The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are U.S. National Forests that combine to form one of the largest areas of public land in the Eastern United States. They cover 1.8 million acres (7,300 km2) of land in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Approximately 1 million acres (4,000 km2) of the forest are remote and undeveloped and 139,461 acres (564 km2) have been designated as wilderness areas, which eliminates future development.
- George Washington National Forest was established on May 16, 1918 as the Shenandoah National Forest. The forest was renamed after the first President on June 28, 1932. Natural Bridge National Forest was added on July 22, 1933.
- Jefferson National Forest was formed on April 21, 1936 by combining portions of the Unanka and George Washington National Forests with other land. In 1995, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests were administratively combined. The border between the two forests roughly follows the James River. The combined forest is administered from its headquarters in Roanoke, Virginia.
Flora and fauna:
- The northern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway which is separately administered by the National Park Service runs through the Forest.
- Over 2,000 miles (3,000 km) of hiking trails go through the forest.
- Virginia's highest point, Mount Rogers, is located in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area that is part of the forest. Other notable mountains include Elliott Knob, which has one of the last remaining fire lookout towers in the eastern U.S., and Whitetop Mountain.
- Approximately 230,000 acres (930 km2) of old-growth forests.
The Forests' vast and mountainous terrain harbors a great variety of plant life - over 50 species of trees and over 2,000 species of shrubs and herbaceous plants. The Forests contain some 230,000 acres (930 km2) of old growth forests, representing all of the major forest communities found within them. Locations of old growth include Peters Mountain, Mount Pleasant National Scenic Area, Rich Hole Wilderness, Flannery Ridge, Pick Breeches Ridge, and Laurel Fork Gorge, Pickem Mountain, and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.
The Ramsey's Draft and Kimberling Creek Wildernesses in particular are mostly old-growth. The black bear is relatively common, enough so that there is a short hunting season to prevent overpopulation. White-tailed deer, bobcat, bald eagles, weasel, otter, and marten are also known to inhabit the forest.
The forests are popular hiking, mountain biking, and hunting destinations. The Appalachian Trail extends for 330 miles (530 km) from the southern end of Shenandoah National Park through the forest and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The forest is within a two hour drive to over 10 million people and receives heavy visitation, especially in the region closest to Shenandoah National Park.
The George Washington National Forest is a popular destination for trail runners. It is the location for several Ultramarathons, including the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler, the Old Dominion 100 miler, and the Old Dominion Memorial 100 miler. George Washington Forest is also the home to Nature Camp, a natural science education-oriented summer camp for youth. The camp is located on national forest land near the town of Vesuvius, Virginia. Nature Camp has operated at this location since the summer of 1953.
There are 139,461 acres (564 km2) of federally designated wilderness areas in the two forests under the United States National Wilderness Preservation System. All are in the state of Virginia, except as indicated. The largest of these is the Mountain Lake Wilderness, at 16,511 acres (67 km2). There are 17 wildernesses in Jefferson National Forest, second only to Tongass National Forest, which has 19.
George Washington National Forest:
Jefferson National Forest:
- Barbours Creek Wilderness (part)
- Priest Wilderness
- Ramseys Draft Wilderness
- Rich Hole Wilderness
- Rough Mountain Wilderness
- Saint Mary's Wilderness
- Shawvers Run Wilderness (part)
- Three Ridges Wilderness
- Barbours Creek Wilderness (most)
- Beartown Wilderness
- Brush Mountain East Wilderness
- Brush Mountain Wilderness
- Garden Mountain Wilderness
- Hunting Camp Creek Wilderness
- James River Face Wilderness
- Kimberling Creek Wilderness
- Lewis Fork Wilderness
- Little Dry Run Wilderness
- Little Wilson Creek Wilderness
- Mountain Lake Wilderness (Virginia / West Virginia)
- Peters Mountain Wilderness
- Raccoon Branch Wilderness
- Shawvers Run Wilderness (most)
- Stone Mountain Wilderness
- Thunder Ridge Wilderness