Falls Creek Falls in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington
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The best national forests in the U.S.

From the vast Alaskan wilderness to the majestic California woods, these are the best national forests in the U.S. to visit now


Everyone knows America's famous national parks: Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Zion. People often plan their entire vacations around these protected lands, hoping to get away from the hustle of everyday life and enjoy the great outdoors. Yet some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the USA are often overlooked as they lie within another federal department: the National Forest System.

Comprised of nearly 200 million acres of preserved forestlands and grasslands from coast to coast, America's National Forests exist today thanks to the passing of the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. This law was created to protect Yellowstone Park Timberland Reserve (which bordered Yellowstone National Park, also the first national park). Today, America has more than 150 national forests. From Alaska's enormous Tongass National Forest to the towering sequoias in California to sprawling lands in Ohio, these forests let visitors hike, bike, camp, and play in any way they choose. So, if you want to connect with nature, consider these stunning national forests in the U.S. for your next adventure. 

Best national forests in the U.S.

1. Tongass National Forest, AK

This Alaskan wilderness is filled with huge Sitka spruce, western hemlock and cedar trees, some up to 800 years old. But that's not all. There are also majestic glaciers and ice fields within the national forest. At 16.7 million acres, Tongass National Forest is the nation's largest national forest. Incidentally, Alaska also has the most forests, with a wonderful 21.9 million acres. Over one-third of Tongass National Forest is designated as federal wilderness, protecting natural habitats for brown and black bears, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, wolverines, river otters, harbor seals and bald eagles (to name a few). 

2. Sequoia National Forest, CA

Named after the world's most massive trees, Sequoia National Forest extends 1.1 million acres across three counties of Southern California. The forest features the world's greatest concentration of giant sequoia groves, all protected within the Giant Sequoia National Monument. There are plenty of ways to explore the park, with more than 50 campgrounds, 1,000 miles of trails to hike and more than 200 miles of scenic rivers. No matter your adventure, don't miss stopping by the historic Wuksachi Lodge


3. Coconino National Forest, AZ

Arizona is not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you're thinking about national forests but hidden amongst the saguaro cacti and the sandy landscape lies Coconino National Forest, with its stunning landscapes that range from alpine tundra to dramatic red rock formations. Here, you'll also find a variety of wildlife, including elk, javelinas, black bears, rattlesnakes and lots more. This rare and unusual area of outstanding natural beauty is a favorite among those who want quite literally to get away from it all. It's also a popular spot for outdoor recreation, including hiking, horseback riding, fishing and camping.

4. Dixie National Forest, UT

Stretching for 170 miles across southern Utah, Dixie Forest often gets overlooked for nearby destinations like Zion National Park and the Vermilion Cliffs. But not anymore. Dixie boasts giant ponderosa pines and spectacularly colored cliff canyons, including the famous Red Canyon with its brilliant red spires. Other notable spots to add to your itinerary are Navajo Lake and the scenic Boulder/Grover Road on Boulder Mountain.


5. Cibola National Forest, NM

When you think of the southwest, sky islands probably don't come to mind, but that's exactly what makes up the 1.6 million acres of Cibola National Forest in New Mexico. The isolated mountain ranges (surrounded by grasslands) can reach 11,300ft. Don't miss the Sandia Peak Tramway, the nation’s longest, which carries visitors for 2.7 miles to the top for panoramic views of Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Valley.

6. Superior National Forest, MN

One of the most popular tracts of public land in the U.S., Superior can get packed with adventurous travelers who want to kayak, hike, fish, ski and paddle the famous canoe trails of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Carved by ancient glaciers along the border with Canada, this one-million-acre paradise is filled with rugged cliffs, gentle hills, canyon walls, rocky shores and sandy beaches dotted with lakes of every size. Superior National Forest is also home to some amazing wildlife, including the country's last remaining population of gray wolves. 



7. White River National Forest, CO

A huge draw for mountain climbers, photographers, campers, skiers and other outdoor recreation buffs, White River National Forest contains eight wilderness areas, including 10 mountain peaks over 14,000ft and the picturesque Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. This particular area of outstanding natural beauty is also where, upon completing a survey of near Trappers Lake, Arthur Carhart, a writer, conservationist and U.S. Forest Service official, came to realize the importance of conservation and submitted a memorandum advocating for the Forest Service to preserve areas throughout the National Forests from human development.

8. Sierra National Forest, CA

The Sierra National Forest tends to get overshadowed by its world-famous residents, including Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park and Mount Whitney, but there's plenty of room for everyone in this 12 million-acre stretch of wilderness. Covering hundreds of miles through California and Nevada, the Sierra Nevada offers towering mountains, granite formations, sub-alpine meadows and crystal-clear lakes, as well as sections of both the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. 


9. Bridger-Teton National Forest, WY

Part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Bridger-Teton National Forest boasts 1.2 million acres of land dotted with glaciers, meadows, limestone peaks and hundreds of miles of protected rivers and streams. The forest’s big geological attraction is the Gros Ventre Slide Geologic Area, a long, rubble-strewn scar left behind by an infamous 1925 landslide that blocked the Gros Ventre River and created the five-mile-long Lower Slide Lake.

10. Salmon-Challis National Forest

Sprawling across central Idaho, Salmon-Challis National Forest encompasses over 4.3 million acres. Renowned for its rugged mountains, alpine lakes, and wild rivers, this forest is home to the Salmon River, known as the "River of No Return," AKA the "largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48 states," according to the U.S. Forest Service. Other not-to-miss highlights include Challis-Yankee Fork Ranger District, which features historic mining sites, and Borah Peak, Idaho’s tallest mountain.


11. Pisgah & Nantahala National Forests, NC

If you love fall foliage, then this duo of national forests in North Carolina is what your autumnal dreams are made of. Every year, the two forests (about 1 million acres in total, including 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail) turn deep shades of red, yellow and orange, coating the Blue Ridge Mountains in a warm glow. But if you can't make it in the fall, Pisgah and Nantahala's swaths of old oak, hemlock, tulip poplar pine sycamore, dogwood and beech trees make for a year-round sight.

12. Umpqua National Forest, OR

Oregan is full of majestic forests, and one of the most beautiful—though often overlooked by visitors to the state—is Umpqua, which winds down the Cascade Mountains across nearly a million acres. With more than 500 miles of hiking trails, you can witness whitewater rapids, wildflowers, spruce and pine trees, and some of the state's highest and most stunning waterfalls. Looking to stay the night? Choose from 40 campgrounds that will allow you to fully take in this magical place. 


13. White Mountain National Forest, NH

Spanning more than 800,000 acres, White Mountain National Forest encompasses some of the most natural and beautiful wilderness in the Northeast, drawing visitors with its first-class hiking, skiing and camping. At its center is the 6,288ft-high Mount Washington, part of the Presidential Mountain Range, which has long boasted the 'world’s worst weather.' Needless to say, a trek up the mountain is not for casual hikers. 

14. Hiawatha National Forest

Dubbed "the Great Lakes National Forest" for a reason, the Hiawatha National Forest is surrounded by the three upper Great Lakes: Michigan, Superior and Huron. The setting directly next to these lakes makes it one of the most unique forests in the country, home to diverse wildlife and vegetation, as well as hosting visitors who want to enjoy both land and water activities. Hike the morning, set out on a boat in the afternoon, and take in the sunset by a local lighthouse—this forest lets you soak in all that "Pure Michigan" beauty."


15. Green Mountain National Forest, VT

Head to Green Mountain at any time of the year, and you'll find something to do: Hike through colorful foliage in fall, go camping and canoeing in summer, and picnic among wildflowers in spring. But winter is the best time to visit this Vermont wilderness when the forest transforms into a snow lover’s playground. In addition to three alpine ski areas and seven Nordic ski areas, Green Mountain offers trails, snowmobiles, snowshoes and pretty much any other snow-based recreation. 

16. Wayne National Forest, OH

Covering more than a quarter million acres of Appalachian foothills in southeastern Ohio, Wayne National Forest is a playground for many Ohioans, especially for those who like to take their motorcycles or ATVs out for a spin. Aside from the scenic rides it provides, it's also a great spot for fishing and walking. With more than 400 miles of trails, you'll see covered bridges, springs, ponds and even a waterfall or two. The land is particularly beautiful in the fall when the foliage takes hold. 


17. Washington & Jefferson National Forests, VA

Two national forests that became one in the 1950s, Washington and Jefferson Forests, stretch across Virginia, into West Virginia and along the Appalachian Mountains. They're an outdoor enthusiast's paradise with ideal conditions for hiking, fishing, biking, skiing, horseback riding and hawk watching. GWJNF is also home to 2,300 miles of streams, 40 species of trees, 60 species of animals and 50 endangered plant species. 

18. Gifford Pinchot National Forest, WA

Known for its unusual landscape, including tunnels and caverns formed by cooling volcanic lava, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is veritable Aladdin's cave of different wildlife species. The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is an especially popular tourist attraction, with the 2.5-mile-long Ape Cave and the Pacific Crest Trail making the forest a popular destination for hikers. Amongst the forest’s many rivers, lakes, and streams, you'll find a variety of fish, including chinook salmon, coho salmon, steelhead trout, cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout. You'll also be more than likely to spot elk, black bears, mountain goats, and bobcats.

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