The national parks of France

Where to go to find France's Natural Heritage

Each year, more than 8.5 million visitors are attracted to France's national parks. With excellent hiking trails, these parks are rich in biodiversity and offer unique views.
This article shows you where to go

Protecting France's natural heritage

There are now 11 official nature parks inhabited by a hugely diverse range of terrestrial and marine life. Authorities strive to protect this diversity for the generations to come.

The latest edition to the list, Forêts Champagne and Bourgogne, was added just recently, in the fall of 2019.

The 11 nature parks in France (including year of induction):

Vanoise (1963)
Port-Cros (1963)
The Pyrénées (1967)
The Cévennes (1970)
Ecrins (1973)
Mercantour (1979)
Guadeloupe (1989)
La Réunion (2007)
Guyane (2007)
Calanques (2012)
Parc de Forêts Champagne and Bourgogne (2019)

Those interested in visiting these parks free of charge should have a look at the annual Journées du patrimoine that takes place each September.

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Parc National de Forêts Champagne and Bourgogne

The eleventh National Park of France stretches between the two regions of Burgundy-Franche-Comté and Grand Est. It is dedicated to the protection of forests, in particular, the forest massifs of Châtillon, Arc-en-Barrois and Auberive. This natural heritage had to be protected: More than 80% of the forests in this area were at the time of the French Revolution.

The aim of the park is also to make it a European forest research center. A 3,000 hectare site, a kind of open-air laboratory, is reserved exclusively for researchers. The scientists can observe how a forest regenerates when there is no more human impact.

The project has led to some heated debates over the past 10 years, however, some officials see it as an economic opportunity to promote ecotourism there. It will be necessary to create tourist infrastructure to reach the target of 100,000 visitors.

A sustainable community

The 11 national parks constitute the PNF (Parcs nationaux de France) network: together, they want to optimize their management, create a common identity and make the French national parks known at national and international level.

Since 2006, all PNF parks have committed themselves to a charter for sustainable management. Four of them (Mercantour, Cevennen, Ecrins and Gouadeloupe) have also signed the “European Charter for Sustainable Tourism” of the umbrella organisation of large European protected areas EUROPARC.

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National parks worldwide

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates the number of national parks worldwide at more than 6,500, covering at least 4 million km² in about 100 countries. Australia alone has more than 500.

The oldest national park, founded in 1872, is Yellowstone National Park (USA), the largest is North East Greenland National Park (more than 972,000 km² in size, as large as Egypt), founded in 1974. With an area of 33,900 km², the Amazonas Park of Guyana is one of the 30 largest national parks in the world.

Europe has more than 300 national parks at the moment.

In addition, cooperation exists between cross-border national parks, such as the Mercantour National Park and its Italian neighbour, the Alpi Marittime Natural Park.

French rainforests?

Together, the national parks cover a good 60,000 km2 and thus almost 9.5 % of France's surface area. They cover the most diverse land and water areas on the mainland as well as in the French overseas territories.

The parks are located in different climatic zones, from continental to maritime, Mediterranean, alpine and tropical, so that they offer an extraordinary variety of landscapes and vegetation:

-tropical rainforests on the Guyane Amazon plateau
-oceanic tropical forests on active volcanoes in the Caribbean (Guadeloupe) and on the Mascarenes (La Réunion)
-Mediterranean coastal areas (Port-Cros)
-forested Mediterranean low mountain regions (Cevennes)
-and alpine mountain ranges in the north (Vanoise), in the centre (Ecrins) and in the south (Mercantour).

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Flora and Fauna

The fauna of the French National Parks includes a wide variety of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Since 2006, the number of species there has almost doubled: around 10,000 different species are currently documented and more are discovered every year.

The following species are currently listed in the 11 parks:

-more than 2,500 species of vertebrates: Birds (42%), fish (32%), mammals (13%), reptiles (8%) and amphibians (5%)
-over 10,000 invertebrate species: including around 7,000 insects, 1000 molluscs and 350 spider species as well as various sea urchins, jellyfish, corals, worms and moss animals
-more than 13,500 species of vascular plants (flowering plants, conifers and ferns): of which 5,500 are in Amazonspark in Guyane alone

These are only the listed species, researchers in French Guyana estimate that more than 10,000 species of invertebrates are present.

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