Discover the Largest Forest in Nevada (And What Lives Within It)

Dominic Gentilcore PhD/

Written by Lev Baker

Updated: May 26, 2023

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While you may only know Nevada for Las Vegas and its expansive desert, the state also has mountain ranges, extensive forests, and valleys. In fact, Nevada is home to a spectacular section of the largest national forest in the lower 48 states. In addition, the diverse climate and varied topography of the state meet the needs of different types of wildlife. The largest forest in Nevada is well worth a visit! With many hiking and camping options available and a variety of wildlife to observe, you and your friends and family will indeed have a great time in nature! 

The Largest Forest in Nevada: The Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest

The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is the largest forested area in Nevada and the largest U.S. National Forest outside of Alaska! At around 6.3 million acres, this forest is almost the size of the entire state of Massachusetts and double that of Connecticut! One important thing to note about this forest is not located in a single location. Instead, sections of forest are staggered across the state of Nevada and even a portion of eastern California

History of the Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest, the Largest Forest in Nevada

Dating back thousands of years, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest has a rich history. Native American tribes, including the Shoestone, Paiute, and Washoe peoples, originally inhabited the area. These tribes relied on the forest for hunting, gathering, and spiritual purposes, and their presence can still be found at the many rock art sites throughout the forest.

The first European settlers arrived in the mid-1800s during the gold rush. When gold and silver were discovered in large quantities in the area. During this time, the forest was logged extensively and used to build mines, towns, and railroads.

In the early 1900s, the United States Forest Service began to manage the forest, and the Humboldt and Toiyabe forests were officially established in 1908 and 1909. The two forests were later combined in 1973, and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest was born.

High desert and snowy mountains near Arc Dome, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada.

Hiking and Camping in the Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest

The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest provides many recreational opportunities, including hiking and camping.


There are MANY hiking trails in the largest forest in Nevada. One of the most popular trails is Monkey Rock. It is a moderate hike that takes around an hour and a quarter to complete. It is named for a carved granite rock that looks like a monkey and offers fantastic panoramic views of Lake Tahoe.

Another popular trail is Cathedral Rock Trail. This trail is of moderate difficulty and can take around an hour and three-quarters to complete. This trail leads you to the breathtaking Echo Cliffs. You will surely bump into native animals on this trail, so be on the lookout!

Hunter Creek Trail is one of the most popular trails in the forest and is not one to miss, as it ends at a 30-foot waterfall! This trail is family-friendly and well-marked. Although it can take over 3 hours to complete, this hike will be worth it due to the stunning waterfall at the end.

Other hiking trails in Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest include:

  • Castle Rock Loop Trail
  • Tunnel Creek Trail, Cave Rock Trail
  • Raintree Trail
  • Mummy Spring Tail

Make sure to do your research to find the trail that is the best fit for you!


There is also a number of campsites available in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. You can choose between campground camping, dispersed camping, group camping, or R.V. camping, so it is up to you to decide how you want to spend the night in the wild.

Campground camping areas provide designated camping sites and facilities. There are a variety of campgrounds throughout the forest in many districts. The most prominent camping districts in the park are:

  • Austin-Tonopah Ranger District
  • Bridgeport Ranger District
  • Carson Ranger District
  • Ely Ranger District Office
  • Mountain City-Ruby Mountains-Jarbidge RD
  • Santa Rosa Ranger District
  • Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.

Dispersed camping is the most rugged form of camping and is for those looking for a true adventure. Dispersed camping is essentially when you camp away from a campsite and set up your tent in the forest. There are designated areas of the forest that are suitable for dispersed camping. However, there are no facilities, so you must bring your own water or water purification. 

You should also camp at least 100 feet from all water sources and dig a 6-inch deep hole to dispose of human waste. Finally, make sure you clean up after yourself, leave the forest how you found it, and take any trash back with you!

Group camping areas are generally day-use facilities and are mainly used for picnicking. They include the Austin-Tonopah Ranger District, Bridgeport Ranger District, Carson Ranger District, Ely Ranger District Office, and Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.

The forest also has plenty of R.V. sites for visitors with camper vans or R.V.s. There are many R.V. sites throughout the forest, but it is still a good idea to make sure there is one close to where you are going.

There are various campsites available in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Wildlife in the Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest

The wildlife in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is diverse and plentiful. By observing the wildlife in the forest, you will be able to learn about the forest ecosystem and gain more respect for the forest and all it contains. Be on the lookout for the wildlife here as there may not be many opportunities to see these animals in the wild in their natural habitat. 

Bighorn Sheep

The bighorn sheep is an iconic species of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. There are several herds found throughout the region. The bighorn sheep is a type of wild sheep native to North America. This unique animal is easily recognized by its distinctive large curved horns, which can grow up to three feet long! 

Adult male bighorns can weigh over 300 pounds, while females usually weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Generally, bighorn sheep in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest tend to be smaller than their counterparts in other regions.

Two different subspecies of bighorn sheep live in the forest: the California bighorn and the Rocky Mountain Bighorn. The California bighorn is usually found in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains and Great Basin region of California and Nevada. Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain bighorn is found throughout the western region of the United States and the national forest.

Bighorn sheep enjoy living in a rugged terrain with steep cliffs and rocky outcroppings, where they use their agility to evade predators such as mountain lions and coyotes. They are herbivorous and feed on various plants, grasses, and cacti abundant in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

bighorn sheep shedding its fur

The bighorn sheep is an iconic species of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Mule Deer

Mule deer are another common species found in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and are an important part of the ecosystem. These animals are named “mule deer” for their large, mule-like ears, which are much larger than other deer species. However, they are generally smaller than white-tailed deer, which is another common deer species in the USA. Male mule deer may weigh between 130 and 280 pounds, and females between 90 and 200 pounds.

These deer are often found in the higher regions of the forest, where they prefer both open, grassy meadows and wooded areas. Mule deer are also herbivores that feed entirely on plants.

Mule deer are not endangered, but their populations within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest are closely monitored and managed to ensure their long-term sustainability. Hunting mule deer is allowed in some areas of the forest, and only during certain times of the year. However, hunters must obtain permits and follow strict regulations.

Mule deer are another common species found in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and are an important part of the ecosystem.


Elk are one of North America’s largest species of deer, with mature bulls weighing up to 700 pounds and standing over 5 feet tall at the shoulder. In the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, they are most commonly found at higher elevations, particularly in the northeastern part of the forest, around Lake Tahoe.

During the fall, male elk engage in a behavior known as the “rut.” This is when they compete with other males for the opportunity to mate with female elk. During the rut, they will display their antlers, which can grow up to 5 feet in width, and engage in vocalizations and physical battles with other males.

Elk are one of North America’s largest species of deer, and they are very common in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest at higher elevations.

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions, also known as “cougars,” are commonly found in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The mountain lion is a large wild cat that is native to the Americas. It is a very adaptable species that can be found in most American habitats. It is the fourth largest cat species worldwide, with adult males weighing between 117 and 159 lbs. Females are smaller and weigh between 75 and 106 lbs. 

The mountain lion thrives in forests, mountainous deserts, and open areas, so the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest provides a great home for them. Mountain lions are predators that prey on large mammals such as mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. They will also prey on smaller animals, such as rodents, birds, and domestic pets if large prey are unavailable. 

Mountain lion with forest background

The mountain lion is a large wild cat that is native to the Americas and thrives in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Clark’s Nutcracker

Clark’s nutcrackers are birds that are native to the mountains of North America. This bird is also commonly known as “Clark’s crow” and the “woodpecker crow.” Clark’s Nutcrackers are found in the mountains near conifer forests. Adult Clark’s nutcrackers can grow to a length of around 11.3 inches and weigh between 3.7 and 5.7 oz. Most of the feathers on its body are ashy-grey. The feathers on the wings and tail are black and white. The bill, legs, and feet are striking black. Lewis and Clark originally observed the bird species on their exhibition through the Western United States, hence the name “Clark’s” Nutcracker.

The Clark’s nutcracker is an omnivore whose diet consists of seeds, insects, berries, and small mammals. However, the main diet for these birds is pine seeds. These smart birds are great at using their feet and bill to hack cones open for seeds. 

clark's nutcracker perched in a pine tree

The Clark’s nutcracker stores as many as 30,000 pine seeds in one season.

Yellow Warblers 

Yellow warblers are beautiful yellow birds found throughout North America, the Caribbean, and South America. There are 35 subspecies of the yellow warbler that are grouped into three main groups. The only difference between these groups is the males’ head color during the breeding season. These birds can grow between 3.9 and 7.1 inches long and have a wingspan that is between 6.3 and 8.7 inches. The birds are small and weigh between 0.25 and 0.88 ounces. 

The diet of the yellow warblers mainly consists of caterpillars. They also eat wasps, moths, mosquitoes, beetles, and other insects and spiders. Unfortunately, yellow warblers are common prey for many predators, including snakes, foxes, and other birds. These adorable birds prefer to live in moist habitats where many insects are found. These habitats include swamps and streams but also include forest edges and farmlands. Be sure to keep a lookout for these cutie little birds in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest!

Yellow Warbler

The most widespread warbler species in the Americas is the yellow warbler.

Blue Grouse

Blue grouse are medium-sized birds, with males weighing between 2 and 3 pounds and females weighing between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds. They have plump bodies and short, rounded tails. Their feathers are gray-brown in color with white and black barring. The male blue grouse has a distinctive, inflatable air sac on its chest, which it uses to create loud hooting sounds during mating season to attract females.

Blue grouse are found in the forested areas of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, where they feed on leaves, berries, and seeds. During the winter, when food is more scarce, they may also eat twigs and needles from coniferous trees.

Blue grouse are an important game bird and provide recreational opportunities for hunting enthusiasts.

Blue grouse are found in the forested areas of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, where they feed on leaves, berries, and seeds.

Painted Lady Butterflies

The painted lady butterfly is commonly found in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. It is well known for its striking coloration, which features orange, black, and white markings on its wings. Fully grown painted lady butterflies have a wingspan of around 2 to 2.5 inches, and their bodies are approximately 1-1.5 inches long.

The painted lady butterfly is a migratory species that travels long distances for food and suitable breeding grounds. In the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, they can be found in meadows and other open areas where they feed on the nectar of flowers from various plants.

Painted lady butterflies are important forest pollinators and are also a food source for other species, including birds and small mammals. So when you spot these beautiful butterflies, remember how important they are to the forest! Even though they are small, they significantly impact the ecosystem. 

Painted Lady on flower with wings spread

The Painted Lady has the longest migration route of any butterfly.

Red-Tailed Hawks

These birds of prey are abundant within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and throughout North America. They are known for their stunning red tail feathers, which can be seen when the bird is in flight. Red-tailed hawks are large birds, boasting a wingspan of up to 56 inches, and have a body length of around 25 inches. They have broad, rounded wings and a hooked beak, perfect for catching their prey.

These birds are opportunistic hunters and will feed on a wide variety of prey, including rodents, rabbits, snakes, and other birds. They are also known to scavenge on carrion and can be found perched high in the trees, scanning the area for their next meal. 

Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and will mate for life. They build their nests high in the treetops of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, usually near open fields and grasslands. Their nests are large and made of sticks and other organic materials and will be used for many years. Keep an open eye out for these magnificent birds! 

Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) sitting on a stick

Red-tailed hawks are known for their stunning red tail feathers.

Western Rattlesnake

This venomous species of snake is a member of the pit viper family, which includes several other species of snake, including cottonmouth snakes, copperhead snakes, and mangshan pit vipers. Western rattlesnakes are known for their distinctive rattles, which they use as a warning signal to potential predators or threats. They are typically grey or brown with dark diamond-shaped patterns along the length of their backs. They can grow up to 4 feet long and can weigh anywhere from 1 pound up to 4 pounds. 

These snakes catch their prey by waiting and ambushing them as they reach striking distance. They usually eat small rodents but are also known to eat birds, lizards, and other small animals. These snakes are generally not aggressive toward humans and will only attack if they feel threatened.

Western rattlesnakes play an important role in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s ecosystem by helping to control the rodent populations and serving as a food source for other animals, such as birds of prey.


Western rattlesnakes play an important role in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s ecosystem.

Where is The Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest Located on a Map?

Covering a vast expanse in the U.S. state of Nevada, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest serves as the primary U.S. National Forest in the region, extending into a smaller portion of Eastern California. Encompassing an impressive area of 6,289,821 acres, this expansive forest stands as the largest U.S.

National Forest outside of Alaska, offers a diverse and picturesque landscape for outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife enthusiasts, and nature lovers to explore and enjoy.

Here is The Humboldt–Toiyabe National Forest on a map:

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About the Author

Lev is a writer at AZ Animals who primarily covers topics on animals, geography, and plants. He has been writing for more than 4 years and loves researching topics and learning new things. His three biggest loves in the world are music, travel, and animals. He has his diving license and loves sea creatures. His favorite animal in the world is the manta ray.

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