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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

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Chequamegon National Forest

Chequamegon National Forest

Wisconsin

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Region

1,049,540 acres (868,392 federal/ 181,148 other)

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

Overview

Chequamegon National Forest gets its name from Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, which is derived from the Ojibwe word for the bay’s prominent sand bar on the east side of Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula.  Managed as Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since 1998, the more western Chequamegon National Forest contains a 61-mile stretch of the North Country National Scenic Trail and 49 miles of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail that winds through Wisconsin.  On the Bayfield Peninsula is Moquah Pine Barrens National Natural Landmark, first set aside by the Forest Service in 1935 to study its red pine savannah and upland jack pine barrens.  The Moquah Pine Barrens is notable for its summer wildflower bloom and fall berry picking.

Highlights

Great Divide Scenic Byway, Drummond Woods, Valhalla Recreation Area, South Fork of Flambeau River, Mondeaux Dam Recreation Area, Moquah Barrens National Natural Landmark, Clam Lake, Schumland Wetland Area, Chequamegon Water Flowage, Tucker Lake Hemlocks Natural Area, Morgan Falls, St. Peter’s Dome, West Torch Ski Trail, Mukwonago Ski Trail, Camba Mountain Bike Trail, Mt. Valhalla, Caro Forest Trail, West Twin Lake Trail, Aldo Leopold Commemorative Trail, North Country National Scenic Trail, Ice Age National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

St. Peter’s Dome and Morgan Falls Recreation Area (fee) is the most developed site in Chequamegon National Forest.  A wide, level trail with new bridges leads 0.75 miles one-way to Morgan Falls, which tumbles 70 feet down a narrow rock crevice.  The trail splits and becomes steeper as it ascends to St. Peter’s Dome, a rock outcropping that offers views north to Chequamegon Bay and the Apostle Islands.  To visit both spots is a 3.8-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 500 feet.  Make sure you have good directions before you go because the drive to the trailhead has unsigned turns on unpaved back roads. 

Best Trail

In the southern portion of the National Forest, the Aldo Leopold Commemorative Trail is a 1.2-mile out-and-back hike that follows a glacial esker above a wetland near the Mondeaux Flowage.  The path is lined with wooden boards with quotes from the famous ecologist who wrote his seminal book A Sand County Almanac (see our Top 10 Books about Trees and Forests) at his Wisconsin farm. 

Watchable Wildlife

Gray wolves and elk have been reintroduced to Chequamegon National Forest, in addition to native moose, black bears, red foxes, raccoons, rabbits, beavers, river otters, and (of course in Wisconsin) badgers.  Common loons with their distinctive calls are the most iconic bird of the North Woods, with other notable species being barred owls, bald eagles, common ravens, turkeys, ruffed grouse, and boreal chickadees.  Fishing is a big deal in this part of the world and Hayward, Wisconsin is home to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame (where you can stand in the mouth of a giant muskie sculpture).  Major gamefish include lake trout, rainbow trout, small and largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, northern pike, and muskellunge (muskie). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

It might require a bit of creative climbing to get a good photo of Morgan Falls, located only 1.5 miles roundtrip from the trailhead (fee).

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $5 day-use fee to park at the trailhead for St. Peter’s Dome and Morgan Falls Recreation Area.

Road Conditions

The road through the Moquah Barrens is paved, and even the sand-surfaced roads were all in good shape during our visits.

Camping

There are developed campgrounds throughout the National Forest and nearby Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, but we have always dispersed camped off the back roads on the Bayfield Peninsula, including a pleasant night spent on the Moquah Barrens.

Wilderness Areas

Porcupine Lake Wilderness

Rainbow Lake Wilderness

Related Sites

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin)

St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (Wisconsin-Minnesota)

Keweenaw National Historical Park (Michigan)

Nearest National Park

Isle Royale

Conifer Tree Species

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

Flowering Tree Species

sugar maple, red maple, mountain maple, black ash, white ash, basswood, yellow birch, paper birch, river birch, northern red oak, white oak, black oak, American beech, quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen, balsam poplar, white ash, beaked hazelnut, tag alder

Explore More – The 636-acre Moquah Barrens Research Natural Area was established in 1935 and named a Wisconsin State Natural Area in 1970, but when was it designated a National Natural Landmark?

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

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Carson National Forest

Carson National Forest

New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,490,468 acres (1,391,674 federal/ 98,794 other)

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

Overview

Carson National Forest is spread across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that run 200 miles from northern New Mexico into southern Colorado’s Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests.  In 1982, the Pennzoil Corporation donated the Valle Vidal Unit (about 100,000 acres) to the Forest Service.  A decade earlier, the Taos Pueblo successfully lobbied to return sacred Blue Lake to the tribe and remove it from Carson National Forest. 

Highlights

Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, Wheeler Peak, Clayton Pass, Vista Grande, Brazos Ridge Overlook, Canjilon Lakes, Lobo Peak, Echo Amphitheater, Cabresto Lake, Pot Creek Cultural Site, Amole Canyon, Devisadero Loop Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Columbine-Twining National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

The National Forest contains New Mexico’s highest point (13,161-foot Wheeler Peak) near Taos Ski Valley, one of several ski resorts found here.  The gravel parking lot fills up early on summer weekends, as those looking to summit want to finish before afternoon thunderstorms.  If a 14-mile roundtrip hike with 3,771 feet of elevation gain sounds too strenuous, there are plenty of other trails around Taos Ski Valley listed below.

Best Trail

There is an extensive trail system that spiders out from Taos Ski Valley, including several that follow canyon streams and access small mountain lakes.  We recommend the Bull of the Woods Trail if you want to avoid the crowds summiting Wheeler Peak.  Other hiking options in the area include Williams Lake, Long Canyon, Lobo Peak, and Goose Lake.

Watchable Wildlife

Mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep are large ungulates found in Carson National Forest.  Its carnivores include black bears, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  The National Forest’s lakes and 400 miles of rivers and streams are mostly stocked with native trout species.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Alpine views abound on the hike up to 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

State Highway 150 is paved to Taos Ski Valley except for the very end, which is a good gravel road (as is FR 597 north of Red River).

Camping

There are many great places to camp in Carson National Forest, with notable areas being Elephant Rock Campground, Hopewell Lake Campground, and several campgrounds around the Canjilon Lakes.  We set up a dispersed camp near a high mountain pass on FR 597 above the town of Red River in the summer.

Wilderness Areas

Chama River Canyon Wilderness (also in Santa Fe National Forest)

Cruces Basin Wilderness

Latir Peak Wilderness

Pecos Wilderness (also in Santa Fe National Forest)

Wheeler Peak Wilderness

Related Sites

Pecos National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)

Fort Union National Monument (New Mexico)

Nearest National Park

Great Sand Dunes

Conifer Tree Species

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 – Who was the U.S. President that pushed through Congress the Taos Pueblo appeal to return Blue Lake?

Learn more about Carson 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.

Angeles National Forest

Angeles National Forest

California

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

694,175 acres (668,887 federal/ 25,288 other)

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

Overview

Angeles National Forest is registered as a California Historical Landmark since it became the first protected woodland in the state as the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve in 1891.  It serves as a major recreation destination north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area with 697 miles of hiking trails, several lakes, and two alpine ski areas.  Most of the shrub and tree species are adapted to periodic fire and about one-quarter of the National Forest burned in the 2009 Station Fire and an additional 115,796 acres in the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

Highlights

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument, Angeles Crest Highway, Crystal Lake Recreation Area, Mt. Wilson Observatory, Bouquet Reservoir, Mt. Baldy, San Antonio Falls, Gabrielino National Recreation Trail, High Desert National Recreation Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) cuts through the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, established in 2014.  Coming from the east, a good place to start is the Big Pines Visitor Center or the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center, both of which have short interpretive trails with signs identifying local species.  Further west, Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument (est. 2019) commemorates the tragedy that cost at least 431 people their lives in 1928.  Watch in the coming weeks for blog posts specifically detailing these two National Monuments.

Best Trail

Across from Inspiration Point on Highway 2, there is a parking lot for Lightning Ridge Nature Trail.  The half-mile loop trail offers great panoramas of the surrounding mountains.  It even includes a portion of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.  Along the trail, my wife and I stopped to sniff the orange, platy bark of a Jeffrey pine for its pleasant vanilla scent, which brought back memories of our time spent living in California. 

Watchable Wildlife

On our November visit, we first saw a western gray squirrel with an incredibly poofy tail atop the Big Pines Visitor Center.  On the Big Pines Interpretive Trail, we spotted dark-eyed juncos and Steller jays flitting about.  Despite its proximity to the city, there are even black bears, mountain lions, and bobcats in this National Forest.  You are more likely to come across coyotes, gray foxes, or mule deer.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Many species commonly found in this National Forest are endemic to this region and grow nowhere else on Earth, including Coulter pine (famous for its massive pinecones that weigh up to 11 pounds).

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

An Adventure Pass is required to park at many trailheads.  The Forest Service also accepts all America the Beautiful Passes, which can be also used at National Park Service sites.

Road Conditions

The paved Angeles Crest Highway cuts through San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and it used to go through to Glendale, but closed due to damage from the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

Camping

There are many campgrounds in the National Forest, but we did not see any great places to do dispersed car camping when we drove through different portions of it (although we did not drive any dirt roads which is where they typically are found).

Wilderness Areas

Cucamonga Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Magic Mountain Wilderness

Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness

San Gabriel Wilderness

Sheep Mountain Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Related Sites

Pinnacles National Park (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

César E. Chávez National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Conifer Tree Species

incense-cedar, bigcone Douglas-fir, Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine, knobcone pine, gray pine, lodgepole pine

Flowering Tree/Shrub Species

California black oak, canyon live oak, California walnut, serviceberry, western mountain-mahogany, California coffeeberry, cup-leaf ceonothus, flannel bush, Parry’s manzanita

Explore More – How long are the Gabrielino and High Desert National Recreation Trails?

Top 10 National Parks for Winter Recreation

Most of the 63 National Parks in snowy areas close their roads over the winter, but this allows for a variety of different recreation opportunities, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snow biking.  There are several National Parks that are actually best to visit in winter to avoid the heat (like Everglades and Saguaro), but this ranking focuses on those where snow adds to the experience.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Lassen Volcanic (California)

Winter lasts so long in this park, you might find you need snowshoes in July

9. Grand Teton (Wyoming)

When the park roads close, they become cross-country skiing and moose traveling routes

8. Mount Rainier (Washington)

Plows make sure the popular snow play area at Paradise is always accessible

7. Bryce Canyon (Utah)

It snows often at 7,000 feet in elevation, making the hoodoo formations even more beautiful

6. Denali (Alaska)

Dog sledding is how the National Park Service (NPS) rangers get around during the long winter

5. Voyageurs (Minnesota)

Ice fishing is such a draw when these lakes freeze over that the NPS even maintains an ice road

4. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

It is possible that the trailhead at Bear Lake is actually busier in the winter (also try the Wild Basin area)

3. Crater Lake (Oregon)

The lake is never prettier than when surrounded by snow and the entry road is plowed year round

2. Sequoia (California)

The orange bark of giant sequoia seems to glow when surrounded by snow

…and finally the #1 National Park Service site for winter recreation:

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Take a snow coach or snowmobile to the Winter Lodge at Old Faithful for a “bucket-list” experience

Honorable Mentions

Acadia (Maine)

The park’s 45 miles of carriage roads are ideal cross-country ski routes

Mesa Verde (Colorado)

Tours end in the winter, but we included it specifically for the one night in December when the NPS lights luminaries in the ruins

Kenai Fjords (Alaska)

There is a public use cabin located down the road to Exit Glacier open to snowmobilers by reservation

Badlands (South Dakota)

Nothing in this park really closes in the winter, but we think the formations are even prettier in snow

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