Beautiful forests cover about one-third of Earth’s total acreage. They provide the oxygen we need to breathe as well as sequestering carbon, that confounding climate change catalyst. Forests also protect our world’s water supply: When they disappear, we inevitably get deserts.
Despite these commonalities, these beautiful forests are impressively diverse. Each offers its own unique combinations of trees and understory plants. Each is home to a diverse array of animals, fungi, mosses, insects, and people. These forests produce all sorts of food for us to eat, and provide medicines that have healed humans for centuries.
In other words, forests are really, really cool, which is why so many of us want to explore them when we travel the world. Here’s a look at 10 of the planet’s most beautiful forests, each of which deserves a place on any nature lover’s world travel bucket list!
Collectively, there are over a million species accounted for in the rainforest’s vast basin. And who knows how many more are still waiting to be discovered? It’s also home to the world’s second longest and largest (by water flow) river.
Unfortunately, deforestation (especially in Brazil) has threatened one of the world’s most beautiful forests since the beginning of the 20th century. Yet the Amazon Rainforest basin still immense, stretching over 1200 miles.
The forest is as dense, hot, and potentially dangerous as it is beautiful. But it’s also a treasure trove of plants and wildlife, such as Rosewood, Jaguar, Manatee, and Brazil Nut.
READ MORE: Exploring the Peruvian Amazon
BIALOWIEZA PRIMEVAL FOREST
Bialowieza Forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that straddles Belarus and Poland. It earned this distinction for being a rare example of the old growth forests that once stretched across Europe, as well as a vital wildlife corridor.
In terms of animals, this beautiful forest is home to three different packs of Wolves, Bison, Wild Boar, and a variety of rare bird species. Some of the trees in the 1,191-square mile forest (which include oak, ash, spruce, etc.) are over 600 years old.
A source of true pride, especially for Poland, this forest has been under protection since the 1400s. It was once declared a royal hunting ground. During the Soviet era, it was used as a retreat for elites.
However, keeping it protected has not been without challenges. The Lukoil Project (initiated by a Russian oil company) as well as timber and development/expansion have all threatened it in recent years.
READ MORE: The Least Visited National Parks in Europe
CONGO BASIN FOREST
Considered the planet’s “second lung” (along with the Amazon), the Congo holds around 8% of the world’s forest-based carbon. The basin has many different ecosystems, including several forest savannas, a coastal forest, three large lowland forests, and a swamp forest.
Home to 40 million people, the Congo covers much of central Africa. Countries in its basin include Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia.
The Congo Basin Forest is home to thousands of unique species of plants and animals. The diverse array of wildlife species– including Elephants, Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Rhinos, and countless others– are beloved around the world, but increasingly endangered. There are also over 2000 species of orchids that are endemic to the basin.
Historians believe the Congo has been inhabited for over 50,000 years, and there are still indigenous tribes here that live hunter-gatherer lifestyles. The forest’s thick canopy of trees towers at around 100 feet, and is generally dense with flora.
READ MORE: Trekking with Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda
Daintree River, cutting through the rainforest, is replete with animals, with particular highlight given to the crocs and pythons. While the Amazonian rainforest may technically have more diverse plantlife, Daintree has the greateast number of rare flora of all the beautiful forests on this list.
Another knockout feature of visiting Daintree Rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is that it has the unique characteristic of bordering another UNESCO site, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Amazingly, the Daintree forest is believed to have survived here over 100 million years.
READ MORE: The Best National Parks in Australia
FORESTS OF NEW GUINEA
The forests of New Guinea are the third-largest block of tropical forest in the world after the Amazon and Congo basin.
These beautiful forests are home to many mammals that are completely unique to the island. Though it’s only one-tenth the size of Australia, New Guinea has just as many species of plants and birds, including the world’s tiniest parrot and most mammoth pigeon.
New Guinea also has the highest mountains east of the Himalayas. Due to the variances in altitude, the country has a huge range of climates, including the world’s only tropical glacier.
The lowland forests are the most diverse, with the tallest canopy. New Guinea’s montane forest is home to many weird animals, such as Scott’s Tree Kangaroo and the Cyclops Long-beaked Echidna.
The Miombo woodlands cover over 900,000 square miles in central Africa. They’re home to millions of people, and spread across Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Although the region is dominated by the Miombo tree, there are over 300 other species of tree and 8500+ different types of plants. Much of this vegetation goes towards feeding an amazing array of wildlife, including Giraffes, Rhinos, Elephants, and grazing Antelope.
Impressively, much of this forest is still intact. But it has recently begun to suffer due to ranching, agriculture, and charcoal production.
Equally (if not more) concerning is the rise in illegal poaching of Rhinos and Elephants for their horns and ivory tusks. Luckily, numerous conservationist and activist groups have worked to protect huge areas of these beautiful forests.
The beautiful forests of the western U.S. have to be on this list because they’re home to Sequoias, the biggest trees on the planet.
A Sequoia named General Sherman is the world’s undisputed largest tree (by volume). It is believed to be over 2000 years old, weighing more than 2.5 million pounds, and stretching over 275 feet tall.
The Sequoia groves are all located in south-central California, near the Sierra Nevada mountains. They can be visited in Yosemite, Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. Camping is available, and Black Bears are frequently spotted there.
There are coastal redwood forests (the tallest trees on the planet) in California as well. But those are along the northern coast, starting just below the Bay Area. Sequoia and Redwoods are often mistakenly considered the same, but they are actually distinctly different.
Sumatra’s rainforest is yet another that houses many rare and endangered species. Noteworthy animals found there include Tigers, Elephants, Orangutans, Clouded Leopards, Sun Bears, and quite a few others.
Additionally, the beautiful forests of Sumatra are still home to numerous nomadic hunting-and-gathering tribes. Of course, the ecosystem is also filled with diverse plant-life.
Unfortunately, Sumatra’s Rainforest is also among the world’s most endangered forests. It represents the most rapidly deforested area in the history of the planet. Some estimates suggest over half of it has been felled in the name of rubber, paper, and palm oil plantations.
Though many NGOs are fighting to save these forests, industrialization and corruption are proving formidable adversaries.
TIAGA BIOME/BOREAL FOREST
Taiga is the Russian name that is used globally for the nearly continuous belt of coniferous forest that stretches through the far northern reaches of Europe, Asia, and North America.
These beautiful forests cover over 10% of the planet and, other than oceans, comprise the world’s largest biome. Here the winters are long and brutal, while the warmer seasons only have a maximum of 100 frost-free days. Evergreens such as spruce, fir, and pine dominate the relatively untouched landscape.
Though the world’s rainforests seem to have more biodiversity, the Taiga also offers a host of impressive wildlife. Huge mammals such as Bears, Elk, and Moose are rampant throughout these forests, as are smaller predators such as Wolverines, Minks, and Pine Martins.
Perhaps most importantly, these boreal forests of the far north remain truly wild. And keeping this wilderness pristine will likely prove vital for us human to have any hope of a healthy planet in the future.
READ MORE: Polar Bears Photo Gallery
The Valdivian Rainforest is a temperate rainforest in the southern part of South America, between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific coast.
It’s ranked among the world’s most beautiful forests because it is considered a biogeographic island, meaning it is completely separated from other forests, oceans, and desert borders. The area is thought to have been inhabited by humans as far back as 12,000 BC.
At almost 100,000 square miles, this forest is full of national parks, beaches, rivers, lakes, islands, and hiking trails.
Due to its isolation, there are numerous endemic species that are exclusively found in Valdivia, such as primitive marsupials and Pudu, the world’s smallest deer. There are also many special trees, including the Antartic beech, Alerce (which is super tall and old), and monkey puzzle trees. –Jonathon Engels