Forming part of the UNESCO-designated Palatinate Forest-North Vosges Biosphere Reserve (one of the largest forests in Europe), the Palatinate Forest is a protected swathe of low mountains in the southwest of Germany. Once seen as a source of energy supplies and raw materials, the forest is now protected as a nature park that makes for a popular recreational destination.

The Palatinate Forest Nature Park was established in 1958 as the third nature park in Germany and designed as a place for workers in the polluted cities of the Rhine Valley to escape for some R&R. Today it’s traversed by hundreds of kilometers of walking trails that lead through its mixed forests and past log-style huts where visitors can picnic and relax.

Follow one of the short, themed walking trails that wind through the Palatinate Forest, including the treetop Baumwipfelpfad at the Fischbach Biosphere House, the Rhineland-Palatinate Sculpture Way and the historic Rätselhafte Zeitzeichen. Alternatively, embark on one of the longer treks that include the Saar-Rhine-Main trail and the Franconia-Hesse-Palatinate trail, each of which are signposted by a particular color.

In addition to protecting the Palatinate Forest’s outstanding biological diversity, the area encompasses the castles of the Dahner Felsenland and the cross-border trails that lead into Alsace and the Vosges Mountains of eastern France. Kaisers-lautern is considered the “Gateway to the Palatinate Forest” and marks the start of the Pfälzer Waldpfad hiking trail, which takes trekkers past the Gräfenstein Fortress near Merzalben, the ruins of Dragon Rock (Drachenfels) and Berwart-stein Castle.