Primeval forest Höllbachgspreng, Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany

“Höllbachgspreng” is a rock massif below the mountain “Großer Falkenstein” and is covered by primeval-like forest.

Höllbachgspreng is located on the upper eastern slope of the Großer Falkenstein at elevations from 990 to 1200 m. The mean annual temperature is 4.5° C. Höllbachgspreng geologically comprises a gneiss rock massif. Bare slopes, vertical in places, are covered by conspicuous lichens. Here, three mountain streams unite in a cold, damp hollow to form the creek “Großer Höllbach”, which flows through the primeval forest area in numerous smaller cascades (photo below) and forms a waterfall at the northern boundary.

Großer Höllbach

Höllbachgspreng’s protection history is similar to that of “Mittelsteighütte” and other “primeval forest areas” in the Inner Bavarian Forest: As early as 1863, the King of Bavaria, Max II, is said to have issued an order to “leave the area in its primeval state”. In 1914, a “protected area” was demarcated, and in 1941 an area of 51.3 hectares was declared a nature reserve. In 1978, an area of 96.4 hectares was designated a natural forest reserve, with the former nature reserve forming the core area. Since 1997, Höllbachgspreng has been part of the Bavarian Forest National Park. In contrast to Mittelsteighütte, access to Höllbachgspreng was much more difficult due to its steep and rocky location, and no historical traces of use are visible today. However, the opposite slope to the east of the Höllbach was intensively managed until the National Park was expanded in 1997.

At the southern edge of the primeval forest, at an elevation of 970 m, the Höllbach was dammed in the 19th century to form an artificial pond, “Höllbachschwelle”. This was created to float timber along the Höllbach south of the primeval forest. The course of the stream, which was straightened and paved for this purpose, has since been renaturalised by the National Park Administration, i.e. a free-flowing stream bed has been restored. Even though this section lies outside the original nature reserve, primeval-like forest stands with large old trees and deadwood can also be found here on the western side of the Höllbach. A hiking trail to the Großer Falkenstein passes through Höllbachgspreng. At the Höllbachschwelle there is an old wooden hut that can be rented for overnight stays. In Höllbachgspreng you will find a diverse mosaic of different forest communities and habitats. Particularly noteworthy are the ravine forest communities, rare in the Inner Bavarian Forest, such as subalpine maple–beech forest and elm–sycamore maple ravine forest. These are in a very good state of preservation. There are also sites with distinctive tall herbaceous vegetation with plants such as alpine sow-thistle (Lactuca alpina), white butterbur (Petasites albus, photo below) and Austrian leopard’s-bane (Doronicum austriacum). The National Park’s largest specimens of sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus, photo right) outside of former mountain pastures grow here. The National Park’s laser scans show several spruce trees over 50 metres tall for the area and the tallest currently known European rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) is also found in Höllbachgspreng, at 23.5 metres in height.

White butterbur on steep slope

In contrast, the south-western areas of Höllbachgspreng are characterised by spruce boulder forests. Here, the most common tree species is Norway spruce (Picea abies), although the old spruce stand is currently gradually collapsing due to a European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) outbreak.

A special feature is the regular breeding of peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) in the cliffs. Beyond that, however, Höllbachgspreng is poor in bird species despite the near-natural forest structures: zoologist Wolfgang Scherzinger identified only 36 species in the mid-1980s. He attributed this to an unfavourable climate (cold air flow along the stream) and the isolated location in the middle of intensively managed forests at the time.

Of all the “primeval forest areas” in the Bavarian Forest, Höllbachgspreng is probably the most aesthetical and particularly photogenic: Lots of deadwood and large old trees, especially the old sycamore maples, some of which are overgrown with epiphytes (e.g. common polypody (Polypodium vulgare)), contribute significantly to the primeval-like forest character. The partly lush vegetation, steep rock formations and in between the roaring Höllbach stream with its cascades offer numerous photo motifs and a primeval forest experience which, in contrast to “Mittelsteighütte” and “Hans-Watzlik-Hain”, is not marred by cut tree stumps necessitated by road safety, for example.

TM (translation KR)



Preuhsler, T. 1997: Waldwachstumskundliche Beobachtungen im Fichten/Tannen/Buchen-Urwaldreliktbestand „Höllbachgspreng“ bei Zwiesel. In: Allgemeine Forst und Jagdzeitung Heft 6/7 1997)

Scherzinger, Wolfgang 1985: Vögel im Urwald: Die Vogelwelt der Urwaldgebiete im Inneren Bayerischen Wald (Nationalparkverwaltung Bayerischer Wald 1985)