For centuries, the epic beauty of Germany’s landscapes has inspired artists and writers toward the lyrical and profound. The country's national parks highlight some of its most incredible and diverse outdoor spaces.

These vast and varied landscapes are protected to varying degrees by 105 nature parks, 15 biosphere reserves and 16 national parks. Germany is an all-seasons outdoor playground – whatever your adrenaline fix, you'll find it here.

Here are the top national parks to visit on your trip to Germany.

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View of Konigssee from Jenner Peak in Berchtesgaden, Germany
Berchtesgaden National Park is surrounded by six mountain ranges © Max Shen / Getty Images

Berchtesgaden National Park

Best for scenic views

Plunging deep into Austria and framed by six high-rise mountain ranges, Berchtesgaden National Park is a drop-dead-gorgeous corner of Bavaria steeped in myths and legends. Local lore has it that angels given the task of distributing the earth’s wonders were startled by God’s order to get a move on and dropped them all here by accident. These most definitely included the Watzmann at 2713m (8900ft), Germany’s second-highest mountain, and the pristine Königssee, perhaps Germany’s most photogenic body of water. Berchtesgaden National Park was declared a biosphere reserve by Unesco in 1990. The village of Berchtesgaden is the obvious base for hiking circuits into the park.

Away from the trails, the area has a more sinister aspect – the mountaintop Eagle’s Nest was a lodge built for Hitler and is now a major dark-tourism destination while the Dokumentation Obersalzberg chronicles the region’s Nazi past.

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Lake Grosser Abersee in autumn in Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany
The calm Bavarian Forest National Park sees few outside visitors © Westend61 / Getty Images

Bavarian Forest National Park

Best for quiet walks

Together with the Bohemian Forest on the Czech side of the border, the Bavarian Forest forms the largest continuous woodland area in Europe. This inspiring landscape of peaceful rolling hills and rounded tree-covered peaks is interspersed with seldom-disturbed valleys and stretches of virgin woodland, providing a habitat for many species long since vanished from the rest of Central Europe. A large area is protected as the surprisingly wild and remote Bavarian Forest National Park (Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald). Although incredibly good value, the region sees few international tourists and remains quite traditional.

A path through trees in the Black Forest National Park, Germany
Germany's iconic Black Forest is a treat for hikers © Ronald Wittek / Getty Images

Black Forest National Park

Best for hiking

An outdoor wonderland of heather-speckled moors, glacial cirque lakes, deep valleys, mountains and near-untouched coniferous forest, the Black Forest National Park is the Schwarzwald at its wildest and untamed best. Nature is left to its own devices in this 100-sq-km (38-sq-mile) pocket in the northern Black Forest, tucked between Baden-Baden and Freudenstadt and centered on the Black Forest Highway, the Murg Valley and Mummelsee. Hiking and cycling trails abound, as do discovery paths geared towards children.

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Bastei Bridge at dawn, with mist filling the valley of the Elbe in Saxon Switzerland, Germany
Saxon Switzerland is a must-visit for hikers and rock climbers © Jonathan Stokes / Lonely Planet

Saxon Switzerland National Park

Best for rock climbing

Saxon Switzerland embraces a unique and evocative landscape. This is wonderfully rugged country where nature has chiseled porous rock into bizarre columns, battered cliffs, tabletop mountains and deep valleys. The Elbe courses through thick forest, past villages and mighty hilltop castles. No wonder such fabled beauty was a big hit with 19th-century Romantic artists, including the painter Caspar David Friedrich. In 1990, about a third of the area became Saxony’s only national park, Saxon Switzerland National Park. You could tick off the area’s highlights on a long day trip from Dresden, but to truly experience the magic of Saxon Switzerland, stay overnight and enjoy a couple of good walks. In addition to hiking, this is one of Germany's premier rock-climbing destinations, offering over 15,000 routes. Cyclists can follow the lovely Elberadweg.

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Chalk cliffs of Jasmund National Park, Germany
Dramatic chalk cliffs dive into the sea at Jasmund National Park © dugdax / Shutterstock

Jasmund National Park

Best for coastal adventures

The rugged beauty of Jasmund National Park, Germany's smallest, first came to national attention thanks to the romanticized paintings of Caspar David Friedrich in the early 19th century. His favorite spot was the Stubbenkammer, an area at the northern edge of the park, where jagged white-chalk cliffs plunge into the jade-colored sea – it's one of the most dramatic corners of the Baltic Coast. Otherwise, the 30-sq-km (11.5-sq-mile) park is dominated by pretty beech forests.

By far the most famous of the Stubbenkammer cliffs is the Königsstuhl – at 117m (380ft), it’s Rügen’s highest point. Fewer people make the trek a short distance east to the Victoria-Sicht (Victoria View), which provides the best view of the Königsstuhl itself. If you’re feeling energetic, a spectacular way to approach the area is by making the 10km (6-mile) trek from Sassnitz along the coast through the ancient forest of Stubnitz. The trail also takes you past the gorgeous Wissower Klinken chalk cliffs, another vista famously painted by Friedrich.

Mühlensee in Müritz National Park, Germany
Müritz National Park is often called the land of a thousand lakes © André Leopold / Getty Images

Müritz National Park

Best for lakes

Müritz National Park is an oasis of green and blue, a land of lakes and forests in the heart of otherwise unrelenting farm country midway between Berlin and Rostock. Müritz is commonly known as the land of a thousand lakes. While that’s an exaggeration, there are well over 100 lakes here, as well as countless ponds, streams and rivers. This serene park consists of bog and wetlands, and it's home to a wide range of waterfowl, including ospreys, white-tailed eagles and cranes. The country road between Neustrelitz and Waren to the west cuts through the heart of the park and offers plenty of places to stop and admire the beech forests, which have been recognized by Unesco.

Old tree and roots at Edersee in Kellerwald-Edersee National Park, Germany
Get up close to the flora and fauna of Kellerwald-Edersee National Park © Ellen van Bodegom / Getty Images

Kellerwald-Edersee National Park

Best for wildlife watching

Established in 2004, the 57-sq-km (22-sq-mile) Nationalpark Kellerwald-Edersee encompasses one of the largest extant red beech forests in Central Europe, the Kellerwald. There's also, the Edersee, a serpentine reservoir formed through the damming of the Eder, and now a beloved recreation spot. Kellerwald-Edersee National Park, along with Hainich National Park in Thuringia and a cluster of other parks or reserves with large beech forests, became a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site in 2011. Animals such as red deer, lynx, honey buzzards, eagles, bats and fire salamanders live wild in the park, while some can be seen in protective custody at the Wildtierpark in Edertal.

Use e-bikes to ride around the lake on a comfortable day tour, changing the battery at points along the way, or on the bike trails running through the forest itself. The park’s lush landscapes offer excellent hiking: trails include the Kellerwaldsteig and the Urwaldsteig-Edersee.

Mossy rocks in a river in the forest in Harz National Park, Germany
Harz National Park has a distinct microclimate that allows different vegetation zones to flourish © Simon Zoltan / 500px

Harz National Park

Best for plant life diversity

Covering a land mass of more than 61,000 acres, Harz National Park is the first national park in Germany to occupy land in two states: Lower Saxony to the west and Saxony-Anhalt to the east. Of its low-altitude uplands, the Brocken at 1142m (3747ft) is its highest peak. The park's unique microclimates give rise to a range of distinct vegetation zones, affording the visitor some spectacular landscapes, easily appreciated by hiking, biking or cross-country skiing on the park's comprehensive network of well-maintained trails.

Elevated cycling trail through a forest in Hainich National Park, Germany
Cycle through the treetops in Germany's Hainich National Park © Westend61 / Getty Images

Hainich National Park

Best for cycling

The Unesco World Heritage Hainich National Park protects Germany's largest coherent deciduous forest. There’s hiking and cycling, of course, but the park's key draw is an elevated trail called Baumkronenpfad, which meanders through the treetops at a vertiginous 44m (144ft) above the forest floor. Enjoy magnificent views over the park, and observe its flora and fauna from this unique perspective.

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Hiker on a sandstone rock formation in the beech tree foreset of Eifel National Park, Germany
Sandstone rock formations can be found in the beech tree forests of Eifel National Park © Westend61/ Getty Images

Eifel National Park

Best for family-friendly hikes 

Wild cats, beavers, kingfishers, bats and owls are just some of the critters you might spot in Eifel National Park, about 20km (12 miles) east of the border with Belgium. Established in 2004, it protects about 110 sq km (42 sq miles) of beech forest, rivers and lakes, and is filled with intriguing plants and wildlife. In spring, a sea of wild narcissus floods the valleys.

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