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A Walk in the Woods: 8 National Forests To Visit

Because there's nothing like the calm stillness of a forest to soothe the mind.

Elk in Hoh Rain Forest
Hi, I'm Alex!

Alex is a writer who has lived all over the US. More recently, he's found himself in Rhode Island, and he thinks he'll stay for a while.

The United States is home to 154 national forests. While that might not seem like a lot, combined with the designated grasslands, that’s a whopping total of 193 million acres (78 million hectares) of protected forest area. Sure, it might be hard to traverse all those acres in a lifetime, but you can certainly hop around to get a sense for all that’s out there. Here are our picks for eight National Forests to check out this summer ... or whenever you just want to get back to nature, really.

1. Hoh Rain Forest, Washington

Lush mossy trees at Hoh Rain Forest
Lush mossy trees of the Hoh Rain Forest.Foto: Zack Frank / Shutterstock

Combine beaches and forest in the Olympic National Park.

Located in Olympic National Park in western Washington, the Hoh Rain Forest is one of the most lush rainforests in the US, receiving around 14 feet, or 4 meters, of rain per year (you read that right). With dangling moss from the Sitka Spruce and Hemlock trees, walking through the Hoh Rain Forest is a surreal experience—especially as thick layers of fog and rain cover the rainforest each week, thanks to the mountain effect of the Olympic Mountains. If you're into coastlines as much as wooded trails, combine your visit to the Hoh Rain Forest with a stop at Rialto Beach for a well-rounded excursion.

2. White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Fall colors in the White Mountains, New Hampshire
Fall colors in the White Mountains.Foto: Richard Cavalleri / Shutterstock

Perfect in fall, wonderful year-round.

New Hampshire’s White Mountains boast the tallest peak in the northeast: Mt. Washington. But amid the dramatic cliffs and peaks are stunning alpine forests that make this destination a draw for tourists and hikers alike, as well as a winery or two where you can sample some local vinos. During the quintessential New England autumn, the hills of the White Mountains are peppered with bright orange, yellow, and green hues seen so often in tourism pictures—book well in advance for that time of year.

3. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

Sunset at the Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest
Sunset at the Garden of the Gods.Foto: Anthony Heflin / Shutterstock

There's more to Illinois than big cities and bigger lakes.

When you think of Illinois, you may just think of Chicago, or the Great Lakes. Look further though, and you’ll discover rolling farm pastures and even world-class forests like Shawnee National Forest. Located in Southern Illinois, Shawnee National Forest is home to the famous Garden of the Gods, featuring otherworldly natural rock structures. Hike through the many trails to discover dramatic mossy sandstone cliffs, rock formations, and waterfalls, and discover why this is a year-round must for midwestern adventure.

4. Superior National Forest, Minnesota

Canoes in the Boundary Waters, Superior National Forest
Canoes in the Boundary Waters.Foto: Wildnerdpix / Shutterstock

Great for low-key wildlife watching.

Just 1.5 hours north of Duluth, Minnesota, you’ll find the Superior National Forest near the Canadian border. While named after the nearby Great Lake, this northern national forest boasts some superior outdoor experiences for seasoned hikers and adventurers. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Area features some of Minnesota’s signature lakes for canoeing and camping, while offering a great opportunity for off-the-grid relaxation (there’s no cell reception to be found). Among the spruce, fir, and pine trees, you’ll also be able spot some impressive wildlife if you're lucky, with deer, moose, bears, and (gulp) wolves freely roaming this northern expanse.

5. Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota and Wyoming

The Cathedral Spires of the Black Hills National Forest
The Cathedral Spires of the Black Hills.Foto: Laurens Hoddenbagh / Shutterstock

Home to pines, caves, and lakes.

Sure, you may know of the Black Hills as the site of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, but this national forest is home to some of the most rugged topography in the midwestern region. Sprawling more than 1.6 million acres (648,000 hectares), the Black Hills National Forest is home to beautiful ponderosa pine forests covering the jagged peaks. The name comes from the Lakota term “Paha Sapa,” referring to how dark the pine-covered hills appear from a distance. Beneath the surface, you’ll also find some cool (literally) subterranean caves to explore. And with lakes, streams, and designated campsites, there's something for everyone here for a forested getaway.

6. Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho

The peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains
The peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains.Foto: drewthehobbit / Shutterstock

Hikers won't want to miss this lesser-known spot.

Central Idaho flies under the radar—and we hope to keep it as much of a secret as possible. Just beyond the pass from the famed ski resort, Sun Valley, you’ll find the Sawtooth National Forest, home to the stunning and dramatic Sawtooth Mountain Range. (The name comes from the jagged, saw-like peaks of the mountains.) While hiking is a big draw to the national forest, it's also home to some world-class trout fishing in the Salmon River (permits are required), and tons of public camping space along the roads and trails so you can post up after a long day of adventure.

7. Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Sunrise over Looking Glass Rock, Pisgah National Forest
Sunrise over Looking Glass Rock.Foto: Anthony Heflin / Shutterstock

There's no shortage of outdoor adventure to be had here.

Home to the highest peaks in the east, Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, North Carolina boasts an impressive 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) of old-growth forests and natural wonders. Pisgah is nestled in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains and was once owned by magnate George W. Vanderbilt. No matter what outdoor activity you’re interested in, Pisgah likely has you covered—from world-class hiking trails (check out Mt. Pisgah for the highest peak); an abundance of waterfalls (Moore Cove Falls is a local favorite); to wildlife sightseeing and white-water rafting. Set up a home base in Asheville for this burgeoning cultural hub, or pick one of the many surrounding campsites in the area to get your fix of this wonderful forested area.

8. Sierra National Forest, California

Sequoia trees of the Sierra National Forest, California
Sequoia trees of the Sierra National Forest.Foto: Lucky-photographer / Shutterstock

California has national forests galore, and this is one of the best.

With a state as diverse in natural wonder as California, it’s hard to select just one national forest to highlight. But Sierra National Forest located in the eastern part of the state near the Nevada border is home to some of the best wilderness exploration in the area. The John Muir Wilderness runs throughout the park and boasts stunning views and hiking trails for hikers of all expertise levels. For less strenuous options, be sure to add some of the various natural waterfalls throughout, from Rancheria Falls to Angel Falls. Or, if lakeside camping is more your thing, George Lake is a must. But be sure to check on the status of permits before planning your trip.

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