Bavarian Forest National Park’s hands-off management philosophy is “Let nature be nature.” The pursuit of this plan is allowing a large landscape of wild forests and bogs to develop and thrive here in the heart of Europe where managed forests are an ancient human tradition.
A destructive thunderstorm savaged swaths of the forest in 1983, uprooting thousands of spruce trees, but the natural disaster was turned into an opportunity. By choosing not to remediate the damage, park officials took a critical step toward creating a truly wild forest here.
The Bavarian Forest National Park recently built a towering, egg-shaped vantage point called the Tree Top Walk, a 150 foot high open air lookout built around three massive fir trees each measuring 125 feet around. From the top, visitors can take in sweeping views of the surrounding mountain ranges, including the northern Alps on a clear day, but the really significant part of the structure is its accessibility. Yes, there’s an elevator to shoot children and those with disabilities straight up, but because the circular walkway winds at a steady, smooth incline like the Guggenheim’s rotunda, everyone can amble around the 4,250 foot long path to the platform that sits above the tops of the fir trees.
For those craving a little more adventure, there are three stations with unprotected, unscreened wooden bridges, rope bridges and other challenges. And because this is in Germany, there’s a restaurant and beer garden at the top where you can wash down a plate of wiener schnitzel with a pint or warm up on a winter’s day with a cup of a tea with rum. A scenic treetop walk followed by a crisp beer in the middle of the woods – Germans do hiking right. Good thing there’s an elevator for the way down.
Among the uncommon bird species that live here are the white-backed or three-toed woodpecker and the pygmy owl, Europe’s smallest. Some of the park’s most important species, including 45 that are endemic, can be seen in wildlife enclosures at national park centers. These locations give visitors an excellent chance to watch boar, bear, wolves, wisent (European bison), and many other species.
Prevalent glacial moraines and Lake Rachel (Rachelsee) are among the enduring reminders of the ice age that locked this area in its frozen grip some 10,000 years go.
An extensive natural garden at the Hans-Eisenmann-Haus Visitor Center near Neuschönau is worth a visit during any season. The exhibition includes more than 700 different plant species.
This was Germany’s first national park, straddling the mountains along the border between Bavaria and Bohemia. On the Czech side of the border is Sumava (Bohemian Forest) National Park, founded in 1991. The two parks are being managed with similar schemes and together they protect the largest area of forest remaining in central Europe.
The international airports at Munich (100 miles/165 kilometers) and Prague (103 miles/180 kilometers) provide access to the region. Frequent buses and trains service the park’s various entry points.
Summer is the most popular season to visit Bavarian Forest National Park but winter snows encourage snowshoeing, hiking, and cross-country skiing. On most days of the year children and families can enjoy free guided tours geared to the natural themes of the current season.
While the forest is left to evolve in its own way visitors are encouraged to actively seek out its charms. The park has more than 186 miles (300 kilometers) of hiking trails, 124 miles (200 kilometers) of designated cycling trails, and, in winter, 50 miles (80 kilometers) of cross-country ski trails. Mountain inns and forest cottages provide plenty of opportunities for relaxation.