FAQ

Park fauna and flora

What species can be observed on the mountain range?

The Ballons des Vosges Regional Natural Park covers a vast territory of more than 2,900 km2. It consists of a mosaic of natural environments that are home to a wide variety of fauna and flora. Out of the most remarkable natural areas are the Vosges forest, which covers 55% of the Park’s surface, the high stubble fields at altitudes of 1,000 m and above, the peat bogs and high-altitude lakes, and the dry limestone grasslands on the Alsatian foothills.

A recent inventory report of the Park’s biodiversity shows 1,379 species of flora. Some of the most emblematic species are: mountain Arnica, Vosges Pansy and Austrian Anemone on the high stubble fields, Aster amelle and Common Pulsatilla on the dry limestone grasslands, Round-leaved Sundew and Cranberry on the peat bogs, Pectinated Fir and Blueberry in the Vosges forests.

The 610 wildlife species identified include:

  • 264 birds: Skylark, Crossbill, Spotted Nutcracker, Dipper, Peregrine falcon, Meadow pipit, Black woodpecker, Whinchat, etc.
  • 125 butterflies: Gaze, Small silver-necked, Niobe fritillary, White-fasciated moth, Sylvander, etc.
  • 70 mammals: Chamois, Forest Cat, Eurasian Beaver, Great Murin, etc.
  • 61 dragonflies: Common hawker, Emerald damselfly, Black Darter, etc.
  • 63 orthopterans: Alpine Miramella, Verrucivore Dectica, Vine Ephippigere, Cymbalid Grasshopper, etc.
  • 15 amphibians: Alpine triton, spotted salamander, yellow belly bell, etc.
  • 12 reptiles: Viviparous Lizard, Western Green Lizard, etc. One of the main responsibilities of the Regional Natural Park is to preserve the natural areas of its territory as well as the wild species that live there, some of which are particularly fragile.

Some of the above species, particularly the flora, are relatively easy to observe provided they are sought out in favourable environments during their flowering period. In contrast, where the fauna are concerned, observation is more difficult as these are wild species and, by definition, often discreet and unpredictable. Patience, binoculars and an identification manual will be needed if you want to catch sight of them.

We advise you to ask a mountain guide, who is qualified to accompany you in your experience of the Park’s natural environment, abiding by good conduct rules. Click HERE to see the list of mountain guides with the “Regional Natural Park Values” label.

If you prefer to experience the outdoors on your own, we invite you to view the map of quiet zones for wildlife as well as the good practices and regulations connected with these zones at the Quietude attitude website.

What are the best places and times of the day to watch the chamois?

Following their introduction in the 1950s, chamois have colonised the entire Vosges range. You can thus come upon them mid-day, at any time during your hike, whatever the trail you have selected. However, the Hohneck Range offers an environment favourable to this species with individuals accustomed to a high visitor numbers and therefore generally less wary. You can observe them in full daylight from the marked paths.

In general, wildlife needs to be left undisturbed during the hours when it is most active, at dawn and at dusk. We thus ask that you plan your sporting activities and attempts to observe wildlife to the full daylight hours.

What tree species can be found in the Park?

There are many different tree species in the Park, considering the diversity of physical and ecological climatic conditions. Their composition also reflects the territory’s human history, which has modified the original forest (logging, creation of pastures and meadows, hunting).

The Park has 42 different tree species. The main species in terms of volume are: Fir 30%, Spruce 29% (introduced species), Beech 13%, Oaks 5% (mainly Sessile Oak), Douglas Fir 5% (introduced species), Maple 4%, Ash 3% (declining due to disease), other hardwoods 10% (elm, lime, rowan, birch, alder, walnut, etc.), and the other two species (oak and oak).

What about the Western capercaillie in the Vosges?

The Western capercaillie is a protected species in critical danger of extinction on the Vosges massif. Over the period 2010-2015, the number of Western capercaillie in the Vosges massif is estimated at less than one hundred individuals, and these numbers have continued to fall sharply in recent years. A variety of threats weigh on this species: modification and fragmentation of its habitat, disturbance, climate change, collision with electrical lines and ski lift cables.

A feasibility study is underway for genetic population enhancement.

Are there any dangerous animals in the mountain range? Which? Where do they live?

No animal species dangerous to humans are found on the massif, such that you can walk in peace.

Although some people may be concerned about the presence of the wolf and the lynx on the massif, these two species are harmless to humans and will avoid them as much as possible.

Although this could only occur by way of exception, given the very low number of individuals of these two species on the massif, should you come across one, please inform the Wild Carnivore Observatory.

Are there groundhogs in the Park?

The Groundhog is not found on the Park’s territory.

Three semi-clandestine introduction operations were carried out in the second half of the 20th century in the Vosges massif. Two of them were carried out in the Park (Hohneck and Grand Ballon sectors) and ended in failure. In contrast, the species appears to have kept itself up for several years on the third and last release site located in the Champ du Feu massif (67).

Quiet zones

How were they delineated? What is their surface area?

As part of Natura 2000, Quiet Zones were delineated to preserve the tranquillity of the wildlife and in particular the Greater Grouse. This zoning was co-constructed between 2010 and 2012 on a sectoral level with the local stakeholders (elected representatives, technical partners, socio-professional players) during the preparation of the objective-setting documents for the Special Protection Areas (ZPS) located in the southern Vosges (Ballons des Vosges Regional Park) and the central Vosges.

Several hundred hectares of state-owned forests located outside the Natura 2000 network were added to this quiet zoning in 2016 as part of the revision of the Grouse Directive of the National Forestry Office. There are now 55,000 hectares of quiet zones carved out for the benefit of wildlife.

Are there markings on the ground denoting the quiet zones?

In contrast to protected natural areas, quiet zones are not yet marked on the grounds. They can only be viewed on the Quiétude Attitude mapping portal.

However, in the medium term, signage is planned in the most sensitive sectors.

Accessibility

What public transport options are available inside the Park?

Whether by train, bus or shuttle, the Park offers many alternatives for moving around without your vehicle, in both winter and summer.

You can find more information via the links below:

Where can I recharge my electrically-assisted bike?

Electric bike-charging stations are available at some of the Park’s hostel farms.

You can locate them by following the links below:

Waste in natural environments

What should I do with my waste?

Throughout the site, the deposit of waste is prohibited and regulated. Waste bins are at your disposal in some car parks. Where no bins are available, collect your waste and dispose of it at home.

Regulations pertaining to foraging

What are the rules on blueberry-picking?

Foraging is a traditional practice in the mountain range. It is a regulated activity and comes under the right of ownership (foraging permit).

In the Vosges, foraging is limited to 5 litres/day in the forest, pursuant to the Forestry Code.

The Prefects at the departmental level may further detail these rules, so that foraging remains reasoned. Some municipalities specify the formats (family foraging, quantity, use of comb) and periods during which harvesting is possible.

In certain protected areas, in order to maintain the peace and quiet of the wildlife, foraging can be prohibited and offenders subject to a fine.

Is Arnica-harvesting allowed? If so, subject to what conditions?

The harvesting of wild flowers and fruits is regulated in particular by the Civil Code, which prohibits any harvesting on others’ land. Land, a thatch or a forest always belong to someone, whether a private individual, a municipality or the State. Thus, as with mushrooms or blueberries, no foraging is allowed without the owner’s permission.

In practice, wild harvesting is generally tolerated, outside foraging areas, and must remain within “reasonable” removal volumes.

However, in the Hautes-Vosges, Arnica is the subject of a management agreement that organises harvesting because this area is the largest professional harvesting zone in France, and even in Europe. Within the framework of this organisation, it is provided that anyone wishing to harvest Arnica for family consumption should contact the owner municipalities to secure a harvesting permit. In the event of an inspection, permit-holders can thus show that they have complied with the protocol and are consequently spared any fines.

Notwithstanding, in 2020, given the very limited flowering of Arnica, particularly following the long spring drought, it is not considered reasonable practice to pick the flowers, which are few in number. When treated with care, the flowers can pollinate and sexually reproduce, and thus be maintained sustainably.

Regulations in lake environments

Where can I swim?

Inside the park, most of the lakes are artificial and swimming is generally prohibited. The regulations are posted on site or can be requested from the relevant municipality or prefecture.

Swimming is permitted on sites outfitted as leisure centres on the Massif des Vosges site. However, it can be dangerous and in most cases is unsupervised, and thus engaged in at your own risk.

Sporting activities on Park grounds

Is hiking allowed in the park year round?

Hiking is possible in the Park throughout the year. The Park offers a multitude of trails marked by the Club Vosgien, for all levels of fitness.

In the protected natural areas, certain sections of the marked trails are closed in winter, for safety reasons and to protect the peace and quiet of the wildlife. The location of these sections and the closure dates can be found HERE.

The markings change regularly along the Park’s 6,300 km of waymarked trails. Have a map ready before you set out, and study your route so that you can make your hike unencumbered.

Information on hiking trails / access / permits

The hiking routes marked by the Club Vosgien as well as the GR5 and its variants are shown on the IGN Top 25 maps (available in paper and digital format). This network of routes can be viewed on the Quiétude attitude website.

Each Tourist Office offers suggestions for walks and hikes in the form of reference sheets or booklets available on their website or at reception points.

The Park has also published a Guide to 30 Beautiful Walks, for sale on its grounds.

Do the colours of the Club Vosgien waymarkings reflect the difficulty of the trails?

No, the colour of the markings is unconnected with the difficulty of the trails. You can find more information on the Club Vosgien website.

The markings change regularly along the Park’s 6,300 km of waymarked trails. Have a map ready before you set out, and study your route so that you can make your hike unencumbered.

Where can I go ski trekking?

Although there are no specific regulations on ski trekking, the activity is subject to the regulations on protected areas, which generally prohibit activities off marked trails.

Generally speaking, we invite skiers not to ski off-piste or off-trail in forest environments to limit the disturbance to the wildlife and for their own safety.

Where can I go mountain biking?

The Natural Park offers a large number of waymarked mountain bike routes of all levels. You can recognise these routes from the beacons bearing the Park’s logo and thus experience some of the most gorgeous landscapes in the Vosges. Topoguides can be found at the tourist offices and at the various information centres in the Park. More information is available on the Park’s website:

There are no regulations specific to mountain-biking applicable throughout the Park. Nevertheless, some sensitive sites may benefit from regulatory protection which sets out the conditions for access and circulation on mountain bike. This is particularly the case in protected natural areas, where the regulations are available on the Quiétude Attitude website.

Regulations specific to protected natural areas

Where can I find the regulations on protected natural areas of the Park?

The regulations for the Park’s protected natural areas can be viewed on the Quiétude Attitude website or that of the Park’s Nature Reserves.

The regulations can also be found on the welcome panels of each site.

Are offenders subject to a fine?

In protected natural areas (natural reserves, biotope protection orders, biological reserves) non-compliance with regulations exposes offenders to a sanction.

Forest regulations

Am I allowed to build a fire?

As a general rule

These regulations are subject to the rules of the Forestry Code.

Consequently, all year round, it is prohibited for anyone other than the owner of the land to carry or light an open flame on this land and up to a distance of 200 metres from the woods and forests.

The use of a stove is, however, tolerated.

 

In protected natural areas

It is forbidden to light fires, except in stoves and fireplaces in forest shelters.

General regulations

Where am I allowed to camp or bivouac on Park grounds?

As a general rule

It is important to distinguish between bivouacking (setting up a light camp for one night, from one hour before dusk to one hour after dawn) and wild camping (setting up camp for several days in the same place).

Bivouacking and sleeping in the open are tolerated, except on private properties or with the agreement of the owner. There is no limit to the number of people or the number of tents per bivouacking site. However, bivouacking must be done in accordance with best practices in the natural environment. It is nonetheless recommended that you contact the municipal authorities to find out if there are any decrees at their level prohibiting this type of camping.

Many accommodation options (shelters, unguarded huts), free or paid, are available on the mountain range. Some helpful links are listed below:

Club Vosgien refuges

Friends of Nature refuges

Refuges of the French Federation of Alpine and Mountain Clubs

Refuges.info

Vosges Mountain Range

 

In protected natural areas

Within the Park’s protected natural areas, camping in tents, vehicles or any other shelter (including forest shelters) is prohibited.

Accommodation structures can be found at the perimeter of certain natural reserves.

The regulations concerning the Park’s protected natural areas can be viewed HERE.

Am I allowed to hike with my pet?

As a general rule

These regulations are subject to the rules of the Rural Code and Forest Code.

In general, it is prohibited to leave pets to roam, such that dogs must remain within earshot of their owner or of any sound instrument making it possible to call them back and “within sight”, i.e. less than 100 metres from their owner or the person responsible for them.

Furthermore, it is prohibited to walk dogs off-leash in forest areas off the forest paths from 15 April to 30 June each year (period during which wildlife reproduces). Dogs running loose can cause wild animals to flee and compromise the nesting of ground-breeding birds.

The mayors of the municipalities may also enact specific measures to prohibit the roaming of accompanying pets. Please refer to the decrees issued at the level of the municipalities to find out about these regulations.

 

In protected natural areas

The regulations concerning the presence of dogs in the various protected natural areas of the Park varies according to the site. See the regulations specific to each site HERE.

The regulations can also be found on the welcome panels of each site.

Please note that the presence of dogs, even kept on a leash, is prohibited in certain protected natural areas.