Germany's most beautiful national parks
Germans love the diversity of their 16 national parks and enjoy hiking through the stunning landscapes. Here are some of Germany's most beautiful national parks, from the Wadden Sea to the Alps.
Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park
This is the oldest and largest of the three German Wadden Sea National Parks. The strong change of the tides shapes the landscape on the North Sea: At low tide, the water retreats and exposes large areas of the nearshore seabed for a short time. The sandbanks are also home to harbor seals.
Jasmund National Park
Jasmund National Park is Germany's smallest national park, famed for its steep cliffs. They were even depicted by the famous German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich. Located in the far north of the island of Rügen, the park has one of the world's few surviving primeval beech forests. In 2011, UNESCO declared it part of the World Heritage Site, "Ancient Beech Forests of Germany."
Western Pomerania Lagoon Area National Park
Each year in fall, more than 40,000 cranes from all over Europe make a rest stop at the salt marshes of the national park in Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania before heading south for the winter. The park, which measures 2,400 square kilometers (927 square miles), is located in northern Germany near the Baltic Sea. The area's shallow bays create a unique habitat worth visiting.
Müritz National Park
Woodlands, lakes and marshes shape the scenery in Müritz National Park, which is part of the Lake District in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The water-rich landscape is covered with nearly untouched swamp forests, and the more than 100 lakes are home to rare bird species such as ospreys and white-tailed eagles. Many of the waters can be explored by boat or canoe.
Harz National Park
This low mountain range is not just one of Germany's largest forested areas, it's also one of the most popular. Numerous legends and myths surround its highest mountain, the Brocken. With a little luck, visitors may spot a lynx, wildcat or red deer. But even without animal encounters, there are plenty of places to hike, such as the Ilse Valley, seen here.
Saxon Switzerland National Park
Saxon Switzerland isn't really in Switzerland, but in eastern-central Germany near the borders with Poland and the Czech Republic. The region and its distinctive sandstone cliffs have attracted hikers, climbers and nature lovers since the 19th century. Saxon Switzerland is some 368 square kilometers (142 square miles) large, a portion of which was declared a national park in 1990.
Hainich National Park
The largest contiguous deciduous mixed forest in Germany lies in the state of Thuringia. Because of its native beech forests, which contain up to 800 ancient trees, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2011. It's home to many rare animal species, such as the European wildcat.
Bavarian Forest National Park
The oldest national park in Germany was founded on October 7, 1970. Vast spruce forests with wild mountain streams and moors define the low mountain range in southeastern Germany. Visitors can explore the national park on 300 kilometers (186 miles) of hiking trails and 200 kilometers (124 miles) of bike paths.
Black Forest National Park
The Black Forest in southwestern Germany is very popular with tourists for hiking and skiing. Only part of the region in the north is designated as a national park. The forests in the core zone are no longer used for economic purposes and are now allowed to develop freely. The park offers many activities and guided tours, like here at the Lothar Trail.
Berchtesgaden National Park
This is the only German national park located in the Alps. It's characterized by steep rocky gorges, green alpine pastures and clear mountain lakes. Marmots, chamois and golden eagles call this area home. More than 250 kilometers (155 miles) of hiking trails and paths lead through the nature reserve. There are excursions, trips and guided hikes throughout the year.