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I was thinking of heading to some of the northern California national forests, but I wasn't sure which to pick. I've read all the relevant links in each fs.udsa.gov website, including attractions, scenic drives, and the front page which a short blurb and description. But this doesn't really tell me enough of what I want to know, which is:

  • What is each national forest most known for?
  • Which national forest can offer me specific and diverse landscapes? I'd like to see meadows, vast wide open valleys, and mountains, but most of all I'd like to see vast wide open valleys (like the battle plains in the Lord of the Rings!) <-- this would be really amazing to me
  • This question is pretty broad. I would suggest boiling it down to just your second bullet, as that will make it more answerable. – Russell Steen Feb 13 '15 at 14:26
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This is a broad question, so here's a broad answer:

The coastal ranges north of SF are heavily forested and have narrow steep valleys.... and hillbillies and marijuana farms. Although as you go inland there is more grass and some of the valleys are very nice when the grass is green and flowers come out.

North & east of the Sacramento Valley you have a couple Cascades-style volcanos, low-ish mountains, lots more trees, and more meadows than in the coast ranges.

From Tahoe to the southern end of the Sierras you have increasingly larger mountains. Yosemite is a very popular valley for good reason. Many high mountain meadows can be found throughout the Sierras, but they might have snow already. (check road conditions!)

East of the Sierras, the Owens valley is nice, but desert-like. East of that...Nevada. Have fun!

  • Any recommendations for Lassen or Modoc for large plains? Doesn't have to be a valley as long as its a large plain. Reason being: I wanted to go to a national forest and avoid national parks (fire and firearms restrictions and road closures). – Jason Dec 15 '14 at 9:11
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    If you're looking to shoot some guns, Nevada might be you best bet - lots of space, and more gun friendly than CA. Lassen is a national park, but Lake Almanor might be OK. I haven't been to Modoc much, but it is similar to Nevada. – Pepi Dec 15 '14 at 13:51
  • "Lassen" is also a National Forest. – Olin Lathrop Dec 15 '14 at 16:28
  • I have backpacked in the Lassen area and did not notice large plains or open valley/meadow areas. – Michael Martinez Dec 15 '14 at 19:58
  • @Olin- Good point, I over looked that. – Pepi Dec 16 '14 at 3:07
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Since wide open plains is one of your objectives, I'd stick to the relatively drier areas east and north of the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. The coastal range is quite wet in comparison, so you won't find open valleys with no trees.

You might enjoy exploring by starting in Westwood and heading north thru the Lassen NF. You will go thru small grassy valleys surrounded by wooded hills, although nothing on the scale of Rohan. Before you get further north, walk around there a bit. Hiking thru the forest here is a different experience than in most forests. There are large Poderosa pines spread out, with usually easy walking around between them.

The climate gets drier as you go north and east. Around Eagle Lake, the area is more open with fewer trees. Further north instead of east it gets drier too. However, the open valleys won't be large grasslands but more rocky plains, culminating in a totally different landscape in Craters of the Moon and the Modoc NF by the OR border.

Added:

One thing you can do is poke around in Google Earth to see where the flat treeless areas are. Most places now have some uploaded photographs so you can see what it looks like from eye level.

For example, go to 40.580N 121.078W. That's one of the meadows I mentioned north of Westwood. It's relatively small in the scheme of things, but is otherwise what I imagine Rohan to be. It's wet enough for there to be lots of grass to support horses, like Rohan.

On the other hand, take a look at 40.903N 120.738W. That's a much bigger area, and you should be able to get a feeling of hiking around in large openess. However, it's dryer than I imagine Rohan. Further north are even larger, but also dryer flat areas. In this part of the world, the larger flat areas will be more desert than grassland.

  • Would you recommend Lassen NF or Modoc NF (and if so, which parts of it)? Assuming you only had one trip. – Jason Dec 15 '14 at 17:58
  • @Jason: They are next to each other, so I'd bump around and experience the variety myself. Like I said, one plan might be to start in Westwood and hike around north of there one day, go more north or east and hike around there the next day, etc. After a few days you'll end up in the NE corner of CA and will have experienced a wide range of different landscapes, but all relatively dry and open. Dig around Google Earth and look at uploaded photos. – Olin Lathrop Dec 15 '14 at 18:04

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