While Arizona is best known for its diverse cacti population and mountainous desert regions, there are still plenty of forests to explore. Whether you are planning a trip to Arizona or simply want to learn more about the different ecosystems found within this state, just how large is the largest forest in Arizona?
In this article, we will address and discuss the largest forest in Arizona: the Tonto National Forest. We will go over the history of this diverse and fascinating ecosystem as well as the activities that you as a visitor can do in this forest. Finally, we will also go over just a few of the animals and creatures that live within this national forest, given that it holds over 400 different species! Let’s get started.
The Largest Forest in Arizona: Tonto National Forest
Nearly 3 million acres in size, the Tonto National Forest is the largest forest in Arizona. Located east of Phoenix, the Tonto National Forest is the largest of six national forests found within the state and is in fact the 9th largest national forest in the entire country. With seven separate wilderness areas protecting a variety of ecosystems and environments, this forest is visited by millions of people annually.
Not only is this region popular among tourists, both international and local, but it is also necessary for a variety of industries within the state of Arizona. Almost 30,000 heads of cattle are permitted to graze in this national forest. Plus, there are multiple reservoirs and watershed areas that are protected, with the water quality closely monitored for human use.
Timber and minerals are also occasionally harvested from the Tonto National Forest, but only according to strict guidelines and standards set by the state and forest service. Plus, given the centralized location of the Tonto National Forest, it is also key when it comes to communication lines such as telephone wires and electricity services. The mountain peaks in this forest assist in bringing power and modern communication methods to even the most metropolitan of areas!
History of the Tonto National Forest
As with most natural areas in the United States, the history of the Tonto National Forest began thousands of years ago. We owe much of the development of this land to ancient Native American tribes and other groups, namely the Salado and the Hohokam. As time passed, many conflicts and issues arose in this region, leading to the displacement of many tribes, particularly the Apache and Yavapa tribes.
Many different settlers came to this region, including the Mormon pioneers and various ranchers. Some ranching families still remain in the Tonto National Forest to this day, long after its official establishment in 1905. The Tonto National Forest began in an effort to protect Arizona’s Verde and Salt Rivers, two key and necessary bodies of water for this surprisingly agricultural region.
In fact, the watersheds found within this national forest are largely credited with the creation of the Roosevelt Dam in 1905. This dam not only ensured water to local cities and agricultural meccas, but it also created plenty of reservoirs and manmade lakes for locals to enjoy on a hot Arizonian day!
Recreation in the Tonto National Forest
Not only is the Tonto National Forest centrally located within the state of Arizona, but it also offers its visitors plenty of recreational opportunities. From mountain peaks to wild and scenic river areas, this forest is much more than simply trees and desert. No matter the season you choose to visit, the Tonto National Forest has something to offer you.
The Tonto National Monument is a must-see should you choose to visit. Preserving historical artifacts is a key component of the Tonto National Forest, and this monument shows off cliffside dwellings and multiple items found from eras long past. In fact, most of these discoveries date back to the year 1250, making them integral to Arizona’s history and the history of indigenous people from this region.
Camping, hiking, and water activities are all extremely popular in this national forest. You can get permits for white water rafting as well as a variety of boating opportunities on a variety of lakes and reservoirs found in the Tonto National Forest. Plus, there are multiple ghost towns and informational locations that can give you an insight into the history of this region. There are even mining towns to explore and campgrounds as well as dispersed camping opportunities.
Speaking of camping, there are roughly seven different wilderness areas found within the Tonto National forest. these locations are perfect for remote camping, but keep in mind that only so many people are allowed in these regions at one particular time. From the Mogollon Rim reaching 8,000 feet to the Sonoran Desert full of saguaros, there are plenty of things to do in this national forest!
Wildlife in the Largest Forest in Arizona
Given the diversity of this particular national forest, there are a number of different wildlife species found here. In fact, given the protection of so many different wilderness areas found within the Tonto National Forest, there are a number of threatened and endangered species found here. While you may or may not see wildlife should you choose to visit this region, here are some of the animals that reside in the largest forest in Arizona:
- Bald eagles
- Rocky Mountain elk
- Black bears
- Gila monsters
- Wild horses
Where Is Tonto National Forest Located On a Map?
Tonto National Forest is found to the east of many of Arizona’s most popular and populous cities, such as Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, and Mesa. The Fort Apache and San Carlos Reservations are located on the other side of the National Forest.
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