During this Great Outdoors Month, try to imagine you inherited millions of acres of forest and grasslands teaming with wild animals, brilliant wildflowers, deep blue lakes, rushing rivers, unspoiled beaches and majestic mountains, and all within a few hours’ drive from your home. You would suddenly feel like the luckiest person on earth.
Guess what? You are. Because with nearly 200 million acres of forest and grasslands, the USDA Forest Service lands are available for all of us to use. And our lands are open to all of us 365 days of year—unless a natural disaster or maintenance issues forces a closure. So, get out there and enjoy those natural landscapes this summer—or anytime, for that matter.
The options for things to do on public lands is as big as your imagination and our national forests. Camping, hiking, biking, boating, rock climbing, and swimming are good starting points. For instance, in California, just outside of the massive metropolis of Los Angeles County, lies the 700,000-acre Angeles National Forest. For the 10 million-plus people who live in the LA area, this forest is a treasure trove of fun, challenging and exciting outdoor activities, and, yes, it’s big enough for all to share.
And if you think our national forests are just for trees, think again. Just north of Tucson, in the southern portion of Arizona’s ponderosa pine-dotted Coronado National Forest, you’ll find an easy-to-access recreation area called Sabino Canyon. In this vibrant desert landscape, you’ll see towering saguaro cacti – some as impressive as the great conifers of our forests.
Traveling northeast are the great Colorado Rocky Mountains where 14,000-foot high peaks are not uncommon. Seriously, there are 53 of them! Just outside the city of Colorado Springs is Pikes Peaks. It is one of the most well-known of the great 14,000 footers. Keep in mind that the most experienced hikers consider climbing Pikes Peak a challenge so just walking around the foothills isn’t a bad idea for the less seasoned hikers among us.
After you cross the Continental Divide, the mountains begin to melt away – a process that has taken millions of years – as you enter the Great Plains. Here sweeping grasslands, like those on Colorado’s nearby Comanche National Grasslands, invite visitors to hike pleasant trails and see the wildflowers and tall grasses that once stretched from Colorado to the Mississippi River.
Once you cross the Mississippi River, the mountains begin to rise again, but these mountains, far older than the Rockies, are literally part of the oldest lands on earth. In fact, the Appalachian Mountains were once right up there in height with Mount Everest.
Now the tallest mountains in the eastern United States rarely break 6,000 feet, but the views they offer are spectacular. Check out the George Washington and Jefferson Forest, straddling Virginia and West Virginia overlooking the serene Shenandoah Valley, or the bare granite summits of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest.
In America, with so much land bequeathed to all of us, no matter where you are you can find opportunities to enjoy your inheritance—the Great Outdoors!