The 10 Largest Forests in the World

January 7, 2024

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View of forest with mountains in the background

From purifying the air that we breathe to providing wildlife with diverse habitats, forests are essential to our planet. They come in all shapes and sizes, with many forests estimated to have existed for millions of years.

Forests cover 31% of the world’s land area, although this isn’t an even distribution. Some areas, such as South America and Asia, have many sprawling forests stretching across multiple countries.

We’ll take you through the ten largest forests in the world, looking at everything from local wildlife to the communities that live in them.

1. Amazon Rainforest

Aerial photograph of the Amazon River flowing through the dense trees of the Amazon Rainforest
Amazon River flowing through the dense trees of the Amazon Rainforest
Size: 6.7 million km² (2.6 million mi²)
Location: South America (Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela, and French Guiana)
Fun fact: The Amazon Rainforest is home to 10% of known species on Earth

The Amazon is world-renowned for its colossus size and diverse offerings, and it shares its name with a tribe of warrior women from Greek mythology. And no, we’re not talking about the e-commerce giant!

Known as the ‘lungs of the planet’, the Amazon accounts for approximately half of the planet’s tropical rainforests. This great forest has over 390 billion trees, covers 1.6 billion acres, and generates 20% of the Earth’s liquid freshwater. It spreads across 40% of South America, with over half of the forest located in Brazil.

The 10-million-year-old Amazon rainforest contains between 150 to 200 billion tons of carbon. When trees are felled in the forest, significant levels of carbon are released, which causes harm on a global scale. However, there are strong conservation efforts in place to preserve this amazing environment and its wildlife. The Amazon Conservation is a project that works with local communities to improve the sustainability of their farming in and around the forest. The project is also working with local forest users to try and better protect their land from illegal gold mining and logging.

Over 40,000 different plant species, 3,000 types of freshwater fish, and over 30 reptile species live in the Amazon. Since 1999, over 2,000 new species have been discovered in the rainforest. Over 30 million people call the Amazon home, including 350 indigenous and ethnic groups.

2. Boreal Forest of Canada

Tree line of the Boreal Forest of Canada
Boreal Forest of Canada
Size: 3 million km² (1.2 million mi²)
Location: Canada
Fun fact: The Boreal Forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem

Stretching across 3 million km² (1.2 billion acres) of northern Canada, the Boreal Forest contains 25% of the world’s wetlands. These northern wetlands are home to some of Canada’s most beloved creatures. If you take a trip to this spot, you may be lucky enough to spot beavers, moose, and caribou (but keep your distance!)

The forest contains more surface freshwater than anywhere else (approximately 81,000 km² /200 million acres). The forest also contains some of the world’s cleanest and deepest freshwater lakes, such as the Great Bear Lake. The fishing here is said to be amongst the best in the world and attracts anglers from all over the world. There are plenty of fishing lodges dotted around the lake that you can stay in as you try to find the All Tackle World Record-holding Arctic Grayling and trout.

For all you birdwatchers out there, the Boreal Forest holds a particular delight, Canada’s Boreal Forest is the nesting ground for North America’s birds. Over three billion birds migrate to the Boreal Forest during spring for the breeding season before they migrate south again in the autumn.

One of the biggest threats to the Boreal Forest is the logging industry. Each year, it’s estimated one million acres of the forest are clear-cut. The United States is the largest purchaser of Canadian wood products, which feeds the demand for tree felling in the Boreal Forest.

3. Congo Rainforest

A young gorilla amongst the leaves in the Congo Rainforest
Young gorilla in the Congo Rainforest
Size: 2 million km² (772,000 mi²)
Location: Africa (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon)
Fun fact: The Congo Basin absorbs more carbon than the Amazon (approximately 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year)

Smaller only in size to the Amazon, the Congo is the second largest rainforest in the world. The great African rainforest stretches over two million km², although it’s estimated that nearly 15,000 km² of forest cover is lost every year. This is largely due to agricultural activities by the local communities for food and industries such as logging and palm oil plantations.

This rainforest contains 12.5% of the world’s remaining tropical rainforest. If wildlife is your passion, then the Congo rainforest is definitely worth adding to your bucket list. Within it are many different species, such as three subspecies of gorilla, forest elephants, and over 1,000 bird species.

The human population in the Congo basin increases by 1.7 million people annually, with approximately 80 million people in total. This increasing demand for food, water, and shelter has a major effect on the forest and has caused increasing deforestation.

4. New Guinea Rainforest

Aerial photo of the coast of New Guinea with jungles and deforestation
Aerial view of the coast of New Guinea. Image credit:
Size: 288,000 km² (111,000 mi²)
Location: New Guinea 
Fun fact: New Guinea has 3,000 different orchid species – the most varieties in the world

Just like nearby Australia, the New Guinea rainforest has incredible biodiversity, including the world’s smallest parrot and longest lizard! More orchids live in this rainforest than anywhere else, with over 3,000 species calling the New Guinea rainforest home.

The forests of New Guinea cover approximately 65% of the island’s land area and store an estimated 6.9 billion tons of carbon. Luckily, the forest is a carbon sink, which means it stores more carbon than it emits. However, logging and industrial farming activities are increasing, which threatens the long-term health of the forest.

All hope is not lost, however. A project called NIHT Topaiyo REDD+ aims to invest over 80% of net revenue into the local communities of New Guinea and introduce solar electricity, finance a comprehensive biodiversity study and educate locals on more sustainable practices.

5. Valdivian Temperate Rainforest

A leaning Alerce tree in the forest. The tall tree has a deep orange bark
Alerce tree in the Valdivian Temperate Rainforest
Size: 166,248 km² (64,000 mi²)
Location: Chile and Argentina
Fun fact: Half of the woody plant species in the rainforest are endemic (only naturally exist in this area)

This ancient forest contains various plant species that have existed since the age of the dinosaurs, such as the endemic monkey puzzle tree. Some species, like the Alerce tree, can grow 60 to 70 meters tall (equivalent to five stacked double-decker buses). This tree species is one of the oldest living organisms in the world and can live for 3,600 years!

Although the trees are big, some of the animals here are actually pretty small. Valdivian Temperate Rainforest is home to the world’s smallest deer (Southern pudu), which is about the size of a Cocker spaniel, and the world’s smallest feline (Kodkod) species, which is just smaller than a typical domestic cat.

Like many forests on this list, the Valdivian Temperate Rainforest is subject to severe deforestation. Much of the natural forest is being replaced with plantations of exotic species, like eucalyptus and pine, for agricultural purposes.

6. Tongass National Forest

A Brown bear on all fours stood next to a thin tree. Logs lay on the floor next to it
Brown bear in the Tongass National Forest
Size: 67,582 km² (26,000 mi²)
Location: Alaska
Fun fact: The Tongass has 19 designated wilderness areas, which are designed to protect and preserve the forest

America’s largest national forest covers most of southeast Alaska. You can find otters, beavers, wolves within the forest, and the world’s densest concentration of brown bears and bald eagles. The Tongass forest also stores over 1.5 billion metric tons of CO2 — 8% of the total stored carbon in forests within the United States.

Indigenous people have lived in and around the forest for thousands of years. The forest itself is named after the Tlingit people. Today, approximately 70,000 people live in 32 communities within and around the Tongass forest.

An estimated 30,000 brown bears live in the forest, which equates to 95% of the United States’ entire population. There are five species of salmon in the Tongass National Forest, which is a major food source for the bears.

7. Rainforest of Xishuangbanna

A flowering Pagoda plant in the forest
Pagoda plant in the Rainforest of Xishuangbanna
Size: 19,223 km² (7,400 mi²)
Location: China
Fun fact: The rainforest has been a member of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Network since 1993

An estimated 300 Asian elephants live in China, with 90% of this population found within Xishuangbanna. If you’ve always wanted to see an elephant before, now’s your chance! The rainforest is the only location in China where tourists can observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. You can also see over 100 butterfly species in the forest, 102 mammal species, 400 bird species and 63 reptile species.

The canopy air corridor in Sky Tree Scenic Park, Mengla is a popular tourist attraction. If you’re brave enough, you can walk the 500 meters long rope bridge, which stands a stomach-churning 36 meters above the ground. It’s the highest canopy corridor in Asia and gives you a breathtaking view of the beautiful Rainforest of Xishuangbanna.

8. Sundarbans

Twisted branches of mangrove trees in Sundarbans forest
Sundarbans forest, the world’s largest mangrove forest
Size: 4,143 km² (1,600 mi²)
Location: India
Fun fact: This is the world’s largest mangrove (type of coastal tree or shrub) ecosystem

Translating literally to ‘beautiful forest’ in Bengali, the Sundarbans is the world’s sixth largest forest. The forest has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means it has natural and cultural significance.

Tigers, Asia’s largest predator, live and hunt within the forest. Although they generally prey on wild pigs, deer, and other small animals, the tigers have also been known to hunt humans who venture into their territory.

The world’s largest and heaviest living reptile, the saltwater crocodile, can also be found in the Sundarbans. You can also find water monitor lizards, which can grow up to nine feet long, and the endemic river terrapin here.

9. Daintree Forest

Fan palm plant in the Daintree Forest
Fan palm plant in the Daintree Forest
Size: 1,200 km² (463 mi²)
Location: Australia
Fun fact: The Daintree is the world’s oldest surviving tropical rainforest

This 135 million-year-old rainforest has a rich biodiversity of thousands of different species, many of which are endemic. It covers a whopping 20% of Australia’s landmass and is home to 40% of Australia’s birds, 34% of mammals, and 65% of bat and butterfly species.

Over 400,000 visitors flock to the Daintree Forest every year. While many people visit the forest to admire the wildlife, severe hunting of the Estuarine Crocodile means it has been classed as a protected species since 1970.

As can be expected in Australia, plenty of insects can be found in the Daintree — 12,000 different species in fact!

10. Kinabalu National Park

Close-up of the Rafflesia flower. The flower is bright red and looks more like a fungus than a petalled flower
Rafflesia flower in Kinabalu National Park
Size: 754 km² (291 mi²)
Location: Malaysia
Fun fact: This forest was Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s first National Parks

With over 5,000 different species of flora and fauna, the 130-million-year-old rainforest in the Kinabalu National Park is a majestic jewel on the island of Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sabah. One of the most eye-catching sights in the forest is the Rafflesia flower, the largest flower in the world. Don’t stop to take a sniff, though; this flower is said to smell like a decaying corpse!

The Bornean Gibbons, Rhinoceros Hornbills, and mountain serpent-eagle are just some of the amazing wildlife you can see in the rainforest. The National Park also surrounds Mount Kinabalu, which stands at 4,095 metres.

Overview: World’s Largest Forests

From tigers in the Sundarbans of India to gorillas in the Congo, the planet’s forests are rich with wildlife. You can find the world’s largest flower in the depths of the Kinabalu National Park or the world’s smallest deer in the Valdivian Temperate Rainforest. The Amazon may hold the title of the world’s largest forest, but many of the others to make it into this list have their own unique wonders and spectacles.

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