Regardless of where we happen to be living or what the weather may be like, June always marks the beginning of summer in my mind. That means the start of a season filled with hiking, camping, kayaking, and the outdoors in any form we can find it. As we enter our first summer in Germany, it means a chance to visit some of the nearby national parks. So far we’ve only visited Harz and Saxon Switzerland, but we’re pretty sure we can visit all 16 in the next year and a half, even if the weather continues to be uncooperative (a single day of sunshine is inevitably followed by a week of gloomy grey skies, thunder, and rain). Not ones to stay indoors just because of a little moisture, we decided to start my birthday weekend off at Kellerwald-Edersee National Park.
Located just over an hour from Göttingen, the park is quite small – just over 57 km² – but it’s encompassed within the much larger Kellerwald-Edersee Nature Park, lending it the sense of a more vast natural region. The only national park in the German state of Hesse, it was recently added to the Unesco World Heritage list for its ancient beech forests.
Entering the park at the southern edge, we left the car in a nearly deserted gravel parking area, setting off down one of the three available trail heads. Almost immediately, we came across a kohlenmeiler, an ancient kiln that at one time produced significant amounts of charcoal for the region before they were largely replaced by the rise in coal production. To make charcoal, small branches and wood chips were placed inside the conical pile of wooden slabs. Over that, workers packed moss and dirt to make the kiln airtight. The fire lit inside would then be allowed to burn for at least a week, longer for larger kilns, reaching temperatures of over 300ºC. The charcoal was ready when the thick, grey smog became a thin stream of blue smoke.
Just past our first trail intersection, we discovered a sizable covered display with information about the park’s history, notable features, and local wildlife. Yeah for signs in English! We pored over it, crossing our fingers we’d see an Eagle owl, listed on the sign as the largest owl in the world, though in actuality the title is a bit dubious as it’s more typically ascribed to Blakiston’s fish owl. Either way, any owl that’s nearly as large as a golden eagle is one we’d be incredibly excited to see! We didn’t see any owls, black storks, or wild boars, for that matter, though a fellow hiker saw several of the latter that we just missed near the trail toward the end of our hike. Blast.
Major wild predators like big cats, wolves, and bears have long since been killed off in the park, but the signs did list two oddities with regard to wildlife. The first was that of the “Wild cat appearance documented.” Accompanying the picture of an ordinary, angry house cat was the following description: “It was considered to have become extinct in the Kellerwald for a very long time. The wild cat has now returned. It wanders through the forests hunting for mice all on its own as would be expected of a cat.”
If that isn’t a welcome reprieve from the typical German solemnity, this one certainly is. Did you guys know that Boggels used to live in them thar beech forests?! Though catching a glimpse of them now is “doubtful,” German park rangers claim that a tribe of the adorable little green tree-loving, pufferfish-like critters used to dwell in the woods. Ahhh, German humor at its finest! (Note: If you see one, don’t try to touch it – they have a nasty bite.)
After that fun little interlude, we were clearly enjoying ourselves, so much so that we took some upside down pictures on a log.
As always when we’re adventuring outdoors, Touille was with us. We hadn’t thought to bring her ball and Chuckit (dog’s best friend), so we lounged around throwing a stick for her in a huge grassy meadow. The skies threatened us with rain, then blinding sunshine.
A short hike uphill led us to Quernstkapelle, a 10-year old chapel built near the ruins of the old Quernst Church.
Venturing further into Kellerwald-Edersee National Park, we soon branched off the main wide gravel path we were following to take a much more wild and natural route, one that quickly left my sneakers soggy. Typically preferring to hike in my favorite old Rafters, I was grateful I’d opted for closed-toed shoes as I thought about how many nasty little voracious ticks were lurking in the grass. We thought they were a problem in Switzerland. Not so – they’re far more prevalent in Germany. Lame.
It wasn’t long before our light sprinkle of rain turned into an all-out downpour. My jeans were soaked through in no time flat and water oozed from my tennies, but it was such a refreshingly warm summer rain that it wasn’t necessary to add layers over my tank top. Sometimes it’s just nice to be soaked while you’re hiking.
Periodically stopping to scope out interesting mushrooms and conks, we completed our 8.5 km loop hike just before 9 pm while it was still quite light outside.
Opting to take a “scenic route” home, we headed west and then north to drive the twisty curves of Edersee, a lake just north of the national park. Finally we’d found a sizable lake in Germany!
Eyeing it and trying to decide if we wanted to throw in the Orus for some night paddling, we opted to come back some other day instead. Despite the deceptively light skies, it was nearly 10 pm! It stays light incredibly late here in central Germany in the summer. We love it! Besides, the next day was my birthday and with another full day ahead of us, we were done for the day. Hiking in Kellerwald-Edersee National Park, our third national park in Germany, was not a bad way to kick off my birthday weekend.
- An official national park center (which we passed but did not visit as it was closed) called National Park Centre Kellerwald is located near the hamlet of Schmittlotheim on the western edge of the park.
- The park has a handful of entrances, but most don’t have any services or amenities, as was the case for where we entered the park near Frankenau and skirted its eastern edge near Frebershausen.
- The park is free.
- Dogs are welcome on leash.
- Official website for Nationalpark Kellerwald-Edersee (EN, DE, FR, NL, UK, SK)