Let’s get something straight: Forest bathing is not a simple walk in the woods. Because let’s be honest, most of us when going for a stroll through the forest bring our phones along so we can document the whole thing, and maybe send some “look how I’m communing with nature” selfies to our friends.
Forest bathing, on the other hand, means truly stopping to appreciate the world around you. It starts with leaving your phone at home, and continues with mindful breathing, touching the earth, and clearing your mind of all the clutter of your life. The Japanese tradition of Shinrin-Yoku has been proven to reduce stress, improve health, and generally make your life better — so much so that the Japanese government has recognized it as a legitimate form of therapy since the 1980s. It’s now catching on in America, and if you’re interested in trying it, here are eight spots around the country perfect for forest bathing.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California
Just driving up Highway 101 to this Humboldt State Park feels calming, where for over 30 miles the highway’s flanked by giant redwoods speeding past. The “Avenue of the Giants” is also chock full of roadside attractions like trees you can drive through and huts carved into trunks. Continue to the park and you’ll be greeted by 100 miles of hiking trails winding through 300-foot redwoods.
Look for the bust of Julia Morgan — the woman who designed Hearst Castle — to find the park’s top forest bathing spot. It marks the trailhead to the Women’s Grove, a loop trail running through a stretch of redwoods that California women chipped in to purchase in 1923. Here you can marvel in the hard red trunks and bask in the shade they provide, while feeling the moisture in the air created by their respiration.
Olympic National Park, Washington
America’s only temperate rainforest is full of ferns, mosses, soft grounds, and towering fir trees that will help you escape into the beauty of Western Washington. The forest might literally bathe you, since it gets nearly 140 inches of rain a year. So pack your poncho and step between the old growth trees of the Olympic Peninsula, where you’ll gain wisdom from the Sitka spruces, Bigleaf maples, and western hemlocks that’ve stood for hundreds of years.
The spotted owls hooting overhead are a perfect soundtrack to a mid-afternoon walk, as brief breaks of sunlight shine through the moss-covered branches. Head to Lake Quinault and the Quinault River, where on a sunny day you’ll see the deep blue waters reflecting against a clear sky and emerald trees. Or follow the Sol Duc River to Sol Duc Falls, and relax to the power of the water dropping in the distance.
Forest bathing has become such a hot wellness trend that hotels and resorts have begun specializing in it. Take The Lodge at Woodloch in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, for example. The lodge employs certified Forest Bathing Specialists (yes, there is such a thing) to take guests on weekly classes through the resort’s 500-acre woodlands. During the class, which lasts about two hours, guests are taught lessons in breathing and mind-clearing while perusing the forest. And can even get the fun started on a meditation labyrinth just outside the main lodge.
Never ones to miss out on a chance to plug the spa, The Lodge also offers forest-bathing-themed spa treatments that include a “deep forest body treatment,” utilizing herbs, dandelion, and birchwood. To keep the mindfulness going, they’ll also send you on your way with information on how to maintain the meditative state so you can forest bathe closer to home.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Skip the hike to Clingmans Dome since during summer the only Serenity it’ll bring is a five-year-old with a weird first name. Instead, hit part of the Appalachian Trail that leaves from the dome towards Newfound Gap. You may find some crowds near the beginning, but they’ll thin out as the trees around you get thicker, allowing you to soak in the moss-covered branches and smell the earth at your feet.
If you’re looking to forest bathe away from the masses, take the Gave Mountain Trial to Hen Wallow Falls. The short, 2.2-mile trail will have you brushing ferns and rhododendrons on your way to the 90-foot falls. Here you can meditate to the sounds of cascading water without voices interrupting, then retreat to your campsite at the trailhead which even during summer is never packed.
A place literally called “Green Mountain” just screams for forest bathing, doesn’t it? That’s what the folks at Spruce Peak Lodge think, as the destination ski and golf resort has recently added forest bathing to its list of amenities. The weekly 45-minute excursion takes guests deep into the New England wilderness, where the shade and soil create a blanket of nature worlds away from real life.
In true Vermont fashion, guests are encouraged to walk through the woods barefoot, and though you’ll be expected to clean up before going back inside, the wet ground creates a stronger connection to nature. After teaching you to breathe in the fresh air of the forest, the resort offers follow-up yoga and meditation classes too. So you’ll return from Spruce Peak completely cleansed of whatever stresses you had.
The Arizona desert might not seem like the place to do anything involving the word “forest,” but the trails in and around Sedona make for the perfect place to escape to nature. The city’s vibe is very much one of mysticism, where energy crystals and psychic readings are more common than gas stations, and otherworldly red rocks surround nearly everything. Taking a walk out to Devil’s Bridge — one of the most photographed sites in Sedona — will have you grabbing onto hard earth as you ascend above a deep green valley. From the top, you can see 360 degrees of clear sky and let the warm, dry air fill your lungs.
For a more forest-like experience, head about 17 miles north of the city to the West Fork Canyon trail. Set along a babbling stream, this short hike brings you through cool trees, under rock formations, and over the water several times. You can wash your feet in the cold mountain creek and slide down bright red boulders while gazing up at walls pushed up from the ocean floor. It’s a variety of nature that lets you appreciate how diverse the planet is, and the ideal place to absorb the world’s energy.
Finger Lakes, New York
In addition to wine tasting and auto racing, New York’s Finger Lakes are also the perfect place to retreat for forest bathing. It’s one of the first regions in America to develop a region-wide forest bathing program with Finger Lakes Forest Bathing, which offers regular public walks throughout the area. Utilizing the abundant nature of the area, visitors can find almost weekly forest bathing excursions in places like the verdant Bristol Hills and Darien’s Drave’s Arboretum.
Leading you along the way are experts in mental health and horticultural sciences, who can both explain to you the plant life you’re walking through and how to truly step back and breathe it in. Prices are by donation, but your “suggestion” is typically between $40-80. Which might sound like a lot for a walk in the woods, but remember: This isn’t a walk in the woods. It’s forest bathing.
Greensboro, North Carolina
If you’re going to be North Carolina’s next great destination, first-class nature is a must. And the trail systems around Greensboro deliver, sending you deep into the North Carolina wilderness for a solid afternoon of forest bathing. Though the city’s greenways make for nice morning runs, to get into the thick of it drive a few miles from downtown to the watershed near Lake Brandi. From the road you can jump on the Piedmont Trail, the Palmetto Trail, or many other paths that circle the water.
Almost immediately, you’re surrounded by towering magnolias and pine trees, and as you gaze up at the blue sky between the branches you’ll hear water softly lapping up against the shore. Avoid the blackberry thorns and make your way to the waterline, enjoying the silence of the wilderness as a warm southern breeze hits your face. Along the trail, you’ll find clearings with sprawling meadows and colorful flowers, the perfect spot to literally stop and smell them all. Though a trip to Greensboro is never something you’d describe as “hectic,” the trails near the city still provide a perfect escape.
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