Top 10 Most Scenic National Forests

Updated: Mar 28

Here at The Right to Explore, we are desperately fighting to hang on to the freedoms in our National Forests. Unfortunately, every year our forests undergo the same cycles of privatization that took away so many National Parks. While they're still (mostly) free, here are the top 10 in the country:

10) Inyo National Forest

Home to the highest peak in the lower 48, the world's oldest trees, and nearly 2 million acres of mountain wilderness, the Inyo National Forest is a dream for the outdoor pioneer. California's second-largest National Forest, behind only the Shasta-Trinity, hosts arguably the best views in the entire state. With hundreds of glacier-fed alpine lakes and three 14ers, there's always room for more adventure in the Inyo National Forest.

Don't miss: The Alabama Hills recreation area just beneath the foothills of the Eastern Sierras!

9) White Mountains National Forest

While the Eastern portion of the United States is often overshadowed in terms of scenic beauty, the White Mountains National Forest's fall foliage is no-joke. This 750,000-acre wilderness area features hundreds of campsites, thousands of miles of trails, and dozens of wooded lakes for boating and fishing. In winter, several ski areas take advantage of New Hampshire's ample snowfalls for the best in East Coast winter sports.

Don't miss: The town of Woodstock, the gateway to the White Mountain National Forest!

8) Dixie National Forest

Gateway to both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, the Dixie National Forest is Utah's most spectacular and adventure-packed forest area. From towering sandstone hoodoos to rugged peaks, the Dixie National Forest is a great place to escape the Southern Utah heat and opt for an alpine adventure. Highway 12, through the forest, is one of the country's most spectacular scenic drives in all four seasons.

Don't miss: Cedar Breaks National Monument on the western edge of the National Forest

7) Grand Mesa, Uncompahdre, and Gunnison National Forests

Colorado boasts some of the most epic mountain scenery in the country. This combination National Forest takes the best there is and preserves it for good. Hiking and mountain opportunities are endless, and in winter, skiing and winter sports take the spotlight. In the fall, the forest becomes an Instagrammer's dream as the aspens turn gold and the first snowflakes fall.

Don't miss: The town of Telluride, nestled right in the heart of the San Juan mountains!

6) Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Washington is the state with the highest share of avid hikers- the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest is why. Located less than half an hour from Seattle, the thousands of miles of hiking trails are just the beginning. The diversity in this National Forest is unparalleled. Lush rainforests cover the foothills of glacial peaks and alpine lakes. Impressive snowfalls, however, limit visitors to a short later-summer window for most forest roads.

Don't miss: Park Butte Fire Lookout, one of the best of the hundreds of historic lookouts throughout the National Forest!

5) Bridger-Teton National Forest

There was a time when Wyoming was viewed as a wasteland- now, Wyoming is the place to be. The Bridger-Teton National Forest forms the spine from Grand Teton National Park to the Wind River, encompassing 3 million acres of impressive alpine terrain. Wildlife here includes grizzly bears, moose, grey wolves, elk, and mountain lions. Escape the crowds in Yellowstone and visit one of America's top 5 National Forests.

Don't miss: The Green River Lakes campground and trailheads in the Wind River Range!

4) Chugach National Forest

To most American's, Alaska may seem like a faraway frontier tucked away in the Arctic. To an Alaskan, the Chugach National Forest couldn't be closer to home. Nestled above the peaks behind Anchorage, the Chugach National Forest is Alaska's "front gates." Covering a mind-boggling 7 million acres, the extent of the Chugach is nearly unimaginable. All the tidewater glaciers in the Prince William Sound along with the thousands of alpine lakes and rivers in southern Alaska are within this breathtaking forest. Just like they say up north, "Anchorage is only 20 minutes from Alaska!"

Don't miss: A boat tour into the famous 'College Fjord' for a glimpse of some of Alaska's largest glaciers!

3) Coconino National Forest

The Southwestern United States is the most diverse region of the country. Encompassing the world's largest canyons, hottest deserts, biggest arches, and deepest ravines, the southwest is a nomad's home, if that makes any sense. Arizona is the crown jewel and located just in the center, the Coconino National Forest makes the best of it. Very well built trails circle Sedona's red rock canyons and provide visitors with a chance to explore their very own canyons. Further north, the San Francisco Mountains provide year-round cool air and a winter sports scene to the town of Flagstaff. If you find yourself dying for a southwestern place to settle, look no further than the classic Coconino.

Don't miss: Boynton Canyon in Sedona, a great place to find caves and ancient ruins!

2) Tongass National Forest

Although we did factor accessibility and development into this list, that only lowered the Tongass (which can only be reached by plane or boat) from the number one spot to the number two. 16.7 million acres of untouched rainforest is protected by this Alaskan National Forest, an area larger than West Virginia. Within the rainforest, towering tidewater glaciers descend from sky-high mountain peaks. The country's tallest waterfalls plunge down into the continent's deepest fjords. Alaska's gift to the world is spectacular, if you take the time to explore it.

Don't miss: Any of the 20+ coastal National Forest cabins available along the Inside Passage!

1) Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Checking the boxes for scenery, adventure, accessibility, and RADness with flying colors is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state. There's just about everything. Glacier capped mountains, steaming volcanoes, dense jungles, raging rivers, towering waterfalls, alpine lakes- you name it. Stretching from the Columbia River Gorge to Mount Rainier National Park, Washington's best is located here.

Don't miss: Panther Creek Falls, a beautiful waterfall in the Columbia Gorge region of the National Forest!