National Forest Foundation

Nine National Forests To Visit If You Want To Climb A Mountain

Hiking and Backpacking


My favorite way to see a National Forest is from the top of a mountain. My husband and I spend as much time as we can in the mountains, which I credit to our big appetite for long days, sore legs, and views from the top. Often times people will ask how we figure out where to hike, or what to climb. After all, to reach the top of a mountain you often have to follow a remote trail – if there is even a trail to follow!

The easiest place to start is with a National Forest. Below I list nine National Forests that boast mountains, including both well-known peak-bagging meccas and lesser-known areas with a lot of neat rock. Of course, there are thousands of mountains to climb across the National Forest System. My list only captures a few of the places I have been, or hope to be soon. Oh, and you’ll notice a slight bias for Montana’s mountains (but I can’t help it – I live here!).

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

My husband got his hiking start in this classic, mountainous forest, and later joined the “Four Thousand Footer Club” by climbing all 48 peaks, many of them twice. I’ve had the chance to see the view from Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette, and hope to spend more time enjoying this special place someday. The “Whites,” as they are known, are a great place for all levels to hike.

San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

The San Isabel is famous for the group of 14,000 footers known as the “Collegiate peaks,” however, many are “loved to death” these days, so always follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the fragile landscape. For a more challenging climb, visit Kit Carson Peak & Challenger Point on the nearby Rio Grande National Forest.
Photo by Mark Byzewski

Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah

Have you ever visited Moab, Utah and gazed at the mountains towering above? It turns out that many are climbable, including Mount Peale, the tallest of the bunch. The temperature is 20 degrees cooler than downtown Moab, the crowds disappear, and the aspens gleam. It’s hard to beat the Manti-La Sal’s higher elevations.

Inyo National Forest, California

Every National Forest in the High Sierra would qualify for my list, but I chose the Inyo, as the mountains surrounding Palisade Glacier are truly spectacular.
Photo by Ephraim Ragasa

Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming

The Bridger-Teton boasts the Wind River Range, long known as a mountain climbing mecca that attracts mountain enthusiasts from across the world. While the Wind Rivers are known for technical climbing, there are many hike-up mountains to find as well.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

Home of the Cascades, and loved by the likes of Ansel Adams and other famous figures, the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie is a great place for folks in the Pacific Northwest to have an awesome alpine experience.
Photo by Jolane Stroh

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana

The Bitterroot National Forest’s granite peaks and remote Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness makes it a prime spot for overnight or multi-day excursions in Western Montana.

Lolo National Forest, Montana

Mountains don’t have to be remote! The Lolo National Forest surrounds my hometown, Missoula, Montana, and includes several “urban” mountains that I love hiking during the shoulder season and winter months. So be creative – even if a climb is local and overlooks city lights, a mountain is a mountain all the same.
Photo by Wes Swaffar

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada

Did you know that Nevada has more mountain ranges than any other state in the U.S.? The Humboldt-Toiyabe boasts the Ruby Mountains – a great place to explore.

Before you go, remember that climbing any mountain, regardless of the rating, is a challenging pursuit. Climbing on a steep grade is much slower and more tiring than hiking on flat ground. Be safe. Consider your fitness level.

Familiarize yourself with how mountains are rated , and make sure you’re climbing a mountain that’s appropriate for your skill level. Bring plenty of water and food. Check the weather before you go, and bring weather-appropriate clothing, and a first-aid kit. Do not consider an off-trail route unless you are 100% confident in your map-reading abilities. Wear a helmet if there are other climbers above you or any chance that falling rock could hit you.

Most importantly, trust your judgment. R.J. Secor, author of the classic guidebook High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails , summed things up best by stating, “…safety depends on the character of the individual rather than on the use of equipment or knowledge of specialized techniques. The judgment of a party can make all the difference between a pleasurable journey and a preventable tragedy.” Always use your best judgment.

Now, stop reading and go enjoy the mountains!

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