Our Favourite UK Forests To Visit

Forests are the lungs of our planet, playing a vital role in maintaining the balance of the air around us, and providing vital habitats for our diverse wildlife. In the UK we’re blessed with an abundance of forests, and there are few simpler pleasures in life than a couple of hours whiled away on well-trodden paths through the trees. But with so many beautiful forests to choose from, where to start? Whether it’s a sculpture trail with the kids, a mindful walk to find peace in nature, high adrenaline mountain bike adventures or camping out and testing your survival skills, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite forests from across the UK and a range of activities you can enjoy in them.

England

Kielder Forest, Northumberland

Although it's England's largest forest, Kielder is not just about trees. A quarter of its area is open space, including England’s largest area of blanket bog, whilst also being home to England’s biggest remaining population of red squirrels and Northumberland's only breeding osprey population. Uncover surprises such as the forest’s Minotaur Maze and the sculptural artwork Skyspace, or enjoy the stars at the dark sky observatory. Kielder lake too has beautiful walking trails, activities like fishing and one of England's largest mountain bike trail networks. Whether it’s adventure, tranquillity, or wild beauty you’re after, it’s likely you’ll find it in this awe-inspiring place.

Grizedale Forest, Cumbria

Set in the heart of the Lake District, in this wonderful place you can find breathtaking views of Cumbria’s lakes and mountains, stunning artwork and endless forest trails. Whether you explore it on two wheels, on foot or by horseback, keep your eyes peeled along the way for unique sculptures by some of the leading names in contemporary art which are dotted throughout (there’s a gallery space to visit as well). And that’s before you’ve even explored Grizedale’s extensive network of walking and cycle trails, including some of the UK’s best mountain bike routes. At Grizedale, you’re literally spoilt for choice!

New Forest, Hampshire

With its wide range of local, national and international protections, the New Forest has become globally important for its landscape, nature conservation, heritage and recreation. There’s certainly plenty to enjoy here whatever the season. If you love to get active, you can take part in everything from a simple stroll through the forest to a long-distance hike encompassing picturesque New Forest towns and villages like Brockenhurst, or pedal some of the 100 miles of off-road cycle trails that criss-cross the landscape. If your legs get tired, you can even explore the forest on horseback, take in the work of artists exhibiting in the art gardens at the Mill in Gordleton, or just enjoy a fantastic day out at one of the forest’s many family-friendly attractions, including a trip on a steam railway at the popular Exbury gardens.

Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire

This ancient forest has changed many times over the centuries. Today it is home to a wide variety of wildlife and makes for a great place to explore. The cycle centre at Cannop offers bike trails for all ages and abilities, whilst nearby Cannop Ponds is an idyllic spot to view local wildlife, including mandarin ducks. At the Cyril Hart Arboretum, you’ll be able to see over 200 different species of tree and a popular sculpture trail celebrates the forest’s trees, wildlife and industrial past. Lots of BBQ and picnic areas make the forest a great day out for families. Head for the visitor centre at Beechenhurst - as good a place as any to start your woodland adventures.

The National Forest, Midlands

The first forest to be created at scale in England for over 1000 years, over the last 25 years the National Forest has successfully turned large swathes of Midlands landscape from black to green, transforming the scarred damage of centuries of coal mining and heavy industry in the process. Nowadays the National Forest is a natural playground for you to enjoy activities like, walking, cycling, wildlife spotting and bushcraft skills, as well as being home to The National Memorial Arboretum - the UK's year-round centre of Remembrance. Featuring over 300 thought-provoking memorials for military, public service and civilian organisations and associations, along with tributes for individuals, walk around the memorial’s lush gardens, and you will uncover a whole host of fascinating stories.

Sherwood Pines, Nottingham

Exploring one of the Midland’s most well-known forests is guaranteed to set the scene for a great day out for all. A popular 5k circular running route takes you through a mixture of pine and broadleaf trees, whilst woodland trails offer great opportunities for activities like cycling, walking, horse-riding and orienteering. Sherwood Bushcraft also run a range of courses, events and residentials for people at all levels, from beginners wanting to learn bushcraft basics to those with more experience looking to master or advance their skills. The forest is also home to the Major Oak – the well-loved veteran oak tree known throughout the world for its connection to Nottinghamshire's legendary hero, Robin Hood.

Dalby Forest, Yorkshire

Located on the southern slopes of the North York Moors, Dalby Forest offers over 8,000 acres of spectacular woodland to explore and enjoy. Its dark sky status makes the Dalby Observatory one of the UK’s best places to observe the stars, with the Milky Way visible to the naked eye on the clearest nights. Hire a bike at Dalby Forest Cycle hub and you’ll be able to take on all kinds of trails from the family friendly to the highly technical. More extreme cyclists will want to head to the cycle skills area at Dixon's Hollow and the UCI World Cup course which is available to ride for anyone who fancies a challenge. Or if a gentle stroll and a picnic is more your thing, your options are plentiful on one of the forest’s numerous and accessible woodland trails.

Scotland

Galloway Forest Park, Dumfries and Galloway

Established in 1947, at over 774 km² Galloway Forest Park is Britain’s largest forest park. Often referred to as ‘the Highlands of the Lowlands’, explore the rolling lochs, glens and hills here and you’ll discover picturesque forest trails, dramatic ancient woodland, magnificent scenery, wonderful wildlife and a long and colourful history. Start exploring at one of the forest’s three visitor centres where you can get up close to some of Galloway’s resident red deer from a viewing area and hide, or between April and October enjoy the beauty of the park from the comfort of your car on a 10-mile scenic forest drive. Its status as Scotland’s first Dark Sky park makes this place one of the best in Europe to enjoy starry skies, and you can discover the wonderful woods, water, hills and history at Glentrool and enjoy tranquil views over lochs and hills at Clatteringshaws. The park is also home to two of the world-famous 7stanes mountain bike trail centres for the mountain biker lovers amongst you.

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Loch Lomond

The 50,000 acres of forest park here stretches from the east shore of Loch Lomond to the rugged terrain of Strathyre, encompassing mountain and moorland, forest and woodland, rivers and lochs. A haven of peace and quiet, magnificent views and a wide range of activities, the impressive Lodge Forest Visitor Centre allows you to get up close to a wide range of wildlife including Osprey with live CCTV viewing. The park is home to Britain’s largest off-road cycle network, ideal for families and mixed abilities, and offers pony treks along shady trails or gentle mountain ascents. A 7-mile forest drive takes you past the three picturesque lochs of Lochan Reòidhte, Loch Drunkie and Loch Achray where you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the breathtaking Trossachs scenery.

Wales

Coed Y Brenin, Snowdonia

Set within Snowdonia National Park, Coed y Brenin Forest Park was the first forest to be developed for the sport of mountain biking. To this day its reputation as the sport’s premier location remains unsurpassed. A range of routes suitable for everyone from families and novices to rocky technical trails for expert riders radiate out from the park’s stunning state of the art eco visitor centre. A mecca for the outdoor enthusiast, visitors can also enjoy walking, running, orienteering, geocaching and an animal puzzle trail, plus a range of special events throughout the year. For those with a sense of adventure, especially on two wheels, not making the pilgrimage to this special place really isn’t an option.

Afan Forest Park, South Wales

Located in Neath Port Talbot, from the park’s visitor centre an array of great walking trails snake along the nearby rivers, old railway lines, forest trails and high ridgelines, all crying out to be explored. Afan’s popular low-level cycle route ‘Y Rheilffordd’ (which means railway in Welsh), runs along the base of the valley and is a great trail for the family with picnic and refreshment stops along the 36km trail. Or you can let your adrenaline flow on one of the park’s six world-class mountain bike trails. A big draw for many, twisty, rooty, rocky and in places wildly exposed, the singletrack here is a mountain bike enthusiast’s dream.

Northern Ireland

Castlewellan Forest Park, County Down

Spread across 450 hectares of land, Castlewellan forest park has one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe. Tree enthusiasts from around the world come here to see the arboretum’s unique display of rare conifers, maples, Chilean eucryphias and Chinese rhododendrons and many of the trees here are the tallest of their kind in the UK. Elsewhere, a magical walking trail overlooks a mile-long lake and look out to for the spectacular Peace Maze - one of the world's largest permanent hedge mazes, planted at the turn of the millennium to represent the path to a peaceful future for Northern Ireland. 

Looking for other forest and woodland areas? You can find some near you using these links from our partners at Forestry England and UK Woodland Trust.


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