Top 10 Most Popular and Beautiful Forests in America
Top 10 Most Popular and Beautiful Forests in America

Every outdoor lover has a favorite national or state park, but when it comes to natural public lands, national forests are among the country's most breathtaking and functional spaces. There are 155 national forests in the United States, all managed by the U.S. Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. Unlike national parks, which are set aside specifically for the conservation of pristine natural areas and landmarks, national forests focus on resource preservation while ensuring a healthy ecosystem for both humans and wildlife.

These pockets of land are resolute protectors of wildlife, landscapes, and communities that have been here far longer than anything else. From the highest peaks to the deepest fjords, here are 10 of the very best American national parks (in no particular order).

From giant redwoods in California to the vast lake network in Minnesota, these pristine stretches of wilderness—most of them containing millions of acres—draw visitors with first-class hiking, biking, camping, and canoeing, while also protecting and housing thousands of endangered species such as hawks, wolves, and raptors. These swaths of land are protectors of wildlife, landscapes, and communities that have been around far longer than the U.S. itself. So next time you think about traveling, we recommend you experience everything the U.S. has to offer, including these gorgeous national forests.

Top 10 Most Popular and Beautiful Forest in America

1. North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest

2. Angeles National Forest, California

3. Tonto National Forest, Arizona

4. Coconino National Forest, Arizona

5. Inyo National Forest, California and Nevada

6. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

7. Sequoia National Forest, California

8. San Bernardino National Forest, California

9. Superior National Forest, Minnesota

10. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire and Maine

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What Are The Most Popular and Beautiful Forest in America?

1. Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Photo: blueridgemountainlife
Photo: blueridgemountainlife

The national landmark in Asheville, North Carolina, is so beloved that it was recently named "America's Most Popular National Forest" by Musement. And although it's the most Instagrammed forest in the country, Pisgah is large enough that its popularity won't get in the way of your commune with nature.

The national forest stretches more than 500,000 acres, with no shortage of activities and sights to explore. Visitors to Pisgah can hike one of the many trails leading to mountain peaks more than a mile high, or trek around the forest's many waterfalls.

The waterfalls are what make Pisgah a particularly beloved destination during the dog days of summer. Be sure to swim in one of the natural pools beneath Pisgah's cascades. The forest's natural water features are known for remaining extremely cool even when temperatures soar.

Another visitor-favorite feature is "Sliding Rock," a 60-foot natural waterslide that locals refer to as "the original Slip 'n' Slide." Although entrance to the forest is free, there is a $1-per-person charge to slip down Sliding Rock between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Because it is an extremely popular attraction, try to visit before 10 a.m. or in the middle of the week to avoid the crowds.

The forest was founded in 1916 (it was purchased from the Vanderbilt family) and has since become famous as the home of the first school of forestry in the U.S., which you can honor at the Cradle of Forestry in America historic site.

2. Angeles National Forest, California

Photo: latimes
Photo: latimes

The Angeles National Forest is located within an hour's drive for more than 20 million people who live in the Greater Los Angeles area and provides a wealth of recreation opportunities.

The Angeles National Forest covers over 650,000 acres and is the backyard playground of the huge metropolitan area of Los Angeles. The Angeles National Forest manages the watersheds within its boundaries to provide valuable water to southern California and to protect surrounding communities from catastrophic floods.

The land within the Forest is as diverse in appearance and terrain as it is in the opportunities it provides for enjoyment. Elevations range from 1,200 to 10,064 feet. Much of the Forest is covered with dense chaparral which changes to pine and fir-covered slopes as you reach the majestic peaks of the higher elevations.

Over 36,000 acres within the Angeles National Forest are designated as the San Gabriel Wilderness Area and have been set aside to preserve their wilderness character. The area encompasses some extremely rugged terrain, ranging in elevation from 1,600 to 8,200 feet.

3. Hoosier National Forest, Indiana

Photo: visitbloomington
Photo: visitbloomington

Small but beautiful, at just 204,000 acres, the Hoosier National Forest is a hidden gem of south-central Indiana. Spread over nine counties, hickory, oak, walnut, and hemlock trees cover the forest’s rolling hills, ridges, and valleys, while dramatic caves and caverns can be found deep below the surface. Scenic trails slice through the charming forest, where woodchucks, white-tailed deer, fox, and opossum are known to roam.

The mix of open land and forest provides a wide variety of wildlife habitats. The Forest has a few WIldlife Viewing Areas. Common mammals include white-tailed deer, fox, woodchuck, opossum, and gray squirrel. Common birds of interest are turkey, pileated woodpecker, several neotropical migrant songbirds, and migratory waterfowl. The karst ecosystems include many unusual cave species.

There are five federally-listed threatened and endangered species that might visit the Hoosier National Forest. These species are Indiana bat, gray bat, bald eagle, rough pigtoe and fan shell mussels.

Cave environments, by their very nature, provide a unique ecological system. Indiana has one of the best-known karst areas in the United States. Well over 100 studies have been published on karst features within the State, many of these in the area of the Forest.

Top 20 Best & Most-Visited U.S National Parks For Upcoming Trips

4. Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Photo: nhonews
Photo: nhonews

When you think “Arizona,” your mind may conjure images of saguaro cacti and the desert. And when you think “national forest,” you may picture miles of evergreen-covered mountains. Coconino National Forest somewhat defies both sets of expectations, boasting a landscape that ranges from dramatic red rock formations to alpine tundra. Wildlife in the area is similarly varied, including elk, javelinas, black bears, rattlesnakes, and more. Unsurprisingly, Coconino National Forest is a popular spot for outdoor recreation including hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and camping.

Another unique feature of Coconino National Forest: An important archaeological site atop the remains of an ancient Sinagua village at Elden Pueblo. Items recovered at Elden Pueblo are thought to have originated as far away as Mexico and California, suggesting that a major trade outpost was nearby.

5. Inyo National Forest, California and Nevada

Photo: getawaycouple
Photo: getawaycouple

Located in California's beautiful Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Inyo National Forest offers challenging trails, high mountain peaks, and unparalleled views. Several of our trails give entry to the John Muir Trail or Pacific Crest Trail with the opportunity to trek in the longest roadless section of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Our trails offer possibilities for hiking, photography, peak bagging, fishing, or simply enjoying the pristine beauty of the High Sierra. Whether you are seeking solitude, exceptional scenery, or sharing a wilderness adventure, there are many ways to create a memorable experience.

Come, take a deep breath of clean mountain air. Put on your pack and hit the trail. Come to experience nature and let it refresh your spirit. Places to explore include the Ansel Adams, John Muir, Golden Trout, Hoover, and South Sierra wildernesses. Trips beginning on Inyo National Forest may continue into the wilderness areas of Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks.

As you plan your trip, remember that we must take care of this amazing place. While you are here, be respectful of water, woods, and wildlife. Travel lightly on the land. Remember to leave this place undamaged so it will continue to be what we seek of wilderness.

6. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Photo: stlmag
Photo: stlmag

Covering just under 300,000 acres in Southern Illinois, Shawnee National Forest is nestled between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The forest contains several distinct ecological regions, including wetlands, hardwood forests, deep canyons, and rugged bluffs.

Shawnee National Forest features Cedar Lake, which is available for boating, fishing, kayaking, and other water recreation. It’s also home to the Little Grand Canyon, which has a 3-mile trail at the base of the 300-foot bluffs.

With 7 wilderness areas, 2 scenic drives, and historical markers for the Native American Trail of Tears and Underground Railroad, there is a lot packed into this relatively small national forest.

7. Sequoia National Forest, California

Photo: visitvisalia
Photo: visitvisalia

Possibly the most famous woodland in the country, the Sequoia National Forest in southern California is named after its most treasured residents. Covering over 1.1 million acres, the forest is home to the giant sequoia, the world’s largest tree and has the greatest concentration of the leafy giants anywhere in the world. Sequoia’s landscape is equally as impressive as its woodland, granite monoliths, glacier-carved canyons, roaring whitewater rapids and picturesque lakes are just a few of its stunning natural wonders.

In the heart of Sequoia National Park lies the Giant Forest, where you’ll find half (that’s right) of the world’s largest (and oldest) trees. Over 8,000 gigantic sequoia trees live here, including the world’s largest tree by volume: the General Sherman Tree. At the ripe old age of 2,100 years old and weighing around 2.7 million pounds, General Sherman is the largest living thing on the planet (275 feet tall), making him the prize of Sequoia National Park.

Top 10 Most Beautiful & Popular National Parks in the US

8. San Bernardino National Forest, California

Photo: treehuggersintl
Photo: treehuggersintl

The wildlands of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountain Ranges were designated a National Forest more than a hundred years ago.

The Forest Reserve Act was passed in 1891, giving the president authority to "set apart and reserve, in any state or territory, having public land bearing forests . . . as public reservations." From this act was born the San Bernardino Forest Reserve, which became the San Bernardino National Forest in 1907. The San Bernardino National Forest as public land was set aside for the conservation of natural resources such as trees, water, minerals, livestock range, recreation, and wildlife.

Today, the San Bernardino National Forest serves as southern California's outdoor year-round recreation destination, as well as providing valuable watershed protection. Drive the scenic Rim of the World Scenic Byway and Palms to Pines Scenic Byways to discover your local National Forest.

San Bernardino National Forest hiking trails are among some of the best in the world. You have the highest mountains in Southern California, backcountry trails and camping, and the transition between the coast and desert. It’s not just all mountain hikes though, there’s a hiking trail for everyone here. You can even do a hike that includes a tram ride that gets you up in the mountains without all the work. Don’t forget to leave your parks to pass on your dashboard when you do these hikes.

9. Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Photo: nature
Photo: nature

With a combined 3 million acres of water and land, Superior National Forest in Minnesota has nearly 700 square miles of lake and over 2,000 miles of freshwater streams.

Needless to say, it’s renowned for its water-based recreation opportunities.

In the water, anglers seek lake trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout, as well as walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass.

In the forest, Black Bears, Deer, Moose, and some 300-400 Gray Wolves roam a terrain littered with evergreens like spruce, pine, and fir.

Around a third of the forest lies within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where visitors can enjoy over 1000 lakes and streams, 2200 primitive campsites, and 1500 miles of canoe routes.

10. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire and Maine

Photo: tripsavvy
Photo: tripsavvy

In the Northeast, the White Mountain National Forest has over 1,200 miles of non-motorized trails for hikers to enjoy. These trails range from easy walks to tough climbs, and they extend from eastern New Hampshire into western Maine. Expect to see mountain lakes and streams, as well as wildlife for your year-round recreation. Popular places to visit in the forest include historic sites like Prickett Place and Russell-Colbath House. The Kancamagus Scenic Byway is also a popular spot during the colorful fall foliage season. Top hikes include Mt. Chocorua, Evan’s Notch, and Mt. Hedgehog.

An expanse of over 800,000 acres that extends through New Hampshire and into Maine, White Mountain National Forest was cut down for lumber in the late 1800s but has since made an impressive recovery.

Located along the Appalachian Trail, WMNF is popular for hiking as well as for scenic drives to see the colorful fall foliage.

Tons of recreational activities are available in the forest, including snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, biking, hiking, hunting, swimming, and canoe trips. There are over 1200 miles of trails here and 23 different campgrounds.

White Mountain National Forest is also an amazing place for wildlife. Moose, deer, and black bears are commonplace, and there are even peregrine falcons—the fastest animal in the world—living on some of the cliffs.

Forest Resources In The US

The nation’s forest land area remains stable, but the composition and distribution of those forests is changing. The data supporting this assertion, along with other information on the status, condition, and trends in the nation’s forest resources, are available in the USDA Forest Service’s recently released report Forest Resources of the United States, 2017, and originate from the USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program. The report is a supporting document to the upcoming 2020 Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment that is mandated by Congress every 10 years.

The report found that U.S. forest area – including lands covered by forest as well as the small woody species that grow in arid regions – has plateaued at 822.5 million acres. National forests managed by the USDA Forest Service account for 19% of the nation’s forests. These forests are aging, with most tree stands more than 60 years old. Tree volume on national forest lands has continuously increased over the past decade with the exception of the Rocky Mountain region, which has experienced a decline due to wildfires, drought, and pine beetle infestation. Wildfires, insects, and diseases are among the largest threats to forests and woodlands in the country. The increased accessibility from the country’s expanding road network means that more people have the ability to avail themselves of the resources and benefits provided by forests, but also results in forest fragmentation that can impact forest health.