Hearing the words “national park” and “national forest” may both conjure up the same kinds of images in your mind’s eye. But there are some striking differences between the two that you should know about.
National parks are focused on preservation in the most strict sense possible. That’s why they often don’t allow hunting, motorized vehicles, or starting fires. On the other hand, national forests are used for all kinds of goals outside of preservation. That means they’re often massive land areas filled with backcountry camping opportunities, activities not possible in national parks, and seemingly endless hiking trails.
In this article, you’ll discover the best national forests in the U.S. to call your next travel destination. So lace up those hiking boots, and let’s get going!
7 Best National Forests in the U.S.
Here are our top national forests across the country. They all offer something unique for visitors to explore. Read on to learn more!
1. Cibola National Forest - New Mexico
Cibola National Forest is a nearly 1.5 million-acre wonder in New Mexico and one of the best national forests in America. The region is home to a diverse variety of natural habitats and wildlife. Black bears, cougars, prairie dogs, wild turkeys, and more all roam here. Head to the Timber Peak Trail for a moderate hike with panoramic views of the park at its end. Or check out Copper Canyon Trail for something more strenuous and expansive. Plan your visit from March through October for the nicest blend of mild weather and greenery.
2. White River National Forest - Colorado
If you’re looking for a popular destination full of beautiful scenery, fun things to do, and lovely trails to hike, you might want to stop by White River National Forest. This popular destination is open in all four seasons. Plan a winter visit if you’d like to hit the slopes or go snowmobiling. Or hit one of eight wilderness areas to find trails suitable for all experience levels. Check out the Mount Royal Trail for a strenuous hike with gorgeous views all year round. Or try the Mayflower and Mohawk Lake trails for something less demanding.
3. Sierra National Forest - California
Sierra National Forest is a vast wilderness in the mountains of Sierra Nevada. Its oak-covered hills are a strikingly beautiful alpine landscape that must be seen to be believed. The expansive scenes here are the perfect backdrop for a hike at one of the park's many trails. But other fun things like ATVing, snowshoeing, and fishing are also on the table. Try planning your trip from June to August for pleasant weather without the high-season crowds.
4. Gifford Pinchot National Forest - Washington
Grassy hillsides, snowy mountaintops, and even volcanic peaks grace the land that makes up one of Washington state’s best national forests. Mount St. Helens is the main attraction, a volcano that erupted in 1980. The peak itself is an incredible backdrop for photos and is the centerpiece of several hiking trails. Make sure you take a walk along the Birth of a Lake Trail to see Coldwater Lake, formed by its fateful eruption from years past.
5. Tongass National Forest - Alaska
Tongass and the coastal terrain that makes it up is the world’s largest temperate rainforest. Its breathtaking landscape is the perfect place to enjoy a scenic hike or spot all kinds of local wildlife. Bear watching is a popular thing to do here, thanks to the park’s numerous salmon spawning streams. Check out Fish Creek, Anan Creek, Pack Creek, or Steep Creek in June or July. Or charter a whale-watching boat to spot humpback whales in their natural habitat in April or May.
6. White Mountain National Forest - New Hampshire
Fall foliage lovers will want to add White Mountain National Forest to their future trip plans. From late September to mid-October, the park’s 47,000 acres of mountain landscape is colored in hues of brilliant autumn colors, making this one of the best national forests in the U.S. for a scenic hike. Start with the Welch-Dickey Trail Loop for a short but comprehensive hike that covers the best parts of the park. Or head to Mount Moosilauke and South Peak Loop for a challenge to ascend the highest point in White Mountain.
7. Superior National Forest - Minnesota
Superior National Forest is rife with adventure and majestic scenery. Enjoy raw nature in the untamed backcountry, hike one of the park’s numerous trails, or even get in some time on your 4-wheeler. The park features an impressive 2,000 miles of trails — enough to keep you busy for days with gorgeous scenes waiting around every corner. Superior National Forest is a year-round destination. But you may want to avoid the winter months since temperatures often dip into the sub-zero territory.
Explore the Best National Forests With Cruise America
Ready to uncover all the beauty awaiting you in these stunning national forests? Hit the road in style and comfort with one of Cruise America’s RV rentals, the best way to roam.