8 of the Most Popular National Forests in the US

To help celebrate International Day of Forests, we take a look at 8 of the most popular national forests in the United States

As spring weather starts to come around, the days are growing longer and flowers are in their full bloom. This year, March 21st marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day of Forests. The day was created by the United Nations to raise awareness of the importance of the different types of forests.

In the United States alone, there are a total of 155 recognized national forests. With that in mind, Musement conducted a study to find out which are the most popular national forests in America.

Based on the study, here are the 8 most popular national forests that should be visited the next time you think about connecting with Mother Nature. Scroll to the end to see a list of the top 20, with the scores.

1. Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Founded in 1916, the Pisgah National Forest comes in as the most popular national forest in America. Located in Ashville, the forest covers over 500,000 acres and offers plenty of outdoor activities to take part in. Take a stroll along one of the hiking trails, explore the area on a mountain bike tour, admire the many waterfalls, or just enjoy the picturesque mountain scenery views.

2. Angeles National Forest, California

Just on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the Angeles National Forest comes in at number two in the ranking. The watersheds located within the forest provide clean, drinking water to nearly one-third of the population in Los Angeles. Those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city should have this forest on their bucket list. There are plenty of campgrounds and picnic areas to breathe in some fresh air and take in the good vibes.

3. Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Of the six national forests in Arizona, Tonto National Forest ranks the largest, covering a total of 2.9 million acres. From pine forests to the Sonoran Desert and over 900 miles of trails, the opportunities are endless for exploring this majestic area. This national forest is just a 30-minute drive from Phoenix, so, a full day trip is well worth it. A guided visit of Tonto will grant you a chance to gaze at a beautiful sunset.

4. Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Coconino National Forest is also located in Arizona, bordering Flagstaff and Sedona. This national forest houses the state’s largest natural water basin, Mormon Lake. There are a variety of Jeep tours that depart from Sedona and will take you to this national forest. Some highlights include the Lava River cave, taking you back in time 70,000 years. Expect to see a wide variety of wildlife on a visit here, from herds of elk to black bears and bald eagles. If you have the time, the Grand Canyon, one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, is just an hour drive from Coconino.

5. Inyo National Forest, California and Nevada

Inyo National Forest was established in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt to aid in the Los Angeles Aqueduct project. The 1.9-million-acre forest is in both California and Nevada, but only around 60,700 acres are in Nevada. Head to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States, and see the breathtaking views from up above. Experienced hikers will take around 5 hours to ascend the mountain, while others can take up to 8 hours. Bring lots of water!

6. Shawnee National Forest, Illinois

This national forest, situated in Southern Illinois, is the only national forest in the state. One of the most popular national forests in the US consists of over 146 miles of streams and rivers, so expect to see plenty of aquatic wildlife. Highlights include the Garden of the Gods, the popular hiking trail that features beautiful rock formations from over 320 million years ago and offers one-of-a-kind scenery. Outdoor enthusiasts also have the opportunity for rock and speed climbing at Jackson Falls.

7. Sequoia National Forest, California

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, the Sequoia National Forest covers over 1.1 million acres. As its name suggests, the forest is named after the giant Sequoia trees that can be found throughout the forest. In fact, over 195,000 acres of the forest are made up of sequoia groves. Mountain biking, horseback riding, and backpacking are just a few of the activities to enjoy at Sequoia National Forest.

8. San Bernardino National Forest, California

The last national forest on the list, San Bernardino is not to miss. From desert floors to the frozen tundra, guests will discover a wide range of landscapes. Animal lovers should make a visit to Big Bear Lake to explore and see the variety of wildlife roaming the area. If you want to spend the night, the openness of this national forest will present you with prime stargazing opportunities.

National Forest Name Number of Google Reviews Monthly Search Volume Mentions on IG Total Score
Pisgah National Forest 62 100 100 262
Angeles National Forest 69 82 85 236
Tonto National Forest 69 100 43 212
Coconino National Forest 100 54 20 175
Inyo National Forest 33 82 40 154
Shawnee National Forest 26 100 27 153
Sequoia National Forest 23 82 40 145
San Bernardino National Forest 80 36 18 133
Mark Twain National Forest 44 82 6 131
White Mountain National Forest 36 66 27 129
El Yunque National Forest 48 66 7 121
Los Padres National Forest 26 66 27 120
Daniel Boone National Forest 46 54 20 120
Ocala National Forest 1 82 20 102
Nantahala National Forest 41 44 15 101
Cleveland National Forest 28 54 15 96
Tongass National Forest 27 54 15 96
Mount Hood National Forest 40 36 10 86
Cherokee National Forest 35 29 21 85
Sierra National Forest 16 44 20 81

Methodology: To determine the most popular national forests, Musement looked at three different categories: the Google search volume for each national forest from March 2021-February 2022, the number of Google reviews, and the number of mentions on Instagram for each national forest. The proper name was used in each of the searches, for example, #TontoNationalForest. To refine the results, each category was given a score from 0 to 100 using the normalization formula: Score = (x-min(x))/(max(x)-min(x)) *100. The score from each category was then added together to generate a final score.

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