12 Hidden Gems of the National Forest System

A list of National Forests you'll want to add to your RV bucket list.
Jayco Starcraft Super Lite driving through a National Forest

National forests and grasslands make up a huge portion of the United States—193 million acres, to be exact. This includes 150,000 miles of hiking trails, 4,400 miles of rivers and over 5,000 different campgrounds, many of which offer hook-ups and dump stations. 42 states have either a national forest or grassland, meaning there is likely one not far from home.

So, if you’re interested in planning a week-long camping trip or simply looking to spend the day out in nature, we’ve got a national forest for you. From stunning mountain ranges outside of Los Angeles to pristine natural springs near Orlando, here are a few of our favorite national forests hidden gems.

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A bridge over swampy water in Ocala National Forest

1. Ocala National Forest

 Ocala National Forest is located in central Florida, directly west of the city of Ocala. It’s nestled between well-known theme parks and sandy beaches, and just a few hours drive from Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa. Ocala features more than 600 lakes and rivers, where visitors can enjoy swimming, fishing, snorkeling, canoeing, and boating. From migratory birds and playful manatees to delicate freshwater springs and some of the world's rarest plants, Ocala is a haven where people (and pets!) can escape to one of Florida's last remaining wild places. 

Outdoor Activities:

There is plenty to do and see at Ocala, including mountain biking, fishing, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, hunting, ATVing, water skiing, and scuba diving. Be sure to check out Juniper Springs, a pristine and natural pool that maintains a temperature of 72 degrees fahrenheit all year round.

A lake in Ocala National Forest

RV Camping

Ocala has 14 developed campgrounds, many of which offer potable water, dump stations and shower facilities. Salt Springs is the largest campground in Ocala, with more than 100 RV campsites, and is the only campground that offers full hook-ups. Reservations for Salt Springs can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. Some other popular places for RV camping include:

Did You Know: Ocala National Forest is also the southernmost and oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River, and it protects the world's largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest.

A trail through Tonto National Forest

2. Tonto National Forest

Tonto National Forest is massive, with over 2.9 million acres of wilderness. Its boundaries include Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north, and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east. Due to its expansive size, the altitude across Tonto National Forest can range from 1,300 feet to nearly 8,000 feet, offering outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year.

Outdoor Activities

Whether you’re looking to relax along one of the lakeside beaches or hike through the cool pine forests, there is a wide range of outdoor activities to enjoy, including rock climbing, mountain biking, day hiking, and tubing. Tonto is also home to the Apache Trail Scenic Byway and the longest two-lane inverted arch suspension bridge in America.

The Arizona Trail at night under a starry sky

RV Camping

There are a variety of RV campgrounds to choose from inside Tonto National Forest. And while campground amenities range from location to location, there are a few places that offer full hook-ups. Cholla Campground is a particularly popular spot among RVers. With more than 200 campsites and a location right along Roosevelt Lake, RVers can enjoy amenities like boat access, dump stations, potable water, and hot showers. Plus, it’s one of the largest solar-powered campgrounds in the United States. Reservations for Cholla Campground can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. A few other notable RV campgrounds include:

Did You Know: As the ninth largest national forest in the United States, Tonto is also one of the most-visited, with approximately three million visitors every year.

Mountains in Angeles National Forest

3. Angeles National Forest

Angeles National Forest is often referred to as Los Angeles’ backyard playground. Located less than 20 miles from the major metropolitan city, Angeles National Forest includes over 700,000 acres of rugged terrain, spectacular views, and numerous hiking and biking trails. In 2014, the San Gabriel Mountains—which lie mostly within the national forest—were officially declared a national monument by President Obama, making this a national forest and monument all-in-one.

Outdoor Activities

In addition to hiking, camping and swimming, Angeles National Forest is a major destination for motor enthusiasts. In fact, there are over 270 miles of trails designated specifically for off highway vehicles (OHVs). There is also plenty of wildlife to be seen here, including black bears, gray foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.

Trails in Angeles national Forest

RV Camping

There are plenty of developed campgrounds and picnic areas throughout Angeles National Forest, including some group campgrounds that can accommodate up to 300 people. Los Alamos Campground is a very popular RV spot, and offers visitors easy access to nearby Pyramid Lake. And while the campground doesn’t offer any hook-ups, it does have picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, potable water, and a dump station. Reservations for Los Alamos Campground can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. Some other RV-friendly campgrounds include:

Did You Know: You might recognize Angeles National Forests thanks to its appearance in major movies like The Fugitive, Star Trek: First Contact and Mission Impossible 2.

A lake in front of a mountain in Mt. Baker National Forest

4. Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

 Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is located on the west side of the Cascades between the Canadian border and Mount Rainier National Park. With over 1.7 million acres of land—nearly half of which are designated wilderness areas—Mount Baker-Snoqualmie is home to scenic mountains, towering old growth forests, and more glaciers and snow fields than any other national forest outside of Alaska.

Outdoor Activities

A big draw for many visitors is Mount Baker’s unbelievable hiking—there are more than 1,500 miles of trails, including portions of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. In addition to hiking, you can also enjoy rock climbing, hunting, fishing, bird watching, and berry picking. And in the winter, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is ideal for skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.

A man looking at a waterfall in Mt. Baker National Forest

RV Camping

There are more than 40 different campgrounds in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Douglas Fir Campground is conveniently located along the Mount Baker Highway, which is probably why it’s so popular among RVers. There are 29 standard, non-electric campsites at Douglas Fir, and more than half of them are located right along the banks of the North Fork Nooksack River. Reservations for Douglas Fir Campground can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. Here are some other RV campgrounds to check out: 

Did You Know: 19 federally recognized Indigenous American Tribes still utilize areas of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest that were once inhabited or used by their ancestors.

Wildflowers in Pisgah National Forest
North Carolina

5. Pisgah National Forest

Pisgah National Forest is located in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, less than 10 minutes outside of downtown Asheville. It is home to over 500,00 acres of hardwood forests, whitewater rivers and waterfalls. Due to its unique location, Pisgah has some of the highest mountain peaks in the eastern United States, with elevations reaching over 6,000 feet. Be sure to check out Sliding Rock, a 60-foot, all-natural water slide in the heart of the forest.

Outdoor Activities

Pisgah National Forest is most known for its hiking, backpacking, fishing, rock climbing, and mountain biking. There’s also the Pisgah Loop Scenic Byway, a beautiful 47-mile loop that offers motorists a chance to see rare virgin woodland forests.

A waterfall in Pisgah National Forest

RV Camping

The two most popular areas for RV camping are the Appalachian Ranger District and the Grandfather Ranger District. Black Mountain Campground, which is located in the Appalachian Ranger District, has mostly primitive campsites but there are three sites with electrical hook-ups. There are also restrooms with hot showers, a dump station and potable water on-site. All of the campsites are flat and heavily shaded, making this an ideal place to camp during the summer. Reservations for Black Mountain Campground can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. A few other popular RV campgrounds include:

Did You Know: Pisgah National Forest was established in 1916 as one of the first national forests in the eastern United States.

Waterfalls in Cherokee National Forest

6. Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest spans over 650,000 acres across the eastern region of Tennessee, bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the west and Pisgah National Forest to the east. Its diverse landscape ranges from rolling hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains to picturesque rivers and streams.

Outdoor Activities

Adventure-seekers will find no shortage of outdoor activities in Cherokee National Forest. Options include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing. The forest is also home to more than 600 miles of scenic trails, including a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail. Water enthusiasts can take advantage of the forest's numerous rivers and lakes, perfect for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and rafting.

A vista of Cherokee National Forest

RV Camping

RV campgrounds in Cherokee National Forest cater to a wide range of camping styles and offer a variety of different amenities. Indian Boundary Recreation Area is a particularly popular spot among RVers. Boasting over 80 campsites near Indian Boundary Lake, visitors can enjoy amenities such as a swimming beach, boat ramp, bathhouses, an on-site dump station, and electrical hook-ups. Reservations for Indian Boundary Recreation Area can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. A few other notable RV campgrounds in the forest include:

Did You Know: Cherokee National Forest is Tennessee's only national forest and is named in honor of the Cherokee people who once inhabited the area.

A creek rushing through Medicine Bow National Forest
Colorado & Wyoming

7. Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests encompass over 2.2 million acres across southeastern Wyoming and northern Colorado, stretching from the Wyoming-Colorado border to the edge of the Snowy Range. The forest is split into two distinct sections: the Medicine Bow portion in Wyoming and the Routt portion in Colorado. With elevations ranging from 6,000 feet to over 12,000 feet, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests offer an extremely diverse landscape, from rugged mountain peaks to vast stretches of forest and meadows.

Outdoor Activities

Visitors can partake in a wide array of outdoor activities, and at all times of the year. Medicine Bow-Routt is home to over 1,600 miles of scenic trails, some of which lead to breathtaking views of the Continental Divide. And the fall colors are exceptional in this area, with peak “leaf peeping” occurring between September and October. Winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling are also extremely popular, especially in the world-renowned Steamboat Springs Area.

Snowy mountains in Medicine Bow National Forest

RV Camping

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests provide numerous opportunities for RV camping, including both developed campgrounds for smaller RVs and dispersed camping areas for larger rigs. A favored spot among campers and RVers is Hahns Peak Lake Campground. It is located on the shore of a small, scenic lake just 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs, and has 23 individual campsites. And while there are no RV hook-ups, guests still have access to plenty of fishing, hiking and mountain biking, as well as restrooms. Reservations for Hahns Peak Lake Campground can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. Some other RV-friendly campgrounds include:

Did You Know: The Medicine Bow National Forest was originally created as a forest reserve in 1902.

A rocky mountain top in White Mountains National Forest
New Hampshire

8. White Mountain National Forest

White Mountain National Forest, sprawling across more than 750,000 acres, is situated in the northeastern United States, primarily within New Hampshire and extending into Maine. The forest features the stunning White Mountains, a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, which include more than 40 peaks exceeding 4,000 feet in elevation. Millions of visitors come to White Mountain National Forest every year to explore both its natural beauty and rich history.

Outdoor Activities

Hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in White Mountain National Forest—there are over 1,200 miles of picturesque trails, including a segment of the renowned Appalachian Trail. In the summer, you’ll find people swimming, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. And in the winter, visitors can enjoy plenty of skiing, sledding and snowshoeing.

A river running through White Mountain National Forest

RV Camping

White Mountain National Forest has a variety of RV campgrounds, including some that stay open year-round. Dolly Copp Campground is a particularly sought-after location among RVers. With over 170 campsites nestled in the heart of the forest, visitors can benefit from amenities such as potable water, restrooms and hiking trail access. Reservations for Dolly Copp Campground can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. Several other notable RV campgrounds in the forest are:

Did You Know: White Mountain National Forest is home to Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States, which is known for its extreme weather conditions and record-breaking wind speeds.

A lake beach at Huron Manistee National Forest

9. Huron-Manistee National Forests

Huron-Manistee National Forests are actually two distinct national forests, the Huron and Manistee, and cover a combined area of nearly one million acres in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Together, these forests offer a diverse landscape of hardwood forests, wetlands and sand dunes. In fact, the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, situated on the east shore of Lake Michigan, is one of the few wilderness areas in the U.S. with an extensive lake shore dune ecosystem.

Outdoor Activities

The Huron-Manistee might be best known for its thousands of lakes and miles of sparkling rivers, all of which offer ample opportunities to canoe, fish, kayak, and swim. And with more than 300 miles of scenic trails, visitors can trek through lush forests, meander along riverbanks or explore the impressive sand dunes. Some other unique activities include berry picking, mushroom foraging, OHV riding, and panning for gold.

Rivers through Huron Manistee National Forest

RV Camping

While there aren’t any hook-ups in Huron-Manistee National Forests, RVs are still welcome to dry camp or simply enjoy a fun day on the water. Lake Michigan Recreation Area remains a very popular destination for RVers. With 99 campsites right along the shores of Lake Michigan, visitors can enjoy plenty of beach access, potable water, restrooms, an amphitheater, and picnic areas. Reservations for Lake Michigan Recreation Area can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. A few other popular RV campgrounds include:

Did You Know: The Huron-Manistee National Forests is home to the Lumberman's Monument, a tribute to the lumberjacks who helped shape the region's history during the logging boom of the 1800s.

Mountains at sunset in sawtooth national forest

10. Sawtooth National Forest

Sawtooth National Forest is situated in central Idaho and most known for its dramatic landscapes, including the picturesque Sawtooth Mountains. Spanning over 2.1 million acres, the forest is divided into four recreational areas: the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, the Ketchum Ranger District, the Fairfield Ranger District and the Minidoka Ranger District. Visitors can journey through dense forests, traverse rugged mountains and explore the shores of sparkling alpine lakes.

Outdoor Activities

Camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, rafting, and biking are just a few of the many recreational activities guests can enjoy. Additionally, there are some very unique wildlife viewing opportunities—the Sawtooth National Forest is home to numerous rare and endangered species, including the Canadian lynx, gray wolf and wolverine.

A lake in Sawtooth National Forest

RV Camping

There are several RV campgrounds within Sawtooth National Forest, many of which can accommodate different camping styles and preferences. Baumgartner Campground is an ideal place for RVers, with 39 campsites situated along the South Fork of the Boise River.

Baumgartner offers vault toilets and drinking water, and is also one of the few campgrounds that has a campground host. But the real draw here are the hot springs located inside the campground, which are open every day and stay a consistent 111 degrees fahrenheit. Reservations for Baumgartner Campground can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov. Here are some other RV campgrounds to check out: 

Did You Know: The area that is now Sawtooth National Forest was first occupied by people as early as 8000 BC and by the Shoshone Tribe after 1700 AD.

A lake overlooking pine trees and rocky mountains at Black Hills National Forest.
South Dakota

11. Black Hills National Forest

Nestled between western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, Black Hills National Forest offers 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains. "Black Hills" is derived from the Lakota words, Paha Sapa — which means "hills that are black" — because the forest's pine-covered hills appear black from a distance.

Outdoor Activities

What makes Black Hills National Forest truly special is its ecological appeal. The area boasts ponderosa pines, aspens, bur oak, and birch trees, as well as grassland prairies in lower elevations, which truly immerse you in secluded wilderness. And if woodlands aren't enough to spark your interest, the area also has 11 reservoirs, 2 scenic byways, 1,300 streams, 353 miles of trails, and Black Elk Peak, the tallest peak east of the Rocky Mountains. Because of this, recreation abounds in this forest, offering horseback riding, fly fishing, gold mine tours, waterfalls, and more.

An aerial view of Falling Rock Overlook at Black Hills National Forest.

RV Camping

The forest has a plethora of campgrounds, each offering a unique way to experience the land. Bismark Lake is a fan favorite for recreation and relaxation, while Sheridan Lake offers scenic views and premiere fishing opportunities. Each campsite has picnic tables, campfire rings, vault toilets, and drinking water. Reservations can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by visiting recreation.gov.

Other popular RV campgrounds include:

A towering rocky ridge overlooking grassy rolling hills and mountains in Monongahela National Forest.
West Virginia

12. Monongahela National Forest

Monongahela (pronounced muh-naang-guh-hee-luh) National Forest is a rugged landscape with nearly 1 million acres of exposed rock, highland bogs, cold mountain streams, and second growth forest. Part of the Allegheny Mountains in eastern West Virginia, this forest is known as one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the country.

Outdoor Activities

The Monongahela National Forest attracts hikers, bikers, horseback riders, anglers, and climbers of all kinds — and for good reason. The area boasts over 800 miles of trails, 230 known bird species, wildlife (including black bears, wild turkeys, and beavers), cold mountain streams that native brook trout call home, and Spruce Knob-Seneca Rock National Recreation Area for rock climbing.

A waterfall pouring over rocks into a pool in Monongahela National Forest.

RV Camping

As the highest point in West Virginia and a home base to 60 miles of local hikes, it's easy to see why the Spruce Knob Lake Campground is one of the top-rated campgrounds in the area. Positioned next to Spruce Knob Lake, it's the perfect hideaway for recreation lovers and serenity seekers. All sites have a lantern holder, picnic table and fire ring. Drinking water is available, as well as pit toilets, shower house, and flush toilet restrooms.

Big Bend Campground is another favorite that's family-friendly and close to the Potomac River. The perfect escape for campers who love to fish, tube, kayak, and swim, this campground attracts aquaphiles and adventure seekers alike. The campground also conveniently offers vault toilets and a solar-powered system for drinking water.

Other popular RV campgrounds include:

The National Forest Foundation x THOR Industries

In 2020, THOR and the National Forest Foundation entered a partnership that will plant at least 500,000 trees on National Forest lands. Join us by supporting our National Forests and help improve the health of important public lands for future generations.

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wildflowers by a lake in mt baker national forest

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