Top Ten National Forests in the United States

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire and Maine
By Rene Vasicek

We cannot fathom a top-ten list without White Mountain National Forest, simply because this vertebra in the northern Appalachian spine boasts some of the most rugged and dangerous mountain terrain in the Northeast. Unlike the Catskills and the Adirondacks, where summits are often sheltered beneath a protective canopy of trees, the Whites are all about exposure. Hikers are essentially naked to the elements as they clamber on a mantle of glacial till, navigating boulder fields on a barren and desolate otherworldly landscape.

Some of the worst weather in the world occurs at the top of Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the Northeast. The rocky ridges of the Whites include the Presidentials, Franconia, and Wildcat, with snowcapped peaks that exceed 4,000, 5,000, even 6,000 feet, many of which are distinguished by crenellated rock formations, talus slopes, and glacial cirques. And the ever present threat of lightning storms that loom overhead never lets you forget that you are a mere mortal.

Below timberline, thick stands of balsam fir and red spruce skirt turbulent river gorges, while hardwoods such as sugar maple, yellow birch, and white birch edge up against boulder-strewn streams. This is as good as it gets in the East, and yet it is surprising how well the Whites hold their own against the Rockies. The true measure of a mountain is vertical rise—calculated by subtracting the base elevation from the summit elevation. For example, the 10,568-foot Steamboat Mountain in Colorado has a vertical rise of 3,668 feet. Compare that to the vertical rise of Mount Washington (3,675 feet), Mount Madison (3,800 feet), and Mount Adams (4,500 feet). Not bad, eh?

Just the Facts

Size: 770,000 acres

Height of Mount Washington: 6,288 feet

Fastest wind speed recorded at the summit of Mount Washington: 231 mph (world record)

Number of peaks that exceed 4,000 feet: 60

Features: The Air Line Trail will reduce you to tears as you baby-step across the Knife Edge as the King Ravine abyss looms below. Mountain bike past three waterfalls along the 25-mile Cherry Mountain Loop, which circumnavigates the Dartmouth Range. In late spring, the steep head-walls of the Tuckerman Ravine (or Tucks, as locals call it) lure daring downhill skiers to hike in via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Tucks is famous for its party-on-the-rocks atmosphere as onlookers cheer for the most spectacular tumbles.


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