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The Best National Forests in Northern California

The Best National Forests in Northern California

Looking for an outdoor adventure? These gorgeous national forests in Northern California offer everything you need.

Palig Dzadourian


5 min read

June 26, 2022

Northern California is home to some of the most mesmerizing natural sites you will ever bear witness to. With snow-capped mountains, verdant coastal redwoods, and stunning landscapes, the national forests in Northern California are an absolute must-see! There are 18 of these enchanting forests in total you can visit and take in the sheer beauty. The diversity of these forests is astounding, and whether you are planning on going camping, taking a hike, or simply visiting and basking in the views, the options are endless.

While you are on your journey of discovery of these natural wonders, it would be handy to have a national forest map of Northern California, specifically one of the forests you are visiting in specific, which you can purchase through the U.S Geological Service Store.

Sierra National Forest

The beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains never gets old, it is always as stunning and breathtaking.

Located on the western slope of the central Sierra Nevada, the Sierra National Forest is known for its striking mountain scenery and rich wildlife and natural resources. This forest was placed under federal protection and management in 1893; given the fact that it was an abundant source of water, wood, and recreational activities, it was and still continues to be a valuable vast piece of land. Given the nickname United in Tranquility for its proximity to a number of popular national parks such as Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia national parks, the Sierra Forest is definitely one of the Northern California national forests you do not want to miss out on.

You can find a multitude of things to do at the Sierra National Forest, from horseback riding, hiking through the various trails available on the 1.3 million acres of land, and even find campgrounds for you to spend the night there and extend the fun of being in this forest. It is recommended that you have a northern California national forest map on hand, as the forest can get quite confusing.

Inyo National Forest

The Twin lakes near Mammoth Lakes are a sight for sore eyes, a must-see indeed.

In the Eastern area of Sierra, lies the great Inyo National Forest. The name Inyo comes from Native American, a term meaning “Dwelling Place of the Great Spirit”, often used by Native Americans to refer to the white mountains of the landscape. Over two million acres full of natural wonders,  Inyo national forest is simply breathtaking. One of these wonders includes the highest mountain in the contiguous United States: Mt. Whitney, with an elevation of 14 505 feet, which you can climb with adequate training and perseverance, as it is definitely not an easy climb.

Others include the Mono Lake, the Mammoth Lakes Basin, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest, home to some of the world’s oldest trees, all of which you can visit, each one having its own unique qualities and atmosphere.

Before entering the forest, make sure to obtain the Wilderness permits, even if you have plans to go to the adjacent Yosemite Park or Kings Canyon through the Inyo Forest.

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Plumas National Forest

The lakes found in Plumas National Forest are sure to be one of the clearest and prettiest lakes you will ever come across.

With high alpine lakes and miles of crystal clear running streams spread over millions of acres, Plumas National Forest is made for you to completely immerse yourself in its nature and wilderness. This Northern California national forest is quite uncrowded and has versatile lands, meadows, and lofty mountains. It is somewhere where you will feel like you are completely isolated from the city, a place where you can just be in the moment. Plumas National Forest is frequented for a number of activities, including fishing, free dispersed camping, hiking, and wood cutting. All the water running through the forest forms Lake Oroville, which serves as one of the main recreational points for the forest.

Plumas National Forest is also home to a generous amount of bears, however, they are not dangerous by nature, therefore if you do not provoke or engage with them they will mind their own business and go about their day.

Six Rivers National Forest 

Take in the views of the majestic Six Rivers National Forest, with all six rivers flowing through.

As we have seen, you can find many national forest campgrounds in Northern California, but a few of the most popular ones are located in the Six Rivers national forest. A unique trait of this forest is that it sees up to 200 inches of rain per year, something you don’t see anywhere else in California. As the name suggests, there are six beautiful rivers run through it, named Smith, Klamath, Trinity, Mad, Van Duzen, and Eel Rivers. 

The historic fire lookout The Bear Basin Butte Lookout is also available for rentals, situated at the top of a steep mountain ridge, giving you a 360-degree view of the Siskiyou Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and nobody but you and the people you rent the cabin with will be able to experience these scenic views.

If gorgeous camping sites aren’t reason enough for you to visit the Six Rivers forest, this fun fact might be the push you need, it was here that people supposedly spotted BigFoot for the first time, where the footage made everyone believe in this mythical creature was filmed.

Modoc National Forest 

Visit the Lava Beds national monument at the Modoc Forest and take in the wonders of nature.

Modoc National Forest is unlike any other among the Northern California national forests, as a big chunk of the area is covered under molten lava that flowed eons ago, which is now found in solidified form. With such a long history it is no wonder that the mineral diversity in this forest is unparalleled, making it one of the best places to study rocks and minerals in all of Northern California. While collecting and taking minerals from the area is prohibited, you have the option of acquiring an Obsidian permit, which lets you collect obsidian scattered all over the landscape.

Klamath National Forest

This amazing national forest awaits your arrival in all its splendor.

Covering 1 700 000 acres of Northern California and Southern Oregon, Klamath National Forest is positively filled with fun outdoor activities to do. Whether you are a fan of camping in densely forested woodland or open meadows, this national forest in Northern California has both options available.

Klamath National Forest is also home to a wide range of water sports, such as kayaking, boating, white water rafting, and swimming. The upper Klamath Lake provides one of the most iconic kayaking experiences in the state, attracting many paddlers across the area.

Tahoe National Forest

One of many stunning locations in California that is ready to take your breath away.

The Tahoe National forest is arguably one of the most impressive Northern California national forests. The presence of the incredible Sierra Nevada mountain range plays a huge part in this. Similar to most of the forests on this list, Tahoe National Forest is somewhere boredom ceases to exist. With so many things to see and explore, from the lush meadows, hiking, and biking trails to the pristine lakes, an unforgettable adventure awaits. 

A scenic drive is also an option for those who might be short on time but are still willing to check out Tahoe National Forest. Many highways run through the forest, including Interstate 80 and Highway 89.

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