The Most Beautiful Forests in the World
Even if you're one of those people with an "Earth First (We'll log the other planets later)" bumper sticker on your car, we think you'll appreciate this visual hike through some of the world's most spectacular forests.
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Best accessed from: Tanah Rata, where days spent exploring the surrounding mountains are rewarded with steaming hot-pot dinners and local tea.
Best hike: Tours outfitters bring adventurers up to either a slippery boardwalk or to a root-ridden dirt trail -- the forest takes under an hour to experience.
Carnivorous pitcher plants and delicate orchids stand out amongst the spongy green moss covering the trees in this high-elevation cloud forest. The winding approach takes tourists through crowded hill station towns and rolling green tea fields before ascending into the misty mountaintops of mainland Malaysia. Don’t miss a climb to the viewpoint at the summit of Gunung Brinchang. And bring your boots -- your footsteps in the moss will fill with water as you take each step.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Best accessed from: A drive along the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants provides a humbling intro to these ancient trees. You will feel like an insignificant insect. An ant.
Best hike: While the Founders Grove Nature Trail is popular for its impressive heights, the Rockefeller Loop at the Bull Creek Flats is less crowded and just as towering.
If huge old-growth trees are your thing, a visit the redwoods of northern California is probably your best bet. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is one of the best places to be immersed in the state’s redwood forests, and three of the world’s ten tallest trees are located in the park’s Bull Creek Flats area alone. Yes -- you can drive through a giant tree here. Just don’t try to hug one, unless you have freakishly long arms.
Great Otway National Park
Best accessed from: The Great Ocean Road, which begins west of Melbourne in Torquay.
Best hike: The Maits Rest boardwalk trail offers a short, easy walk through the lush landscape of Great Otway’s inland temperate rainforest.
Inland from Australia’s famed Great Ocean Road, the cool rainforests of the Great Otway National Park are home to massive tree ferns and cackling kookaburras. The rainforest is dotted with impressive waterfalls like the Erskine and Henderson falls, and in the park’s south, swaying eucalyptus trees along Otway Lighthouse Road teem with lazy koalas.
Best accessed from: Iquitos, Peru is one of this massive jungle’s best jump-off points.
Best hike: Most tours take place on the river, but several lodges near Iquitos offer access to a canopy walkway where the forest can be viewed from the top, down.
The Earth’s largest rainforest spans over eight countries and 1.4 billion acres. It’s fertilized (via natural phenomenon) by dust from Africa’s Sahara Desert and it’s home to jaguars, pink dolphins, toucans and -- our Saturday morning spirit animal -- sloths. Not to mention the isolated tribes who still live in this forest and are lucky enough to not know that Facebook is a thing.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Best accessed from: This big bunch of bamboo is easily reached via Kyoto’s public bus and train systems.
Best hike: The only trail here leads straight through the bamboo grove, leaving little room for error and providing a calming break from the language barrier you’ve probably been suffering under.
Trust us: the growth exhibited in this bamboo grove is IMPRESSIVE. Since sharing pics on social media became the main reason to travel, there’s zero chance you’ll have this grove to yourself, but the green-tinged walk through the towering bamboo stalks here has an undeniable otherworldly appeal nonetheless. Be quiet, and you’ll be able to experience the government-recognized sound of the bamboo stalks bumping with the wind.
Best accessed from: Baden-Baden, where a soak at the spa is the perfect follow up to a day in the woods.
Best hike: The region is known for its long-distance hikes (the famous Westweg Trail spans almost 200 miles), but from Baden Baden, the impressive Hohebaden Castle ruins can be reached in under an hour.
Hiking was allegedly invented in the Black Forest (assuming, you know, that hiking needed to be invented), but the region that inspired the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm truly offers explorers a happy ending. Many trails here culminate at a “vesperstuben” -- a German take on the snack bar that offers local specialties like Black Forest gateau and Black Forest ham. And beer. It’s Germany, after all.
Tandayapa Cloud Forest
Best accessed from: Quito -- Ecuador’s capital -- lies about two hours south of this misty region. Several lodges offer accommodation within the forest.
Best hike: Near Mindo, Casa Amarilla (yes, it’s a yellow house) welcomes visitors on the trails that crisscross its property for a small fee.
Colorful bird, plant, and insect life bring this damp, mountainous jungle alive. Keep a lookout for hummingbirds (you won’t have to look hard) and toucans, orchids, and air plants that look like they belong in an Urban Outfitters. Birdwatchers here are almost as prolific as the birds themselves, so be open to trying new hobbies.
Kelp Forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Best accessed from: Monterey Bay, California, where several dive shops operate daily dives.
Best dive site: The Breakwater is one of the state’s most popular dive sites, for its swaying strands of giant kelp and playful seals and otters. Point Lobos will do the trick, too.
The turbulent Pacific waters off of California’s coast provide the perfect supply of nutrients for fast-growing giant kelp, which can gain 10-12 inches in just one day and have formed dense underwater forests along the shores of Monterey. If you are not for SCUBA, the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to a groundbreaking kelp forest exhibit where local inhabitants include sardines, leopard sharks, and eels. If you do the dive yourself, sea lion sightings are almost guaranteed.
Sian Ka’an Coastal Biosphere Reserve
Best accessed from: Tulum -- tour companies in Cancun’s hip neighbor will arrange day trips to Sian Ka’an, but the more adventurous may be able to reach the Muyil entrance to the park via public transport.
Best hike: Aside from a couple of short walks through the jungle here, the focus is on a boat tour through a submerged forest of mangroves along the ocean’s edge.
Once you hop in a boat at Muyil, Mayan-dug canals through sprawling tracts mangroves are at your fingertips. Though this reserve is home to plenty of crocs, the canal waters are crystal clear, and most tours climax in a current-driven, boatless free-float. Look for dolphins and sea turtles amongst the mangroves, but don’t expect to set eyes on any of the five species of wildcats that call this reserve home -- they like to play at night.
Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park
Best accessed from: Morondava, via an 8-hour drive on the worst road you can possibly imagine.
Best hike: Any hike through the reserve’s Big Tsingy section with a guide that will keep you from getting lost, dying, or being impaled by terrifying spikey rocks.
OK, so this is more of a rock forest, per say, but the main draw at Tsingy is the ancient limestone formations that cover the 230-square-mile UNESCO site. A day-long trek through the region’s cave-like crevices and across janky rope bridges reveals a look into the life of 11 types of lemur, camouflaged chameleons, and various species of birds. Just be sure to focus on your footwork.
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Elspeth Velten is a contributing writer for Thrillist who once spent a day hiking through a Malaysian forest in search of an enormous, elusive flower that is known for its scent... of ripe, rotting meat. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.