Commune with birds and animals at German nature reserve
February 19, 2014
Whether you’re a nature buff or you just need a breather from the walking path you and Fido wear down daily, the largest protected wildlife and bird sanctuary within the German state of Hessen offers an enjoyable alternative in both winter and summer.
Roughly 10 miles southwest of Darmstadt, and a quick, 45-minute drive south of Wiesbaden, the Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue nature reserve is more than just a great location to observe more than 250 species of plants and animals. It makes for a nice half-day adventure. Kids can run free on its 10 square miles of lowland trails, pastures, orchards and play areas.
The nature reserve is in reality two autonomous areas of floodplain, separated by a sluggish waterway. The waterway has always been there — but it has not always been sluggish. In fact, it was the channel where the “old Rhine” once flowed. In 1928, engineers devised a plan to create a puncture in the peninsula to reduce flooding and increase flow by straightening the river’s radical curve. The old Rhine remained, separating the island of Kühkopf from its mainland northern neighbor Knoblochsaue.
Both areas are home to 115 bird species, such as storks, woodpeckers and the black kite, which is the reserve’s official bird.
Pay close attention to the reserve’s regulations, which are posted at the trailheads, and enjoy nearly 40 miles of hiking and biking trails. If you are the adventurous type and own a non-motorized watercraft, catch a different perspective by navigating the perimeter of Kühkopf by canoe or kayak. Although motorboats are not allowed, human-powered watercraft can be launched near the sanctuary’s free parking areas just outside the two walking bridge entrances in the nearby towns of Stockstadt and Erfelden.
The trails are well-marked and sit high enough above the surrounding wetland, but during this February visit I found them slippery and muddy. From time to time, I imagined myself sliding down the side of the trail. I wouldn’t expect the trails to be stroller-friendly until summer, when the ground has a chance to dry.
Bigger kids will find an open play area, swings, balance bar and a long zip line adjacent to large apple orchard areas for running and playing.
The reserve is easy to get to from the autobahn A5 exit 7 near Darmstadt. Once off the autobahn, take the B427 in the direction of Stockstadt. Drive two miles, turn right at L3361 and take a right after two-thirds of a mile at K153. Follow the K153 for one mile toward Stockstadt city center. Turn right on Oberstrasse and follow that road for two miles, then turn left onto Rheinstrasse. The parking area will be on the right, just before the river and pedestrian bridge.
The reserve has no closing time, but for safety reasons, it’s better to visit during daylight hours.
Entrance to the nature reserve is free. Free parking areas are located just outside the only two walking bridge entrances in the nearby towns of Stockstadt and Erfelden. The zip line and other play areas are free.
The reserve has a restaurant, Forsthaus Kühkopf, which is open from 11 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday; from 10 a.m. Sundays and holidays; closed Monday and Tuesday. Families on the go have several eating choices near the reserve, including a McDonald’s with an outdoor castle playland about two-thirds of a mile away in Erfelden.
The Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue website is kuehkopf.de, in German only. Free restrooms are available at the Erfelden parking area, but they weren’t maintained during our visit. Visitors should bring along toiletries, especially for children.
— Eric A. Brown
The Forsthaus Kühkopf offers guests a full menu or just hot tea or coffee. It’s located in the heart of the reserve on the island of Kühkopf and easily accessible by marked trails.
The “old Rhine” River from one of the only two pedestrian bridges connecting the mainland to the nature reserve island of the Kühkopf-Knoblochsaue nature reserve, seen above on right.
The trails at the reserve wind through peaceful, wooded land. In the winter, however, they can be wet and slippery.