Photo by Kazuki Yamakawa/Shutterstock
A visit to one of these enchanted woodlands is a restorative experience. Here’s how to see some of the oldest forests on Earth.
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Getting back to nature can be like going back in time—especially in the world’s most ancient wooded areas, some of which are home to the oldest life forms on Earth. Wandering through these mystical forests is a wonderful way to find a refreshed perspective. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your pack, and prepare to find new focus in some of the most ancient places on our planet.
Tasmania’s Tarkine woodlands give a glimpse of what life on Earth looked like 300 million years ago. This temperate rain forest in Australia is home to the second oldest living tree species on the planet: the remarkable 3,000 year-old Huon pines. To explore this ethereal area blanketed with trees, waterfalls, rivers, caves, hills, and moorlands, bunk at Bonorong’s Tarkine Trails’ Tiger Ridge, a hike-in only glamping getaway just over a half mile into Tasmania’s wilderness. The isolated camp leads four-day excursions through the most beautiful parts of the Tarkine, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a Tasmanian devil.
The Chilean pine tree that spans the country’s Lake District is thought to have evolved its peculiar paintbrush shape to ward off herbivorous dinosaurs during the Jurassic period. The Araucaria tree, which can live for approximately 1,000 years, grows in many parts of the Chilean Andes, but the forest is most spectacular set against the backdrop of piercingly blue lakes and snowcapped volcanoes in Conguillío National Park and Tolhuaca National Park. Head to Chile’s Araucanía region in November and you’ll catch the coning season, which yields pineapple-shaped conifers that produce seeds the indigenous Penuenche and Mapuche people use in local dishes.
The moss-covered roots of Yakusugi trees, also known as Japanese cedars, have been steeping in the woods of Yakushima island for an estimated 7,000 years. This subtropical forest was considered so beautiful by Japan’s 17th-century royalty that the lush landscape was recreated in a garden on the mainland, and in 1993, the Yakushima Forest was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, stepping into these fairy-tale-like woodlands is fairly straightforward: The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine offers low-intensity trails and the most easily accessible spots in the forest, including the landscape that inspired surreal anime classics like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
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Located at nearly 10,000 feet in the California highlands adjacent to Sequoia National Forest, this grove is home to some of the oldest living trees on Earth. The most ancient among the protected forest’s bristlecone pines—which are characterized by their unusual-looking twisted forms—is Methuselah, a tree estimated to be 4,841 years old. To walk among these sculpture-like natural spectacles, visit the Inyo National Forest, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles.
Brazil and Peru
For 55 million years, the Amazon has been home to an astonishing array of wildlife—at least 10 percent of the world’s known biodiversity, to be exact. The region represents the largest remaining tropical rain forest in the world and spans the greater parts of Brazil and Peru (but also includes portions of Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia). The depths of Amazonia are still largely inaccesible, but you can arrange rain-forest tours in many regions along the jungle’s perimeters. In Peru, the easiest gateways to the rain forest are through Pulcallpa, Puerto Maldonado, and Iquitos. In Brazil, the quickest Amazon entry point is through Manaus, which has an international airport served by many carriers, including American Airlines.
This ancient rain forest north of Brisbane is an estimated 180 million years old (which makes it more than twice the age of the Amazon). The Daintree region stretches approximately 460 square miles and is the largest continuous tropical rain forest in Australia. It’s also recognized as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Wet Tropics of Queensland—one of the most significant regional ecosystems on the planet. In Daintree National Park, the Mount Sorrow ridge trail is about 4.5-miles long and takes between six and seven hours to hike, but the rewards are well worth it. The route leads you through the rain forest to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the Great Barrier Reef.
Poland and Belarus
Białowieża Forest is one of Europe’s last remaining stretches of old-growth forests. In the Middle Ages, the lowland forest served as hunting grounds for medieval kings and tsars. In the early 20th century, Poland and Belarus declared the area—which lies on the border of both countries—a national park, and in 1979 the forest became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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At 580 square miles, Białowieża Forest isn’t difficult to explore. You can start in the village of Białowieża, Poland, or begin from Belarus in Brest or Kamyanyets. While hiking, keep an eye out for herds of European bison. After being liberated from zoos and brought to the forest by the government, roughly 900 of the endangered bison now roam freely and serve as a symbol of the woods.
The oldest tree in this forest, known as Tāne Mahuta—or “Lord of the Forest”—is an estimated 2,300 years old and stands at 150 feet tall. This coniferous tree was one of many in Waipoua Forest that was almost wiped out when European settlers arrived in the 19th century and started cutting kauri trees down for wood. Luckily, the ancient forest in New Zealand was designated a sanctuary in 1952 and has since been left largely undamaged. To wander among these towering trees, rent a car in Auckland and drive three hours along the North Island’s coast.
Hundreds of years ago, the ancient trees that line the Avenue of the Baobabs were part of a tropical forest dense with Adansonia grandidieri, a strikingly beautiful tree endemic to Madagascar. After years of deforestation, only around 20 of the species—commonly known as baobabs—still stand tall along the famous dirt road. In their peculiar shape and unique “upside-down” stature, these majestic trees are particularly imposing at dawn and dusk. To get to this landmark on the Indian Ocean island, fly from Johannesburg to Antananarivo; the capital city is a three-hour direct flight on South African Air.
This temperate rain forest in Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States. At 16.7 million acres, Tongass National Forest takes up a vast stretch of southeast Alaska. The Tongass is home to some of the most well-preserved old-growth forest in North America—many of the trees are estimated to be over 800 years old. Deer Mountain trail, a difficult but popular 6.7-mile hike, traverses lush sections of the U.S. national forest. But don’t go trekking alone: Even the shorter routes are steep and challenging, and the area is filled with diverse wildlife, including wolves and grizzly bears. To find a local trekking guide, head to the nearby town of Ketchikan.
This article originally appeared online in November 2015; it was updated on June 22, 2018, to include current information.
>>Next: 8 U.S. National Parks You Need to See in Your Lifetime
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