Did you know nearly 170 million people visit the 154 national forests every year? I’ve always had national forests on my mind, especially since I grew up in Jefferson National Forest, but it wasn’t until recently I really started to learn about this national treasure. I decided the best way was to make a list of all the national forests in the U.S.
In 1891, Shoshone National Forest was established as part of the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve, making it the first national forest in the country. Almost two decades later in 1905, the United States Forest Service was created to manage these national forests.
Today, 154 national forests in 40 states and Puerto Rico offer thousands of miles of hiking trails, scenic byways, and campgrounds. Use this list to find a national forest near you, click to visit the USFS website, or read stories of my adventures.
The biggest difference between national forests and national parks is that forests aren’t a singular destination. Dozens of destinations can reside within the boundaries of a national forests with dozens of entrances. That makes planning a trip to a national forest more difficult – but also much more fun.
United States Forest Service
Table of Contents
National Forests Map
Note: Chugach National Forest and Tongass National Forest are not displayed on this map because the data file was too large for a Custom Google Map – can you imagine the enormity of the forests?
How to use this map: Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the star beside the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.
How Many National Forests are in the United States?
Officially, there are 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands in the United States. But depending on where you read the information, that number can vary widely. Why is there so much confusion about the numbers of forests and grasslands?
Since the USNF’s creation in 1905, the administration of national forests and grasslands has changed frequently. For example, in 1973 major portions of the Kaniksu, Coeur d’Alene, and St. Joe National Forests were combined to form the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. The IPNF is not a national forest to be counted with the rest – it is for administration purposes only.
Administratively, there are 112 units in the US Forest Service.
Tips for Visiting a National Forest
Visiting a national forest is a vastly different experience from visiting a national park. The forests and grasslands are far less crowded, there is never an admission fee to enter the forest, and there are fewer things to see and do. So, here are a few tips for making the most of your visit to a national forest.
- Search for the district ranger station and call ahead to confirm their hours, then make the ranger station the first stop for information, maps, and any questions you may have
- Outdoor recreation is the most common activity in a national forest – there are few museums or historic structures to visit
- Campgrounds may include full hookups, but check before booking your camp site
- Roads through national forests are frequently driven by locals commuting between work, school, and home
- Although admission into national parks is always free, fees are typically required at day-use areas like parking lots and picnic areas
- Interestingly and disappointingly, the Forest Service classifies e-bikes as a type of motor vehicle – check with the local ranger station to verify which bicycle trails are open to e-bikes
- National forests and grasslands surround cities and towns, making it easier to find a place to stay, eat, or get supplies during a trip
U.S. Forest Service Regions
The United States Forest Service is divided into 9 regions, each overseen by a Regional Forester. The regions help the federal department to manage the gargantuan system of forests, grasslands, and recreation areas.
Regional offices are administrative offices and not dedicated visitor centers, although visitors can still go to one of these offices for information. The regional offices are typically centrally located in the region in a major metropolitan area.
Region 1 - Northern Region
Region 2 - Rocky Mountain Region
Region 3 - Southwestern Region
Region 4 - Intermountain Region
Region 5 - Pacific Southwest Region
Region 6 - Pacific Northwest Region
Region 7 - Dissolved
What happened to Region 7?
The first Eastern Region was created in 1914. The region, then called a district, included all national forests east of the Mississippi in addition to Texas and Oklahoma. In 1928, the Lakes States Region was established and some national forests were transferred from the Eastern Region.
Over the next five years, more national forests were established in Midwestern states, leading the USFS to rename the Lakes States Region as the North Central States Region.
The following year, the Southern Region was created when the Eastern Region was divided. Based in Atlanta, the new region included all national forests south of Virginia and east of New Mexico.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a review of government land management to look for more efficient ways to organize the administration. The Deckerd Report recommended standardizing the number of national forests overseen by each region.
As a result, Region 7 – the original Eastern Region – was dissolved. The North Central States Region was then renamed the new Eastern Region and the administrative boundaries shifted to include all national forests in the northern states east of the Dakotas. The Southern Region was expanded to include the national forests in Kentucky and Virginia.
Region 8 - Southern Region
The Southern Region covers Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Region 9 - Eastern Region
Region 10 - Alaska Region
The Alaska Region includes just two forests, but those two forests are the largest in the country.