The Christmas tree is a plant with a fairy tale image. Its conical shape brings a lot of joyful moods, and in the Northern Hemisphere, it reminds of beautiful snowy winter. But do you know what kind of tree it is in the wild nature? There are gorgeous forests around the world that consist of these trees. They are coniferous trees, and the forests they form are called various names- taiga, boreal forest, alpine forest, and more. Let’s make a journey to the 10 most beautiful coniferous forests in the world!
The image of a Christmas tree is well-known. Usually, it is a coniferous tree in perfect conical shape (because there are coniferous trees in shapes that are the same as the shapes of most broad-leaved trees). It has a sharp peak, and its branches descend symmetrically, sometimes like the sleeves of a gentle arm. Like this:
However, in reality, natural Christmas trees that we use are not so perfect, but have a round shape like this:
For this reason, the modern artificial Christmas trees tend to fit much better our imagination.
Tradition and image
The tradition of Christmas trees comes from the 16th century in Germany, as a distant association to the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth. It represents heavenly grace. The decoration on the tree is like hanging fruits, and these fruits are gifts. Finally, the star on the top represents the Star of Bethlehem.
And since the Christmas trees originate from Europe, which is in the Northern Hemisphere, it naturally began relating to winter, snow, and a “white fairy tale”.
Christmas trees grow in cold areas- in the far north or in the high mountains. So, they create not only a “snow winter” association but also an association of high alpine environment or wild boreal forests in our minds- this is their birthplace.
But what kind of trees are the Christmas trees?
Christmas trees are coniferous trees. The main types of coniferous trees are pine, spruce, and fir.
Sometimes, pines are used as Christmas trees, but their shape is not perfect. Spruces and firs fit much better the “Christmas tree” image- their shape is much closer to it. In general, it is often difficult to distinguish these two coniferous types- they can look almost the same. But only a closer look at their needle leaves can show what kind of trees they are.
So, in searching for Christmas trees in nature, we have to look for spruce and fir. They are also divided into many different species- some closer, others- farther from the “Christmas tree” image. And there are large forests on the Earth that literally consist of “Christmas trees”- wild, gorgeous, in harmony with freezing winter or harsh alpine landscape.
Types of coniferous forests
In general, geographically, there are three types of coniferous forests- tropical, temperate (mountainous), and boreal taiga.
Tropical coniferous forests
They are located mainly in the wet tropical regions- in Central America, in the lower foot of the Himalayas, partly in the mountains of South China, and in the mountains of Southeast Asia. In the Southern Hemisphere, specific coniferous forests can be seen in New Caledonia.
Some of the species have a “Christmas tree” shape, but since they almost never see snow and cold winter, they are somehow “too far” from the ideal. And in general, the whole environment has a totally different image- an image of “tropical paradise”, or hot-and-wet jungle.
Temperate (mountainous) coniferous forests
These are the coniferous forests in the high mountains that are located in the Northern Hemisphere, in the temperate geographic zone. They grow in the mountains of Europe- in the Alps, Carpathians, Balkans, Pyrenees, as well as in Norway.
In Asia, they grow in the wet regions of Turkey and Iran, but also in Tianshan, Karakoram, Himalaya, and Eastern Tibet. And in North America, they can be seen in the Rocky Mountains of the USA and Canada.
Depending on the geographical latitude and climate, these forests grow at a different altitude, creating a local vertical conifer zone. In this type of forest, you can see some of the perfect “Christmas trees”, in their best environment- and not only one, but millions of them.
In the north, these forests gradually descend to sea level, where they mix with the third type of coniferous forests- the boreal taiga.
This is one of the largest forest areas on Earth. There are two taiga regions- one in Eurasia, and one in North America. The boreal taiga grows on the vast northern plains in Russia, Finland, Canada, and partially Alaska (in Alaska these forests mix with the temperate mountain forests).
In the boreal taiga, you can find many of the same species that grow in the mountains. But there are also other species that are typical only for the taiga. And the taiga forests are not entirely coniferous- in some places, they are mixed with deciduous (broad-leaved) forests.
And again, this is the other place where you can find millions of perfect “Christmas trees”- again, mainly spruce or fir. Although the terrain is not mountainous but mostly flat, the harsh winter climate and the deep wilderness of these forests again provide a great “Christmas trees” feeling.
The 10 best coniferous forests in the world
So, let’s go on a journey to the 10 best coniferous forests in the world. All of them belong to the temperate, and to the boreal taiga forest areas. And in each of them, you can see countless of the best, most beautiful, and most gorgeous “Christmas trees” in their best wild home.
Hemsedal Forest, Norway
The wet oceanic climate of Norway is a perfect environment for coniferous forests. Here, summer is cool, and winter is not extremely cold. There are mountains that rise to 1000-1500 m altitude, only in some isolated places reach 2000 m and above. So, the coniferous forests in Norway are temperate mountainous.
There are many beautiful coniferous forests in the country, but one of the best of them is the forest in Hemsedal. It is located in the southern part of Norway, in the mountains between Oslo and Bergen. This forest is not so large in area. In fact, it is divided into clusters around the valleys and the summits.
Here you can see some of the most gorgeous “Christmas trees” in Europe. They are mainly spruces- the main species is the Norway spruce (Picea abies). Here you can see gorgeous, slender, and sharp-peaked spruces. Combined with the surrounding landscape of valleys, mountains, and rivers (with some waterfalls), the Hemsedal coniferous forests are a real forest paradise!
How to visit and explore Hemsedal Forest
Hemsedal is a resort village, located 200 km from Oslo, and 276 km from Bergen. There are buses from both of the two cities, two or three times daily. The buses from Oslo travel to Trøimhallen bus station in Hemsedal village. And the buses from Bergen are not direct, but you have to change to another bus from Eraker or Saltkjelen.
The total travel is about 5-6 hours by bus. You can also travel to Hemsedal by car which is much more convenient and faster- for about 4-5 hours.
Once you arrive at the village, you can enjoy hiking in the nearby mountainous area. There are a lot of stunning places you can enjoy. One of the most beautiful spots is Rjukandefossen Waterfall- in fact, this is the most iconic place of Hemsedal. The view is breathtaking, with a combination of a waterfall and the gorgeous “Christmas trees” around it.
Pallas-Yllastunturi Forest, Finland
Finland is mostly a flat country, full of lakes and rivers. Only in its northern parts, we can see some low hilly areas. The country stretches from north to south and a large part of it is covered by forests. These forests are a part of the large Eurasian boreal taiga zone. In the south, the coniferous trees are mixed with deciduous trees, but the north is “more coniferous”, and the higher hills are in a gradual mix with the Arctic tundra.
And here, in the north, where the boreal taiga touches the polar region, you can visit one of the most beautiful “Christmas trees” landscapes in Finland. This is the Pallas-Yllästunturi Forest, which today is turned into one of the most popular national parks in the country.
Here the coniferous trees are again mostly spruces. But unlike those in the temperate coniferous forests of Norway, the spruces in Pallas-Yllästunturi are thinner, lower, and sharper, which is more typical of the boreal taiga. Besides spruces, there are also some pines and birches. And in the hills of the national park, the forest gradually gives place to the polar tundra.
How to visit and explore Pallas-Yllästunturi Forest
Pallas-Yllästunturi is the third-largest national park in Finland. It is located in the far north of the country, in Lapland, at 1023 km from Helsinki. So, to reach the national park from Helsinki requires a journey that crosses the whole country from south to north.
Buses are traveling from Helsinki to Pallas-Yllästunturi. However, they are not direct, but you have to change them in the cities of Kolari, Rovaniemi, or Muonio. These buses are overnight, and the whole trip takes 16-17 hours. Other options are traveling by train to Kolari, or by air to Kittila, then again by bus to Pallas-Yllästunturi. And of course, you can go driving through the taiga forest of Finland, for about 12 hours.
Once you reach Pallas-Yllästunturi, you can freely enjoy a lot of activities- hiking, canoeing, picnic, mountain biking, camping, and in winter- skiing and watching the Northern Lights. There is no entrance fee. But since this is a national park, there are some restrictions that you must follow, designed to protect the wonderful northern nature. For more information, see here.
Virgin Komi Forests, Russia (Komi)
The largest boreal taiga forest in Europe is located in the Komi Republic, a part of Russia, in the northeastern ends of the West Russian Plain and the mountains of Ural. Basically, Ural is a low mountain chain, more like a low hill that seldom rises higher than 1000 m altitude. So, the forest there is not a mountainous type, but just a part of the taiga.
And this taiga area in Komi that is located on the Ural Mountains is called Virgin Komi Forests. It is a very sparsely populated area, where you can walk for a day without meeting a single human. It is so wild and virgin that the area is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The “Christmas trees” that can be seen there consist mainly of Siberian spruce and Siberian fir. These trees are usually thin, high, and sharp. In this area, they are mixed also with Siberian Larch, which is a coniferous tree but without a “Christmas-tree-like” shape.
How to visit and explore the Virgin Komi Forests
The Virgin Komi Forests are not a single place like Hemsedal or Pallas-Yllästunturi. In fact, it is a large area in the size of a middle-sized European country along the northern part of Ural. Its western part is located in Komi, and its eastern part- in the Khanty-Mansiysk and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Regions.
Parts of these forests are included in natural reserves. In the south, you can visit Pechoro-Ilychskyi Prirodnyy Zapovednik, where you can wander in the wild “Christmas trees” forest and the mountain tundra in the higher hills of Ural. One of the most interesting spots there is the stone pillars of Manpupuner. And in the north, you can visit Yugyd Va National Park- the wildest part of the Virgin Komi Forests.
Reaching these places is not so easy. There are almost no paved roads to the forests, so, visiting this area is adventurous- only by 4×4 vehicles on dirt roads, by bike, or by trekking expedition. Good starting points are the towns at the Pechora Riverbank, like Pechora, Danilovka, and Priuralskyi. The town of Pechora is reachable by train from Moscow, but the other towns- only by local boats and 4×4 vehicles.
But this is not the wildest forest. There is a more remote and wilder place than this- far eastward, deep in Siberia…
Tungus Taiga, Russia (Evenkia)
This is one of the wildest and less populated regions on the Earth, close in population to the uninhabited areas of Antarctica, Greenland, and Northwestern Tibet. In a territory as large as France and Spain together, there are no more than about 17 000 people. This is Evenkia, an autonomous district within Krasnoyarskiy Krai province in Russia.
The area is mostly known for the Tunguska Event- a meteoroid explosion that happened in 1908. It devastated a large area of the boreal taiga, but left no crater and probably didn’t kill anyone (or maybe only three people).
The boreal taiga of Evenkia belongs to the East Siberian Taiga zone. It grows on large and low plateaus, divided by long curving rivers, tributaries of the Yenisei River. The forests consist mainly of coniferous trees, as well as some deciduous (birch and more). Not all the coniferous trees are “Christmas trees”, but there are still a lot of Siberian spruces and firs. And everything is incredibly wild, far from human civilization!
How to visit and explore the Tungus Taiga
It is difficult. There are only two ways to visit the Tungus Taiga that are less difficult.
The first way is to fly to the village of Vanavara from Krasnoyarsk. Vanavara is known as the nearest settlement to the Tunguska Event site. But be prepared for a wild multi-days adventure. There are dirt roads that lead to Tunguska State Nature Reserve. And you must obtain a permit from Vanavara to enter the reserve. Once you are there, you can follow one of the trails to the meteoroid site.
Another option is to fly to Tura, the capital of Evenkia. Again, there are planes to Tura only from Krasnoyarsk. And once you arrive there, you can penetrate deep in the boreal taiga in the area, only in a wild adventure expedition style.
All other ways like off-road travel or on land expeditions that cross Evenkia are extremely challenging and normally require a team of professional survivors. But if you manage to arrange or join something like this, it would be a fantastic experience.
Yakutia Highland Forests, Russia (Sakha Republic)
We looked at the wildest coniferous forests in Europe, then to at the wildest coniferous forests in the whole world. Now, let’s look at the coldest coniferous forests in the world- the “Christmas trees” forests of Yakutia.
Probably, you have heard about Oymyakon, the Pole of Cold in the Northern Hemisphere? This is the place where a temperature of -71.2°C has been measured. And every winter, the area experiences the coldest average winter temperatures. Here, if the temperature in winter is -45°C, it is considered too warm!
And Oymyakon, as well as the other rarely scattered villages in this harsh land, are not established on naked tundra, but most of them are surrounded by sparse forests of coniferous trees. Some of them again consist of Siberian spruces and firs. They are not tall, but they are thin and sharp. Covered by snow and ice, they are like taken from a “Christmas” fairy tale.
How to visit and explore the Yakutia Highland Forests
There are two cities, located on both sides of this area. The first one is Yakutsk, the capital of Yakutia (Sakha Republic). And the second one is Magadan- a city at the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. These two cities are connected by one of the most adventurous roads in the world, called the Kolyma Highway, or the “Road of Bones” (built by GULAG prisoners during the time of Stalin).
And the best way to explore the forests of Yakutia is to travel on this road. On the way, you can make a detour to Oymyakon (it is not on the road but it can be reached from Kadykchan or Ust Nera). But it is not a “normal road”- it is not entirely paved and in summer, it is interrupted by crossing rivers. So, the best season to travel on it is in winter.
Don’t expect “public transport” on the road. Only proper vehicles can travel on it, and the best way is to join a tour by Poseidon Expeditions or Pole of Cold Expedition. And on the way, you can enjoy fantastic landscapes of hills with scattered “Christmas trees”, frozen in the severe Subarctic cold of Yakutia.
Tongass Rainforest, USA (Alaska)
Let’s go to North America. Here we can see a lot of gorgeous forests of “Christmas trees”, many of them growing in mountains. But some of them are located at the sea coast- not just at the coast, but on islands, fjords, bays, and straits.
This is the case with Tongass Rainforest- a wild forest area, located at the southernmost angle of Alaska, USA. This area is a seacoast archipelago, called Alexander Archipelago, but also includes the mountains and coastline formations of the nearby continent. Due to the high precipitation in Tongass, it is called “rainforest”, because the growth of the woods is closely related to the rain and snow.
Tongass Rainforest is a temperate mountainous forest, and it is not entirely coniferous. There are also broad-leaved trees and some alpine tundra with glaciers in the high altitude zones. But the coniferous trees still prevail, and many of them look like “Christmas trees”- these are Sitka spruces and Western hemlocks (fir-like conifers, but in a different sub-family). And all of this forms deep wild virgin forests with rich wildlife.
How to visit and explore Tongass Rainforest
There are several entry points for visiting and exploring this place. You can come here from the rest of Alaska, or from neighboring Canada- mainly by air, or by water. These entry points include Juneau, and the smaller towns of Port Protection, Petersburg, Craig, Hoonah, Sitka, Wrangel, and a few more.
The whole Tongass Rainforest is a national park and it is divided into 19 wilderness areas. It would need a longer time to explore all of them, but in general, you can just choose one or two areas and enjoy their nature.
In Tongass, you can do a lot of activities like hiking, canoeing, camping, or just combinations of the above. There are cabins in various places on the islands or on the continent, so you can spend the night there. You can watch the wild bears and many other local animals. Just don’t forget- this is a national park, so you have to keep the local regulations, designed to protect this amazing nature.
Great Bear Rainforest, Canada (British Columbia)
The forests of Tongass proceed further southeastward, and a similar environment can be found in the other rainforest at the Pacific Coast- Great Bear Rainforest. It includes most of the western Canadian coastline, without Vancouver and Haida Gwaii islands. Here the nature is presented by seacoast, islands, fjords, valleys, high mountains, and glaciers.
Like Tongass, this is a temperate rainforest in a specific terrain, where high mountains meet the seacoast, and where rain and snow play a significant role. It is a bit smaller than Tongass in size but still presents the same features.
Here, in the Great Bear Rainforest, you can see wild forests, mainly coniferous, and in some places- mixed with broad-leaved trees. Again, the local “Christmas trees” consist of Sitka spruce and Western hemlocks. There are also other conifer trees (like Western red cedar), but they don’t look so “Christmas”.
How to visit and explore the Great Bear Rainforest
Great Bear Rainforest can be visited from several entry points. They are Port Hardy to the south, Bella Coola, Bella Bella, and Prince Rupert to the north. Once you reach one of them, you can travel around the national park in various directions.
Have in mind that most of the routes are adventurous since the road network is very limited here. So, you can travel mainly on foot, or on water, and thus you can enjoy your own adventurous expeditions that include hiking, canoeing, cruising, camping, and other activities.
Great Bear Rainforest is also a home of rich wildlife. The name of the forest speaks a lot- there are a lot of bears, including grizzly and Kermode bears. Since this forest has national park status, you have to follow the local rules- for yours and for the nature’s safety.
Gifford Pinchot Forest, USA (Washington)
This is the best coniferous forest area in the USA, excluding Alaska. It is located south of the boreal taiga geographical zone, and if the terrain was low, there wouldn’t be such a forest. But now, there are the Rocky Mountains with peaks reaching more than 4000 m altitude. So, Gifford Pinchot is a temperate mountainous coniferous forest.
The forest area is located between three iconic peaks- Mt Rainier, Mt St. Helens, and Mt Adams. All of them are volcanoes, as Mt St. Helens is well-known for one of the most devastating eruptions in human history that destroyed a part of the mountains. Besides these mountains, there are many other peaks with alpine features. There are also a lot of lakes, rivers, and streams.
And all of this, below the alpine zone, is covered by a lush forest of “Christmas trees”. Here the “collections” of these trees’ species are rich- there are Douglas firs, Pinyon pines, Blue spruces, White firs, and more. But the most “Christmas-shaped” coniferous trees are the Subalpine firs and the Engelmann spruces.
How to visit and explore the Gifford Pinchot Forest
Gifford Pinchot National Forest has a national park status. It is located east of the road connecting Seattle and Portland, and in general, it is about 3 hours drive from both cities. The road 12 crosses the national forest from west to east between Mt Rainier and Mt St. Helens. Or, you can come from Mt Rainier National Park and enter the Gifford Pinchot Forest from the north.
There is no general entrance fee for the forest, but there are fees for various spots and activities inside. The basic of them is the Day ePass and National Forest Pass (5 USD per day) which allows you to drive inside the park and use the recreation facilities. Other permits and passes include Mt St. Helen climbing permit, mushroom picking permit, special use permits, etc.
With those permits, you can enjoy a lot of activities in the forest- hiking, mountain biking, kayaking (canoeing) in the lakes and rivers, mountain climbing, or just relaxing. There are mountain hotels and lodges where you can spend the night. Also, you can sleep in one of the campsites.
Now, let’s back to Asia.
Terskey Alatau Forests, Kyrgyzstan
In the middle of Asia, we can see a gorgeous mountain range, one of the highest on Earth. This is Tian Shan (Tianshan)- the Heavenly Mountains. These mountains extend with multiple branches from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan on the west to the middle of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China.
Most of Tianshan is covered by alpine grasslands and glaciers. But there are also some forests- one of the most beautiful coniferous forests on the Earth. They grow mainly on the northern slopes of the ridges. And the largest cluster of these forests is located in one of the Tianshan sub-ranges- Terskey Alatau, south of Issyk Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan.
These forests of “Christmas trees” consist mainly of the Asian spruce (Picea Schrenkiana)- a gorgeous tree with a sharp conical peak. This spruce can be seen in many other parts of Tianshan, but here, with the beneficial effect of the Issyk Kul Lake these spruce forests are the best.
How to visit and explore the forests of Terskey Alatau
The best starting point to explore Terskey Alatau is the city of Karakol, located near the southeastern coast of Issyk Kul. There are regular public vans (called “marshrutka”) from Bishkek to Karakol, and the whole trip is around 4-5 hours. Or, you can rent a car from Bishkek to Karakol, however, the mountain roads deep in Terskey Alatau are not proper for normal cars.
There are several valleys on the northern side of Terskey Alatau. The best and the most popular of them are Jeti Oguz, Karakol, and Arashan. Dirt roads start from the city of Karakol and the nearby villages to the south and penetrate deeply into the valleys.
In Jeti Oguz Valley, the road reaches the resort of the same name, as well as some local points of interest. In Karakol Valley, you can reach Ayu-Tor Ryce Camp. And in Arashan, you can go to the hot springs mountain resort Altyn Arashan. All these places are connected by a spectacular hiking route that also includes the alpine Ala-Kol Lake.
West Himalayan Forests, Pakistan
Finally, we arrive in the Himalayas, the highest mountain range on the Earth. It is known for Mt Everest and the other 8000-ers. And the image of the Himalayas in many people’s minds is this- giant snow-capped peaks, glaciers, deep gorges, and unique local culture.
But how about forests? There are tropical and subtropical forests in the foot and the lower branches of the Himalayas. But are there gorgeous alpine coniferous forests of “Christmas trees”? They would fit perfectly this fantastic mountainous landscape.
Yes, there are such forests, in the west and in the east of the Himalayas. And those in the west contain more gorgeous “Christmas-shaped” trees. They are Pindrow firs and Morinda spruces. These trees can be found in Nepal and India, but mostly in Pakistan, in Azad Kashmir, Chitral, and Swat areas.
How to visit and explore the West Himalayan Forests
First, of course, you have to go to Pakistan. The capital Islamabad, as well as Lahore, can be a good starting point for traveling to the mountains in the north-northeast. There are domestic flights to Chitral, as well as local buses to the main cities in the coniferous forest areas- Chitral, Swat, Dasu, and Neelum River Valley.
And if you are looking at the most gorgeous coniferous forests of all, you have to travel to Neelum River Valley. It is located in Azad Kashmir. The main towns and villages, as well as mountain resorts and hotels, are located in a chain, following the valley- Sharda, Kel, Phullawai, Taobat, and more.
But there is a problem- this area is too close to the so-called Line of Control that divides the Pakistani and the Indian parts of Kashmir. De facto, it is a border area and requires a special permit for foreigners that can be obtained from the local offices. Although recently the various restricted areas in Jammu and Kashmir starts opening for tourists, you’d better contact a local travel company to help you for a permit and No-Objection certificate.
More forests of “Christmas trees” around the Earth
These are the 10 most beautiful coniferous forests in the world, at least according to travelers’ (and mine) opinion. Of course, there are many other coniferous forests that are also very beautiful. I would also mention the forests in the plains of Canada, Labrador, more of Alaska, more of the Rocky Mountains in California, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, and other states.
In Europe, I would mention the forests in Sweden, in the Alps, in the Balkans (the mountains of Rhodopes, Rila, Prokletije, and more), in the Carpathians, and in the northern East European Plain.
In Asia, I would mention the coniferous forests in Northern Turkey, in the Caucasus, in Northern Iran, in Altay, Mongolia, Northeastern China, in Sakhalin. And also, I would mention more forests in the Great Tibetan Plateau (Eastern Tibet) and the Himalayas.
No matter which of these forests you go to explore, hike, and enjoy, the specific wild feeling there is somehow related to Christmas (although, of course, the routes of Christmas are totally different and come from the Land of Israel, where Jesus was born). And the wild and gorgeous beauty of the Christmas trees, as well as their fragrance always brings joy and longing for nature.
Check some travel books about the coniferous forests:
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