The world's mightiest rainforests – the real big-hitters – are clustered in the tropics. But did you know there are rainforests in cooler climes too? Even in Wales. Here, we call them Celtic Rainforests. Rare, mysterious and bewitching, they’re the unsung treasures of our rural landscape.
In their own way, temperate rainforests are just as intricate and exotic as their tropical cousins. Strolling through a Celtic Rainforest is like wandering back in time. Native oak, birch, hazel and ash trees offer shelter. Beautiful, slow-growing lichens and mosses drape their trunks and branches, and fungi peep through the plants at their feet. There’s much to discover, so it’s well worth going slowly, and looking closely.
It's not just the wealth of things to see that makes these green spaces special. It's also what you smell, hear and feel. The earthy scent of dewy ferns, for example. The gurgle of waterfalls. The chirps and whistles of woodland birds. The soft crunch of damp leaves and twigs underfoot. And the sense that these peaceful surroundings have been centuries in the making.
The Celtic Rainforests of Wales are mostly tucked into steep river valleys in rural Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Powys. When visiting, we treat them with the greatest respect, to avoid disturbing the wildlife or damaging delicate plants. Ready to dive in? Here are a few to try.
Coed Llechwedd Einion
Bwlch Corog, south of Glaspwll, Powys
Llechwedd Einion's ancient woodland is owned by Coed Cadw (the Woodland Trust in Wales) and managed by Coetir Anian (Cambrian Wildwood), a local conservation charity. Keen to attract visitors who don't normally engage with nature, they encourage leave-no-trace camping, wildlife-watching and walking, and organise fun outdoor activities for kids. 'Every Celtic Rainforest is precious', says Cambrian Wildwood trustee Joe Hope, a farmer, ecologist and nature guide with Celtic Rainforest Experience, 'but this one’s extra special.'
Coed Cwm Einion
East of Furnace, Ceredigion
Coed Cwm Einion woodland is a Special Area of Conservation within Biosffer Dyffi (the Dyfi UNESCO Biosphere Reserve). Watered by the bubbling River Einion, it’s a biodiversity hotspot. 'It's home to 177 species of lichen (including the rare Parmotrema robustum, which looks like a cross between kelp and some lettuce that you’ve left in the bottom of the fridge for too long) and more than 150 moss and liverwort species', says Matthew Yeomans, author of Return to My Trees: Notes from the Welsh Woodlands.
Find out more about the Dyfi Biosphere.
Coed Felenrhyd & Llennyrch
Southwest of Maentwrog, Eryri (Snowdonia)
'Ancient woodland is one of our most biodiverse habitats, and yet it’s really rare: just 2% of the UK', says Coed Cadw (Woodland Trust in Wales) Estate Manager Kylie Jones Mattock. Coed Felenrhyd & Llennyrch, like all the woods in the Woodland Trust's care, is open to the public for free. Rich in temperate rainforest species, it's a gorgeous spot. Lichens and liverworts thrive here, especially in Ceunant Llennyrch (Llennyrch Ravine), the steep-sided gorge of the fast-flowing River Prysor.
Stay at: The Oakeley Arms.
Kylie Jones Mattock, Coed Cadw
Ancient woodland is one of our most biodiverse habitats, and yet it’s really rare: just 2% of the UK"
Coed Cymerau Isaf
Northwest of Llan Ffestiniog, Eryri (Snowdonia)
Looking for a truly luxuriant Welsh rainforest, with towering trees and carpets of moss? Eryri (Snowdonia) is the place. According to Met Office data collected by ecologist Dr Chris Ellis and presented in Guy Shrubsole's book The Lost Rainforests of Britain, it has an ideal climate for lush woodland vegetation. In Coed Cymerau Isaf, a waymarked one-mile (1.6km) circular trail invites you to explore. Wood anemones flourish here, and wood warblers trill from the trees. In May, bluebell season, it's a delight.
Stay at: Treks Bunkhouse.
Dolmelynllyn Estate, Eryri (Snowdonia)
Owned by the National Trust, Coed Ganllwyd has been a forest for centuries. It's now a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with rare lichens such as tree lungwort growing on its sessile oak trees. A two-mile (3.2km) circular trail leads along Ganllwyd's lively little river, Afon Gamlan, to a waterfall, Rhaeadr Ddu. Once you’ve filled your lungs with ozone-rich air, stroll deeper into the shade. With luck, you may spot pine marten tracks or see a jay flashing past.
Stay at: Mostyn Cottage.
South of Dolgellau, Eryi (Snowdonia)
When you're hiking the Minffordd Path to the summit of Cader Idris, there are glorious surroundings to enjoy, right from the start. The track from Dôl Idris car park to the Cadair Idris National Nature Reserve visitor centre takes you straight into a bijou rainforest. For the next half-mile (0.8km) or so, you'll climb a steep, rocky gorge, with mossy trees all around and the musical sound of the Nant Cadair waterfalls in your ears. Fancy getting a feel for it in advance? You can follow the path on Google Street View.
Stay at: Gwesty Minffordd Hotel.
Read more: Guide to walking up Cader Idris.
- If the woodlands inspire you and you want to help preserve them, The Woodland Trust and Celtic Rainforests Wales have volunteering opportunities.
- Discover more about our extraordinary rainforest lichens through the Plantlife website.
- Adventure Smart Wales has plenty of advice on how to ‘make a good day better’, and we recommend you read it before planning your days out.
- Traveline Cymru is a useful public transport journey planner.
- There are a number of apps and online maps where you can find the location of electric vehicle charging points across Wales. Several National Trust properties across Wales have EV charging points.
- Help Wales become the first Refill Nation by using nearby Refill Points to fill up your water bottle before you head off. Find out more, including how to download the free Refill app to find your nearest Refill Point on the Refill Wales website.