Tag Archives: Top 10

Top 10 Day Hiking Trails in National Forests

This was a difficult Top 10 list to pick since there are so many great hiking options in America’s 155 National Forests.  We realized some of our favorite trails were already included in our Top 10 National Forests for Backpacking, although Gila National Forest made it on both lists for different trails.  We also discovered we could make an entire list of Top 10 Summit Trails in National Forests, so expect that soon.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. Devil’s Head National Recreation Trail

Pike National Forest (Colorado)

At the end of this trail, an amazing fire lookout tower awaits surrounded by giant boulders (similar to The Crags, a 2.5-mile one-way trail near Cripple Creek)

9. Methuselah Grove Loop

Inyo National Forest (California)

High up in the remote White Mountains, a 4.5-mile loop passes Great Basin bristlecone pine trees that are thousands of years old and offers awesome views of the Owens Valley and Mt. Whitney

8. Rattlesnake Creek Trail

Dixie National Forest (Utah)

Skirts the edge of spectacular Cedar Breaks National Monument, a red rock badlands full of hoodoos where Great Basin bristlecone pine trees cling to the eroding edge

7. The Catwalk National Recreation Trail

Gila National Forest (New Mexico)

The first mile is partially elevated above raging Whitewater Creek on wide, steel grates complete with handrails and interpretive signs

6. Seneca Rocks Trail

Monongahela National Forest (West Virginia)

Seneca Rocks is very popular with rock climbers, but hikers can access the narrow rock ledge via a steep 1.3-mile one-way trail

5. Abineau Canyon Trail

Coconino National Forest (Arizona)

Sedona is full of scenic trails, but our favorite trail is north of Flagstaff in the San Francisco Peaks (especially when the quaking aspen leaves turn in October)

4. Crag Crest National Recreation Trail

Grand Mesa National Forest (Colorado)

It can be hiked as a 10.3-mile loop from two trailheads, but the crest portion of the hike is the highlight as it follows a narrow ridge of volcanic rock that offers spectacular views

3. Joyce Kilmer National Recreation Trail

Nantahala National Forest (North Carolina)

The tulip-poplars and other giant trees protected in this old-growth cove hardwood forest are spectacular

2. Trail of 100 Giants

Sequoia National Forest (California)

A short, paved trail past giant sequoias in the Longwood Meadow Grove (nearby, we highly recommend the 4.7-mile hike that climbs 698-feet to Buck Rock Lookout, arguably the nation’s most stunning location for a fire lookout tower)

…and finally our #1 day hiking trail in a National Forest:

1. Maple Pass Loop

Okanogan National Forest (Washington)

An 8.5-mile loop that switchbacks up more than 2,000 feet past Lake Ann to spectacular Maple Pass (the counter-clockwise route is less steep)


Honorable Mentions

Rock Bridge Trail

Daniel Boone National Forest (Kentucky)

All of the trails in Red River Gorge Geological Area are great, with sandstone arches and overlooks as destinations

Wind Cave Trail

Cache National Forest (Utah)

There are canyon views the entire way as this 3.6-mile out-and-back trail gains more than 900 feet in elevation to the limestone arches of Wind Cave

Lake Ann Trail

Mt. Baker National Forest (Washington)

Often snow-packed well into July, this 4.2-mile one-way trail to Lake Ann offers unsurpassed views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan on clear days

Peralta Trail

Tonto National Forest (Arizona)

Due to its proximity to Phoenix, Peralta Trail is often packed with hikers (as is Siphon Draw Trail, another favorite hike that gains 2,781 feet of elevation to the Flatiron)

We have included our favorite hiking trail for each of the 155 National Forests in our guidebook Out in the Woods

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Top 10 National Park License Plates

We recently returned from an amazing trip to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and National Park of American Samoa (our 62nd of 63 National Parks).  While in Hawai‘i, we noticed two cool license plates on cars celebrating the state’s two parks, which you can even purchase in keychain form.  This made us reflect on all of the interesting plates we have seen that commemorate National Park Service sites across the country.  We also added photos to our previous posts on the Big Island’s Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic SiteClick here to see all of our Top 10 Lists.

10. National Parks of Washington

The standard license plate for Washington state depicts Mount Rainier, but this alternative one seemingly covers North Cascades and Olympic National Parks as well

9. Yellowstone National Park (Montana)

The first ever National Park is mostly located in Wyoming, but only Montana offers a special plate

8. Glacier National Park (Montana)

Another of the approximately 200 different license plates available in Montana, which is by far the most of any state

7. Yosemite National Park (California)

We always found the image on this specialty plate a little too washed out to see while driving down the road when we lived in California (but more interesting than the state’s white plate)

6. Big Bend National Park (Texas)

The image on this plate is tucked into the corner, sort of like Big Bend in Texas itself

5. Everglades National Park (Florida)

A roseate spoonbill adorns this plate commemorating the River of Grass

4. Haleakalā National Park (Hawai‘i)

This plate depicts the endangered Hawaiian goose (nēnē), which we have only seen at the landfill on Kauai

3. Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)

A beautiful license plate for a beautiful National Park

2. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

Seeing lava is the best reason to visit this park, although it is harder to predict since Pu‘u Ō‘ō stopped flowing into the ocean in 2018

…and finally our #1 National Park License Plate:

1. Arches National Park (Utah)

This stunning plate has been standard issue for all Utah drivers for decades and depicts Delicate Arch while not specifically mentioning the National Park (there is a mostly white Zion plate, too)


Honorable Mentions

Devils Tower National Monument (Wyoming)

Our home state changes its license plate background image every 10 years by law, so currently it shows Bridger National Forest, but who knows in 2027

Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)

This was the beautiful license plate when we moved to Wyoming in 2012

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (Alaska)

This was the cool plate depicting the golden stairs in Dyea when Scott moved to Alaska for grad school

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina)

This park split evenly across two states is famous for its large population of black bears

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee)

The second license plate dedicated to the most visited of the 63 National Parks

Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina)

This distinctive plate has been available since we lived in North Carolina almost 20 years ago

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia)

We have never seen this neat plate on the road and discovered it while researching this Top 10 List

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

We have never seen this neat plate on the road and discovered it while researching this Top 10 List

San Juan National Historic Site (Puerto Rico)

The garitas on the walls of Old San Juan are an iconic symbol of Puerto Rico

National Park of American Samoa (American Samoa)

Flowerpot Rock is not actually in the park, but we liked this colorful plate the best during our recent trip

Top 10 Films at National Park Service Visitor Centers

This fall we have driven all over the country and stopped at a handful of National Park Service (NPS) sites that we had never visited.  We have been surprised at the quality of the introductory films shown at some of these lesser-known spots, so we decided to put together a list of our all-time favorites.  Not every NPS site has a film, nor have we watched every one available at the 385 units we have visited, so there is a good bet we have missed some excellent ones.  Please let us know if you have a recommendation, as quite a few of the films are now available for free through the NPS app or on YouTube.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists, including some lists of movies not made by the NPS.

10. Fort Davis National Historic Site (Texas)

Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a cowboy hat is probably the best reason to watch this film about the “Buffalo Soldiers” (click to watch it on YouTube)

9. Moores Creek National Battlefield (North Carolina)

Reenactors in kilts holding swords make this seem more like Braveheart than the historically-accurate Revolutionary War scene that it is

8. Camp Nelson National Monument (Kentucky)

This recent addition to the NPS system has a great film about how a Civil War fort became a haven for runaway slaves

7. Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (Tennessee-Kentucky)

Most of these films emphasize history, but this one focuses on the natural beauty and recreational opportunities in this forested wonderland

Scott with the 42′ x 377′ Cyclorama mural

6. Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

The only movie on this list that charges an admission fee, it is well-produced and pairs well with viewing the Cyclorama painting

5. Nez Perce National Historical Park (Idaho-Oregon-Washington-Montana)

The Nez Perce have a thriving nation as shown in this documentary that emphasizes the present more than the past (it plays at the visitor center in Spaulding, Idaho)

4. Stones River National Battlefield (Tennessee)

A short, modern film (on YouTube) that thoroughly and artfully explains the battle with long, uncut shots and realistic depictions of bullet wounds

3. Minidoka National Historic Site (Idaho)

New film covers the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, not just the 13,000 imprisoned in central Idaho

2. Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (New York)

The excellent documentary Close To Home (on YouTube) focuses primarily on the former First Lady’s inspirational career after her time in the White House

…and finally our #1 film at a National Park Service visitor center:

1. Minute Man National Historical Park (Massachusetts)

Multiple screens with props in the foreground make for an unforgettable telling of Paul Revere’s ride at the visitor center in Lexington


Honorable Mentions

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (Ohio)

This film is less than six minutes long, but it is very informative and available on YouTube

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

This film is very dated to the 1970s, so it is unintentionally funny while still being informative

President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site (Arkansas)

Interviews with the former President highlight this retelling of his childhood in the small town of Hope where he was born to a widowed mother under the name Billy Blythe III

Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Hawai’i)

We did not watch the whole film, but this must be the most pleasant theater in the NPS system

Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania)

There are actually two films shown at the visitor center in downtown Philadelphia, but only one stars a young Kristen Bell (from Veronica Mars and Disney’s Frozen)

Top 10 National Forests for Dispersed Camping 

We cannot think of a single National Forest without a designated campground, but what makes these public lands unique is that they allow free dispersed camping along most of their unpaved roadways.  The Forest Service requests that campers use a site with an established fire ring, pack out (do not burn) all trash, and stay a maximum of 14 days.  We have all seen people who abuse these lightly-enforced policies, but if we all are responsible then, hopefully, we will retain this camping privilege in the future.  Dispersed camping is typically not allowed near campgrounds or on private property, so watch for road signs and use the Visitor Map app.  Some areas of high usage have designated spots, like the free sites marked along Vedauwoo Road in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 Lists, including our favorite National Forest campgrounds and backpacking areas.

10. Manistee (Michigan)

The Nordhouse Dunes are a popular destination for backpacking on Lake Michigan, but not far from the developed campgrounds are flat spots for dispersed camping

9. Cibola (New Mexico)

The Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque are a great place for dispersed camping, and there are also several campgrounds there

8. Apache (Arizona- New Mexico)

There are many dirt roads that spur from the paved Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) with good camping options

7. Tongass (Alaska)

Scott did his M.S. research in Tongass National Forest and camped all over the islands, which literally have thousands of miles of gravel logging roads to explore

6. Payette (Idaho)

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is managed by Oregon’s Wallowa National Forest, but we camped before our whitewater rafting trip at an overlook on the well-maintained Kleinschmidt Grade; plus we stayed at a great site on the shores of Brundage Reservoir (see photo at top)

5. Black Hills (South Dakota-Wyoming)

There are at least half-a-dozen places we have dispersed camped in this area with fast access to Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Custer State Park, and Devils Tower National Monument

4. La Sal (Utah-Colorado)

We passed some awesome sites along the 58-mile-long Elk Ridge Scenic Backway and just off the paved La Sal Mountain Loop Road

3. Chequamegon (Wisconsin)

The Moquah Barrens is a cool place to camp, and there are some campsites on the back roads of the Bayfield Peninsula close to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

2. Sequoia (California)

There are developed campgrounds in Giant Sequoia National Monument, but our favorite dispersed sites are around Dome Rock off Highway 190

…and finally our #1 National Forest for dispersed camping:

1. Inyo (California-Nevada)

The night skies are incredible in this high-elevation region; we have dispersed camped around Mono Lake, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and the Kearsarge Pass Trailhead

Honorable Mentions

Colville (Washington)

We found excellent dispersed campsites along the unpaved portions of Deadman Creek Road, plus good options in the Selkirk Mountains further east

Gallatin (Montana)

If you cannot find a campsite in Yellowstone National Park, try this National Forest on the west side of the park, specifically the free designated sites along Taylor Fork Road

Modoc  (California)

We have found many nice options in the northeast corner of California around Lava Beds National Monument, although snow blocks some roads well into June

Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)

We have camped at Bullion Pass and on the West Fork of Eagle Creek on the road to the Settler’s Grove of Ancient Cedars

Kaibab (Arizona)

If you want to avoid the busy campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park, try the National Forest that sits outside its boundaries on both the North and South Rim

Top 10 National Forests for Backpacking

We have only backpacked in about 35 National Forests of the 155 total, but we have camped in many of the most famous Wildernesses in America.  Our best memories from National Forests were made in these remote areas where the only way in is on foot or horseback (which is perfect if the physical requirements of carrying all of your gear is too much).  We hope you are inspired to don your backpack and hit the trail.  Click here to see all of our Top 10 lists.

10. Mt. Baker (Washington)

There is a short backpacking season in this snowy National Forest, but the mountain scenery is unparalleled

9. Talladega (Alabama)

Incredible views can be found on the Pinhoti Trail, Bartram National Recreation Trail, and Cheaha Falls Trail

8. Routt (Colorado)

Both the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness and Never Summer Wilderness (also in Arapaho National Forest) are worth exploring

7. Bitterroot (Montana)

Blodgett Canyon is incredibly beautiful and we hope to return to explore this area more

6. Shoshone (Wyoming)

Like our #1 National Forest, this one shares the Wind River Range, plus we have backpacked the Beartooth Plateau and Clarks Fork Canyon

5. Challis (Idaho)

The incredible Sawtooth National Recreation Area is spread across Boise, Challis, and Sawtooth National Forests

4. Ashley (Utah-Wyoming)

This is more of a vote for the High Uintas Wilderness, which is shared with Wasatch National Forest

3. Medicine Bow (Wyoming)

We have backpacked all over our local National Forest and highly recommend a trip into the Snowy Range

2. Gila (New Mexico)

The Gila Wilderness was the first designated in the world (in 1924) and remains one of the best for backpacking

…and finally our #1 National Forest for backpacking:

1. Bridger (Wyoming)

Titcomb Basin (photo above) and the Cirque of the Towers are overrun, but there are so many other great options in the Wind River Range

Honorable Mentions

Nebraska (Nebraska)

Not on most backpackers’ bucket lists, but we have enjoyed the solitude of the Soldier Creek Wilderness and Pine Ridge National Recreation Area

Los Padres (California)

If you like hot springs and poison-oak, then this foggy forest on the Pacific Ocean might be for you

Roosevelt (Colorado)

You may not expect to see moose in Colorado, but we typically see them in the Mummy Range north of Rocky Mountain National Park

Ouachita (Oklahoma-Arkansas)

This is more of a future pick, as we would like to backpack part of the Ouachita National Recreation Trail

La Sal (Utah)

The stunning canyons of the Dark Canyon Wilderness are included in Bears Ears National Monument

Wallowa (Oregon)

We have only been to the Eagle Cap Wilderness once, but it is famous among backpackers for a reason

Learn more about backpacking in all 155 National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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