10 Beautiful Surreal Forests Fit for a Fairy Tale

A single tree alone is a majestic thing, but a throng of them together growing in the wild transforms majestic into magical. Forests cover around 30 percent of the Earth's land surface and play an integral role in the health of the planet, but they also offer a storied place of mystery and enchantment. Hardly a classic fairy tale is told without the woods as a supporting role. While there are forests and woods of every stripe, we've gathered a few here that stand out for their uniqueness. The list is certainly not exhaustive but features some of the more curious collections of trees on the planet...a brief walk through some of the world's dreamiest, most extraordinary woods.

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Zhangjiajie National Forest, China

credit: chensiyuan/Wikimedia Commons

Pictured above, this wildly beautiful forest is located in Zhangjiajie City in China's northern Hunan Province. Covering an area of nearly 12,000 acres, it is an officially recognized UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. And is it any wonder?! With a forest coverage rate of more than 98 percent, the green is punctuated with more than 8,000 pillar formations.

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Yili Apricot Valley, China

credit: China Tour Advisors

Now we're approaching the happy Disney type of fairy-tale forest; all the wicked stepmother stuff behind us and the princess and her prince finally get to settle down. Because this is a giant forest of blushing apricot-blossom festooned trees. Apricot Valley is breathtaking, and is the largest apricot forest in the province of Xinjiang, China, located in Xinyuan County close to the border of Kazakhstan. Every year from June to September the valley is flooded with blooms, making it one of the straight-out prettiest forests on the planet. Meanwhile, the countries that produce the most apricots are Turkey, Iran, Uzbekistan, and Algeria – are their apricot valleys as lovely?

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Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

credit: Frank Vassen/flickr

Not so sure that 25 trees can be called a forest, but this grouping of baobabs (Adansonia grandidieri) is a striking reminder of the forest heritage of Madagascar, and worthy of inclusion. Lining a dirt road in the western part of the island, the oddly blobby baobab trees can live to be 800 years old and are known locally as renala, meaning mother of the forest. They reach up to 100 feet tall! The trees once stood crowded with other flora in the dense tropical forests that fruitfully covered the island; as human population spread, the forests were cleared – yet the beautifully bizarre baobab trees were spared. They do look a bit lonely, but serve as a potent reminder of forests past.

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The Crooked Forest, Poland

credit: Kalasancjusz

The Crooked Forest is comprised of some 400 pines trees all with a serious crook. Located outside Nowe Czarnowo in West Pomerania, Poland, no one is exactly sure what is going on here; especially since the wonky trees are within a forest of perfectly straight one. It is suspected that the human hand was involved, though by which tools or techniques, or better yet why, remains unknown. Speculation includes intentional deformation to create curved wood for building; though some think a prodigious snow could have causes the curves. Nobody has suggested the spell of a sorcerous, but really, nobody knows...

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The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

credit: Paul J Martin

Game of Thrones, anyone? More grove than forest, this striking arcade of beech trees was actually planted in the 1700s as a landscape feature near Ballymoney in Northern Ireland – but have served as forest muse to the troves of tourists who come to photograph the incredible array. This one goes in the "future forest" file, as we dream of more of these wonderfully animated beech trees taking over the land to create one of the most enchanted forests around. And in the meantime, they have actually served well as the King's Road in HBO's Game of Thrones.

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Forest of San Doong Cave, Vietnam

credit: Son Doon Cave

Nestled deep in the largest cave known to man is, of all things, a forest. True story. The 5-mile long cave with 500-foot ceilings comes complete with its own river and several areas of rainforest courtesy of collapsed ceilings that have created skylights. In comes the sun, up comes a forest to greet it. It’s one of the most incredible “lost world” places on the planet, as you can see in the video below.

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Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean, England

credit: Stuart Herbert/flickr

Tucked away in the Forest of Dean in western Gloucestershire, England, is Puzzlewood. This incredibly evocative woodland is home to gnarled trees and twisted paths, like something straight out of JK Rowling's wonderful brain – though it is said to have inspired J. R. R. Tolkien for Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings. Especially enchanting are the moss-enshrined rock paths that snake through the woods; likely the remains of collapsed caves, they offer this spot of forest a feature magical enough to make any wizard happy.

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Dragon's Blood Forest, Socotra Island

credit: Valerian Guillot/flickr

220 miles from mainland Yemen exists an isolated island called Socotra. And on Socotra is a strange collection of flora and fauna specifically adapted to suit the hot and harsh island, including the wonderfully weird dragon's blood tree. Looking like odd Dr. Seuss mushroom trees, Dracaena cinnabari, has a curious skyward orientation to enable the collection of moisture from the highland mist, while also creating shade to protect the seedlings sprouting up beneath the adult tree. But maybe best of all? They have cool red sap, hence, their name.

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Sunken Forest, Kaindy Lake, Kazakhstan

credit: Milosz Maslanka

In Kazakhstan’s Tian Shan Mountains sits Kaindy Lake, a 1300-foot long lake created after an earthquake in 1911 triggered a landslide that created a natural dam. In the process, a large grove of spruce was flooded to become the hauntingly beautiful Sunken Forest. One especially special part of this place is that while the trees are bare above, the cold serene water below has preserved the pine needles, so that from beneath the surface it appears to be a living forest.

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Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Japan

credit: Jordy Meow/Wikimedia Commons

OK, this forest is the spookiest, and saddest, on the list. Known variously as the Suicide Forest or the Sea of Trees, Aokigahara has the tragic distinction of being the world's second most favorite site for taking one's own life. (First place goes to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.) Located at the northwest base of Mount Fuji, the forest is said to be "the perfect place to die," with between 10 and 30 suicides per year. Knowing the strong salubrious effect that trees can have on one's spirit, we can only hope that being in the presence of the great forest may have changed a few minds over the years.

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Birch forests, Russia

credit: Rozakov Dmitry

Our last stop on this armchair tree tour are the birch forests of Russia, where the towering birch serves as the national tree. Because after all is said and done, it's hard to beat the fairy-tale elegance of tall slender white trees glittered with white snow and shooting forth from a sparkling white ground. Not sure if unicorns like the cold, but if so, then here is most certainly where their lairs are hidden.