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Apache National Forest

Apache National Forest

Arizona, New Mexico

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region

1,876,891 acres (1,813,601 federal/ 63,290 other)

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

Overview

Growing up in Arizona, we only ever heard this referred to as Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest since it was merged in 1974.  The more eastern Apache National Forest section represents about 69% of the combined forests total acreage and partly spills into New Mexico.  On its west side it borders the Fort Apache and the San Carlos Indian Reservations, only containing one side of Mt. Baldy (which is famous for its ski resort).  The National Forest contains the eastern portions of the White Mountains and Mogollon Rim, a forested escarpment that cuts 200 miles across much of the state of Arizona.

Highlights

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, Mt. Baldy, Butler Canyon, Escudilla National Recreation Trail, Hannagan Meadow, Chitty Canyon, Big Tree Trail, Eagle National Recreation Trail

Must-Do Activity

The Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 191) is a narrow, winding paved road that runs 120 miles north-south through Apache National Forest and is the best way to explore.  Near the northern end of the highway, a steep unpaved road leads east up to the trailhead for Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  A fire burned the 10,912-foot mountain that the trail summits and on our hike in May 2020 we counted 75 downed trees that we had to step over, both on the three miles in and the three miles out.  To the east, the remote Blue Range Primitive Area was created in 1933, but has yet to receive Wilderness designation.  About 18 miles south of Alpine make a stop at the historic Hannagan Meadow lodge, the only place to get gas along the route (or air if like us you have to put on your spare tire).  The highway continues south dropping down from the Mogollon Rim into a more desert-like environment.

Best Trail

A short, but worthwhile hike descends west from Sardine Saddle near the southern end of the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.  At the end of the 0.4-mile trail is the largest Arizona cypress tree growing in the United States (97 feet tall with a 181-inch trunk circumference).  There are also some big alligator juniper trees growing near the bottom of the canyon, and if you see their bark you will realize why they got their name.

Watchable Wildlife

We were excited to find horned lizards (a.k.a. frogs or toads) along the Escudilla National Recreation Trail.  The cliffs of the Mogollon Rim provide good thermal updrafts so are a good place to looks for turkey vultures and a variety of raptors.  The ranges of mule deer and Coues whitetail deer overlap in this part of the country.  We saw turkeys on the road back to Rose Spring Trail (Forest Road 54).

Instagram-worthy Photo

There are great views from atop the Mogollon Rim at Blue Point Overlook on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Highway 191 is paved, but is a slow drive due to its many curves.  Many of the side roads are very rough and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.  We got a flat tire on the rocky Forest Road 54.

Camping

There are several developed campgrounds, including one at Luna Lake and several along the East Fork of the Black River.  Dispersed camping options abound, including on the road to Escudilla National Recreation Trail and we found a nice campsite near the entrance to Forest Road 54.

Wilderness Areas

Bear Wallow Wilderness

Escudilla Wilderness

Mount Baldy Wilderness

[Blue Range Primitive Area]

Related Sites

Coronado National Memorial (Arizona)

Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

Fort Bowie National Historic Site (Arizona)

Nearest National Park

Petrified Forest (Arizona)

Conifer Tree Species

Arizona cypress, alligator juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Chihuahua pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, Engelmann spruce

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Emory oak, Arizona white oak, turbinella oak, New Mexico locust, Rocky Mountain maple, pointleaf manzanita

Explore More – The Apache arrived in this area from the north in the 1300s and their name comes from a Zuni word translated as what?

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Angelina National Forest

Angelina National Forest

Texas

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

402,231 acres (153,180 federal/ 249,051 other)

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

Overview

Angelina National Forest lies in the piney woods region of eastern Texas dominated by longleaf, loblolly, and shortleaf pine trees.  In 1935, land acquisition began to create Angelina and the three other nearby National Forests it is co-managed with (Davy Crockett, Sabine, and Sam Houston).  Sam Rayburn Reservoir bisects Angelina National Forest into a north and south section in the flooded Neches River Basin.

Highlights

Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Boykin Springs Recreation Area, Caney Creek Recreation Area, Black Branch Barrens, Bouton Lake, Aldridge Sawmill Historic Site, Sawmill Trail

Must-Do Activity

Other than Sam Rayburn Reservoir, the most developed portion of the National Forest is Boykin Springs Recreation Area.  The lake, campground, and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures are at the end of 2.5-mile long Forest Road 313 off Highway 63.  About twenty minutes away Bouton Lake (12 acres) is located seven miles down Forest Road 303 and offers primitive camping, fishing, and an overgrown hiking trail amidst bottomland hardwoods and baldcypress trees (please respect the private property on the west side).

Best Trail

The 5.5-mile out-and-back Sawmill Trail connects Boykin Springs Recreation Area to the Aldridge Sawmill Historic Site.  The trail goes through a burn and can be hard to follow in places due to multiple user trails, so be sure to follow the yellow-painted metal markers on trees.  The sawmill has been heavily sprayed with graffiti, but if you aim your camera up to the second story it does not look as bad.  The trail that used to connect to the sawmill from Bouton Lake has been closed since it crossed private property.

Watchable Wildlife

At Boykin Springs Recreation Area we spotted a pileated woodpecker, cardinal, robins, and crows.  The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker can be found in the longleaf pine forests.  On the Sawmill Trail we saw a copperhead snake near the creek and turtles in the pond at the end.  Hunters seek white-tailed deer, wild turkey, American woodcock, and bobwhite quail in the forest, which also provides wintering habitat for bald eagles.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A cool rock spillway originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1938 drains from the nine-acre lake at Boykin Springs Recreation Area.  It was reconstructed to its original appearance in the years after Hurricane Rita hit in 2005.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Forest Road 303 to Bouton Lake is a very good dirt road, but the west side of the lake is privately owned and a one-lane road leads to a gate, so unless you want to drive backwards for a ways just park as soon as you get to the camping area.

Camping

There are developed campgrounds at Boykin Springs and Caney Creek Recreation Areas, plus an undeveloped (and free) area to camp at Bouton Lake.

Wilderness Areas

Turkey Hill Wilderness

Upland Island Wilderness

Related Sites

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

Davy Crockett National Forest (Texas)

Sabine National Forest (Texas)

Nearest National Park

Hot Springs (Arkansas)

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, loblolly pine

Flowering Tree Species

laurel oak, blackjack oak, post oak, overcup oak, swamp chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, water oak, black hickory, water hickory, red maple, American beech, American holly, yaupon holly, southern magnolia, sweetbay magnolia, swamp red bay, water tupelo, water elm, winged elm, Carolina ash, green ash, wax myrtle

Explore More – Other than looking cool, what function do the knees serve that protrude from the baldcypress root system?

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San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

California

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

346,177 acres

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

Overview

San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was proclaimed on October 10, 2014, by President Barack Obama under the power of the 1906 Antiquities Act.  Located just north of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, about 15-million people live within 90 minutes of this mountain range, which provides 30% of their drinking water.  Despite this region’s reputation for sun and surf, the high elevations (topping out at 10,064 feet on Mt. San Antonio) regularly get snow in the winter.  The vegetation ranges from chaparral to oak and mixed evergreen forest and is prone to wildfire (see our post on Angeles National Forest for information on recent fires).

Highlights

Angeles Crest Highway, Inspiration Point, Lightning Ridge Nature Trail, Mt. San Antonio, Mt. Baden-Powell, Throop Peak, Silver Moccasin Trail, Gabrielmo National Recreation Trail, High Desert National Recreation Trail, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

It was a sunny November afternoon at 7,000 feet in elevation on the Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2), which traverses the steep-sided San Gabriel Mountains that rise above southern California’s infamous smog.  The rich odor of incense-cedar trees filled the warm air as we ascended the rocky trail from the historic Big Pines Visitor Center. This soulful smell may be more familiar to you than you think since its wood is commonly used to make pencils. The partially shaded path was lined with interpretive signs that introduced the trees and shrubs growing on this dry, south-facing hillside. Across the narrow valley, a ski resort was cut into the dense stands of conifers on the shady north slope.

Best Trail

The 2,600-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail cuts across much of the National Monument with easy access from Highway 2 at the Lightning Ridge Nature Trail and Grassy Hollow Visitor Center.  Other long trails include the Gabrielmo National Recreation Trail and High Desert National Recreation Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Just west on Highway 2 from the Big Pines Visitor Center is Inspiration Point, which looks south at the often smoggy Los Angeles metropolitan area.

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 the 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 Angeles 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

Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness

San Gabriel Wilderness

Sheep Mountain Wilderness (also in San Bernardino National Forest)

Related Sites

Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument (California)

Nearest National Park

Channel Islands (California)

Explore More – The movement to preserve the San Gabriel Mountains began in 2003 with what Congresswoman initiating an environmental feasibility report?

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?

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?