5. The Cloud Forests
Cloud forests, or montane forests, are unlike any others. Known as “nature’s water towers“, cloud forests play a unique role in evaporation and precipitation, helping to purify both water and air. Not only do these forests supply fresh water to nearby residents, they contain some of the most amazing biodiversity on earth. Most cloud forests are found in Asia and Central America, but they’re particularly threatened in Central America. In places like Guatemala, where 40% of the water comes from the cloud forest, preservation is essential. Though cloud forests are located around the world, Guatemala is emblematic of the cloud forest problem because its national symbol, the Resplendent Quetzal, is in danger of extinction as its habitat continues to be destroyed by logging, non-native species, development and climate change.
4. White Mountain National Forest
The Whites are on every leaf peeper’s radar as one of the best places in the country to catch the fall-color spectacle. When the mercury plunges and sends shivers through the sugar maples, white birches, and other hardwoods that control the valleys and middle slopes of these mountains, the whole landscape comes aflame; whether you walk, drive, ride, or paddle your way through these glowing forests, it’s an experience to remember. But fame has its price: Think twice before joining the bus, RV, and auto parade from Boston or New York to spots like North Conway on weekends in September and October.
3. Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Crisp fall climate and magnificent greenery aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Arizona. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what you’ll find in north-central Arizona’s Coconino National Forest. Much of Coconino is high-elevation Arizona, the mountains top out at 12,000 feet, and a lot of the land is over the patronizing Mogollon and Coconino Plateaus. Up high, the areas of ponderosa pines are broken by attitudes of aspen. Changing leaves announce fall’s coming as early as mid-September. That’s when forest roads and trails begin to bustle with the crowds of nature lovers who come to enjoy the display.
2. Pisgah National Forest
The northern forests of New England and the Midwest may get most of the fall-foliage propaganda, but down south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the Blue Ridge puts on a vibrant show of its own. Come October, few places are more appealing than the deeply crumpled scenery around Asheville, North Carolina, most of which lies within the limits of Pisgah National Forest. Crusty fall weather welcomes every shade of gold, red, and auburn to Pisgah’s variegated “cove forests,” the mixed-hardwood glories of the southern Appalachians.
1. Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri
Renowned for its beautiful scenic qualities, Mark Twain National Forest lies mostly within the Ozark Plateau, dotted with relic hills from this country’s oldest mountains, the Ozarks. Landscapes here range from mildly rolling plains to heavily dismembered areas with deep supple valleys containing clear, cool spring-fed rivers and streams. Peaks, hills, and knobs of varying heights are dispersed throughout. Bare rock and open glades augment visual interest in many areas, and the fall color is vibrant — the oaks, sweetgum, and sugar maple put on a show of yellow, orange and red. Along the river banks, one can find sycamore, Ozark witch hazel, elm, and other bottomland trees.