Stable stratification of the nocturnal lower boundary layer inhibits convective turbulence, such that turbulent vertical transfer of ecosystem carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O) and energy is driven by mechanically forced turbulence, either from frictional forces near the ground or top of a plant canopy, or from shear generated aloft. The significance of this last source of turbulence on canopy flow characteristics in a closed and open forest canopy is addressed in this paper. We present micrometeorological observations of the lower boundary layer and canopy air space collected on nearly 200 nights using a combination of atmospheric laser detection and ranging (lidar), eddy covariance (EC), and tower profiling instrumentation. Two AmeriFlux/Fluxnet sites in mountain-valley terrain in the Western U.S. are investigated: Wind River, a tall, dense conifer canopy, and Tonzi Ranch, a short, open oak canopy. On roughly 40% of nights lidar detected down-valley or downslope flows above the canopy at both sites. Nights with intermittent strong bursts of “top-down” forced turbulence were also observed above both canopies. The strongest of these bursts increased sub-canopy turbulence and reduced canopy virtual potential temperature (θv) gradient at Tonzi, but did not appear to change the flow characteristics within the dense Wind River canopy. At Tonzi we observed other times when high turbulence (via friction velocity, u*) was found just above the trees, yet CO2 and θv gradients remained large and suggested flow decoupling. These events were triggered by regional downslope flow. Lastly, a set of turbulence parameters is evaluated for estimating canopy turbulence mixing strength. The relationship between turbulence parameters and canopy θv gradients was found to be complex, although better agreement between the canopy θv gradient and turbulence was found for parameters based on the standard deviation of vertical velocity, or ratios of 3-D turbulence to mean flow, than for u*. These findings add evidence that the relationship between canopy turbulence, static stability, and canopy mixing is far from straightforward even within an open canopy.