Top Ten National Forests in the United States

Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington
By Rene Vasicek

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest sits at the very core of the Pacific Northwest's volcanic cauldron. No other forest exhibits such an intense concentration of craters, lava fields, volcanic caves, lava tubes, and pumice pits. The otherworldly landscape invites visitors to wander through a subterranean world that was abruptly brought to the surface, revealing the earth's geologic viscera. We at GORP like to think of ourselves as your guide to this inferno, sort of like Virgil guiding Dante through the nine circles of hell.

There are few places in the world where you can hike a landscape as beguiling as that of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The terrain will test your mettle, forcing you to scramble over bare rock in ancient lava flows. The forest's many moonscapes are surrounded by wilderness, boasting thick stands of mountain hemlock and old-growth Douglas fir.

The haunted and apocalyptic aftermath left by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens reminds us that we cannot underestimate the potential of nature's fury. The blast killed 57 people, removing 1,300 feet of the volcano's top in a series of powerful explosions.

Just the Facts

Size: 1,312,000 acres

Height of Mount Adams: 12,276 feet

Miles of Trail: 1,100

Features: The 2.5-mile Blue Lake Trail meanders past an awesome 250-foot rock wall of columnar basalt. Explore Ape Cave; at 12,810 feet it is the longest lava tube in the continental United States. Cross-country skiers must try the seven-mile Natural Bridges Loop, which traverses several natural bridges and leads to a collapsed lava tube. We urge mountain bikers to pedal like hell if they encounter Bigfoot on the Sasquatch Trail.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »

Package Trips: