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Cleveland National Forest

Cleveland National Forest

California

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

568,634 acres (439,281 federal/ 129,353 other)

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

Overview

In southwestern California, Cleveland National Forest was established in 1908 and named for the U.S. President who added 21-million acres to the Forest Reserve system in the 1890s.  The National Forest is notable for its Mediterranean climate and low elevation (its highest point is 6,271-foot Monument Peak).  Most of its acreage is chaparral, not forest, making it more prone to frequent wildfires.  Despite its proximity to San Diego and the densely-populated Pacific Coastline, it contains four designated Wilderness areas. 

Highlights

Sunrise Scenic Byway, Henshaw Scenic Vista, Monument Peak, Three Sisters Falls, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, Cedar Creek Falls, Sunset Trail, Noble Canyon National Recreation Trail, Agua Tibia Trail, San Juan Loop Trail, Desert View Nature Trail, Pioneer Mail Trail, Observatory Trail

Must-Do Activity

Located ten miles north of Highway 76, Palomar Mountain is best known as the home of Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, which was established in 1928.  It is open daily for tours of the A.W. Greenway Jr. Visitor Center and the 200-inch Hale Telescope, which reigned as the world’s largest from 1949 until 1975.  Two miles downhill is the Forest Service’s Observatory Campground and the trailhead for the 2.2-mile one-way Observatory National Recreation Trail.  An Adventure Pass is required to park here, but not if you start at the observatory.  The trail gains about 900 feet in elevation as it climbs through an oak-pine forest to the Palomar Observatory (that sits at 5,598 feet in elevation) providing views of the Mendenhall Valley. 

Best Trail

The Sunset Trail makes a 4.6-mile loop from the Meadows Trailhead at mile marker 19 on the Sunrise Scenic Byway.  The trail provides a view of the Pacific Ocean after passing meadows, ponds, and oak savannahs. 

Watchable Wildlife

Despite its proximity to the San Diego metropolitan area, Cleveland National Forest is home to black bears, gray foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.  Black-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, and coyotes are more likely to be encountered by visitors.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Look for acorn woodpeckers’ seed caches riddled into some of the Jeffrey pine trees in the forest.

Peak Season

Winter

Fees

An Adventure Pass is required to park at several trailheads (including the Observatory Trail) throughout the National Forest, but an America the Beautiful pass can be substituted.

Road Conditions

The Sunrise Scenic Byway and the road to Palomar Observatory are both paved, although there are many unpaved routes through the National Forest.

Camping

Two miles downhill from the Palomar Observatory is the Forest Service’s Observatory Campground, a great place to stay if you plan to attend a star party on moonless nights.  Palomar Mountain State Park also has a campground.

Wilderness Areas

Agua Tibia Wilderness (also run by the Bureau of Land Management)

Hauser Wilderness

Pine Creek Wilderness

San Mateo Canyon Wilderness

Related Sites

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Nearest National Park

Joshua Tree

Conifer Tree Species

Jeffrey pine, Coulter pine, white fir, California juniper, Arizona cypress, Tecate cypress

Flowering Tree Species

Engelmann oak, coast live oak, California black oak, manzanita

Explore More – Who was the U.S. President that established the first 13-million acres of Forest Reserves starting in 1891, prior to Grover Cleveland?

Learn more about Cleveland 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

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Katmai National Park and Preserve

Katmai National Park and Preserve

Alaska

Managed by National Park Service

Established 1918 National Monument, 1980 National Park

3,674,529 acres

Website: nps.gov/katm

Overview

Katmai National Monument was created after the Novarupta Volcano erupted in 1912 (an event recorded in the skinny tree rings grown throughout Alaska that year).  Ash fell in Seattle (1,500 miles away) and piled up to 700 feet deep in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.  The valley is no longer smoking, but it is there are still 15 active volcanoes within the park’s boundaries.  This remote park on the Alaska Peninsula has few roads and is only accessible by airplane (typically equipped with floats for water landings).  Oh yeah, and there are lots of grizzly bears, or brown bears as they are called in coastal areas of Alaska.

Highlights

Brooks Falls, North Arm of Naynek Lake, Hallo Bay, Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Baked Mountain Huts, Savonoski Loop

Must-Do Activity

The grizzly/brown bears of Brooks Falls are celebrities due to the annual Fat Bear Week vote for the chunkiest bear on social media.  Less famous are the bears that hang out around Hallo Bay on the coastline, eating grass and shellfish until the salmon arrive.  Regardless of your destination, flights from road-accessible portions of Alaska (like Homer and Kenai) can be quite costly.  Most of the approximately 50,000 annual visitors come only for a day trip, although there are three expensive lodges and a campground in the park.

Best Trail

Brooks Falls Trail connects the Lower River Bear Viewing Platform 1.2 miles to the Falls and Riffles Platforms at Brooks Falls.  Near the visitor center, the short Cultural Site Trail visits a prehistoric camp and reconstructed dwelling.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Brooks Falls is a world-class destination for wildlife photographers from around the world, so you might want to bring along a camera with a good zoom lens if you pay to get there during the peak months of July and September. This photo is from Scott’s father (see more of his photos and paintings at Bruce Sink.com)

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/katm/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

The National Park Service does not charge an entry fee, but it is very expensive to fly to Brooks Camp or Hallo Bay.

Road Conditions

There is a 23-mile long road that leads from Brooks Falls to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and a daily eight-hour ranger-guided bus tour is available in the summer.  Backpackers can buy one-way tickets and explore the area, with the Baked Mountain Huts a popular destination 12 miles away across two difficult river crossings.

Camping

There are 60 sites at Brooks Camp Campground (reservations required prior to arrival), which is surrounded by an electric fence to keep bears out.

Related Sites

Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Explore More – How many grizzly/brown bears are estimated to live within Katmai National Park and Preserve?

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Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest

Tennessee, North Carolina

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

1,204,847 acres (655,598 federal/ 549,249 other)

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

Overview

The southern Appalachian Mountains have some of the highest biodiversity in the United States, with more than 20,000 species of plants and animals.  In the heart of this region, Cherokee National Forest is located north and south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee.  Abundant rainfall and steep terrain make whitewater rafting a popular activity, especially on the Ocoee National Wild and Scenic River.

Highlights

Cherohala Skyway, Hiwassee River, Bald River Falls, Ocoee Scenic Byway, Boyd Gap Observation Site, Turtletown Creek Falls Scenic Area, Ocoee Whitewater Center, Coker Creek Scenic Area, Dudley Falls Picnic Area, Watauga Lake, Rock Creek Gorge Scenic Area, Laurel Fork Falls, Bald Mountain Ridge Scenic Area, Unaka Mountains Scenic Area, Doe River Gorge Scenic Area, Backbone Rock, Rogers Ridge Scenic Area, Conasauga River Blue Hole, Gee Creek Falls, Roan High Knob, Falls Branch Falls, Tanasi Trail System, John Muir National Recreation Trail, Margarette Falls Trail, Warrior’s Passage National Recreation Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Cherokee National Forest is celebrated for its numerous waterfalls, two highlights being 60-foot-tall Margarette Falls and 65-foot Benton Falls, both accessible by short hikes.  If you visit during the fall foliage season, popular driving routes include the 26-mile Ocoee Scenic Byway and 43-mile Cherohala Skyway that climbs over 4,500 feet in elevation into North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.  We were intrigued by reading about the Conasauga River Blue Hole, where visitors can snorkel with fish and turtles in the shallows and deep pools. 

Best Trail

On the north side of Ocoee Lake, the Clemmer Trailhead is located right along Highway 30, a quarter mile off Highway 64.  From here one trail follows picturesque Rock Creek Gorge, which is known for its waterfalls.  Mountain bikers can follow several other trails and connect into the trail system around Benton Falls and McCamy Lake in the Chilhowee Recreation Area.  Altogether, the National Forest boasts 700 miles of trail, including a famous stretch of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through the Roan Highlands.

Watchable Wildlife

Large mammals found in Cherokee National Forest include white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, opossums, river otters, beavers, squirrels, bobcats, red foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, and black bears.  In addition to songbirds common to eastern forests, watch the skies for turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and a variety of hawks.  This area is known for its high diversity of salamanders, including hellbenders and Jordan’s salamanders.  This region also has many reptiles, like eastern box turtles, common snapping turtles, southeastern five-lined skinks, timber rattlesnakes, northern copperheads, and rat snakes (like the one we saw on the Benton Falls Trail). The many streams and rivers support rainbow, brook, and brown trout, while lakes have largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappies.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The whitewater rapids are less intense on the Hiwassee River, which is also followed by Highway 30, the 21-mile long John Muir National Recreation Trail, and a portion of the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail. 

Peak Season

Summer and fall

Fees

There is a $3 day-use fee at the Chilhowee Recreation Area and there are likely fees to park elsewhere in this massive National Forest. 

Road Conditions

The scenic byways we drove were all paved, but we found the gravel road up to Chilhowee Recreation Area to be rough and steep, though still easy enough for any passenger car.

Camping

There are countless campgrounds in Cherokee National Forest, but Chilhowee Campground near McKamy Lake seemed nice and provided access to an extensive trail system.

Wilderness Areas

Bald River Gorge Wilderness

Big Frog Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Big Laurel Branch Wilderness

Citico Creek Wilderness

Cohutta Wilderness (also in Chattahoochee National Forest)

Gee Creek Wilderness

Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness (also in Nantahala National Forest)

Little Frog Mountain Wilderness

Pond Mountain Wilderness

Sampson Mountain Wilderness

Unaka Mountain Wilderness

Related Sites

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (Tennessee)

Manhattan Project National Historical Park (Tennessee-New Mexico-Washington)

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Conifer Tree Species

eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, Table Mountain pine, pitch pine

Flowering Tree Species

tulip-poplar, sassafras, flowering dogwood, mountain laurel, pawpaw, American beech, white basswood, sweet buckeye, sugar maple, red maple, mountain maple, moosewood maple, yellowwood, yellow birch, cucumber magnolia, black cherry, sourwood, pale hickory, mockernut hickory, rock chestnut oak, scarlet oak, black oak, white oak, southern red oak, Catawba rhododendron, yellow birch, sweet bay magnolia, white ash, mountain-ash, mountain-laurel

Explore More – The National Forest’s Ocoee Whitewater Center hosted events during the Summer Olympics in what year?

Learn more about Cherokee 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.