March 24, 2021
As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
There’s nothing like escaping the bustling city and finding yourself among the pristine groves of the Golden State forests. Spread all across the state, forests occupy one-third of California's land. The most diverse flora and fauna call these verdant woodlands their home.
With a plethora of places to explore, the best forests in California astound you with their contrasting landscapes. From snow-capped mountains to ferny meadows, striking views sweep you off your feet. Although all the national forests in California are spectacular, these are the best ones.
Beautiful Forests in California
Angeles National Forest
Despite its close proximity to L.A., the Angeles National Forest surprises you with its lush green landscapes and untouched wilderness. More than 50 trails cater to hikers of all skill levels. You’ll be accompanied by birds and butterflies along the many wildflower-studded trails. Keep an eye out for bobcats, bears, and mountain lions. Bald-headed eagles are also frequent residents of this undisturbed forest.
For a much-needed dose of adrenaline, bungee jump off the Bridge to Nowhere. Hike one of the waterfall trails—the Santa Anita Canyon Loop offers the best trekking experience.
Reserve a spot at the Crystal Lake Campground for a wonderful day spent fishing and stargazing. One of the best among Southern California national forests, Angeles makes up for a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Plumas National Forest
Plumas National Forest in Northern California boasts dramatic sceneries and pleasant weather. The rocky canyons, mountain meadows, alpine lakes, and crystal-clear streams make it one of the most beautiful forests in California.
From subtle slopes to steep canyon trails, Plumas National Forest has it all. The Frazier Falls and Feather Falls Loop Trails are a must-do. Behold the rugged beauty of the Feather River that flows through the forest.
If you’re visiting from May to July, feast your eyes on the kaleidoscopic Butterfly Valley Botanical Area at its blooming peak. This forest features lakeside recreation areas and diverse campground options. Whenever you’re here, make sure to pack up your camping gear to fully explore this NorCal natural wonder.
San Bernardino National Forest
The San Bernardino National Forest is undeniably one of the most beautiful forests in California. Offering a much warmer climate, it’s home to opposing ecosystems in the region—from concentrations of desert palms to snow-peaked mountains you’ll experience it all.
The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway allows you to discover the San Bernardino Forest in its full beauty. Deep Creek Hot Springs—one of the best hot springs in SoCal—offers a relaxing break to unwind in the forest.
During warmer seasons, you get more opportunities to observe the plants and wildlife in the area. Heaps Peak Arboretum is a vivid example of the forest’s diversity. Experience this by heading to the unique mountain oasis passes by Big Bear Lake, and the Cougar Crest and Castle Rock Trails. No matter which path you choose, the forest’s heavenly scented air and spectacular views will find you on whichever trail you take.
The Best National Forests in California
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
The Shasta-Trinity National Forest is the Golden State’s largest forest managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Naturally, there’s so much to learn about Shasta-Trinity. The lofty volcanic peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine lakes make it one of the best national forests in California.
The federally designated forest is a favorite among hikers, skiers, fishermen, and literally anyone who visits. Bring your binoculars—black-tailed deer, bald eagles, foxes, bears, and coyotes call this place home.
There are five designated wilderness areas in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest—each offers a unique environment. The potentially active snow-laden Mount Shasta peak is for brave hikers. The lower slopes are delightful for a relatively easy hike. With over 70 hiking trails to choose from, you’ll keep boredom at bay. Take the Bailey Cove Trail to walk along Lake Shasta’s shore. If you love camping, the Shasta-Trinity National Forest is your go-to destination.
Sequoia National Forest
Sequoia National Forest in California is a must-see if you want to feel unbelievably small and infinitely amazed. Filled with magnificent giant sequoias, the land transforms into a magical fairytale forest. Take a short hike to General Sherman Tree, the known living single-stem tree in the whole world.
The Big Trees and Crescent Meadow Trails will take you through some of the most scenic areas of the forest. Besides having the greatest concentrations of giant sequoias, the Sequoia National Forest is home to deep canyons and colossal caverns. Fearless and well-grounded Tauruses will love visiting this national forest.
Cleveland National Forest
Whether you go on foot, by car, or by bike, the Cleveland National Forest is a wonder to explore. Prepare for gorgeous rock formations, sand dunes, and blooming shrubs. You’ll discover plenty of hiking and horseback riding trails.
Take the challenging yet rewarding hike to Three Sister Falls or opt for the Palomar Observatory Trail that offers plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities. Coyotes, mountain lions, mule deer, and black-tailed jackrabbits pop up every now and then to keep an eye on you.
Los Padres National Forest
Los Padres National Forest has diverse landscapes fit for all types of nature lovers—majestic redwoods, ragged semi-deserts, and verdant meadows bursting with wildflowers. Hike the Hot Springs Canyon Trail for action-packed adventures. The killer views, varied terrain, and sulfur pools make this one of the best hikes in the forest.
Los Padres has several campgrounds and picnic spots as well. Thanks to the abundance of outdoor activities, you’re definitely going to extend your stay.
The Best Redwood Forests in California
Muir Woods National Monument
Most California national forests have an abundance of redwoods. But to truly appreciate the unparalleled beauty, visit Muir Woods National Monument. As one of the best redwood forests in California, Muir Woods is the largest home to local wildlife. Be on the lookout for woodpeckers, owls, deer, and squirrels.
There are nine trails that take you along the fern-covered hillside alleys and the earthen forest floor. The light glimmering through the foliage makes it all the more magical. On your trip to see the redwoods in California, get ready to go off-grid and enjoy the solitude (there’s no cell phone service in the area).
Mendocino National Forest
There’s no doubt that the Mendocino National Forest is one of the best redwood parks in California. This national forest is the ideal destination for hiking, boating, fishing, and backpacking. Have the perfect forest picnic among some of the tallest trees in the country.
Late afternoon is the best time to admire the view of the bright sun’s rays passing through the leaves. The lush flora, chirping birds, and tranquility of the streams will keep you California dreamin’—you’ll love this coastal redwood forest in California.
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