The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate has eight nature parks: Nassau Nature Park, Palatinate Forest Nature Park, Rhine-Westerwald Nature Park, Saar-Hunsrück Nature Park, Soonwald-Nahe Nature Park, South Eifel Nature Park, Volcanic Eifel Nature Park, and the German-Belgian High Fens-Eifel (North Eifel) Nature Park. It is their task to maintain a balance between the protection and use of nature and countryside. This includes the development of tourism ideas and concepts that promote the nature park approach without endangering intact nature. Paths running through the nature parks connect sights such as castles, palaces, nature trails, museums, leisure and sports opportunities, as well as interesting viewpoints and tourist routes.
Woodland as far as the eye can see! The Palatinate Forest is the largest continuous forest in Germany, and one of the largest in Europe. Together with a French area in northern Alsace, it forms the Palatinate Forest-Vosges du Nord biosphere reserve, which was admitted to the worldwide network of biosphere reserves in 1992.
Characteristic of the low mountain landscape in the south-west of Rhineland-Palatinate are the red sandstone rocks that jut out of the landscape and an abundance of pine trees, which grow well in the dry, low-nutrient soil of the Palatinate Forest. About 20% of the tree population consists of beech woods, which have become very rare and require protection.
Sandy, springy soil, as well as seemingly endless expanses of forests and vineyards, make the Palatinate Forest Nature Park – with its 179,800 hectares – into a paradise for walkers. Three premium paths and numerous short and circular hiking paths traverse all three landscapes of the Palatinate Forest: the Palatinate Highland with the 687-metre-high Donnersberg, the highest point in the Palatinate Forest, the Haardtrand, which lies above the Rhine valley, and the Palatinate Forest. Countless castles and castle ruins offer beautiful views over the wooded hills. Particularly worth seeing are the unusual, legendary rock formations in the Dahner Felsenland, for example the Jungfernsprung [Maiden’s Jump], a steep, 70-metre-high cliff, or the Teufelstisch [Devil’s Table], a 14-metre-high, one-legged, mushroom-shaped formation, at which the devil himself once dined, according to legend.
Between Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, Pirmasens, Zweibrücken and Kaiserslautern, mountain bikers will find a well-signposted, 300 km network of paths suitable for a range of abilities.
In the Volcanic Eifel, there are more mineral springs, maars and lava flows than anywhere else. The gases that are still emitted in places bear witness to continued volcanic activity in the Eifel region. This is Germany’s youngest volcanic region, bordering the South Eifel to the south and south-west, the Luxembourgian and Belgian Ardennes to the west, and the North Eifel to the north. The Rhine forms a geographical border to the east. The “emblem” of the roughly 2000 km² of the Volcanic Eifel Nature Park is provided by its volcanic craters, or maars, once created by powerful explosions. The deep-blue, water-filled maars are known as the “eyes of the Eifel”. With a depth of 72 metres, the Pulvermaar is the deepest of all of them.
Eight geomuseums provide information about the geoscientific, natural, historical, cultural and technical features of the Volcanic Eifel. The so-called “Deutsche Vulkanstrasse” connects 39 sights related to the topic of volcanic activity in the Eifel. This is a “holiday and adventure route” that begins above the Laacher See lake and ends at the folds of rock near Manderscheid. Another feature is the cold-water geyser “Wallender Born”, also known as the “Brubbel” in the local dialect. This is a three-metre-high fountain that erupts every 30 minutes, caused by carbon dioxide gas rising up out of the ground.
Thanks to various crime novels set in the area, the Eifel region has become more well-known over the last few years. “Crime novel tours” and “crime novel weekends” offer a chance to get to know the “Eifel crime novel landscape” from a very unique perspective.
Deep valleys and rocky slopes are typical of the 590 km² of nature park in the Rhenish Massif, of which the Lahn Valley forms the main east-west axis. Ten designated conservation areas located in the Nassau Nature Park offer an important haven for rare breeding bird species such as the hazel grouse, kingfisher, white-throated dipper and boreal owl. The best way to discover the flora and fauna is by taking the slow route along paths or waterways: Regional and national hiking paths and some educational and fitness trails criss-cross the Nassau Nature Park on land, with stretches suitable for canoes on the water. And beyond the idyllic natural landscape, there is even more to discover: In Höhr-Grenzhausen, for example, there is a 2,500 m² museum dedicated to clay and ceramics, and you can focus on your health in the traditional spa town of Bad Ems.
The 450 km2 of the Rhine-Westerwald Nature Park lie in the region of the Neuwieder Becken and the Lower Westerwald, to the east of the Rhine between Koblenz and Bonn. Typical of this nature park are ancient forests, romantic river valleys and picturesque little Rhine towns. A central area of the nature park is the 12-kilometre-long Fockenbachtal valley, home to beech woods and rare species such as the crested newt and particular kinds of frog and toad. A very special long-distance walking path is the 75-kilometre-long Limeswanderweg, which follows the line of the remains of the Roman defensive border, the Limes. From 85 B.C., the Limes formed the border between the Roman Empire and the land of the “barbaric” Germanic tribes. It is the largest archaeological landmark in Central Europe, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. At the Museum für Altsteinzeit in the former palace complex of “Monrepos” near Neuwied, you can go even further back into the past.
Alternatively, annual festivals and markets in the nature park lead you right into the middle of the bustling present day. Whether at a farmers’ market, Christmas market, or apple and wine festival, the inhabitants of the region never miss an opportunity to celebrate and live life to the full.
Situated between the Rhine and the Moselle, the Saar-Hunsrück Nature Park covers nearly 2000 km² and lies partly in Saarland and partly in Rhineland-Palatinate. Responsible for the park is the “Naturpark Saar-Hunsrück” society, which is based in Hermeskeil. Gently rolling ranges of hills in the heights of the Hunsrück and steep vineyards along the Moselle, Saar, Ruwer and Nahe rivers are characteristic of the varied cultural and natural landscape of the park. Lovers of both culture and nature will find a wide range of things to experience and discover. The 816-metre-high Erbeskopf, the highest point in Rhineland-Palatinate, the Saar loop near Mettlach, and the Saar-Hunsrück-Steig, which has been awarded the “Wandersiegel” [hiking seal] of the German Hiking Institute and is therefore one of the highest-rated hiking paths in Germany, make the heart of any hiker beat faster. Those interested in culture and history will find a multitude of legacies from all periods. Near Nonnweiler, for example, is one of the most impressive Celtic fortifications in Europe – the circular rampart in Otzenhausen. Built in the first century B.C., the rampart is 2.5 km long and up to 10 metres high. Roman remains are to be found not only in the old Roman city of Trier – the Roman Villa Borg near Perl is one of many of its kind. Castle Heid, the ruins of Castle Layen and the Wildenburg represent the Middle Ages.
Woods, water and great spreads of mountain crests characterise the varied and diverse landscape of the German-Belgian High Fens-Eifel Nature Park . It stretches across North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and eastern Belgium, covers an area of 2700 km², and lies between Langerwehe and Eupen, as well as Bad Münstereifel, Prüm and Sankt Vith. One of the most interesting areas in terms of landscape is the raised bog in the Belgian “High Fens”. It is unique in Europe and remains almost untouched. Just as attractive are the Vennvorland area, characterised by the dairy industry and forests, the extensive forests and deep valleys of the Rur Eifel, and the colourful biodiversity in the Limestone Eifel. These more rural areas with villages and small towns are a paradise for cyclists and hikers. Institutions such as the “Waldpädagogisches Zentrum Eifel”, which gives information about forestry and the work of the forester, or the “Rheinisches Freilichtmuseum” in Kommern, which consists of 60 different buildings from the Rhineland region, deepen and complete the encounter with nature.
The South Eifel Nature Park is the oldest nature park in Rhineland-Palatinate and the second-oldest in Germany. The park, which straddles the German border, consists of 432 km² on the Rhineland-Palatinate side and 357 km² on the Luxembourg side. It is divided into two areas with different types of landscape: the northern part, which belongs to the Rhenish Massif, and the southern part, belonging to the Bitburger Gutland, an area which forms the transition into the Moselle region. These two parts, of different altitudes, are separated by the Islek area. Typical of the landscape of this nature park are closed wooded areas, intersected by the romantic river and stream valleys of the Sauer, Our, Irren, Enz, Prüm, Nims and Kyll and interrupted by areas of open landscape and small Eifel villages. The range of landscapes in this region is reflected in the great diversity of flora and fauna. The dry limestone hollows, for example, are home to 32 varieties of orchid. The nature park is also a safe haven for rare species of bird, such as kingfishers, white-throated dippers and grey wagtails. A hike along one of the many described routes, or a visit to the Teufelsschlucht Nature Park Centre, is a good way to become better acquainted with the unique beauty of the South Eifel Nature Park. Other places worth visiting are the little town of Neuerburg, also known as the “pearl of the South Eifel”, Weilerbach Palace, which is a treat for those interested in art and art history, and Hamm Castle, a fortress erected on medieval walls. The European monument, in the tri-border area where Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg meet, is a reminder of the pioneers of a united Europe.
The Soonwald-Nahe Nature Park was founded in 2005 and is therefore still relatively new. It lies in the middle part of the Nahe valley and essentially covers the large forest areas of the Soonwald and Lützelsoon, as well as the northern bank of the Nahe river between Kim and Bad Kreuznach. Covering 736 km², the area is eminently suitable for extended hikes and walks. Many different kinds of habitat, such as flowering glades, moors, slate tunnels, juniper heathland, fallow vineyards and natural water courses make for an interesting and varied encounter with nature.