Chief Joseph Scenic Highway
Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, Photo by Tim Lumley

The American Wilderness and the Best Hikes in the U.S. National Forests

Welcome to an awe-inspiring journey through the heart of the American wilderness. In this comprehensive guide, we invite you to explore the best hikes in the U.S. National Forests, uncovering the hidden gems and natural wonders that make these trails an adventurer’s paradise. From rugged mountains to pristine lakes, these trails offer a diverse range of experiences for nature enthusiasts, hikers, and backpackers alike.

Navigating the Wilderness – U.S. National Forests: A Natural Treasure

The United States boasts an extensive network of National Forests, covering approximately 193 million acres of breathtaking landscapes. These pristine wilderness areas are administered by the U.S. Forest Service and are a testament to the nation’s commitment to preserving its natural heritage.

The Allure of National Forest Hiking

Why venture into the U.S. National Forests for your next hiking adventure? Well, the answer is simple. These protected lands offer unparalleled opportunities to connect with nature, escape the hustle and bustle of city life, and witness the splendor of unspoiled landscapes. Plus, the trails we are about to unveil promise unforgettable memories.

The Top National Forest Hikes

Franconia Ridge
Franconia Ridge, Photo by Jeff P
Franconia Ridge Loop – White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Distance: 8.5 mile loop

The Franconia Ridge Loop, situated in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire, is renowned for its breathtaking beauty and challenging terrain. This loop is considered one of the most iconic and scenic hikes in the entire White Mountains region. The loop boasts several prominent peaks, including Mount Lafayette (5,260 feet), Mount Lincoln (5,089 feet), and Little Haystack Mountain (4,780 feet). These summits provide awe-inspiring panoramic views of the surrounding White Mountains, making them some of the most sought-after hiking destinations in the region. The defining feature of this trail is the exhilarating ridge walk that connects Mount Lafayette to Mount Lincoln and then to Little Haystack Mountain. Hikers traverse this exposed, narrow ridge with 360-degree views of the rugged landscape on both sides. It’s a spine-tingling experience that rewards hikers with unforgettable vistas.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock, Photo by CALChux
Cathedral Rock Trail – Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Distance: 1.5 miles out and back

The Cathedral Rock Trail, nestled within the Coconino National Forest in Arizona, is a short but exhilarating hike renowned for its breathtaking red rock formations and panoramic vistas. This trail is a favorite among locals and tourists alike, offering a remarkable outdoor experience. The trail leads to the base of the stunning Cathedral Rock formation, which is characterized by its towering red sandstone spires and buttresses. This iconic rock formation is a prominent landmark in Sedona’s Red Rock Country. Throughout the hike, hikers are treated to awe-inspiring views of the surrounding red rock landscape, including nearby buttes and mesas. The trail’s vantage points provide excellent photo opportunities.

Maple Pass at North Cascades in WA
Maple Pass, Photo by Jeff Hollett
Lake Ann / Maple Pass Loop – Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington

Distance: 7.5 mile loop

The Lake Ann / Maple Pass Loop, within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington State, is a spectacular alpine hike that offers a journey through some of the most stunning mountain landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. This loop is a favorite among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, renowned for its pristine lakes, vibrant wildflowers, and breathtaking panoramic views. The trail takes you past two stunning alpine lakes, Lake Ann and Rainy Lake. These pristine bodies of water are surrounded by rugged peaks and make for excellent rest stops and photo opportunities. The true highlight of this hike is the breathtaking panoramic views of the North Cascades. From the high points along the loop, you’ll be treated to vistas of jagged peaks, glaciers, and the surrounding wilderness.

Cirque of the Towers, sunrise
Cirque of the Towers Sunrise, Photo by Brendan Bombaci
Big Sandy Trail to Cirque of the Towers – Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming

Distance: 17.4 miles out and back

The Big Sandy Trail to Cirque of the Towers, located in the Bridger-Teton National Forest of Wyoming, is a renowned backcountry hiking route that immerses adventurers in the rugged and awe-inspiring Wind River Range. This trail is celebrated for its pristine wilderness, towering granite peaks, and the enchanting Cirque of the Towers. The highlight of this hike is undoubtedly the Cirque of the Towers, a natural amphitheater encircled by towering granite peaks. The jagged spires, sheer cliffs, and pristine alpine lakes within the cirque create a jaw-dropping and photogenic landscape. The rugged beauty of the Wind River Range and the Cirque’s stunning scenery make it a haven for photographers. Sunrise and sunset are particularly enchanting times to capture the breathtaking vistas.

Second Lake and Temple Crag, Photo by Jeff P
Big Pine Creek Trail – Inyo National Forest, California

Distance: 14.4. mile loop

The Big Pine Creek Trail, located within the stunning Inyo National Forest of California, is a captivating hiking route renowned for its breathtaking alpine scenery, pristine lakes, and access to the rugged Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. This trail is cherished by outdoor enthusiasts for its diverse landscapes and opportunities for exploration. The trail leads to a series of pristine alpine lakes, including First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Lakes. Each of these shimmering lakes is surrounded by rugged mountain scenery and offers opportunities for swimming, fishing, and relaxation. Throughout the hike, hikers are treated to breathtaking views of the Palisade Glacier and the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada. These vistas provide ample opportunities for photography and taking in the stunning natural beauty.


The American wilderness is a treasure trove of adventure and natural beauty. The U.S. National Forests house some of the most awe-inspiring hiking trails, each with its unique charm and allure. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a novice explorer, these trails offer an opportunity to connect with the great outdoors and immerse yourself in the splendor of the wild.

So, pack your backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and set out to explore the wonders of the U.S. National Forests. The adventure of a lifetime awaits, and these trails are your gateway to unforgettable experiences in the heart of America’s wilderness.

National Forests by State A-Z


Conecuh National Forest

Talladega National Forest

Tuskegee National Forest

William B. Bankhead National Forest


Chugach National Forest

Tongass National Forest


Apache-Stigreaves National Forest

Coconino National Forest

Coronado National Forest

Kaibab National Forest

Prescott National Forest

Tonto National Forest


Ouachita National Forest

Ozark-St. Francis National Forest


Angeles National Forest

Cleveland National Forest

Eldorado National Forest

Inyo National Forest

Klamath National Forest

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Area

Lassen National Forest

Los Padres National Forest

Mendocino National Forest

Modoc National Forest

Plumas National Forest

San Bernardino National Forest

Sequoia National Forest

Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Sierra National Forest

Six Rivers National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest

Tahoe National Forest


Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests

Pike and San Isabel National Forest

Rio Grande National Forest

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest

San Juan National Forest

White River National Forest


Apalachicola National Forest

Ocala National Forest

Osceola National Forest


Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest


Boise National Forest

Caribou-Targhee National Forest

Idaho Panhandle National Forests

Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest

Payette National Forest

Salmon-Challis National Forest

Sawtooth National Forest


Shawnee National Forest


Hoosier National Forest


Daniel Boone National Forest


Kisatchie National Forest


Hiawatha National Forest

Huron-Manistee National Forest

Ottawa National Forest


Chippewa National Forest

Superior National Forest


Bienville National Forest

Delta National Forest

Desoto National Forest

Holly Springs National Forest

Homochitto National Forest

Tombigbee National Forest


Mark Twain National Forest


Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

Bitterroot National Forest

Custer Gallatin National Forest

Flathead National Forest

Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest

Kootenai National Forest

Lolo National Forest


Nebraska National Forest

Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest


Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

New Hampshire

White Mountain National Forest

New Mexico

Carson National Forest

Cibola National Forest

Gila National Forest

Lincoln National Forest

Santa Fe National Forest

New York

Finger Lakes National Forest

North Carolina

Croatan National Forest

Nantahala National Forest

Pisgah National Forest

Uwharrie National Forest


Wayne National Forest


Ouachita National Forest


Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Deschutes National Forest

Fremont-Winema National Forest

Malheur National Forest

Mount Hood National Forest

Ochoco National Forest

Rogue River-Siskyou National Forest

Siuslaw National Forest

Umatilla National Forest

Umpqua National Forest

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Willamette National Forest


Allegheny National Forest

South Carolina

Francis Marion-Sumter National Forest

South Dakota

Black Hills National Forest


Cherokee National Forest


Angelina National Forest

Davy Crockett National Forest

Sabine National Forest

Sam Houston National Forest


Ashley National Forest

Dixie National Forest

Fishlake National Forest

Manti-LaSal National Forest

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest


Green Mountain National Forest


George Washington and Jefferson National Forests


Colville National Forest

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Olympic National Forest

West Virginia

Monongahela National Forest


Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest


Bighorn National Forest

Bridger-Teton National Forest

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest

Shoshone National Forest

Don’t forget to stock up on the essentials before you plan your next hiking or camping trip! We have recommendations on: