Top Ten National Forests in the United States

Sierra National Forest, California
By Rene Vasicek

The Sierra National Forest is a sleeping giant in the Pacific Southwest. The forest, situated on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, shelters a primeval grove of giant sequoias. And it does so quietly without the throngs of tree lovers that gather round poor old "General Sherman" in nearby Sequoia National Park. And if size does matter to you, the Sierra is home to "Bull Buck"—the second-largest tree in the world.

The forest is distinguished by a sheer abundance of rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs, and that's great news for paddlers. The wild and scenic Merced River is one of the fiercest white-water serpents in the region. A 28-mile stretch of this turbulent torrent, from Red Bud to Bagby, boasts nine harrowing rapids ranging from Class III to V. Notorious rapids such as Ned's Gulch and Stark Reality have been known to flip 16-foot rafts. If it's quieter waters that you seek, it's hard to beat Mammoth Pool—2,000-foot mountains sequester the five-mile-long reservoir.

Just the Facts

Size: 1.3 million acres

Wilderness acres: 528,000

Number of mature giant sequoias at Nelder Grove: 101

Height of giant sequoia nicknamed "Bull Buck": 247 feet

Bull Buck's age: 2,700 years

Bull Buck's base circumference: 99 feet

Features: The one-mile Shadow of the Giants National Recreation Trail meanders through Nelder Grove's giant sequoias. A three-mile trail leads to the haunting Graveyard of the Giants, where a fire killed several of the giants. Anglers can drop some flies into the Merced River for smallmouth bass and rainbow and brown trout. The John Muir Wilderness is the largest wilderness in California and boasts granite peaks exceeding 14,000 feet. The Jessie Blakey Ross Cabin was built in the late 1860s during the California Gold Rush.


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