Biesbosch National Park
The Biesbosch is a national park in the west of the Netherlands, covering parts of North Brabant and Zuid-Holland. It's one of the largest national parks in the country and one of the last remaining freshwater tide wetlands in Europe. A fine web of rivers and creeks runs through an area characterized by reed fields, willow forests and moist grasslands. It's an ideal habitat for waterfowl and migrating geese, but there's an abundance of other flora and fauna to be found too. For example, following the 1994 recognition as a protected national park, Eurasian beavers were released and settled in the area.
It's important to understand that the Biesbosch as a natural area is much larger than the National Park. The parts outside of the park are far more cultivated and inhabited, but are also characterized by countless streams and lakes.
In the middle ages, this area was called the Grote Hollandse Waard and consisted of cultivated polder lands, dotted with villages and hamlets. The area was protected by dikes, which in the 15th century suffered from a serious lack of maintenance, due to both political and economic crises. As a result, the dikes collapsed in the famous 1421 St. Elizabeth flood. Some 300 km2 of polder was submerged, dozens of villages were lost and several thousands of people drowned. A common misunderstanding says this flood created the Biesbosch more or less overnight. In reality however, the network of creeks, mudflats and willow forests arose that you'll find today developed over the decades following the storm.
Over recent centuries, large parts of the Biesbosch were reclaimed. Large parts were turned back into polders. The course of the large rivers Meuse and Rhine was slightly changed to make them more easy to manage and several smaller streams were closed off at their upstream ends to decrease risks of flood in inhabited areas. Due to several of such changes, the Biesbosch now only draws water from the rivers in times of high discharges and has mostly lost its function as a river delta.
Until 1970 the tides would cause a difference in water level of up to 2 meters. With the establishment of the Delta Works, however, most of the influence of the sea was lost. Only in the northern parts of the Biesbosch tidal difference remain, but no more than 20 to 80 cm.
The National Park was finally created in 1994.
The typical places to start your visit of the Biesbosch is at one of the two visitors' centres, in Dordrecht and Drimmelen, or from the Biesbosch museum in Werkendam. There are other villages along the Biesbosch area, some with nice little harbours if you have a boat, but the visitors' centres offer all kinds of facilities, including parking, guides, hiking and biking routes and bike or canoe renting.
- Drimmelen Visitors' Centre, Biesboschweg 4. Take the A59 and then exit 32-Made, follow the signs to get to Drimmelen. Using public transport, Breda is your best major connecting point. From the train and bus station of Breda, take bus 123 (direction Raamsdonksveer) and get out at the "Gemeentehuis Maden" stop. There, transfer to line 224 (direction Drimmelen) and get out at the "Haven" stop. (Total: 45min, €3,53).
- Dordrecht Visitors' Centre, Baanhoekweg 53. By car, follow the A15 or A16 and then exit Dordrecht (N3). On the N3 take exit Hollandse Biesbosch and follow the signs. This is perhaps the easiest entrance if you're using public transport, as in summer, a direct bus line 4 leaves for the centre from Dordrecht train station every hour. There's a second direct bus connection, Biesbus line 801, running also out of main season. For this one however, you need to make a reservation at least 1 hour in advance, via +31 0900 - 1961 (€0,10 a minute).
- Another fun option is to take the waterbus, a boat connection which leaves from the Merwedekade in Dordrecht and the Middeldiep in Sliedrecht. To get from Dordrecht central station to the waterbus stop, take line 10, Citybys Energiehuis, and get out at the "Merwedekade". On the waterbus, you can bring a bike for free.
Access to the park is free, and does not require any fees or permits. Of course you will need to pay for most of the organized activities (including boat trips or guided tours) as well as for some printed hiking and biking routes. Nonetheless, if you're on a budget, there's plenty of free things to do and a number of free routes to explore.
As in many parks, just making your way around is one of the key reasons to get here. The typical ways to do it are by hiking, biking or boating through the area. This protected natural area is obviously mostly car-free.
Plenty of hiking trails are available from the visitors' centres, varying from a quick walk to a full day's worth hiking. The same goes for biking routes. You can bring your own bike or rent one at the Dordrecht visitors' centre or the Biesbosch museum. Alternatively, Maia Ligfietspunt, Stevensweg 79a. rents outs all kinds of bikes, including normal ones, recumbent bikes, electric bikes and freight bikes (a popular Dutch way to take kids along). Book ahead.
With so many creeks and streams around, boating and canoeing are popular ways to get around too. You can either bring your own or rent a small boat or canoe. Either way, make sure to obtain the water map, available at the visitors' centres. The Biesbosch is full of tricky underwater sand plates and undeep spots. The map also has information on where you're allowed to go, which creeks are only for rowing boats and canoes, and where you can dock. It furthermore has some boating+walking routes, with suggestions to combine your water transport with some limited hiking, to see the most of the park.
If you're not comfortable navigating yourself, opt for one of the organized boat tours. On the park's (Dutch language) [website] you'll find an agenda of activities, including several organized boat trips, sometimes combined with a guide for more information, sometimes combined with a visit to the museum etc. In all cases, try to book in advance.
Recreation is a major aspect of the Biesbosch. People come here to enjoy the water and the nature around it. Think picturesque little creeks and willow forests, plenty of birds and the odd beaver. Nature in the Biesbosch is of a whispering beauty, accessible and tranquil. There aren't any sights in terms of historic buildings to find, but you could try and spot a beaver instead..
Wildlife includes a fine selection of birds, which is unique in the Netherlands. For several years, a single couple of White-tailed Eagles has lived here and in 2011 even made a nest. The many low water areas are a perfect habitat for wader birds, with Pied avocets and spoonbills among the best known species that roam the Biesbosch wetlands. Of course there's a wide selection of perching birds and birds of prey.
Roe deers are regular visitors of the area and of course the humanly managed Highland Cattle is a most common sight. The beaver has become a symbol for the Biesbosch after 42 of the animals were reintroduced in the area between 1988 and 1992. By now, the estimated population is about 300 beavers in total, and their marks are visible all around.
Sustainable water recreation has been a major goal of the National Park for decades. The many small and larger creeks allow for all kinds of boating activities. You'll see anything from luxurious yachts to simple canoes in the Biesbosch waters, although some of the smaller creeks don't allow larger or motorized boats.
- Unless you're travelling by boat, you might want to rent one to make your own way through the park. For many smaller boats you don not need a boating certificate. Renting agencies are available at all the towns around the Biesbosch, and of course at the visitor's cenes and rent out a range of types. Typically, you can rent per hour (often with a 2 hour minimum), per half day or per day. Full day prices are along the lines of €15 for a canoe, €50 for a small motor boat and €150 for a larger sloop. For the larger boats you'll generally have to pay a deposit of up to €250.
- Hop on a sightseeing boat. Less adventurous, these organized trips are quite convenient and if you want, you can include lunch or even dinner. The visitor's centres are an obvious place to book one (preferably in advance), but many of the "host hotels (see below) can do so too. Prices start around €10 for a 2 hour trip.
- Enjoy nature on foot or by bike. Large parts of the Biesbosch, including parts of the national park, are nice to explore on foot or by bike. The information centres can provide some suitable routes. For routes in the park itself you'll need a boat too, however. Just outside of the park you can take some good routes that combine beautiful views over the Biesbosch area with friendly villages. In the small harbour of Terheijden, you can hop on a small ferry called ’t Markpontje to cross the river Mark. It will take you to another natural area, De Haagse Beemden. From there, you can also bike on to Breda.
The visitors' centres sell anything from postcards and photobooks to binoculars and maps. In Made, get some locally produced cheese at Kaasboerderij ’t Bosch, Wagenbergsestraat 2. Wagenbergsestraat 2
Although one of the larger parks in the Netherlands, the Biesbosch is small enough to never be far from the next village. There are no park bars or restaurants, but the National Park cooperates with a number of establishments in surrounding towns. These restaurants are called "hosts of the Biesbosch" and, besides being within close range of the park, they also have information on the park available. They typically all serve coffee and other drinks outside of lunch and dinner hours. Of course, once you're in any of these towns, there are usually at least a few other bars and restaurants around, so check the relevant destination articles for additional places. Some of the "hosts" include:
- De Zuiderklip, Nieuwe jachthaven 60, Drimmelen. Bistro type food with an international touch. Mains around €15.
- Restaurant Voske, Biesboschweg 15, Drimmelen, ☎ +31 162 683521. Nice view over the river and a rather wide choice of food, including some good veggie options. Mains around €20.
- Restaurant De Merwelanden, De Bekramming 13, Dordrecht, ☎ +31 184 411131. Nice outdoor terrace overlooking the water and a small beach for swimming. 3 cours menu for € 22,75.
There are two simple designated camp spots in the park itself, both reachable only by boat/canoe. They are basic spots without facilities. They obviously have no address, but are indicated on the overview map of the park, which you can download from the park's website or get at the visitor's centres.
There's also a more equipped camp site at a farm, see below.
If you're less adventurous, there are plenty of lodging and camping options in the many towns surrounding the park. Again, some are so-called "hosts of the Biesbosch", which just means they have some information on location. Some of those are listed below.
- Innercityhotel Dordrecht, Johan de Wittstraat 35-37, Dordrecht, ☎ +31 786 11 99 33. Nice hotel in the historic centre of Dordrecht but also close to the train station. Breakfast is included in the price and WIFI is free. Let them know if you're coming by car, as they can reserve a spot behind the hotel building. singles from €79, doubles from €119.
- Hotel De Brabantse Biesbosch, Spieringsluis 6, Werkendam, ☎ +31 183504248. One of the closest hotels to the national park, and still in the wider Biesbosch natural area. There's a restaurant too and the hotel can make boat trip arrangements. € 99 for a double, breakfast included.
- De Theeplaats, Kerkstraat 39, Lage Zwaluwe, ☎ +31 168 482548. Charming bed&breadfast with a pleasant garden and orchard, but with only two rooms in former stables. The smaller room can host up to 5 people, the larger "suite" up to 10 and that one has a projector, too. From €85 for 2 people.
- Best Western Hotel De Korenbeurs, Kerkstraat 13, Made, ☎ +31 162 682150. A hotel in the Best Western chain, with about 67 rooms and plenty of facilities. Breakfast is available for a fee and there's a restaurant for lunch and dinner. You can choose between standard and more luxurious rooms. From €95 for a double.
- De Biesboschhoeve, Island "de Vischplaat", Biesbosch 24, ☎ +31 183 502 434. This farm is located on an island, in the middle of the park. It is only reachable by boat and is home to some 40 black and white cows and a small camp site. Basic facilities are available (showering for a free of 1 euro per 5 min.). There's no electricity at your tent, but a few sockets are available at the bathroom building. The farmer and his wife also manage a herd of some 150 Scottish highland cattle, which are used to help maintain the island flatlands. At the campsite, you can buy sausages from that local highland cattle meat. €8 per person.
The obvious threat around is.. well, the water. Especially mind children, even if they can swim. When walking around in the forest areas or around other trees, keep your eyes open. Beavers nibble on the stems and although mostly a theoretical danger than one in practice, trees could fall. Also, do not climb on any beaver dams.