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The 4 Coolest National Forests in SoCal
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The 4 Coolest National Forests in SoCal

SoCal’s wonders don’t stop at its shores. A few miles away from the water lie the coolest National Forests in Southern California.

Palig Dzadourian

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5 min read

July 18, 2022

When people think of forests, SoCal isn’t the first location that pops in their minds, because it’s mostly frequented for its beautiful sandy beaches and sunny weather. But SoCal’s wonders don’t stop at its shores, as a little farther away from the water starts the magic of the forests, the true hidden gems of Southern California’s natural beauty. The woods are calling, so get your adventurous spirits ready!

There are a total of four National Forests in Southern California and all of them are home to a huge variety of plants and wildlife, some of which can only be found in the Golden State. Not only do these wondrous forests serve as recreational areas and escapes for the locals and other visitors, but they also serve as a refuge for an estimated 76 threatened and endangered species of animals, as well as an additional 405 at-risk species. In this ever-growing urban world, these forests hold great value, as they are possibly the last refuge of these animals.

1. Angeles National Forest

Let the beauty of this National Forest take you on a wonderful journey.

Located in the sunny city of Los Angeles, the Angeles National Forest stretches out across 700,176 acres, it is one of the most popular Southern California National Forests. Angeles forest is the first designated forest in California and is located in one of the world’s most vital biodiversity hotspots, serving as a habitat for some endangered species such as the mountain lion, it also has five nationally designated wilderness areas that are protected and preserved. This Southern California forest also features a few of The United State’s most rugged and steep mountain ranges: the San Gabriel Mountains. There are several trails that can take you to the mountains, where you will be able to take in their massive presence and splendor. To add to the list of things you can do in this forest, the relatively easy hike in the Trail Canyon Falls offers one of SoCal’s most beautiful waterfalls.

The great thing about the Angeles National Forest is that even though it is located right next to the boisterous and chaotically active city of Los Angeles, once you enter the forest itself, you will be met with nothing but tranquility and the sounds of nature.

With over 4 million visitors each year, the Angeles forest is one of the best forests in Southern California, with things to do all year round topped with the beautiful scenery and views, it is not hard to understand why.

For anyone wanting to visit during the wintertime, head to the Mt. Baldy Resort for some awesome skiing and snow play time. The same place turns into an amazing hiking trail during warmer months, so whichever season you decide to visit the Angeles National Forest, you will be able to enjoy it all the time.

2. Cleveland National Forest

Cleveland National Forest holds no shortage of fun and adventure.

Continuing on with the list of National Forests in Southern California is the Cleveland National Forest located in the Southernmost point of California, its 460 000 acres encompass San Diego, Orange, and Riverside. Named after former president Grover Cleveland, this Socal forest celebrates its long history and offers anyone willing to visit a fun time. It has around four wilderness areas that are part of the National Wilderness Preservation, home to many wildlife species including mountain lions, bobcats, and black-tailed jackrabbits. Cleveland National Forest has a few popular locations among campers and hiking trails for anyone who loves being active in the great outdoors. One of the most frequented hiking trails includes Mt. Laguna, where you will be met with a variety of scenic trails along the way. Visiting these trails during fall is the recommended time, as the changing colors of the leaves will leave you in absolute awe.

To be able to hike within the forest’s landscapes you will need to acquire a National Forest Adventure Pass which you can get by going to the visitor center just on the outskirts of the forest.

3. Los Padres National Forest

Get lost in one of the largest forests in California, filled with natural splendor and wonders.

Home to a variety of endangered animals like the California Condor, the San Joaquin Kit Fox, and the Southern Sea Otter, the Los Padres National Forest is definitely one you should visit. With over 1 950 000 acres, Los Padres is the biggest forest in Southern California, constituting a big part of the rugged landscape of California. It is the meeting point of Southern and Central California, and the origin point of many rivers, with miles of diverse wildlife habitats and plant communities, this is the forest that portrays the natural beauty of SoCal, a national treasure.

As the forest borders the Big Sur Coast in Monterey, it adds a bit of that classic SoCal element into the mix, making a very riveting experience, and attracting national and international visitors. Among the multitude of recreational activities available at Los Padres, are hiking, camping, horseback riding, fishing, beach walks, and many other activities. For all the campers out there, there are no cabins to be found in this Southern California Forest, there are only campgrounds with tents you can rent out, with stunning views of the mountain ranges and the beaches below. 

Dogs are also allowed on all the trails and campgrounds, so long as they are either on a leash or walking in close proximity and supervision of the owners.

4. San Bernardino National Forest

If you are lucky enough to witness the sunrise in the San Bernardino mountains, you will never regret this moment.

A favorite among wilderness lovers, the San Bernardino National Forest is the best forest for anyone who likes adventuring outdoors. Spanning 823 816 acres filled with natural beauty and wonders, this Southern California National Forest has one of the most stunning forest areas in California. There are several designated wilderness areas, and a plethora of hiking trails you can take advantage of. The gorgeous mountain ranges found here include the San Bernardino Mountains, the San Jacinto Mountains and Santa Rosa Mountains will blow you away, they also serve as habitats for various Asian species like the Bald Eagle, and the Peregrine Falcons.

Among the hiking trails is the Pacific Crest Trail which is one of the 11 National Scenic  Trails. It is recommended that you check with the rangers available at the locations before undertaking any of the trails as there could be swift weather changes you might not be aware of and certain permits that may or may not be required.

Camping is also one activity that is frequently sought out in the San Bernardino National Forest, although some of the campgrounds are not for the weak of mind. The Yellow Post Site Camping site is without most amenities that are usually provided at campsites, the Rough it mindset is something unique to this campsite, and could make for some very interesting stories in the future.

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