Forest restoration in protected exclosures has become a common practice to fight land degradation in the highlands of northern Ethiopia. Insights into ecosystem processes governing restoration in these formerly degraded areas are gained through the study of humus forms and factors influencing humus formation during vegetation recovery. Humus forms of 135 sample plots located in different land use types were morphologically described. The subsequent classification into six humus form types was based on principal component analysis and cluster analysis. Where areas are closed for a longer time, humus profiles are commonly more developed and higher organic matter accumulation is noticed as well as increased nutrient stocks. The combined effects of seasonal drought conditions and low fresh litter quality account for an overall slow decomposition, which explains the high importance of litter input for organic matter accumulation. Based on a correlation analysis, vegetation cover, litter production, litter quality, soil nutrient content, soil moisture, and topography were identified as important factors influencing humus formation. It is inferred that humus formation leads to improvements in soil fertility and structure, microclimate development, and soil protection and therefore forms part of the restoration processes taking place in exclosures.