(The Great Outdoors)

Go Off The Beaten Path With These Forest Bathing Retreats

You don’t have to travel far.

by Alexandra Owens
TZR/ Stocksy

It’s not your typical walk in the woods. Often described as a slow, mindful stroll through nature, forest bathing — also known as shinrin-yoku — started in Japan during the 1980s in response to the rise of karoshi (death from overwork) culture. Now, in a world where stress has become the norm, forest bathing is on the rise across the globe — and people are willing to travel for the perfect place to cure their burnout.

“This is not exercise or hiking or jogging,” says Dr. Qing Li, a founding member and chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine and author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. “It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Forest bathing is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”

Broken into 10- to 20-minute sections called invitations, traditional shinrin-yoku encourages you to experience nature through specific senses. For example, your guide might invite you to pick up a handful of soil or sit under a tree in silence. While forest bathing might sound a lot like meditation, that level of concentration isn’t the point. “People may end up getting distracted and follow a bird,” says Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs and author of Your Guide to Forest Bathing. “There's no right or wrong way to do it. A lot of people are good at the art of ambling, and forest bathing is more like that.” While forest bathing doesn’t require a guide, most experts suggest going with one at least once or twice to get the concept down.

If this all sounds a little too metaphysical or outlandish, know that the health benefits of forest bathing are rooted in research. Medical experts including Li have discovered that shinrin-yoku can boost your immune system, reduce stress hormones, help with depression, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep quality, among other advantages. As people have come to accept the science behind forest bathing, shinrin-yoku conferences and official networks to certify and train forest therapy guides have sprung up around the world, further legitimizing the practice, which draws inspiration from ancient Shinto and Buddhist beliefs.

Elke Meitzel/Moment/Getty Images

“Wellness in general has become much more mainstream in the past 15 years,” says Hope Aguirre, wellness director of Tutka Bay Lodge in Alaska. “People are pursuing holistic approaches to solving modern issues.” This isn’t an accident. Many non-Western therapies, such as yoga, reiki, and yes, forest bathing, emphasize treating chronic stress, which has become so prevalent it’s been labeled the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organization. Stress is also a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States.

When COVID-19 forced society to temporarily slow down and seek socialization in wide open spaces, Cath Wright, a forest therapy guide and founder of Highland Quietlife in Scotland, found that many people developed a fresh appreciation for the freedom of being out in nature. “Forest bathing was a perfect way for us to get back outside in the fresh air with small groups of other people,” she says.

Now more people than ever are trying forest bathing, resulting in a wave of jetsetters who have embraced shinrin-yoku. But not all forest bathing destinations are created equal. Japan boasts around 60 official forest therapy trails designated by the Forest Therapy Society that meet stringent criteria according to temperature, noise, humidity, colors, and even organic compounds given off by trees, such as alpha-pinene (which is believed to have a calming effect). These selected paths and forest must “gratify all the senses,” says Li.

While you shouldn’t get too hung up on data when choosing your own forest bathing site, the experts do have a few tips. “I’m always looking for biodiversity,” says Clifford. “For example, in California, I don’t like to guide in the coastal redwood groves because they’re monoculture. I much prefer the mixed oak and bay woodlands along the creeks.” Not only do older, biodiverse forests tend to be healthier, they offer more to examine and meditate on.

Aguirre, meanwhile, recommends looking for a destination with coastal growth. “As humans, we are happiest when we’re by the water and when we’re by the forest. So when you find the combo, your brain knows you’re biologically meant to be there.”

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to look for a place that’s comfortable, safe, and naturally appealing, which varies from person to person. “Find somewhere you can sit and calm your mind down by looking at what’s in front of you. Often it’s a case of just following your heart and seeing where it tells you to go,” says Wright.

Here are some of the top places to experience forest bathing around the world.



The number one stop on any jetsetting forest bather’s itinerary should surely be the birthplace of shinrin-yoku: Akasawa Natural Recreational Forest. Enlist a trained therapist to lead you through towering groves of Kiso cypress trees that have been protected since the early Edo period. Because shinrin-yoku is widely embraced in Japan, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities for guided forest bathing throughout the country’s enchanting national parks. For a five-star experience, book a stay at Sankara Hotel & Spa Yakushima on the southern tip of Kyushu in Yakushima National Park. The virgin, mossy forest that covers 75% of the island is so pristine it inspired Hayao Miyakazi’s otherworldly film Princess Mononoke.



From the ancient pines of the Caledonian Forest to the wild moorlands, forest bathing in Scotland’s legendary woods feels like stepping back in time. “We call them granny pines,” says Wright. “They’re just beautiful, big trees. I really like to think about the history of the forests, and who has walked here before.” Make your way through the Douglas firs and along the waterfalls of the Hermitage or treat yourself to a weekend at Glenapp Castle, a five-star, fairytale estate dating back to 1870 that offers guided forest bathing on its 40 acres of parkland overlooking the Irish Sea.


@jsleeve_ak for @travelalaska

For transformative forest bathing in the U.S., head to the Last Frontier. The largest state still boasts expanses of unsettled land, including the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, the country’s largest national forest and one of the last old-growth temperate rainforests in the world. “A lot of forests in the lower 48 have been cut down in the past 100 years, and you don’t see the undergrowth,” says Aguirre. “In Alaska, every single inch is covered in different forms of life. It’s really profound.” Further north on the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, Aguirre leads the nature-first wellness program at Tutka Bay Lodge, renowned for its warm rustic luxury and unspoiled setting. In addition to activities like outdoor sound bathing and foraging, guests are offered two walks a day through the property’s 35 acres of private forest and seaside coves.



Bali is one of the most stunning — and popular — destinations on the planet for surfers, spiritual pilgrims, and yes, forest bathers. To escape the crowds and discover your own paradise on the Island of the Gods, go to the Bedugul rainforest, surrounded by sacred mountains and temples, and rest under the canopy of lofty trees. There’s no better way to immerse yourself in the Balinese jungle than by staying at one of Ubud’s luxury resorts. Opt for HOSHINOYA Bali, which offers gentle forest bathing walks through the local rice fields and lush, emerald hills.

Costa Rica


A leader in ecotourism and one of the most biodiverse countries in the world with more than 50% of the country covered by forest, Costa Rica is a forest bather’s dream. Meander through the misty cloud forest in Monteverde (Spanish for “green mountain”), a celebrated wildlife refuge with hanging bridges along the canopy so you can examine the 3,000 species of plants up close on walks guided by Sentir Natural. To explore Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano region, stay at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, set on more than 900 acres of rainforest reserve dotted with hot springs, waterfalls, and mountains.

New Zealand


Indigenous forests cover an incredible 24% of New Zealand, making it ideal for forest bathing, particularly on the volcanic, lush North Island. Visit Waipoua Forest, where the oldest and largest kauri — among the world’s longest-living trees — have been growing for over 3,000 years. Known as “protectors of the forest” by the Māori people, you can opt for a tour with Footprints Waipoua accompanied by a Māori guide to learn more about these sacred legends. Don’t miss Tāne Mahuta, also known as the Lord of the Forest, one of the largest trees on the planet (by girth) at 62 feet around and 170 feet tall. Waipoua Lodge, a 100-year-old farmhouse perched on a ridge overlooking the forest, makes a spectacular home base for outings.

Studies referenced:

Li, Q., Kobayashi, M., Inagaki, H., Hirata, Y., Li, Y. J., Hirata, K., Shimizu, T., Suzuki, H., Katsumata, M., Wakayama, Y., Kawada, T., Ohira, T., Matsui, N., & Kagawa, T. (2010). A day trip to a forest park increases human natural killer activity and the expression of anti-cancer proteins in male subjects. Journal of biological regulators and homeostatic agents, 24(2), 157–165. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20487629/

Li Q. (2022). Effects of forest environment (Shinrin-yoku/Forest bathing) on health promotion and disease prevention -the Establishment of "Forest Medicine". Environmental health and preventive medicine, 27, 43. https://doi.org/10.1265/ehpm.22-00160

Yau, K. K., & Loke, A. Y. (2020). Effects of forest bathing on pre-hypertensive and hypertensive adults: a review of the literature. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 25(1), 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12199-020-00856-7

Salleh M. R. (2008). Life event, stress and illness. The Malaysian journal of medical sciences : MJMS, 15(4), 9–18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/