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Forests and woodlands

Cyclists in Dalby Forest by Tony BartholomewCyclists in Dalby Forest by Tony Bartholomew

Great woods to explore

The forests and woods are one of the North York Moors best kept secrets. With more woodland than the New Forest, trees cover 23% of the National Park while the Howardian Hills are also peppered with ancient woodlands, along with wide, tree-lined avenues of the great parkland estates.

Our woods and forests are an unexpected treasure, from strolls among ancient trees to a wander through the bluebells. They're also great places for dog walks while over in Dalby Forest, 70 miles of cycling trails provide family fun and world-class thrills alike at England's largest trail centre. Or enjoy a spot of ‘forest bathing’ on a wood-based walk and explore some of our favourite playgrounds and woodland experiences.

1. Dalby, the Great Yorkshire Forest

World-class mountain-bike routes, running trails, Go Ape Treetop Adventure (for big and little monkeys), Segway forest trails, paintballing, family strolls or a Gruffalo orienteering course will keep you busy. Follow the Gruffalo Spotters trail and see what creatures you can find as you search for the Gruffalo in the deep dark wood (activity packs are available from the visitor centre for £3.50). Be sure to download the app before you arrive as signal is patchy. Hidden Horizons offer plenty of experiences too from forest school sessions in the holidays and their very popular stargazing sessions.

You can still find your own space and tranquillity in the forest's 8,600 acres. Scan the truly dark skies and marvel at the bright stars at one of Scarborough and Ryedale Astronomical Society's public observing events during autumn/winter in Dalby Forest, an official Dark Sky Discovery Site.

With so much to do, stay in the heart of the forest in the luxurious surroundings of High Dalby House, where Ian and Linda also run mindfulness and forest bathing sessions, go for a cabin experience at Dalby Forest Lodges or a spot of camping and glamping in camping pods at Pexton Moor Farm, and Stoneclose Campsite or Gumboots and Wellington's shepherd huts.

2. Ancient wildwoods at Garbutt

Garbutt Wood offers a reminder of the wildwoods that once covered the North York Moors thousands of years ago. On the steep trail down from Sutton Bank National Park Centre you'll spot a wealth of trees and wildlife – step quietly and you may be lucky enough to see a secretive roe deer hiding. Mature oak and birch dominate, while regenerating rowan, holly, hazel and young oak is replacing ageing birch. Head down there in spring and you'll be greeted by carpets of bluebells and wood anemone, both flowers of ancient woodlands. If you keep on the path, you'll eventually reach Gormire, the only natural lake in the North York Moors.

3. May Beck and Falling Foss

Start your woodland adventures at May Beck with its dappled light, shallow waters to paddle in and even a bridge to play pooh-sticks, for the big kid in you. An idyllic tea garden set in an old gamekeeper's cottage deep in the woods next to Falling Foss waterfall completes the perfect day out. Think homemade cakes and pots of tea served at outdoor tables in a rustic glade – the words ‘dingly-dell’ were never so apt.

4. Woodland wildlife

There’s something magical about encountering wildlife in the woods, all the sweeter for being few and fleeting. Join expert guides Yorkshire Coast Nature on one of their National Park Nature Safaris roaming forest and moorland to seek out rare birds of prey, fascinating flora and fritillary butterflies.

5. The Yorkshire Arboretum

More dog and family friendly fun is found at The Yorkshire Arboretum's collection of over 6,000 trees and shrubs in 150 acres of parkland and woodland, in the heart of the Howardian Hills. Treasure hunts, leaf bingo and activity packs will keep the little ones amused. Don't miss their weekly tours every Thursday at 1.30pm between mid-April and the end of October when a friendly expert will introduce you to the collection and some of the best seasonal treasures. No need to book, just turn up.

6. Get back to nature in Keldy and Cropton

Get back to nature by staying in a Forest Holidays treehouse in Keldy Forest or a log cabin at Cropton, where Forest Rangers regularly take out mini-Chris Packham's in the making day and night. These fun, informative sessions introduce the woodland's wildlife, from bats, deer, owls, foxes and more. You can hire a bike and follow the marked cycle routes through the woods. Quieter than its more well-known big brother, Dalby, you're very likely to have them to yourself.

Experience the thrill of whizzing down a zip wire at Keldy cabins - whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, looking to try something new or prove to the kids that whatever they can do, you can do faster. There's an experienced Forest Ranger on hand to keep you safely speeding down to the forest floor. Or maybe you'd just prefer to lie back in the outdoor hot tub with the sounds of the night forest around you. You may even be lucky enough to hear a nightjar churring.

7. National Nature Reserves

There are two National Nature Reserves in the North York Moors, both protected as outstanding examples of woodland.

Treading the ancient footways of our ancestors wouldn't be complete without a visit to Duncombe Park, on the outskirts of Helmsley, where there’s been a park since medieval times, and where some of the trees are more than half a millennium old. Some limes could be over 1,000 years old and the tallest lime tree in Britain is found here. Keep your eyes open for kingfisher, grey wagtail and dipper along the river and you can also find woodpeckers, nuthatch and hawfinch in the woodland. The parkland is usually open for exploring between February and December (admission fees apply) as well as the nearby National Centre for Birds of Prey.

The spectacular steep-sided ravine of Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve is one of the best remaining examples of ancient woodland in the National Park, teeming with wildlife. It's also Jurassic Park! Walk the Geological Trail to find out how this peaceful ancient woodland valley was carved out by the action of melting ice sheets at the end of the last ice age. Take the time to poke around the ground at Whetstone Quarry and you’ll find fossil seashells. There's plenty of picnic tables along the way too or take in the views overlooking the valley from The Everley Country House Café nearby.

8. Live Local, Ride Local at Newbridge Park

The volunteer-run community woodland at Newbridge Park on the edge of Pickering has an all-ability cross-country cycle trail, jump park and pump track, plus picnic area. There's woodland walking on trails that take you along the delightful Pickering Beck where you'll hear the whistle before catching a glimpse of a steam train through the trees. Walking in the woods is free but to ride you need to be a member (weekly pass £2, individuals £10/yr, annual family ticket £20 – available from Trailblazer Outdoors in Pickering Market Place). The money helps support the woodland management and upkeep of the park, and there are loads of member discounts on offer with local businesses.

9. Mulgrave Woods

Castles, alum quarries, cement stone mines and abundant wildlife around steep ravines are all to be found in Mulgrave Woods near Sandsend. These ancient native woodlands are privately owned but have public access every Wednesday and weekends (closed in May).

10. Guisborough Forest and Walkway

900 acres of mixed woodland with waymarked walks and bike trails, Guisborough Forest has lots hidden amongst the trees to keep you busy. Visitor centre and café, orienteering course, trimtrail, sculpture trail, play areas, bird hide and dipping ponds, don't forget your net! Head up to Highcliff Nab for spectacular views over the North York Moors, including our coastline.