Certified Forest Therapy Designation
By certifying specific trails and natural areas, land managers playa vital role in providing intentional space to support transformative experiences in nature. Through certification, land managers can inspire a deeper connection between people and the natural world and engage visitors in new and innovative ways. Simultaneously, visitors gain access to a therapeutic haven, experiencing reduced stress, improved mental health and connection with nature.
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs (ANFT) has developed a standardized certification process and criteria for designating ANFT Certified Forest Therapy trails, spaces and places. ANFT's designation process is the result of extensive research, experience, field expertise and our belief that the simple act of going outside is physically healthy for people.
The standards and criteria developed by ANFT strive to provide consistency for participants in safe and accessible natural environments, while providing land managers with new and innovative ways to steward the land and connect with a greater diversity of visitors.
We consider trails, spaces and places for designation based on criteria such as the ecological health of the site, ease of access, safety, design considerations, and management. Additionally, we examine how infrastructure and signage can support both guided and self-guided Forest Therapy experiences.
This program establishes a comprehensive framework for identifying, assessing, stewarding, and activating natural spaces in order to facilitate and promote forest therapy experiences in nature. The certification criteria established can also be utilized to inform and support the design process for new trail development and site installation projects.
Certified Forest Therapy Trails, Spaces & Places have already been developed in many countries including the United States, Costa Rica, Slovenia, and Canada, certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy (ANFT) in partnership with a ANFT Certification Consultant.
What are the benefits of having a certified forest therapy trail, space, or place?
Managers and staff who are stewards of natural areas often embrace, as a core part of their mission, developing programs that attract people to the land. Most often, these programs are recreation activity based or designed to improve one’s scientific knowledge of the natural world. Forest Therapy experiences offer another approach, encouraging participants to slow down and experience nature through their senses. Forest Therapy seeks to foster a deep, personal connection to the land, increasing the likelihood that visitors will repeatedly return to these places over and over again.
By designating natural areas as certified forest therapy sites, we unlock a range of benefits for both land managers and guides:
Community: Certified forest therapy sites strengthen the community fabric. These designated areas become gathering points for individuals who share a passion for nature and well-being. They create a sense of belonging and camaraderie among participants, fostering a supportive community where people can connect, share experiences, and learn from one another. This sense of community extends beyond the forest therapy sites, creating opportunities for collaboration, events, and initiatives that promote overall community well-being and environmental consciousness.
Reciprocity: Reciprocity is an inherent value of certified forest therapy sites. These spaces encourage a reciprocal relationship between participants and the natural environment. As individuals immerse themselves in the healing power of nature, they develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of the interconnectedness between humans and the ecosystem. This understanding inspires a sense of responsibility to give back and contribute to the well-being of the natural world. Through volunteer activities, conservation efforts, and regenerative practices, participants actively engage in reciprocity, recognizing that by caring for the environment, they enhance their own well-being and contribute to the flourishing of the larger ecosystem. This reciprocal relationship fosters a harmonious coexistence between humans and nature, benefiting both parties and creating a positive ripple effect in the broader community.
Engagement: Certified forest therapy trails, spaces and places offer innovative and unique opportunities for patron engagement. These designated spaces offer individuals seeking the healing benefits of nature, creating a platform for meaningful interactions and fostering a deep sense of connection.
Consistency: Certification ensures a consistent and high-quality experience for participants. With these guidelines and standards in place, certified forest therapy trails, spaces and places offer assurance that the site has been carefully assessed and evaluated to support an optimal environment for experiencing forest therapy.
Partnership: Certification fosters collaboration and partnerships among land managers, guides, and community stakeholders. By working together, we can collectively advocate for the value of forest therapy, raise awareness, and create a network of support that strengthens the practice and its impact. ANFT certified trails, spaces & places are featured prominently on ANFT’s website on our Global Network Map (via a pin drop), announced in our monthly newsletter reaching over 25,000 individuals and shared on our social media channels.
ANFT certified trails, spaces & places are featured prominently on ANFT’s website on our Global Network of Certified Trails, Spaces & Places Map (via a pin drop), announced in our monthly newsletter reaching over 25,000 individuals and shared on our social media channels.
What types of locations or places are good candidates for certification?
A suitable trail, space or place is an area where people of a wide range of fitness levels can interact with nature, primarily through their senses. The following descriptions help illustrate the types of areas that the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy considers for certification.
Trails - Trails play a significant role in providing access to nature and providing pathways in wild spaces for many types of outdoor recreational activities. Simply put, a trail is a designated path or route, typically found in natural environments, that allows for people to walk, hike or paddle through. Consider all trail types when exploring opportunities for certification (i.e. Water Trails - routes along shorelines, rivers, creeks, etc.).
Spaces - Spaces refer to specific areas within a natural environment that are conducive to providing accessible, immersive, sensory experiences. Spaces that may be suitable for certification include pollinator gardens, courtyards, tranquil meadows, secluded groves, open clearings or other natural spaces that offer a sense of peace, tranquility, and connection with the natural world. Forest therapy practitioners often identify and utilize these spaces to guide participants in areas where a trail is not present.
Places - These locations encompass a diverse range of natural settings, such as entire forests, woodlands, parks, arboretums and botanic gardens, offering ample pathways and opportunities for participants to deeply connect with nature.
Certifying "places" for forest therapy may involve identifying multiple trails and/or spaces within the site area with the potential to provide an ideal and supportive environment for forest therapy practices.
Ask yourself, "Is this a place where people can connect deeply with nature?" If the answer is yes, then the site is probably a good candidate for certification.
Sites considered for certification offer at a minimum:
● Healthy & biodiverse ecosystem (flora & fauna)
● Ample opportunities to engage with the natural world
● Minimal noise and/or light pollution
● Restroom facilities
● Safety and ease of access(i.e. parking, entry fees, etc.)
● Access to water (preferred, not required)
To become an ANFT certified Forest Therapy trail, space or place, the site must undergo a comprehensive assessment and evaluation process(conducted by an ANFT Certification Consultant ) to evaluate the site meets specific criteria related to ecosystem health, ease of access, safety, infrastructure, design considerations, and management. These criteria provide a consistent standard for both forest therapy practitioners and participants. By adhering to these guidelines, certified forest therapy trails and sites offer an optimal environment for experiencing the therapeutic benefits of nature. Certified trails, spaces and places are specifically designated for their ability to provide interaction between participants and nature while promoting and fostering the ecological health and vitality of the site.
The process of exploring for and discovering a suitable trail, space or place need not be confined to wild areas. It may also include places such as urban parks, landscaped grounds of hospitals, community gardens, arboretums and botanical gardens.
ANFT certified trails, spaces and places fall into three categories:
● Guided Experiences: These locations are purposefully designed to support Forest Therapy guides and the individuals they lead, ensuring an optimal and enriching experience. Guided experiences do not include invitational signage and are not intended for self-guided forest therapy sessions.
● Self-guided: These locations leverage signage and/or other cues to enable visitors to replicate the transformative experience of a guided Forest Therapy session without the direct presence of a guide.
● Hybrid Experiences: These locations cater to both guides and participants through the implementation of invitational signage, QR Codes, or other methodology. Signs and/or a Self-Guide (i.e. brochure, pamphlet, etc.) must be provided to facilitate a fully self-guided experience when a guide is unavailable or not present.
What are the certification standards?
The evaluation process encompasses six distinct categories: ecosystem health, safety, infrastructure, ease of access, design considerations, and management. Each category consists of multiple sub-scale elements that undergo thorough review. In total, nearly 50 specific criteria elements are assessed to ensure that the site consistently upholds the standards necessary for maintaining certification as an officially designated forest therapy trail, space or place.
Ecosystem Health - Assessing ecosystem health is of paramount importance in the certification process as it directly relates to creating a supportive environment for forest therapy. Evaluating the health of the ecosystem involves considering factors such as the presence of native plants and animals, tree diversity, the availability of access to water sources, a lush and diverse tree canopy and understory, impacts of human activities, including the presence of invasive species. Additionally, the assessment extends to factors like sound-scape and light pollution, which can significantly impact the overall experience. Certified sites foster a thriving and resilient ecosystem, providing visitors with an immersive and authentic forest therapy experience that nurtures their well-being and connection with nature.
Safety - Certification criteria for forest therapy sites not only focus on the therapeutic aspects but also prioritize participant safety. The assessment process involves thorough evaluations of site safety measures and infrastructure considerations. This includes inspecting the presence and stability of railings and barriers where necessary, ensuring that hazardous trees or limbs are promptly identified and removed, assessing shoreline access and stream crossing safety, evaluation of potentially dangerous flora and fauna, and assessing the responsiveness of local law enforcement and emergency medical response systems. By assessing these safety factors, participants can engage in forest therapy with confidence, knowing that the site has been thoroughly vetted for potential risks. Such measures foster a sense of security, allowing individuals to fully embrace the healing benefits of nature.
Infrastructure - Evaluating the infrastructure of potential forest therapy sites, such as roads, parking lots, shelters, and restrooms, is a crucial step in the certification process. Ensuring good road conditions and sufficient parking spaces helps participants easily access the site and focus on their experience, without logistical challenges. The availability of shelters provides protection during inclement weather, allowing sessions to proceed smoothly. Well-maintained, clean restrooms contribute to participant comfort and hygiene, fostering a positive atmosphere. By thoroughly assessing and addressing these infrastructure aspects, forest therapy sites support an environment where participants can fully engage in the transformative practice of forest therapy.
Ease of Access - Assessing a candidate site for accessibility is important to ensure that forest therapy practices and experiences are as inclusive and accessible as possible to all individuals. The evaluation process involves considering ease of access to the site, including parking and restroom facilities, entry fees and other potential barriers to access. By thoroughly assessing these factors, forest therapy sites strive to create an inclusive environment, allowing individuals with diverse abilities and resources to fully participate and benefit from the experience.
Design Considerations - A crucial step in the certification process is accessing existing site design features that have the potential to support optimal forest therapy experiences. This assessment involves evaluating various site design elements, including trail grade and width, identifying potential hazards, assessing the availability of gathering and resting places, considering scenic views, and examining the potential for off-trail access. By carefully evaluating these design features, ANFT can better determine if the site provides suitable conditions for visitors to engage in forest therapy, supporting a safe, comfortable, and immersive experience that maximizes the therapeutic benefits of the natural surroundings.
Management - For land managers or agencies responsible for managing a certified trail, space, or place, their approach is vital in supporting foresttherapy and creating a conducive environment for visitors. A committed land manager or agency recognizes the value of forest therapy and incorporates it into their programming. They prioritize establishing partnerships with various stakeholders, including local communities and government agencies in support of providing recreational and nature programming that supports the health and wellness of visitors and the site alike. Additionally, the land manager or agency provides consistent site maintenance and upkeep, ensuring that the trail, space, or place is well-maintained, safe, and welcoming for visitors. By stewarding these sites, land managers and agencies help create an environment that supports forest therapy, enhances visitor experiences, and fosters a lasting connection between people and the natural world.
What is the cost of certification?
The cost of certification is dependent on several key factors. In general, land managers can expect to invest approximately $2000 - $3000 for the certification of a trail, space or place. The total investment that the land manager will make will largely depend on the type/kind of signage or installations (sit spots, landscape features, safety enhancements, etc.) the land manager chooses to include and/or what is deemed essential to meet baseline certification standards.
The fees associated with certification include:
Certification Fee - The certification fee to be paid by the land manager to ANFT is $1000 USD. This fee does not change nor is it variable or dependent on site type (trail, space or place). ANFT provides support and guidance throughout the certification process, including but not limited to review of all required site application documentation. This includes site photos and video documentation, proposed invitational signage (or other media type), self-guides, brochures and site maps. ANFT will also provide graphic design files for signs. Our certification logo will be provided during Phase I of the project. A low-resolution version will be shared initially and can be used for draftingproposed signage. A high-resolution version for printing/production will be shared upon certification.
Consultant Fees - Another cost in the certification process to consider are the ANFT Certification Consultant fees. The certification of a trail, space or place requires a thorough assessment by an ANFT Certification Consultant to determine if the site meets the standards and criteria required. ANFT Certification Consultants are certified Forest Therapy guides that have undergone additional training and certification to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to guide and support land managers through the certification process. ANFT Certification Consultant fees are are dependent on the following factors:
● Proximity to the project location
● Potential travel and/or lodging costs
● Number of site visits needed (or the number of hours expected to spend on the project)
● Level of involvement and/or the development of a self-guide and invitations (if certifying a self guided or hybrid -guided and self guided experience)
Typically ANFT Certification Consultants charge between $500 - $750 for phase 1 and $500 - $750 for phase 2 -OR- $100 - $150 per hour (average consulting fees in the US) plus any travel or lodging that may be required.
Signage - A sign indicating that the trail, space or place is an official ANFT certified Forest Therapy site will be required at the trailhead or near the entry to the site. Signs should stand a minimum of 4 feet above ground level with dimensions of no less than 22" wide and 24" high. QR codes should be placed on this signage to guide visitors to more information about Forest Therapy. Invitational and interpretive signage may also be utilized.
Alternative and potentially more economical options are also acceptable (i.e. brochures, QR Codes, virtual guides, etc.). Your ANFT Certification Consultant can provide options that will support and reflect your specific site character and personality.
Recommendations (essential and non-essential) - Recommendations typically focus on infrastructure improvements to improve or enhance the quality of Forest Therapy walks and experiences. Recommended improvements might include the construction of a small tea hut, the installation of water features, the planting of fragrant herbs and flowers, installation of spaces where rocks can be moved freely, the installation of sit spot benches or inclined benches, trail modification to provide access to water or inner forest, and many more. There may be times when a recommendation is deemed essential, meaning the site cannot be granted certification until the recommendation has been addressed. Essential recommendations are typically improvements to safety.
What is the process to get a trail, space or place certified?
A landowner or land manager may express interest in certification by reaching out to ANFT directly or by contacting a local ANFT Certification Consultant . In the case of the land manager contacting ANFT directly, the Program Director will contact the land manager and set up an orientation call to discuss the program in its entirety including the process of certification, program requirements and help to identify if the site is a good candidate for certification. If so, the Program Director will contact available ANFT Certification Consultants that are geographically located in proximity to the project site in an effort to connect them with the landowner/land manager to initiate the certification process.
Land Managers will be provided with the certification criteria to assist them in better understanding the criterion elements that will be assessed during the certification process.
Once an ANFT Certification Consultant has been identified, the Program Director will initiate an orientation call with the land manager and the ANFT Certification Consultant. This call is intended to facilitate an introduction between the land manager and the consultant, and to initiate the commencement of the certification process. The ANFT Certification Consultant will then coordinate with the land manager to begin Phase I.
Phase 1 - During this phase, the primary objective is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the location, with a specific focus on safety, infrastructure, accessibility, design, ecosystem health, and management as it relates to nature and forest therapy. Together with your ANFT Certification Consultant, you or your designated land manager will undertake a thorough on-site evaluation and complete the assessment. To aid in documentation and effective communication of opportunities, photos and videos will be taken during this process. The consultant will subsequently offer recommendations for any necessary modifications and develop Forest Therapy invitations with specific locations within the site. Upon completion of Phase 1, the Program Director will thoroughly review and assess the submitted documents and proposed recommendations/modifications. Subsequently, it will be the responsibility of the respective land managers/owners to address the improvements outlined in the Phase 1 assessment.
Essential (required for certification)
○ Must be completed for the trail, space or place to be certified (examples include the mitigation of significant hazards, removal of dangerous trees or branches, installation of a railing or barrier where necessary for participant safety, etc.).
○ For self-guided and hybrid experiences, signage or using other methodologies that allow visitors to guide themselves on an experience of Forest Therapy. Essentially, each sign can be a very light invitation that calls the reader's attention to sensory experiences around it. In cases where land managers do not want signs, it may be best to produce a custom made brochure (possibly translated into different languages) that offer invitations and information about how to experience a self-guided walk.
Recommended (Important for high standards but not essential for certification)
○ For "Recommended" recommendations, ANFT recommends a focus on infrastructure improvements to improve the quality of guided Forest Therapy walks. Such improvements might include the construction of a small tea house, the installation of water features, the planting of fragrant herbs and flowers, the installation of spaces where rocks can be moved freely, the installation of sit spot benches or inclined benches, trail modification to provide access to water or inner forest, and many more ideas that a local guide might help to envision with the public, partners and land managers.
Phase 2 - The ANFT Certification Consultant will revisit the site and collaborate with you or your designated land manager to conduct a comprehensive reassessment. During this process, any site improvements or modifications will be documented. Once the assessment and supporting documents are submitted to ANFT for review and approval, the site will be granted the official status of an officially designated Certified Forest Therapy trail, space, or place. The newly certified ANFT Forest Therapy site will be incorporated into our global network of ANFT Certified Forest Therapy Trails, Spaces & Places, and prominently featured on the ANFT website, our social media channels and in our monthly newsletter.
Biennial Recertification- Once certified, a designated site maintains its certification status for 2 years from the date of certification, with a biannual recertification fee of $300. Recertification is essential to ensure the site is actively managed and continues to meet the high standards required for a certified forest therapy trail, space, or place. Additionally, photo documentation will be required from the land manager for review by ANFT during this process, to confirm adherence to these standards.
ANFT Certification Consultants are highly qualified professionals who have undergone extensive training and earned certification through ANFT as forest therapy guides. In addition to their comprehensive guide training, they have also completed specialized training to enhance their skills in consulting with land use managers, assessing site locations and providing recommendations for certification to ANFT’s global network of certified Forest Therapy Trails, Spaces & Places. To find an ANFT Certification Consultant in your area, please utilize the directory below. Our directory ensures that you have access to highly skilled, experienced professionals who can guide you through the certification process effectively.