Berchtesgaden National Park

Berchtesgaden National Park (in German: Nationalpark Berchtesgaden), located in the municipalities of Ramsau near Berchtesgaden, Schönau am Königssee, and Berchtesgaden in the Berchtesgaden Alps in the Bavarian district of Berchtesgadener Land, is the only German national park in the Alps.

The national park, established in 1978, covers an area of 208 km² and is part of the UNESCO Berchtesgadener Land Biosphere Reserve. It is also designated as a protected area under the Bird Directive.

Berchtesgaden encompasses the Watzmann, the Blaueis Glacier, and most of the Königssee.

History of Berchtesgaden National Park Area


In prehistory, the landscape of the Berchtesgaden National Park was marked by karst features, as evidenced in Steinernes Meer. The Wimbachgries Valley, located between the Watzmann and the Hochkalter with the Palfelhorn in the background, is also noteworthy, offering a mighty view from the brine conduit path. Additionally, panoramic views can be seen from locations such as Trischübel to Wimbachgries and from Malerwinkel to the Königssee within the park.

In more recent history, efforts by the "Association for the Protection and Care of Alpine Plants" led to the creation of the "Berchtesgaden Alpine Plant Conservation District" in 1910, covering about 83 km² and including the southern part of the Königssee, the Obersee, and the surrounding mountain ranges.

During World War I, there was consideration to carve a Bavarian lion on the Falkensteiner Wand of Königssee as a "monument to the fallen." However, this generated strong protests, particularly from the Nature Conservation Federation, leading to the creation of the "Königssee Nature Reserve" in 1921. This reserve included not only the Königssee but also the Hohen Göll, part of the Hagengebirge and Steinernes Meer, the Watzmann, the Hochkalter, and part of the Reiteralm, covering an area of approximately 200 km².


The establishment of the Berchtesgaden National Park began in 1973 under the direction of Georg Meister, who is considered the "founding father of the national park." On behalf of the Bavarian Minister of Agriculture, Hans Eisenmann, Meister initiated the initial planning of the park, setting the backdrop of its area. However, his proposals for forest status studies and the implementation of professional wildlife management, as well as reducing the game population, met resistance from hunting associations, local foresters, and ministerial bureaucracy. This resulted in his planned appointment as head of National Parks being prevented.

To halt attempts by the municipality of Ramsau, the Berchtesgadener Land Tourist Association, and the trading city of Berchtesgaden to build a cable car to the Watzmann, the Free State of Bavaria finally decreed the "Berchtesgaden National Park" on August 1, 1978. It covers the area of the former Königssee nature reserve, plus an expansion of almost 10 km², resulting in a total area of around 210 km². Hubert Zierl was appointed as the first director of the national park. Although this measure was criticized at the time, especially by local communities, the national park gradually gained greater acceptance among the local population.

The national park constitutes the core of 139 km² and the maintenance zone of 69 km² of the Berchtesgaden Biosphere Reserve, which covers a total of 467 km².

Recent Conflicts and Tensions in Berchtesgaden

In recent years, renewed tensions have arisen around the Berchtesgaden National Park. At the initiative of the SPD, the responsibility for the national park was removed from the district administrator, against the decision of the district council and the district office. This generated criticism, as the municipal advisory council for the national park, intended as a replacement, is considered insufficient as it only acts in an advisory capacity.

Additionally, there is ongoing debate about expanding the core zone of the national park to include centuries-old cultural landscapes with alpine agriculture and old mountain inns, such as the historic Wimbach Castle. The allocation of poorer financial resources compared to the Bavarian Forest National Park is also criticized.

In 2006, another conflict known as the "centimeter dispute" arose due to the widening of an agricultural road. To separate forests and pastures, an open pasture was created for an alpine farmer at the initiative of the National Park. However, the widening of the agricultural road leading to this new pasture generated controversy over nature conservation and agricultural needs. The conflict intensified due to concerns about the precedent this could set in terms of nature conservation versus economic concerns.

The local population and politicians are upset about external influence on these matters, while nature conservation associations fear that economic concerns will be prioritized over nature conservation. However, the Bavarian State Chancellery assured that each case would be treated on its own merits, although the conflict is still pending before the petitions committee of the Bavarian State Parliament.

Objectives of Berchtesgaden Protection

The goals of the Berchtesgaden National Park are outlined in accordance with the guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, as well as Article 24 of the BNatSchG. These goals are summarized in three main aspects: comprehensive nature protection, scientific research and observation of natural and semi-natural communities, and education and recreation for visitors.

The primary objective is the total protection of nature, which prevails over other objectives. This goes beyond the protection of individual species, encompassing all plant and animal species, as is the case in other protected areas of the country, such as in Saxon Switzerland National Park. Nature is allowed to take its course, even permitting processes like erosion without disturbances. To integrate cultural landscapes, the national park is divided into a strictly protected central zone and a maintenance zone, which can occupy up to 25% of the area, allowing for the protection of "cultural habitats" or individual species.

The main research areas include basic and applied research, focusing on understanding and solving environmental problems. Long-term environmental observation is crucial as natural processes minimally influenced by humans can only be observed in national parks.

Through environmental education, the park aims to promote the importance of protecting intact nature and foster its acceptance by the local population. Additionally, visitors are encouraged to use natural resources sustainably while ensuring their relaxation.

Since these objectives may conflict and nature in Central Europe is no longer pristine, a national park plan has been developed as a guide for measures to be taken, considering aspects such as building paths for visitors in the core zone and wildlife management.

Geography of the National Park

Berchtesgaden National Park

The geography of Berchtesgaden National Park encompasses much of the municipalities of Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden and Schönau am Königssee, as well as a small portion of the southeastern municipality of Berchtesgaden. It borders the Austrian state of Salzburg to the east, south, and southwest. According to the structure of the main natural spatial units of Germany, this area belongs to the Berchtesgaden Alps in the Northern Limestone Alps.

This park is situated at altitudes ranging from 603.3 meters (at Königssee) to 2713 meters above sea level (at the Watzmann). With approximately 259 km² of area, the national park covers a wide area that includes not only the municipalities of Ramsau and Schönau but also Berchtesgaden, Bischofswiesen, and Marktschellenberg. Additionally, it is part of a larger biosphere reserve known as the "Berchtesgadener Land Biosphere Region."

The national park’s boundaries extend from Jenner approximately 1 km to the east, then turn north around the ski resort to Mannlgrat and continue to Hoher Göll. From there, it follows the Germany-Austria border to Neue Traunsteiner Hütte in Reiter Alm. Then, it encompasses the entire eastern plateau and descends to Hintersee, north of Schottmalhorn. In Ramsau, the border runs just south of Hintersee and Ramsauer Ache eastward along the northern slopes of Hochkalter and Watzmann to Jenner, excluding the northern end of Königssee.

The highest point within the national park is the Watzmann, the central mountain massif of the Berchtesgaden Alps. The Wimbachgries Valley, which according to a geological theory was formed by the collapse of a vault over Watzmann and Hochkalter, is notable. This valley is filled with debris up to 300 meters thick and extends for ten kilometers. Additionally, the Funtensee, a mountain lake where the lowest temperatures in all of Germany are regularly recorded in winter, is located in the Berchtesgaden National Park area.

Fauna and Habitats in Berchtesgaden

Wild animals in Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany

In the Berchtesgaden National Park, the fauna is varied and fascinating. Among the largest mammals are roe deer, red deer, chamois, and Alpine ibex, the latter reintroduced in the 1930s. Smaller species like the Alpine marmot, mountain hare, and snow vole also inhabit the park.

Golden eagle in Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany

The park is home to around 100 bird species, including the golden eagle, eagle owl, pygmy owl, capercaillie, rock ptarmigan, common raven, chough, jay, and nutcracker. Griffon vultures and bearded vultures are occasionally spotted. As for amphibians and reptiles, 16 species are recorded, including some endangered ones like the viper, smooth snake, alpine salamander, and fire salamander. There are also 15 species of fish, such as the Arctic char of Königssee and lake trout.

Although bison, lynx, brown bears, wolves, and otters originally inhabited the area, selective reintroductions into the wild are not currently planned. However, immigration from neighboring areas could be possible for some of these species in the future.

Iconic Species Inhabiting the Protected Area

  • The golden eagle, symbol of the park and the mighty king of the skies.
  • The chamois, an adept climber in the heights of the Berchtesgaden Alps.
  • The marmot, rodents that hibernate and can be observed in various areas of the park.
  • The ibex, with its impressive curved horns.
  • The deer, whose antlers were coveted as hunting trophies.

But there are many other species, both animals and microorganisms, that have found a safe home in the pristine nature of the national park.

The fauna of Berchtesgaden National Park is extremely diverse. In addition to notable species like the alpine chough, the capercaillie, and the Apollo butterfly, there are numerous more discreet species adapted to life in alpine habitats. Recently, a new species was discovered in the park: a fungus gnat called Leptosciarella gretae. Regarding invertebrates, it is estimated that there are between 5,000 and 20,000 different species.

In the waters of the national park, there are 15 species of fish, along with eight species of amphibians and six species of reptiles. The alpine salamander and the viper are typical species of the region, the latter known as the "hell viper" due to its black color. Additionally, the park is home to around 100 bird species, with four pairs of golden eagles raising their young in Watzmann and Königssee.

Particularly popular among hikers are the marmots, ibex, and chamois, which can be easily observed in the heights around Lake Königssee. In total, 55 different mammal species have been identified in the park area, including rare representatives such as the Bechstein’s bat, the smallest mouse-eared bat in Europe, and the marten.

Flora of Berchtesgaden

Alpine rose in Berchtesgaden National Park, Germany

An extensive area of the Berchtesgaden National Park is covered by forests, which provide a crucial habitat for numerous animal and plant species. Here, nature can remain truly natural, without human intervention. In the core zone of the protected area, rare plants thrive, thanks to the presence of fallen trees whose dead wood constitutes a valuable habitat for insects and other plants.

The diversity of flora in Berchtesgaden National Park is exceptional, especially as one ascends in altitude from Lake Königssee, at about 600 meters, to the central peak of Watzmann, which reaches 2,713 meters. Along this altitudinal gradient, a variety of habitats can be found, offering a true paradise for plant lovers.

Alpine Auricula in Berchtesgaden, Germany

On the shores of Königssee, the vegetation is sparse due to the steep rocky walls, but in flatter areas, one can find reeds and swamp plants like the marsh marigold and the narrow-leaved cotton-grass. As one ascends, the rich deciduous forests of beeches give way to conifers like firs, larches, and stone pines. Above the tree line, the mountain pine dominates the landscape.

In the mountain pastures of the Berchtesgadener Land, one can admire a wide variety of plants such as arnica, silver thistle, the fringed alpine rose, and the stemless gentian, which brighten the trails with their splendor of colors.

In the alpine region, where trees can no longer grow, life is particularly harsh and requires specialized plants that can withstand extreme conditions such as snow, intense sunlight, wind, and lack of water. Among them are alpine turf communities with typical grasses, as well as colorful flowering plants like the stemless catchfly, the hairy hawkweed, and the edelweiss. Plants that inhabit rocky and stony areas have special adaptations to survive in an ever-changing environment.

Information Center

The House of the Mountains

Located at the entrance of Berchtesgaden, the Haus der Berge is the information and education center of Berchtesgaden National Park. In its permanent exhibition "Vertical Wilderness," visitors can experience the nature of Germany’s only alpine national park, from the depths of Lake Königssee to the summit of Watzmann. Additionally, the environmental education center and the outdoor area complement the permanent exhibition.

Berchtesgaden National Park Information Center

The "Vertical Wilderness" exhibition offers a wide range of experiences to learn about the local nature. From the bottom of Lake Königssee to the peaks of the Berchtesgaden Alps, visitors can explore the full spectrum of life and different habitats, such as water, forest, alpine meadows, and rock/karst. Highlighting a mountain showcase, the exhibition bridges the recreated nature on display and the reality of Berchtesgaden National Park.

Environmental Education Center

The educational center features four modern rooms designed for groups and school classes. In the meadow kitchen, the water lab, the forest workshop, and the rock view, visitors can explore and delve into the main habitats of the national park. Registration is required to access the educational center.

Haus der Berge Outdoor Area

The outdoor area offers learning and recreation experiences, with meadow, water, and forest areas. The Lahner-Kaser, a historic alpine shelter faithfully reconstructed to its original form, is located in the Watzmann area.


Haus der Berge was designed with the needs of people with disabilities in mind. It features wide paths and accessible bathrooms, as well as ramps for wheelchairs and elevators to access all exhibition areas.

Excursions, Activities, and Tourist Attractions

Bearded Vulture Observation

The bearded vulture, with a wingspan of up to 2.90 meters, is one of the largest flying birds in the world. Unfortunately, it became extinct in the Alps at the beginning of the 20th century. However, since 1986, bearded vulture chicks have been reintroduced as part of a large-scale breeding project. The Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), based in Zurich, manages the European breeding network. Although the birds have been reproducing independently in the Western and Central Alps since 1997, reproduction in the Eastern Alps has been slow.

To address this issue, Berchtesgaden National Park and the Bavarian Nature Conservation Association (LBV) initiated a project in cooperation with the Nuremberg Zoo to support reintroduction across the Alps. Over the next ten years, bearded vulture chicks will be released in the Klausbach Valley, aiming to strengthen the central European Alpine population of this rare bird species and connect it with populations in the Balkans and Asia Minor.

For the third time, the Bavarian Nature Conservation Association (LBV) and Berchtesgaden National Park have successfully reintroduced two young bearded vultures that cannot yet fly into a rock niche in the Klausbach Valley. This project is an important step towards restoring the presence of this mighty bird in the Alps.

Hiking Trails

The extensive network of trails and paths, comprising about 260 kilometers in total, is primarily maintained by the national park administration. These trails offer a variety of options for mountain hikes, suitable for different skill levels and preferences. Additionally, the national park administration organizes guided hikes for both adults and children, providing an enriching and educational experience in nature.

Some of these selected trails are also open to cyclists, while on Lake Königssee, visitors can enjoy eco-friendly passenger boat rides powered by electricity, offering a unique way to explore the national park from the water. Since 1987, the swimming ban in the park’s waters has been lifted, allowing visitors to enjoy the natural beauty even more.

However, it is important to note that the national park administration has chosen to stop maintaining or even dismantle numerous old hunting and mountain trails. This is intended to direct the flow of visitors and preserve the ecosystem’s integrity. This decision, although aimed at protecting nature, has also generated conflicts as it involves conserving ancient human cultural elements, such as the Almsteig, posing a dilemma between environmental conservation and cultural heritage preservation.

Guided Winter Walks

Berchtesgaden National Park offers an extensive program of guided winter excursions, where visitors can explore the pristine nature of Germany’s only high mountain national park. These excursions are led by park rangers, researchers, or the environmental education team, providing an educational and enriching experience in nature. More information about the winter program of the National Park can be found in their event calendar or on their official website.

During winter in the Klausbach Valley, visitors can participate in various activities, such as horse-drawn sleigh rides to the national park from the Klausbachhaus in Hintersee, where they can feed the wildlife. Deer, in particular, descend to the valleys in search of food during the winter, and these feeding events organized by Berchtesgaden National Park help prevent food shortages and damage to trees. Horse-drawn sleigh rides are also offered to visit these wildlife feeders, providing a unique experience to observe the deer up close.

Additionally, during winter, the snow-covered nature offers opportunities to track and explore the winter landscape of the national park. Despite the cold, there is active life in nature, with animals like foxes and rabbits in their mating season. There are also touches of color among the snow, such as shrubs, flowers, and autumn leaves, adding vibrant contrast to the winter landscape.

The Klausbach Valley in Ramsau is one of the highlighted areas for these winter activities, where visitors can observe deer and enjoy the natural beauty of the region. The Klausbachhaus, located at the entrance of the Klausbach Valley, serves as an information point for Berchtesgaden National Park and provides more details about activities and local wildlife.


The Ramsau National Park Festival took place in the summer of 2010 in the Hintersee district of Ramsau, at the Klausbachhaus National Park information point. This event marked a significant change, as outdoor shows had previously been organized at this location, but this time the play "Martinsklause" by Ludwig Ganghofer was presented. This theatrical performance was the municipality of Ramsau’s contribution to the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Berchtesgadener Land’s affiliation with Bavaria.

How to Get There

You can reach Berchtesgaden National Park in several ways: by private vehicle, keeping in mind that parking fees apply per hour, three hours, or per day. You can also arrive by bus from the city of Berchtesgaden, using RVO lines 839, 841, or 843. Additionally, group tours are available from cities such as Salzburg or Munich for those who prefer an organized and guided experience.


Berchtesgaden National Park operates from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. During these hours, the educational center, restaurants, and electric boat rides are open.

Entrance Fees

Entrance to Berchtesgaden National Park is free. However, parking fees and charges for the electric boat ride apply.