Reliably estimating carbon storage and cycling in detrital biomass is an obstacle to carbon accounting. We examined carbon pools and fluxes in three small temperate forest landscapes to assess the magnitude of carbon stored in detrital biomass and determine whether detrital carbon storage is related to stand structural properties (leaf area, aboveground biomass, primary production) that can be estimated by remote sensing. We characterized these relationships with and without forest age as an additional predictive variable. Results depended on forest type. Carbon in dead woody debris was substantial at all sites, accounting for ∼17% of aboveground carbon, whereas carbon in forest floor was substantial in the subalpine Rocky Mountains (36% of aboveground carbon) and less important in northern hardwoods of New England and mixed forests of the upper Midwest (∼7%). Relationships to aboveground characteristics accounted for between 38% and 59% of the variability in carbon stored in forest floor and between 21% and 71% of the variability in carbon stored in dead woody material, indicating substantial differences among sites. Relating dead woody debris or forest floor carbon to other aboveground characteristics and (or) stand age may, in some forest types, provide a partial solution to the challenge of assessing fine-scale variability.