At the 16 national parks scattered all over Germany, from the Wadden Sea to the Alps, you can experience pristine nature up close. The natural reserves count around 10,300 square kilometres of land and sea surface, offering a safe environment for animals and plants as well as great leisure activities for hikers and holidaymakers.
Bavarian Forest National Park
Bavarian Forest National Park is the Germany's oldest and therefore first national park. The natural environment bordering the Czech Bohemian Forest can be explored on 350km/217mi of hiking trails.
At the two national park centres Lusen and Falkenstein, you can also find special attractions such as the game enclosure, the tree top walk with its beautiful view, or the stone cave that provides insight into the Ice Age.
Located at the Austrian Border, Berchtesgaden National Park is characterised by high mountains, deep valleys, and crystal clear mountain streams. You can explore 260km/853mi of hiking trails around mountain Watzmann and Lake Königssee. In summer, numerous Alps attract visitors with their delicious home-made titbits.
Berchtesgaden National Park divides into two zones, a core and a care zone. The core zone is left entirely to its own resources, with no human intervention. At the care zone, traditional Alpine agriculture as well as boat trips and fishing at Lake Königssee are maintained.
Not only is Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park the largest national park between the North Cape and Sicily, it is also UNESCO Natural Heritage and biosphere reserve. Its 4,410 square kilometres are home to the typical North Sea inhabitants, with particularly many porpoises and barducks.
Holidaymakers don't just come here for a walk across the mudflats, though, but also especially for the numerous beautiful beaches along the North Sea coast. The most popular destinations at the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea include the seal station Friedrichskoog, where abandoned or ill seals and are taken care of.
The Wadden Sea, second in its productivity as an ecosystem only to the tropical rainforest, is known for its rich fauna. On a hike across the mudflats, you can spot common and grey seals as well as numerous bird species. Looking down at the seafloor, you can see diverse snail and bivalve species as well as prawns and lugworms.
Geographically, the Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park is located between the Netherlands and the Elbe estuary. The natural reserve established in 1986 also includes the uninhabited East Frisian Islands. Of a total 3,450 square kilometres, 93 percent are located underwater.
As opposed to the other national parks, Hamburg Wadden Sea is a man-made territory. In the Middle Ages, inhabitants of the region started to protect the North Sea coast from floods and storm damage with embankments. Due to the tides, wind and waves, the Wadden Sea is still subject to constant change.
The reserve was founded in 1990, and is located near Cuxhaven, at the Elbe estuary area of Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park. The park also comprises the marsh island Neuwerk and the dune islands Scharhörn and Nigelhörn. Approximately 97 percent of the 138 square kilometre surface is located underwater. Since 2011, Hamburg Wadden Sea is part of UNESCO Natural Heritage.
The famous chalk rock Königsstuhl on the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea is the undisputed landmark of Jasmund National Park. In good conditions, the 118m/387ft high ledge offers a view as far as to the Swedish coast. White cliffs and high bluffs attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, that come to walk along the beach looking for fossil oyters, sponges, and urchins. The migration of the cranes in Autumn is a special highlight, and particularly fascinating to watch.
Jasmund National Park was founded in 1990, and contains a 30 square kilometre surface between the cities of Sassnitz and Lohme on the island of Rügen. Hence, it is Germany's smallest national park. A majority of its surface is covered in beech forests on Stubnitz ridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2011. Guided hike and bike tours are offered starting at the visitor centre.
Besides the eponymous lake, Müritz National Park boasts another 99 lakes of the Mecklenburg Lake District. Two thirds of the 322 square kilometres are covered in forests. Thanks to the numerous lakes, canoeing is very popular. But you can also explore the national park on foot or bicycle.
From the 55m/181ft high observation tower on Käflingsberg mountain, you can watch white-tailed eagles and seahawks breeding and hunting. Furthermore black storks and cranes stop at the national park on their way to the south.
Saxon Switzerland is located around 40km/25mi south of Dresden, at the Czech border. Its most famous landmark is the more than 190m/623ft high bastion bridge. From there, visitors get a unique view of Elbe river as well as the rugged rock formations of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. You can get there on Malerweg trail, which was walked in 1818 by Caspar David Friedrich, who came here to create his famous painting 'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog'.
History geeks can visit the remains of the medieval rock castle Neurathen here. Hikers and climbers, on the other hand, will enjoy 400km/249mi of trails through the rocky national park that is home to mouflons, red deer, chamois, and 16 of 24 German bat species.
The river meadow region of the Lower Oder Valley with its forests and dry grasslands makes an ideal habitat for more than 160 bird species. At the only intact polder landscape in Germany, migratory birds like the corncrake or the whooper swan rest and breed. The Lower Odertal is one of the most biodiverse areas in all of Germany.
Hikers and bikers find 120km/75mi of tracks at the national park. For example, the secion of Oder-Neiße bike trail crossing the park is very popular. Furthermore, guided excursions take place at the national park centre in Criewen on a regular basis.
Along with the adjacent Polish natural reserve park Lower Oder Valley and Cedynia, the reserve makes up the 'Lower Oder Valley International Park'.
Every year in September, up to 60,000 cranes stop at Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park. You can watch them from one of the numerous observation platforms near their roosting places. The 805 square kilometre area is also appreciated by rare coast birds, mallards, swans and wild geese. Thanks to dry zones emerging in the brackish water of the lagoon chains, they find a bountiful table.
Approximately 83 percent of the national park founded in 1990 are located underwater. On a boat ride, you can spot seals and porpoises if you are lucky. The forests, on the other hand, are home to deer and boars.
Hainich is Germany's biggest connected broadleaf woodland, and a designated national park since 1997. Furthermore, since 2011, it is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.
On a 530m/1,739ft canopy walkway through the treetops, you can watch butterflies, beetles, spiders, bats and woodpeckers. Right underneath the path, medieval remains of Thiemsburg castle invite history enthusiasts for a visit. Furthermore, there are special hikes for kids, where the dynamic processes of this German primeval forest are explained in a way suitable for children.
Every spring, Eifel National Park, founded in 2004, turns into a sea of yellow daffodils. But the reserve in the south-west of North Rhine-Westphalia has more than that in store: on a 85km/53mi 'wilderness trail', you can hike through the entire park, from the blossoming meadows and conifer forests in the south, through the lake and river area, all the way to the northern broadleaf forests, in the course of four days.
At the national park centre in Schleiden, guided tours are offered regularly. The park extends over 110 square kilometres, and can be accessed through five national park gates, where diverse exhibitions inform you about the 1,450 endangered animal and plant species of the national park.
As there are still some dangerous glass mines left from World War Two at the national park, some areas are not passable. The cordons there must absolutely be respected!
The 57 square kilometre Kellerwald-Edersee National Park is the largest connected beech forest complex in Central Europe, and a designated UNESCO Natural Heritage site since 2011.
A trip here is particularly worthwhile for families with children. They can visit the 'wilderness school', where they learn about the forest reserve, and then meet the native animals up close at the game park. On a hike along the 68km/42mi long Urwaldsteig trail, you can circuit lake Edersee in three to six stages. The 156km/97mi long Kellerwaldsteig trail, on the other hand, connects all towns and mountains of the North Hesse national park.
At the centre of Harz National Park, you see the 1,141m/3,743ft high mountain Brocken. On around 300 foggy days of the year, you can marvel at optical illusions such as the 'Brocken ghost', which lets shadows seem oversized, or halos, effects caused by light reflection and refraction on ice crystals. Due to these phenomenons as well as numerous stories around the witches of Blocksberg, a particular mysticism is inherent in Harz National Park
First and foremost, however, many visitors come to the national park founded in 2006 for hiking. Around 95 per cent of the 247 square kilometres stretching over parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, are covered in spruce and beech forests. The enclosure near Bad Harzburg, which houses lynxes, is an especially popular attraction.
Black Forest National Park was just founded in 2014. Special features of this ancient low mountain range include special highland pasture areas, the so-called Grinden.
You can experience the 10,000 hectares of national park on several theme paths, such as the popular lynx trail, where hikers see the forest through the eyes of a lynx. Moreover, numerous hiking paths and cycle trails invite you to explore the national park.
Germany's youngest national park was opened in May 2015. The 10,000 hectare forest is a safe habitat for species like wild cats, black storks and bats. The majority of Hunsrück-Hochwald National Park belongs to the federal state of Rhineland-Palatine, around one tenth is located in Saarland.
The path network through the beech forests is already well developed. Furthermore, first guided tours are available, but the tourist offers will certainly be extended in the future.