When most people think of Southern California, the image of a forest isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind. But those of us who live in this beautiful part of the country know that our immense national forests with expansive wilderness areas are one of the many reasons we can’t help but sing SoCal’s praises. While everyone else is out exploring the beaches of Southern California, you’ll find many of us local folks spending our recreational time getting lost in the woods of these four national treasures.
1. Cleveland National Forest
Named after former president Grover Cleveland, the Cleveland National Forest is 460,000 acres and includes four distinct wilderness areas that are all part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Spanning three counties -- San Diego, Riverside, and Orange -- you can be certain that if you've ever hiked, camped, biked, or taken part in any other outdoorsy activity in one of these counties, you've most likely spent some time in the heart of the Cleveland National Forest.
A favorite hiking spot in this area that has a variety of scenic trails is Mt. Laguna. This time of year is especially pretty, as the leaves are starting to change color.
A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park in specific areas of the Cleveland National Forest, so make sure to stop by the visitor center before you park your car for the day. You can also find passes for sale with most local merchants.
2. Angeles National Forest
Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, the Angeles National Forest is primarily within Los Angeles County and spans 700,176 acres. The Angeles National Forest has five nationally designated wilderness areas that are all protected and preserved in their natural condition.
With Los Angeles in such close proximity, this forest reserve is a wonderful respite from the noise of LA. As you wander through the wilderness, you'd never suspect you were so close to such a bustling city. Pictured here: Sheep Mountain Wilderness.
Spectacular hikes in this forest include the Ice House Canyon Trail which provides a wonderful backdrop to experience a variety of scenery.
Chantry Flat is another spot worth noting that can be found inside the Angeles National Forest. This designated recreation area looks like the perfect place to stop for a moment of reflection...
Or take a walk along the trails and enjoy the fairytale cottages along the way. No matter what part of this forest you explore, you'll find that all roads lead to scenic bliss.
3. Los Padres National Forest
Southern California and Central California share the Los Padres National Forest, with Ventura County marking the southernmost portion. Even though it's currently battling recent forest fires that have resulted in temporary closures, this massive forest that's close to 1,950,000 acres is an important part of SoCal's rugged landscape.
Characterized by handsome mountain ranges, vast wilderness areas that are designated in almost half of the forest, and the point of origin for several rivers, this treasured land is a prime destination to soak up the natural beauty of SoCal.
4. San Bernardino National Forest
Spanning 823,816 acres, this national forest is a playground for every wilderness lover. Whether you enjoy camping, or just want to hike along the hundreds of miles of rugged trails, the San Bernardino National Forest is a wonderland of natural beauty.
The San Bernardino National Forest can be easily identified by its designated wilderness areas and stunning mountain ranges that include the San Bernardino Mountains, San Jacinto Mountains, and Santa Rosa Mountains.
For an easy walk that explodes with lush scenery, you will enjoy spending some time at Heaps Peak arboretum nestled inside San Bernardino National Forest.
Or just head to a lookout point and take in the endless views.
No matter what direction you explore, there's one thing that all of us here in Southern California know for sure: our national forests are our best kept secret and we'd like to keep it that way.
As mentioned previously, make sure you have a National Forest Adventure Pass before you park your vehicle for the day at any of these national forests. You’ll also want to pack some water and light snacks. But most importantly, bring a sense of adventure as there’s nothing more satisfying than exploring Southern California.