The positive effect of natural compared to urban environment on human restoration and well-being has been proved in various studies. To go one step further in analyzing the influence of physical environments, we question if this positive effect is consistent in different natural conditions namely wild and tended urban forests. In an experimental field setting, participants were randomly assigned to either a walk through wild or tended forests for 30 min. Multidimensional scales in a pre–post-treatment-setting measured well-being. Results indicate a stronger change in “positive affect” and “negative affect” in the tended forest condition. Well-being factors “activation” and “arousal” changed after solitary walks, too. However, there were no differences between the treatment conditions, indicating a stronger influence of physical activity than the forest condition wild and tended on these well-being factors. Perceived attractiveness of the natural area did not effect the change in well-being, thus questioning the close relation between perceived attractiveness and the effect on well-being suggested in prior research. Furthermore, more and less fatigued persons did not profit differently concerning well-being changes. The results give important advice to design natural areas serving restoration and public health, especially for people living in urban environments.
► We analyze the effect of differently maintained forests on psychological well-being.
► We test well-being in a pre–post experimental field design.
► Well-being increases strongest in tended forests compared to wild forest.
► More and less fatigued persons do not profit differently.
► Results serve the design of natural areas serving public health.