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Experience the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Covering an area of 209 km², the Kalkalpen National Park protects Austria's largest contiguous forest area with a significantly high proportion of old-growth beech forests. The most valuable of these beech forests - 5,250 ha - were designated Austria's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 together with the Dürrennstein Wilderness Area.

These unique forests can be experienced by nature lovers on various hiking trails.

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The UNESCO World Heritage Beech Forests

5,250 hectares of ancient beech forests in the Kalkalpen National Park and 1,965 hectares in the Dürrenstein Wilderness Area are Austria's first World Heritage Site.

European beech forests can only be found in Europe. After the Ice Age, the beech spread across large parts of Europe, shaping the appearance of an entire continent in a way that is unique in the world.  In 2021, there has been a major expansion of the Beech Forests World Heritage Site. The "Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests" World Heritage Site now covers around 98,000 hectares in 51 protected beech forest areas and 18 countries. It is the only World Heritage Site in the world that connects so many countries.

© Photo: Steyr and the National Park Region/Sieghartsleitner
Pristine beech forest in the Kalkalpen National Park, Austria's first UNESCO World Heritage Site

The diversity of forest types and beech forest inhabitants is as varied as the locations: more than 10,000 species of animals, plants and fungi find their habitat here. Today, Europe's natural beech forests have been reduced to just a few areas, making their protection all the more important.

The Kalkalpen National Park's contribution to the World Heritage Site

The Kalkalpen World Heritage Site consists of four sub-areas with valuable beech forests, which are embedded within the boundaries of the Kalkalpen National Park. Despite economic exploitation in the past, the forests are largely intact: around 75% of the forests are older than 140 years and are classified as natural or near-natural. Of particular note is the oldest beech tree in the Alps: it is around 550 years old.

A total of 6 different beech forest communities occur:

  • Cyclamen beech forest,
  • Snow rose beech forest, an endemic community for the north-eastern Limestone Alps (only found in this limited area)
  • Woodruff-beech forest,
  • Carbonate-Alpine spruce-fir-beech forest,
  • Clay-spruce-fir-beech forest,
  • High montane carbonate beech forest

A special feature of the Kalkalpen National Park is the co-occurrence of beech and larch within a single stand, which in some places forms the forest boundary on the steep northern side of the Sengsengebirge. This joint occurrence can be described as a clearly unique feature of the Limestone Alps. The highest beech stands reach up to around 1,450 meters above sea level.

The nominated beech forests in the Kalkalpen National Park are characterized as follows:

  • Large and pristine - 5,250 hectares of World Heritage area, 400 hectares of which are primeval forest cells with rare primeval forest species
  • Ancient - almost three quarters of the forests are more than 140 years old, 23 % of which are more than 200 years old and 5 % even more than 250 years old. The oldest beech tree is 548 years old.
  • Natural - around 90 % of the World Heritage area is classified as natural and near-natural.
  • Diverse - 6 different beech forest communities extend from 390 to 1,450 meters above sea level and cover the typical beech forest spectrum for the area.
  • Dynamic - natural processes, especially avalanches, characterize the beech forest ecosystem.
  • Contrasting - the co-occurrence of beech and larch within a stand is made possible by constant disturbances (avalanches, snow slides).


More information on the beech forests in the national park can be found on the Kalkalpen National Park website.
Further information can also be found at www.weltnaturerbe-buchenwaelder.at and www.weltnaturerbe-buchenwaelder.de (very detailed website).

© Photo: Kalkalpen National Park/Erich Mayrhofer: Deadwood in primeval beech forest
Fallen deadwood logs in the primeval beech forests of the Limestone Alps National Park
© Photo: Kalkalpen National Park/Erich Mayrhofer: Detail Astein beech tree
Particularly grown beech trunks with incipient autumnal rotting of the foliage
© Photo: Nationalpark Kalkalpen/Martina Seiler: Sun-drenched beech forest in spring
Sun-drenched beech forest in spring
© Photo: Kalkalpen National Park/Erich Mayrhofer: Beech forest single tree
Single tree with autumnal foliage in the beech forest of the Kalkalpen National Park

Guided ranger tours into the World Heritage Site

Hiking and cycling in the World Heritage Site

Discover the forest wilderness adventure in the Kalkalpen National Park

Extensive forests, crystal-clear streams, wild gorges, mountain peaks with great views and picturesque alpine pastures characterize the landscape of the Kalkalpen National Park. Many animal and plant species that have become rare elsewhere find a habitat here and we humans are also welcome guests. Immerse yourself in the forest wilderness and enjoy the tranquillity of the mountain world in the Kalkalpen National Park!