Considering all the brands of extra-soft, ultra-cushioned toilet paper on supermarket shelves and junk mail stuffed in mailboxes these days, and it's no surprise the world's forests are shrinking at alarming rates. Every year, according to the United Nations, the world loses 13 million hectares of forest. So, in order to raise awareness on sustainable management and conservation of these leafy (and pine-y and jungle-y) paradises – which are beloved destinations for adventure travelers – the UN has designated 2011 as International Year of the Forest.
And with spring in full bloom and Earth Day (April 22) on the horizon, this is an ideal time to visit one of the world's most majestic forests. Even if you arrive by car or plane, try to explore them with minimal impact by walking, hiking, or biking.
Muir Woods (www.nps.gov/muwo): Just 11 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and the perpetual bustle of San Francisco lies this awe-inspiring 560-acre expanse of protected redwoods, including giant sequoias and coast redwoods, which are the world's tallest living things. Stroll along the six miles of paved trails and just try not to feel humbled among these towering monoliths, most from 800 to 1,000 years old and some reaching heights upwards of 250 feet. Forest creatures like river otter, fox, deer, and owls are also commonly found.
The Amazon Rainforest: This immense South American ecological wonderland – it's larger than Europe and spans nine countries (though Brazil has two-thirds of the forest) – has been a coveted destination of hardy travelers for centuries. It's teeming with exotic wildlife, ancient cultures, and never-ending challenges for the adventure-minded (piranha fishing, anyone?). Over the last decade, many more outfitters have added excursions here, hopefully bringing awareness to the plight of the region's rampant deforestation. During the past 40 years, almost 20 percent of the rainforest has been cut down – that's more than in all the previous 450 years since European colonization began.
Banff National Park: The first of Canada's national parks (and the third in the world) had humble beginnings as a small hot springs reserve, discovered by railway workers in a cave during the late 1800s. Now, the park, located in the Canadian Rockies, spans 2,564 square miles of rugged forest and wilderness where grizzles, caribou, and wolves roam. It draws millions of visitors each year and, with rafting, hiking, and horseback riding among the outdoor offerings, is one of Canada's premier adventure travel destinations.
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