The oldest of Germany’s National Parks, the Bayerische Wald winds around the Bavarian forest peaks of Falkenstein, Rachel and Lusen along the border with the Czech Republic, it is the largest protected forest area in central Europe. Nowhere else between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural mountains has a major forest been returned completely to nature. No human lives there; and no human intervention is allowed to shape the development of the forest in any way.
With no agriculture, husbandry or commercial logging, the forest has regenerated a wide variety of habitats among its many wet valleys, streams, bogs, moors and meadows. Rare species like the lynx, black stork, and eagle owl. Pygmy owl, three-toed woodpecker, and Bohemian gentian have returned, among hundreds of others.
In some places, huge tracts of spruce lie in rotting tumbles, shrouded in moss and undergrowth: your heart sinks until you see the evidence of a whole new kind of forest emerging from centuries of commercial exploitation which have left it vulnerable to the ravages of the bark beetle kills off the spruce, nature is replacing them with the truly native beech, mountain ash, rowan an other deciduous species, which in turn are attracting even greater varieties of flora and fauna.
You can witness this unique landscape along 300 km (187 mi) of walking trails and 200 km (125 mi) of cycling paths. The Hochwaldsteig takes you (via Jacob’s ladder) to the 1,373 m (4,503 ft) rock dome of the Lusen, above the tree line; the Watzlikhain, near the Zwieslerwaldhaus sanctuary, is a forest wilderness discovery path; and the Igelbus (the national park bus) will drop you at the Seelensteig, a trail of such contemplative beauty that will crush your inner demons.
But when you come to Bayerische Wald for the first time, visit the information centre at Neuschonau for one-to-one advice on how best to enjoy your enthusiasm, and a first-class children’s discovery room.