Hobo Cedar Grove, Northern Idaho. Credit: Matthew Singer
Summer time is camping time. After the erratic weather of spring and before the chill of fall, no time of year beckons our primal bonds like the warmth of a summer evening. And no environment wraps us in close embrace quite like a summer forest, robust and alive during the time of high sun. So get out there: into the woods, up to the high country, down along the creeks and under canopies of pine needles, oak leaves and cedar boughs. Breathe some good air. Get grubby. Melt into the womb of America’s forests. It’s summer.
There are summertime forest haunts across North America, from ocean to ocean and tropics to tundra. Picking just a few camping locales is no easy task. The places featured here showcase a variety of forest environments — from the famous to the forgotten, with a focus on the unusual. Should you undertake a camping mission to one of these places, a pleasant surprise is likely in store because no amount of reading can prepare you for the smells and sounds and sights of actually being there.
One might not think of Arizona as a place to camp in a forest. This is the land of cactus crags and red-rock vistas, right? True enough, but sandwiched between the scorching Sonoran Desert in the south and the vast, wind-swept plateaus in the north lies the Mogollon (pronounced Mogey-own) Rim — a 7,000-foot-high island of forest.
The Rim forms the southern margin of the Colorado Plateau — that desert province of surreal beauty that is home to Grand Canyon, Arches and a half-dozen other non-forest-oriented parks. The southern prow of the Colorado Plateau, however, efficiently captures approaching moisture, and annual precipitation on the Rim exceeds 30 inches, downright damp for the arid Southwest.
The result is the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. This is a stately, open woodland, where the underbrush is so minimal that one can stroll anywhere among the pines — trail or no trail. Dive into one of the Rim’s shady canyons and the story changes, with dense pockets of white and Douglas fir, prickly New Mexico locust, quaking aspen and delicate bigtooth maple.