Wild NRW - our "Big Five"
Daytrips to flamingos, wild horses and tors
North Rhine-Westphalia is not only notably green, but also very wild and colourful. Whoever is out and about to explore nature, will come across some surprise.
A lot of people still associate smoking chimneys with North Rhine-Westphalia. But it is the nature that stands out in the land between Rhine and Weser: 14 nature parks occupy roughly 40 percent of the land area, more than a quarter of the land is covered by forest and water. North Rhine-Westphalia even has a born-and-bred primeval forest with the Eifel National Park, because the area is not only largely left untouched but is also being gently retransformed to the original beech forest that used to exist here.
North Rhine-Westphalia's national park
The objectives in the Eifel National Park are proving successful: various endangered animals have resettled, such as wildcats, beavers and black storks. Lucky visitors may get a peek at them when hiking through the sparse beech forest. Tours with rangers, which are regularly offered in the national park, are another possibility to approach nature.
In the spring, a special natural spectacle takes place in the region. Millions of wild daffodils turn the Olef, Perlenbach and Fuhrtsbach valleys into a blazing yellow sea of blossom - a nearly unique spectacle in Germany. The Hunsrück is the only other place to offer this fascinating spectacle to its visitors. The best way to experience the flowers is by hiking on the approximately twelve kilometre-long Wild Daffodil Route which starts and finishes in Monschau, the beautiful half-timbered village in the Eifel.
After the daffodils have withered, genistas ensure bold colours in the Eifel National Park. Many of these shrubs, which are also called "Eifel-Gold" due to their colour, can be found on the Dreiborn Plateau which is located at the "Eifelsteig", a 313 kilometre hiking route that leads from Aachen to Trier. This route was awarded "Germany's most beautiful hiking route" in 2015.
But the national park is also a special experience in the dark: Due to the fact that big cities with their countless light sources are far away, it is very dark here and more stars can be seen here than in almost any other location in Germany. When the sky is clear, visitors can even see the Milky Way with the naked eye. The astronomy workshop "stars without limits" on the premises of their observatory, regularly invites visitors to watch and marvel at a sky full of stars.
Flamingos and moor
Even though the Eifel National Park has an outstanding position in North Rhine-Westphalia with its national park status, wild nature can also be discovered at several other places. The "Zwillbrocker Venn" offers its visitors what is probably the most unusual natural spectacle. Wild flamingos have settled in the wildlife and bird sanctuary in the Münsterland! These exotic birds chose the area as a breeding ground which is thus the northernmost flamingo colony in Europe. The pink animals can be seen from March to July and if the brood was successful, even until September. Those who want to come especially close can get on their bikes, because the 450 kilometre-long Flamingo Route directly passes these long-legged birds.
People visiting the Zwillbrocker Venn between July and September, cannot only hope for baby flamingos, but can also look forward to another natural spectacle: the Heather blossom season. The purple and pink carpet of flowers emphasises the beauty of the landscape. The largest continuous stretch of heather blossoms in North Rhine-Westphalia is the so-called Senne landscape in the Teutoburg Forest. There is only one larger expanse of heather in Germany, which is located in the Luneburg Heath. But the pink flowers can also be enjoyed at other locations in NRW such as in the Wahner Heide near Cologne as well as in the Großes Torfmoor in Lübbecke and Hille in the Teutoburg Forest.
The Großes Torfmoor is the largest remaining moor area of North Rhine-Westphalia. Not only can the heather be admired, but also storks have settled here. In June, when the birds hunt frogs, the chances of seeing one of this rare species are high. But otherwise, the mystical moor is always worth the trip, of course. The best way to explore the region is by using the three kilometre-long moor nature trail, which is barrier-free for wheelchairs and prams. Another location to observe storks is on the other side of North Rhine-Westphalia: the Lower Rhine region.
Wild bison and horses
Bison are full of power, and not only compared to the delicate stork. Europe's largest terrestrial mammals weigh up to one ton. The continent's only wild herd is settled in the Siegen-Wittgenstein region. If visitors are very lucky, they can watch them in the Wittgensteiner Forests. In the Wisent wilderness on the Rothaarsteig near Bad Berleburg, the chances are higher of catching a glimpse of the animals- a small group of bison roam around in a closed 20-hectare area. There are also bison in the Neandertal near Düsseldorf, but they are not wild. In the vicinity of the Neanderthal Museum, bison share the "Ice Age Wild Park" with other primeval animals such as aurochs and tarpans.
Well known wild animals also live in the nature park "Hohe Mark-Westmünsterland" - the Dülmen ponies. Like the bison in the Wittgensteiner Land, they are also the last living herd of their kind on the European continent and are largely left to roam wild. For both tourists and locals, the annual trapping of the wild horses in the Merfelder Bruch, on the last Saturday in May each year, is a big highlight. Trappers catch the one year-old stallions with their bare hands. Once trapped, the animals are auctioned or raffled off and tamed in order to be used for riding through the large parklands of the Münsterland or to pull carriages.
Loud chattering on the Lower Rhine
Watchers can find a unique spectacle of nature on the Lower Rhine every winter, when as many as 25,000 arctic wild geese use the Bislicher Insel floodplain as their winter quarters. The animals’ loud chattering is audible from far away as they use the meadows and fields between Duisburg and the Dutch border as their comparatively mild winter residence. This region comprises the largest resting area for arctic wild geese in Western Europe, with 30 percent of the Western European population of white-fronted geese assembling between Duisburg and Nijmegen during the winter half year.
A visit to the wild forest
Wildpark Vosswinkel in Arnsberg, in the Sauerland region, allows visitors to meet native animal species such as deer, mouflon, wild boar, red foxes, badgers, eagle owls, and martens on a game park of 250 hectares where guests can stroll the enclosures freely with the exception of a few rare fences. Rare farm-animal breeds such as Shropshire sheep, as well as various kinds of pigs, goats, geese, and ducks are kept at the historical Haarhof as well.
Rocks, stones, and great views
Though not alive, but no less impressive than the wild horses, are the Externsteine in the Teutoburg Forest. Undoubtedly, they belong to the most impressive natural monuments in Germany and have inspired countless stories and myths. Visitors reach the summit of the tors via two stairs where they can admire a fantastic view over the region.
A similar number of stories entwine the Drachenfels near Königswinter. The legendary mountain is considered to be the world's most climbed mountain and soars high above the Rhine, which has been attracting romantics as well as painters and tourists for centuries. Those who climb the mountain can gaze over the Rhine Valley and the "Siebengebirge" and beyond. It is not only possible to ascend the peak by foot- there is also the traditional rack and pinion railway and children can even ride donkeys to the top. Those with more endurance, and who still have the urge to discover more of the romantic Rhine, can either use the 320 kilometre-long Rheinsteig that leads from Bonn to Wiesbaden, or follow the whole river for 1,320 kilometres on the Rhine Cycle Route from the source to the mouth.
There is also a wonderful view from the Weser-Skywalk at the Hanoverian cliffs in Beverungen, in the East of North Rhine-Westphalia - and not only over the Weser Valley. The area is a true paradise for butterflies: About 500 species have already been found here, including many that usually prefer warmer regions such as the Mediterranean area. Due to the sun heating up the cliffs very strongly, the butterflies have now settled by the Weser.
Industry and orchids
Unusual habitats have developed in places where they are least expected-such as the Ruhr Area: on old industrial wasteland. However, the reason for the newly developed wilderness is actually obvious: Since the closing of the factories, the area has been alone and has redeveloped naturally. In many areas, new, young industrial forests have developed, that are often more speciose than natural forests.
Thanks to the past, the Aachen environs have a special beauty of nature: Wild orchids have started to grow in an old quarry that has been left open. The best way to discover the colourful flowers is by touring the 16 kilometre-long "Kupferroute" (coppr trail) which leads through the region. The golden zinc violet blooms from May to August at the roadside and can only be found here in the ore areas.