In cooperation with the World Heritage Region Wartburg Hainich

In the middle of Germany, easily accessible from the surrounding towns of Mühlhausen, Eisenach and Bad Langensalza, lies the Hainich National Park. What makes this forest worth mentioning? Many things! It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the only national park in Thuringia, you can observe wild cats and walk through its treetops. But one thing at a time.

A very special place

Deciduous forests are no longer as widespread in Germany as one might think. Beech trees in particular have become rare. And of these grow in the Hainich National Park particularly many. The large amount of tree stands worthy of protection earned the national park the title in 2011. UNESCO World Heritage Site one. 94 areas in 18 European countries jointly bear the title "Ancient Beech Forests and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe".

A national park is to nature in a broad sense what home is to man. Here, the trees, plants and animals can develop naturally, without disturbing influences from the outside. That is why the Hainich National Park looks quite wild compared to managed forests. Here, dead tree stumps form impressive sculptures overgrown with moss; there, bushes and ferns cover the forest floor and young, still tender deciduous trees stretch out into the light. Here, every inch is habitat: tree fungi grow on rotten trees, little animals nest in caves, cracks and knotholes, and over 500 species of beetles have been counted in the dead trees.   

It happens time and again that species thought to be extinct are found or previously unknown species are discovered in this diverse habitat. In addition, endangered animal species find a safe refuge here, the wild cats, for example. They were still widespread in almost all of Europe until the 20th century. Today, their population has dwindled alarmingly; there are just 600 specimens in Thuringia. 40 of them live in the national park. Four specimens can be seen in the wild cat village of Hütscheroda.

Experience originality

Although the national park and its inhabitants are under special protection, there are numerous opportunities to explore nature here. On bicycle and circular hiking trails, for example, on the treetop trail and in the associated national park center, as well as in the wild cat village.

The wild cat village

Few people ever have the opportunity to observe a wild cat in the wild. Because for this you need a lot of attention, calmness, patience and luck. It is different in the Wild cat village Hütscheroda in the southeast of the national park. Four wild cats and tomcats live there, and since 2019 also two lynxes, in the meantime also with offspring, in the wild cat clearing in large show enclosures. 

The safari starts at the wild cat barn in Hütscheroda, 400 meters from the clearing with the show enclosures. In the barn, not only the tickets are sold; here there is also a lot of exciting information about the shy hunters and their habitat and live pictures from the enclosure are transmitted on a screen. However, this is just a taste of the experience in the clearing. There, visitors can observe the animals, which live in different enclosures, from different perspectives, for example from an observation tower and from an earth house. A moderated show feeding also takes place two to three times a day.    

If you would like to combine a visit to the wildcat village with a hike, the seven-kilometer wildcat trail is a great option. The circular trail starts and ends at the wildcat barn and leads past the cat clearing and the "Hainichblick" observation tower. 

By train and bus comfortably to Hütscheroda: Plan arrival.

Down low and up high

It feels like the world is far away up there on the Hainichblick observation tower. The 44-meter-high tower is literally the big highlight of the Treetop path. It leads like a 540 meter long wooden bridge in airy heights through the green sea of leaves.   

If you not only want to get close to the trees, but also learn something about them, you can visit the National Park Center at Thiemsburg Castle. The two exciting and playfully designed exhibitions introduce visitors to the secrets of the Hainich and allow them to look deep into the roots. The worlds of experience can be discovered completely barrier-free and with the media guide also completely on your own. And families can experience the world of the mythical creatures of the Hainich National Park on the treetop trail in the adventure wilderness "In the Realm of Fagati".

By train and bus comfortably to the Hainich National Park: Plan arrival.

Cover photo: Over 20 hiking trails lead through the National Park © Johannes Hulsch

More articles from Thuringia