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It’s hard to overstate the benefits of forests to both the environment and our overall well-being. They help to create the oxygen that we breathe, regulate the climate, and provide habitats for millions of animals. It’s also scientifically proven that going for a walk in a forest is good for our health. In particular, pine forests — part of a tree family known as conifers, which produce cones — create rich ecosystems that support a variety of plant and animal life. (Not to mention, they supply us with holiday cheer in the form of Christmas trees.) Pine forests possess an intrinsic ability to enchant us with their mystical and jaw-dropping landscapes — here are seven stunning examples to add to your travel wish list this year.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (California)
Located within the Inyo National Forest, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest sprawls across 28,000 acres in eastern California’s remote White Mountains. This protected area is home to the world’s oldest trees, some of which date back over 4,000 years. The forest’s eponymous Great Basin bristlecone pines grow at high altitudes and in inhospitable environments. They are distinguished by their twisted forms and vivid, multi-hued trunks. Strolling through the forest’s Patriarch Grove can evoke an ethereal feeling due to the otherworldly landscape and eerie silence. It’s here that you’ll find the largest bristlecone pine on Earth, the Patriarch Tree. The forest also boasts the 4,853-year-old Methuselah Tree, the location of which is kept secret for preservation purposes.
Coconino National Forest (Arizona)
Occupying over 1.8 million acres in northern Arizona, the Coconino National Forest is one of the most diverse national forests in the United States. The forest blends alpine tundra, deserts, red rock canyons, volcanic peaks, and one of the world’s largest stands of ponderosa pine trees. It's also known for its bountiful wildlife: Elk, bald eagles, ospreys, and pronghorn antelope are common around the prairies and woodland that surround Mormon Lake. Hiking is a popular activity, particularly along the pine-covered plateau of the 200-mile-long Mogollon Rim escarpment. The forest also extends into the world-famous red rocks of Sedona.
Crooked Forest (Poland)
In a quiet northwestern corner of Poland is a groove of around 400 pine trees whose bizarre shapes have long baffled scientists. The majority of the trees of the Crooked Forest possess a 90-degree bend at their base that points due north. From the curvy base, they grow straight upward to heights of up to 50 feet. As is fitting for such a curious place, several hypotheses exist about how the trees took their unusual shapes. Some say that it’s due to a gravitational pull in the area, while others suggest that heavy snowfall flattened the trees when they were young. Another theory is that famers manipulated the trunk curvature to be used in the construction of furniture, ships, and wheels, but the site was abandoned when World War II arrived.
Kodaikanal Pine Forest (India)
British forest officer H.D. Bryant planted the first seeds at this human-made pine forest in 1906 with the idea of developing a timber plantation. Today, hundreds of trees reach skywards, while dried cones and leaves lay scattered along the pathways and wild mushrooms grow in the immediate surroundings. It all creates a magical scene that has become a favorite location both for tourist photo ops and movie filming. Bryant was also responsible for the creation of one of the town’s other natural gems; his eponymous park is a gorgeous 20.5-acre botanical garden home to over 700 species of roses.
Landes Forest (France)
Though its size and appearance give the impression that it has been here for centuries, the Landes Forest is another human-made forest. Planted in the mid-1800s, it was planned for economic development and replaced an area of sparsely populated swampland. The majority of this 2.5-million-acre forest consists of maritime pines; other species include alder, birch, and oak. One of the main beneficiaries of the forest is the Médoc wine region, which uses the trees to protect its vineyards from cold Atlantic winds. Biking and walking routes also make it a popular area for outdoor pursuits. Those who climb to the top of the Dune of Pilat are rewarded with uninterrupted views of the Aquitaine coastline and a far-reaching sea of maritime pines.
Sierra Juarez and San Pedro Martir Pine-Oak Forests (Mexico)
The Sierra Juárez and San Pedro Mártir pine-oak forests form a small, yet significant ecoregion in northern Baja California. It occupies a 1,500-square-mile area of the Sierra de Juarez and Sierra de San Pedro Mártir mountain ranges. At least 10 pine species flourish here, including Mexico’s only habitat of Sierra lodgepole pines and 230-foot-tall sugar pines, which are the country’s tallest pines. Thanks to the inaccessibility of the mountains, the majority of the forest is in pristine condition. The region’s combination of arid terrain and temperate forests provides habitats for varied wildlife. Among the many species are bobcats, coyotes, pumas, bald eagles, California condors, and pinyon jays.
Thetford Forest (England)
The Thetford Forest is one of the newer forests in Great Britain and also the largest lowland pine forest on the island. This 46,280-acre forest was planted after World War I as a timber reserve and a way to recover the slow-growing trees that had been lost during the war. It features large stands of Corsican pines, Douglas fir, and Weymouth pines, in addition to broadleaf plants and wide-open heathland. A fascinating feature of the forest is that it stands over prehistoric flint mines and Bronze Age burial mounds. Visitors can descend 30 feet underground to explore the mine pits of Grime’s Graves.