What is a Cloud Forest?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cloud forest is a forest in a region with consistent cloud cover, with clouds which actually dip into the forest itself, creating a very moist, misty, dim environment. The vast majority of cloud forests are tropical rain forests, although cloud forests can also be found in subtropical and temperate zones. Some of the most famous are in South America, where researchers gather to study the ecology of cloud forests and to promote the preservation of this unique type of forest. Southeast Asia and Africa also have large stretches of cloud forest.

Moss is very common in a cloud forest, leading to the alternative name of "moss forest.".
Moss is very common in a cloud forest, leading to the alternative name of "moss forest.".

You may also hear a cloud forest referred to as a fog forest, in a reference to the heavy layers of fog which swathe the forest, or as a moss forest, because cloud forests often host a great deal of moss and other water-loving plants and epiphytes like orchids. The environment of the cloud forest is definitely unique, hosting a diverse range of plant and animal species, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world.

Most cloud forests are tropical rain forests.
Most cloud forests are tropical rain forests.

In order for a cloud forest to form, it must be at an altitude high enough for clouds to appear, and in a region where clouds have reason to cling close to the ground. Many cloud forests are located in mountain valleys, where clouds are trapped by the surrounding geography. Others are in coastal regions, where whether conditions force a consistent layer of clouds and fog to remain present for much of the year.

Being in a cloud forest can feel slightly surreal. The clouds obscure visibility, especially high up in the forest, and the environment feels very damp. Constant sounds of dripping water can be heard, and the forest floor is usually boggy in nature. The trees, shrubs, and plants grow thick and lush, with a profusion of epiphytic plants growing on every available surface, taking advantage of the huge amounts of moisture in the air to grow and thrive. Sound is often muffled by the fog and dense plants, and it can be difficult to tell where sounds are coming from, due to the strange acoustics.

Some tropical cloud forests have become vacation destinations. Visitors can stroll along elevated walkways in the forest canopy to get a sight of the rolling fog which surrounds the forest, and they can also explore the forest along the ground level. Hotels and other facilities may look out over the forest, allowing people to see a sea of clouds which intermittently breaks up to allow the forest to peep through.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@ Glasshouse- I have been to some of the cloud forests on the big island, and I took a tour of the cloud forest at Haleakala State Park in Maui. I grew up on the big island so I have explored most of what it has to offer. The forests are beautiful but inhospitable. People may want to visit these forests, but it is not for the casual outdoors person. They can be very wet, cold, full of bugs, and uninviting. If you can get over this, and be respectful of the land and the history associated with cloud forests, then you will see something few see in their lifetime.

Walking through Hawaii's cloud forests is one of the most surreal experiences you will ever have. Everything is covered in a thick moss, tree ferns tower overhead, and there is so much moisture in the air that sounds muffle with an eerie unfamiliarity. You are surrounded by spider webs glistening with dewdrops, and every so often the blood red blossoms of the Ahia tree break through the pale mist like miniature fireworks. Go if you can, you will not regret it.


@ GenevaMech- You can find cloud forests all over the world in a host of different countries. The United States has cloud forests, but you will have to travel to Puerto Rico or Hawaii to visit them. There are also a few regions in the upper northwest that could be considered temperate cloud forests, but they are not always shrouded in cloud cover. I have heard that the forests in Hawaii are some of the most amazing cloud forests in the world because they are easily accessible and they contain flora and fauna endemic to no other place on the planet. You can find cloud forests on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii. You may be able to find them on other islands, but I am not sure. The national park service can provide information on cloud forests on these islands.


Where are some of the most famous cloud forests located? Are there any cloud forests in the United States? I would like to visit one, but I do not know where they are.

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