For outdoor adventures, the UK is one of the best destinations on the planet, with a diverse collection of coasts, mountains, national parks and multi-day trails.
But on top of all that multi-faceted fun, the region is also home to some massive forests—so in this guide, we’ve brought you the top 10 biggest forests in the UK.
Most of the UK’s biggest forests are in Scotland, but a small few also sit in England. In this article, we’ve unpacked where they are, what you can do in them, and some other interesting facts and figures.
Read on, my foresty friends!
- Around 13% of the UK is made up of woodland.
- The UK has around 12,471 square miles (32,300 square kilometers) of forest.
- The biggest forest in the UK is Galloway Forest Park, in the south of Scotland.
- More than 70% of the UK’s ancient woods have been lost.
1. Galloway Forest Park
The biggest forest in the UK by a pretty big margin, Galloway Forest Park is absolutely huge, and it’s packed with stuff to do.
It’s probably most famous for its Dark Sky Observatory. Because the forest is in one of Scotland’s best and biggest areas of officially-designated dark sky, it’s an excellent place for stargazing. On a clear night, you’ll probably see more stars here than you’ve ever seen in your entire life.
The park also has around 60 resident roaming red deer, along with lots of lochs, waterfalls, ancient relics and plenty more.
And beyond all that, it’s one of Scotland’s most underrated hiking hubs—there are loads of great low-level wanders in the park. A popular favorite is the Loch Trool Circuit, but lots of people also hike up to the summit of Merrick, the loftiest mountain in southern Scotland.
If you’re looking for lots of adventures and activities in a UK forest, Galloway Forest Park is your best option—you could genuinely spend weeks here without getting bored.
- Region: Dumfries and Galloway, southern Scotland
- Surface Area: 297 square miles (770 square kilometers)
2. Kielder Forest Park
My favorite forest in the UK, I love exploring Kielder Forest Park.
I was born in Northumberland, so I’ve spent endless days of my life hanging around this tree-packed place.
Right in the north of Northumberland, and stretching all the way to the England-Scotland border, it’s home to Kielder Reservoir, the largest of its type in northern Europe.
Kielder is most famous as one of the UK’s top mountain biking spots, with lots of steep and challenging trails packed with features and tricky problems. But it’s also great for fishing, walking, horse riding, and spotting all of the weird sculptures dotted around the park.
And on top of all that, it’s home to Kielder Observatory, which sits in one of Europe’s biggest areas of dark night sky. Just like Galloway Forest Park, it’s a brilliant place for star-spotting.
For lots more information about Kielder, check out our bumper guide to the place.
- Region: Northern Northumberland, in the very north of England
- Surface Area: 235 square miles (610 square kilometers)
3. New Forest
Quite a lot smaller than the two biggest forests in the UK, the New Forest sits in Hampshire, in southern England.
Here, you get cycle routes, hiking trails, kayaking, archery, and the iconic (and charming!) village of Brockenhurst. And as a lovely little bonus, the New Forest partially sits on the coast, so you also get some excellent beaches. For sheer diversity, it’s absolutely brilliant.
The New Forest is a good place for spotting endless animals, with deer, ponies, donkeys and cows roaming around the forest.
If you’re looking for a great green day trip from London, the New Forest is a fantastic option—it’s around 90 minutes from England’s capital by train. It’s also perfect for anyone traveling with kids.
- Region: Southern England, stretching between Bournemouth and Southampton
- Surface Area: 104 square miles (270 square kilometers)
4. Argyll Forest Park
The oldest forest park in Britain, Argyll Forest Park was officially established in 1935, and it’s been one of Scotland’s most popular forests ever since.
Sitting northwest of Glasgow, it’s a brilliant day trip from the city—and it has lots of excellent and accessible day hikes. The area’s most famous challenging route is the Cobbler, but there are lots of low-level walks along rivers and lochs too.
Because it’s a long strip of a forest, the park is massively diverse, with lochs, peaks, waterfalls and even coasts. Some of its highlights include Kilmun Arboretum, Benmore Botanic Garden (one of the best botanic gardens in the UK), and excellent mountain biking routes.
And as a juicy added extra, it’s also one of the best places to see red squirrels in Scotland!
- Region: The western part of central Scotland, west of Glasgow
- Surface Area: 81 square miles (210 square kilometers)
5. Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
You’ve probably all heard of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, one of the most popular outdoor escapes in all of Scotland.
Well, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park sits right inside of it—and east of Argyll Forest Park.
Lots of the most famous sites in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park are actually also in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. The most well-known is (of course!) Loch Lomond itself, but the forest park also includes Loch Katrine, Loch Ard, and the mighty peak of Ben Lomond.
It’s a great spot for hiking. The Conic Hill wander is a massively popular route, and the views far outweigh the small effort exerted to get them—but there are way more lovely hikes in the area (including some of the nation’s best long-distance trails).
If you can’t be bothered with walking and cycling, there are lots of boat trips across Loch Lomond, and many charming towns and villages in the area. Balloch and Callander are two popular favorites.
- Region: Central Scotland, inside Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
- Surface Area: 77 square miles (200 square kilometers)
6. Thetford Forest Park
The third and final English forest on our list, Thetford Forest Park is in the eastern part of southern England, halfway between Cambridge and Norwich.
It’s actually the largest manmade lowland forest in the UK. Interestingly (or at least I think so), most of Scotland’s biggest forests are natural, while many of England’s largest forests are manmade (or at least largely rewilded).
But that doesn’t spoil the fun, and there’s still plenty to do. You get archery, ax throwing, a sculpture trail, an orienteering course, and some great waymarked walking and cycling trails.
The park’s High Lodge is a super popular place, great for families with kids. It has lots of family-friendly play areas along with a branch of the iconic outdoor adventure chain Go Ape. If you’re traveling with little ones, it’s definitely one of the best forests in the UK.
- Region: The eastern part of southern England, between Cambridge and Norwich
- Surface Area: 73 square miles (190 square kilometers)
7. Affric Forest
Affric Forest sits in Glen Affric, one of the most beautiful valleys (or ‘glens’) in the entirety of Scotland.
A alluring area packed with ancient native pinewoods, some people reckon it’s the best glen in the entire nation.
I love it because it’s one of Scotland’s best choices for remote and rural adventures. Some of the forests on this list are pretty popular and populated—but few people explore Affric Forest, so it’s a good choice if you want to get away from Scotland’s tourist crowds.
Sitting west of the sprawl of Loch Ness, it’s a brilliant place for hiking—and has some of the best day hikes you can tackle from Inverness. If you’re only going to attempt one hike here, I recommend the Loch Affric Circuit, which is a great introduction to the area.
In Affric Forest, you get towering mountains, remote lochs, ridiculously beautiful scenery, and endless adventures. It’s absolutely brilliant.
- Region: Scottish Highlands, just west of Loch Ness
- Surface Area: 69 square miles (180 square kilometers)
8. Tay Forest Park
Just south of Cairngorms National Park (the biggest national park in the UK), you have Tay Forest Park.
One of Scotland’s most underrated areas, most people skip this place in favor of the Cairngorms. But that’s not always a good idea, because there’s also plenty of stuff to do here. Make sure you explore Loch Rannoch, Loch Tummel and Loch Tay, and Drummond Hill fort, which has great views of the area.
Lots of historians reckon that Drummond Hill was the first ‘managed’ forest in Scotland, established with oak, birch and pine plantations back in the 17th century.
When you’ve seen all of this stuff, make sure you also explore nearby Pitlochry, one of the most popular tourist towns in Scotland (and one of my favorites).
- Region: Central Scotland, just south of Cairngorms National Park
- Surface Area: 65 square miles (170 square kilometers)
9. Glengarry Forest
If you’re using excellent Fort Augustus as your base for exploring Loch Ness, make sure you also head south and explore Glengarry Forest. It’s always overlooked in favor of Loch Ness, but it’s a brilliant place to visit.
Some of the area’s highlights include deer, red squirrel, salmon (massively popular with local fishers!) native pinewood trees, and lots of excellent hiking trails.
The river Garry, which runs through the forest, is a lovely place for a stroll—one of the prettiest rivers in the nation, I love hiking along the banks of this place. This walk along the river is a good choice if you like following a plan, but even an aimless wander can be lovely.
The river is also really popular with kayakers, who come to tackle the challenging rapids.
- Region: The Scottish Highlands, just south of the southern tip of Loch Ness
- Surface Area: 63 square miles (165 square kilometers)
10. Tweed Valley Forest Park
Okay, here’s where things get controversial. Buckle in.
The top 9 we’ve already featured are definitely in the top 10 biggest forests in the UK.
But no-one can really seem to decide which other UK forest belongs in the 10. Some think it’s Dornoch Forest (which would clock in at 4th!), but that’s actually a collection of small forests all in one area. Others think the last entry on our list should be the Forest of Ae—but as far as I can tell, Tweed Valley Forest Park is actually slightly bigger than the Forest of Ae.
If you think you know better (and you might!) leave us a comment, and we can chat about all the controversy.
Anyway, no matter where it belongs on a list, Tweed Valley Forest Park is a great place to visit, especially if you’re visiting southern Scotland. An underrated gem, it offers seven varied forests dotted along the river.
It’s one of my favorite areas in Scotland for cycling. I like road cycling here, but it’s also super popular for mountain biking.
And running through it all, you get the brilliant Tweed, one of the most beautiful rivers in Scotland.
- Region: Southern Scotland, between Edinburgh and the England-Scotland border
- Surface Area: 25 square miles (64 square kilometers)
Table of the Biggest Forests in the UK
|Galloway Forest Park||297 square miles (770 square km)|
|Kielder Forest Park||235 square miles (610 square km)|
|New Forest||104 square miles (270 square km)|
|Argyll Forest Park||81 square miles (210 square km)|
|Queen Elizabeth Forest Park||77 square miles (200 square km)|
|Thetford Forest Park||73 square miles (190 square km)|
|Affric Forest||69 square miles (180 square km)|
|Tay Forest Park||65 square miles (170 square km)|
|Glengarry Forest||63 square miles (165 square km)|
|Tweed Valley Forest Park||25 square miles (64 square km)|
What is the Biggest Forest in the UK?
The biggest forest in the UK is Galloway Forest Park, in the south of Scotland.
And it’s the biggest by a pretty big margin. Measuring in at a massive 297 square miles (that’s 770 square kilometers), you could add the 3rd, 4th and 5th biggest forests in the UK together, and Galloway Forest would still be bigger. Get this—it’s larger than the entirety of Singapore.
For outdoor activities and exciting adventures, it’s absolutely the best forest in the UK, packed with endless stuff to do. You get stargazing, mountain biking, the biggest summit in southern Scotland, and loads more fun stuff.
How Many Forests Are There in the UK?
This question depends upon how ‘forest’ is defined, and how sparse a ‘forest’ can be.
But it’s also more complicated than that. Because some forests naturally stretch into the confines of other forests, it’s very hard to define ‘how many’ forests are in the UK. Where does one forest end and another begin? And who decides if two small nearby forests are actually just one bigger forest?
It’s instead easier to define how much of the UK’s area is classed as woodland. According to these official UK forestry statistics, it’s “estimated to be 3.23 million hectares” as of March 2021. This means that the UK has around 12,471 square miles (32,300 square kilometers) of forest.
How Much of the UK is Made Up of Woodland?
Around 13% of the UK is made up of woodland (source).
And that might sound like a lot—but the UK is actually the second-least wooded region in all of Europe, which has an average wood cover of a whopping 44%!
If you’re looking for woods, Scotland is a much better location than the UK’s other three regions. Because it’s very remote and rural, Scotland has large pockets of wilderness, and lots of largely-untouched land to explore. It has way more woodland than the rest of the UK, by a pretty massive margin.
How Much Woodland Has Been Lost in the UK?
A huge amount.
It’s hard to know for sure, but according to this article, the UK’s ancient woodland was once being depleted and destroyed at a faster rate than the Amazon rainforest. And according to this source, more than 70% of the UK’s ancient woods have been lost.
Though the UK now has a lot less woodland than it once did, some of it has now been (sort of) restored. This brings us to…
Are There Any Reforestation Projects Happening in the UK?
Yes, there are many reforestation projects going on in the UK.
Some of the forests we’ve listed in this guide are even involved. Kielder, for example, is currently being rewilded, with many more trees being added to the park. Every time I visit the place, there are more baby trees popping up.
Some of the UK’s current reforestation projects are some of the biggest reforesting projects the region has embarked upon for many years.
But reforestation projects can be tough because when some native trees are lost, they’re lost forever—and they’re often replaced with dissimilar trees, which changes both the landscape and the biodiversity of the area.
Is Wild Camping Allowed in UK Forests?
That depends where you are.
Thanks to Scotland’s brilliant Right to Roam Act, wild camping is totally legal in the nation, so you can pitch up wherever and whenever you like (with the exception of some periods of the year in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park).
In the UK’s three other nations (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), wild camping isn’t legal (with the exception of a small few designated areas). But I think that’s absolutely ridiculous, so here’s my advice: as long as you’re being sensible and respectful, camp wherever you like, and don’t worry about the law.
(But don’t blame me if you wind up getting arrested).
Final Words and Further Reading
There they are—the 10 biggest forests in the UK!
Thanks for reading, and stick around for much more!