National Forests: Open for Exploration

What is going on everyone, today I’m going to talk about my infatuation with exploring and camping in National Forests. I’m going to keep it real, I love National Forests but they are not without their downsides. I guess I can cover a few of those too… Lets get into it.


1. Maps


   The amount of maps available for National Forests is both a huge resource and can also be a hindrance. For instance, I have been planning a trip into the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas and came across this awesome trail that may be a creek, a 4×4 trail, both, open, or closed. Either way, here are the resources available. 1. The Forest Service interactive web app, 2. Google Earth, and 3. Forest Service Maps. Truthfully, the web app can be extremely slow and clunky but there can be some good information presented as it is likely to be the most up-to-date information. In this example, regardless of whether or not this is a creek or ballin’ off-road trail, the web app shows it is closed so it may be worth a shot but all while understanding that it is probably, most likely, certainly closed.


   Google Earth has the benefit of satellite imagery that can show you whether it looks like a road/trail on the map is ever used. If a trail is on the map but looks like a footpath on Google Earth, don’t waste your time planning to take that route in a vehicle. What I find most useful is the Forest Service maps that are scanned into a program I run (Gaia GPS) on my iPad. I can save them for offline use and see just about anything I need to see: terrain, road numbers, road types, potential closed gates, water features, landmarks, campsites, buildings, “towns”, main roads, and Natl Forest borders. These are all very useful when exploring the forests and can make it a fun challenge getting from one side of the forest to the other.




2. Camping


   Primitive camping FO FREE! I really like planning to be in Natl Forests near the time where I am needing to shutdown for the day. There are BEAUTIFUL established campgrounds throughout Natl Forests that offer power, dump stations, showers, bath houses, recreation opportunities, etc. However, most Natl Forests have sporadic primitive sites scattered throughout them that can be extremely peaceful, pristine, and QUIET. Most of the time they have some sort of fire pit and in some of the forests, I have seen pre-positioned logs, provided by the Forest Service, at some of these back country camps. If I am scouting an area for future trips, I try to mark these down for future use. Here’s an example.




3. Open and Empty


   For the most part, these forests are open without restriction. I have only come across one closed Natl Forest and it was in the Mississippi Delta after a major flooding event. When I say closed, I really mean that the roads disappeared into water… I wish I had pictures. Nevertheless, other than that single instance, I have always found Natl Forests to be open and not have a lot of traffic traveling through them. In today’s fast-paced society, the slower paced and scenic areas are often underutilized by most of the population but hey, I’m not complaining. It becomes a new experience where you aren’t worried about traffic or getting somewhere without being killed by some other idiot on the road. I love to put the windows down, turn off the radio, and enjoy picking my way through the forest and seeking out those fun and challenging sections of road where most people would turn around.


   Lastly, how cool is it that the US Government has provided us with an opportunity to explore relatively untouched sections of wilderness in the US? I don’t know if many of you remember the last recession but one of the big items that was being cut were the forestry services which include National Parks and National Forests.


(Do you feel the PSA coming? Here it is…)


   The reason these things were on the chopping block is that the perception is that they are unused and not taken care of. In order to change that perception, we need to use them for the experiences they provide and also take care of them while enjoying them. In a lot of these National Forests, I see local party spots where there used to be a nice camp that is full of beer cans and trash. Please take care of the trails and parks so we continue to have them in the future.


   I am ticking each Natl Forest off as I explore them and am always looking to explore the next one I can get to. I’d love to hear your experiences with some forests around the country. What forests have you explored and what have you found?

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