Top 5 National Parks to visit in Germany
Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon. These names are synonymous with amazing displays of Mother Nature at her finest. With geysers rising high into the sky, sheer cliffs with cascading waterfalls, and deep ravines carved by rivers, national parks are wonders worth exploring. You don’t have to catch the next flight to the States to tromp through lush forests or see breathtaking beauty. Germany is home to sanctuaries teeming with sea life, crystal-clear Alpine lakes and even extinct volcanic fields. There are 16 national parks in Germany, with several designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, or UNESCO biosphere reserves. Here are the top five worth visiting.
Berchtesgaden National Park
Located along the Austrian border in southern Bavaria, this stunning park offers something for visitors all year. The only Alpine national park in Germany, Berchtesgaden is home to the Watzmann — the country’s third-highest peak, measuring 2,713 meters (8,900 feet) tall. In the winter, explore more than 35 miles of ski slopes. During the summer months, take an an electric-powered boat ride on the emerald waters of Königsee or hike through the dense forests and jagged peaks made famous in “The Sound of Music.” The unique flora and fauna helped add this national park to the list of UNESCO biosphere reserves.
For history buffs, take a hike to the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus). Once one of Adolf Hitler’s retreats, this mountaintop building was used for exclusive parties and receptions for senior members of the Third Reich. After the Allies overtook the area, the Eagle’s Nest was converted into a restaurant, museum and, in the warmer months, a Biergarten. On a clear day, enjoy a refreshing Bavarian brew while gazing at the spectacular scenery that surrounds you.
Eifel National Park
Another gem for history aficionados and outdoor enthusiasts is Eifel National Park. Situated near the Belgian-German border, the infamous Vogelsang Military Training Grounds are located inside the park boundaries. Second in size to the training grounds in Nuremberg, Vogelsang was once home to the Third Reich. After World War II ended, the empty barracks were turned over to the British Army. In 1950, the Belgian Army conducted regular training until 2005. Once the land was returned to Germany, it became part of Eifel National Park. Visitors can walk through the massive stone buildings, but need to stay on the paths. Unexploded ordnances and land mines dot the area surrounding Vogelsang.
Hikers and nature lovers can enjoy more than 200 kilometers of well-maintained trails throughout the park. There are more than 1,000 endangered species that call this area home. You may even catch a glimpse of the elusive wildcats known to roam the area. See a beautiful sunrise or sunset from a vista overlooking one of the three reservoirs: Rur, Obersee or Urft lakes. Guided hikes and tours can be arranged in advanced.
Jasmund National Park
Located on the northern Baltic island of Rügen, Jasumund National Park is the smallest in Germany. Although it may not be large in size, the park boasts amazing biodiversity. Stroll through the towering 700-year-old beech trees, designated a UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 2011. Or look for rare waterfowl in the salty marshes and wetlands.
In addition to the beautiful beech forests, the dramatic white chalk cliffs are often the most popular attraction visited. Take in the stunning panorama of the Baltic Sea from the Königsstuhl (King’s Chair), which rises 117 meters above the sea.
Saxon Switzerland National Park
Home to one of Germany’s longer trail systems, Saxon Switzerland National Park sits along the border of the Czech Republic. Only a short, 45-minute drive from Dresden, this park is full of beautiful scenery reminiscent of the American southwest. Sheer sandstone rock walls, deep canyons and outcroppings beckon climbers of all abilities. Hikers can enjoy more than 400 kilometers of groomed trails throughout the park.
Feeling a little more adventurous? Test your limits on the 112-kilometer-long Malerweg trail. Known as the painter’s trail, it is said that many renowned painters found inspiration along this path. If you’re not quite up to tackling the long-distance hike just yet, don’t worry. The trail can be done in eight different segments of varying length (between 11 and 20 kilometers). Each part of the trail takes you through distinctly different landscapes. Many fortresses and castle ruins are located along the trail.
Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park
One of Germany’s largest national parks, Schleswig-Holstein is quite unique. Located at Denmark’s maritime border, more than 60 percent of the park is actually located underwater. Only 30 percent of the park has dry land at any one time. If you visit the area during different times of the year, you may notice some of the smaller unprotected islands have shifted slightly to the east.
Consisting of mudflats and marshes, this island chain was listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1990 and a UNESCO World Heritage site (as the northeastern part of the larger German Wadden Sea designation) in 2009. During the spring between March and May, take a guided tour on the North Sea to see pods of porpoises and newborn calves. In the warmer summer months, sneak a peek at the barking seals lined up along the sandbanks during low tide.
If you’re looking to spend time in the great outdoors and commune with Mother Nature, the German national park system is well worth the visit.