alpine Lake (there are actually two in different places), Baron Lakes, Sawtooth Lake

Must-Do Activity

On our first drive north on Highway 75, we were not prepared for the beautiful mountain views once we summited 8,701-foot Galena Pass.  It was also a good observation point for a wildfire burning alongside the highway.  The date it ignited was July 4th, 2014 and it was burning near Fourth of July Creek, so naturally it was named the Hell Roaring Fire.  According to Inciweb it eventually closed the road and burned 325 acres.  Once through the smoke, we had great views of the Salmon River Valley on our way to scenic Redfish Lake, which is named for the endangered sockeye (or red) salmon that travel 900 miles and gain 6,500 feet in elevation to arrive here for spawning.  The lake also has chinook (or king) salmon and kokanee salmon (landlocked sockeyes that are not anadromous). We returned in 2022 to backpack 40 miles on trails off of Redfish Lake Creek.

Best Trail

From Iron Creek Trailhead it is 11 miles roundtrip out-and-back with an elevation gain of 1,700 feet to access Sawtooth Lake.  As we hit 8,400 feet in elevation, the ponds were still predominantly frozen over and covered in snow.  We were initially disappointed, as we had originally considered stopping halfway up the trail at deep blue Alpine Lake thinking nowhere could be prettier.  Then we rounded a bend and realized we were wrong.  Our first view of Sawtooth Lake was a soul stirring sight (see Instagram-worthy Photo below).  A surprisingly warm night revealed an incredible firmament above snow-striped mountain peaks that seemed to glow in the dark.  In the morning the quiet here was profound, broken only by the occasional peep of a pika scurrying through the talus slope.  We found it hard to say goodbye to such a picturesque and revitalizing place.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On our first visit to Sawtooth Lake, snowy Mt. Regan was lit by the setting sun and reflected in open leads in the ice, glassy still but for the occasional ripple of a rising trout. 

Peak Season

Late summer after the snow melts

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The side road to Redfish Lake is paved and access to Iron Creek Trailhead was doable with our low-clearance passenger vehicle.

Camping

The shores of crystal-clear Redfish Lake have a lodge and four campgrounds near the scenic lake.  Stanley Lake and Alturus Lake also have popular campgrounds.

Related Sites

City of Rocks National Reserve (Idaho)

Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho-Washington)

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Explore More – When was Sawtooth National Recreation Area established?