Fantasy stories can be set in any imaginable location, but nothing beats the enchantment of a lush and sprawling forest. And there are many weird and wild forests that exist right here in our reality that seem like they could only have come from a fantasy universe. Whether it’s a twisted grove that would make a perfect home for a witch or a nymph; a dark, mysterious possibly haunted wood; or a stand of alien baobabs that would fit in a Star Wars movie (yes, those films are classified as fantasy), the world is rich with fantastical forests. Here are eight of them.
Nearly completely overrun by moss and greenery, Wistman’s Wood in southwest England looks as though it hasn’t been visited by human beings in centuries. This is largely due to the fact that the forest floor is covered in treacherous boulders, which would be hard to traverse even if they weren’t covered in moss. The gnarled, twisted branches of the trees that manage to grow up between the rocks give this forest an even more magical atmosphere.
This bizarre Polish forest would appear to have been subject to some odd warlock’s spell, as all the trees have grown in a hook shape. No one is quite sure why these trees have bent and curved, but the going theory is that a farmer trained them into their shape in order to make furniture from them, but never harvested his work. Alternative theory: witchcraft.
The quintessential fairytale forest, the Puzzlewood of Gloucestershire is even named like something from Lord of the Rings, which it is said to have directly inspired. This dense forest is run through with narrow paths between moss-covered stones and gnarled old trees, with creaky looking bridges and boardwalks set into the walkways. The forest’s own website bills it as “a magical woodland.”
Zhangjiajie Shi, China
Located in China’s southern Hunan Province, the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a surreal expanse of stone spires that have greenery growing in every crack and crevice. The forest floor is carpeted with trees and burbling streams that run in between the valleys and gorges among the sandstone columns. This landscape was the inspiration for portions of the planet Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar. One of the spires in the park has even been renamed the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.”
The slightly curving rows of trees that cover the entirety of Finland’s Tree Mountain look like they might as well be growing at the behest of some arcane plan, but really it’s just art. First planned in 1982, this artificial forest was literally built from the ground up, beginning with the hill, then the 11,000 trees that were planted in a spiral formation radiating from its pinnacle. This forest blurs the line between druidic woods and land art.
With just 33 trees, this tiny Alaskan grove barely counts as a forest, but it still claims to be the smallest “national forest” in the U.S. It looks like it might as well be a special little fairy grove. Poking up out of the Alaskan brush, the mini forest is all that remains of an attempt to plant a grove of Christmas trees for nearby military personnel. The plan didn’t really work out, but the little forest has hung on.
While the forest lining the Malagasy road now known as the Avenue of the Baobabs is sparse, it still looks fantastical. Many of the massive trees in the area are more than 800 years old, and look as though they grew in some alien ecosystem.
(Photo: Heinonlein/CC BY-SA 4.0)
Ballymoney, Northern Ireland
Another forest that lines a road and has a name straight out of a fantasy novel, Northern Ireland’s Dark Hedges have been grown to create a natural tunnel that looks like the gateway to some mysterious adventure. The rows of beech trees that make up the hedges were planted by an 18th-century family as a lead-up to their estate, but have grown into a hauntingly atmospheric forest fit for fantasy. TV location scouts have felt its magic—Game of Thrones fans will recognize the Dark Hedges as the Kingsroad traveled by Arya Stark in early season two.