Reflection of dead trees on a calm lake in summer time

Biesbosch, land of the islands

Weaving rivers in between islands of various sizes, some can only be reached by boat. A unique piece of nature, a national park since 1994, the Biesbosch is well worth your time. The tidal river delta is home to beavers, birds and many others.

Working in Dordrecht and living closeby was the reason for my extensive exploring of this national park. I hiked many of the trails in the park but also managed to see the park by boat and bicycle. Find your way of exploring the park and experience this dynamic landscape.

History

About 1000 years ago the area was slowly being developed, as Dutch do best, dikes where build and land was claimed for farming. A difficult task since the area had large tidal differences of about 2 meters. Quarrels between groups of people living in and around the delta resulted in a lack of maintenance. Dikes became unstable and flooding was happening more frequently.

Biesbosch - old hutUntil 1421, a flood resulted eventually in a small inland sea. Since this was the place where river and sea met, sedimentation could happen easily. The water runs so slow that even the smallest debris in the water has time to settle to the bottom. The deposits formed a growing layer that eventually would rise above water during low tide, later it was only under water during a spring tide. Plants now had land to root in and they would help to transform the land even more. 

First plant that would start to grow was a type of sedge (bieze), the name giver for the park. As time went by the land would be shaped by water and men. The last big change to the area was after the disastrous flood that happened in 1953. The Dutch government decided that such a thing should never happen again. To prevent this a series of dikes were built to close of all rivers from the sea. This resulted in a big change in tidal differences in the area, before it was about 2 meters, now the biggest differences are nothing over 80 cm.

Traveling to Biesbosch

Biesbosch - trailThe park can be reached through various towns, depending on what part you’d like to visit. The main gateways are the towns where the visitor centers are located. Dordrecht, Werkendam and Drimmelen. By car all visitor centers can be reached, and by public transport you can reach the visitor centers of Dordrecht and Drimmelen. By bike and walk ferry you can also enter the Biesbosch through Lage Zwaluwe.

Where to stay

In almost all towns close to the park and even in the park, B&B’s, campgrounds and hotels can be found. It really depends on what you prefer to stay at. I’ve stayed at Groene Camping in de Polder, a campground with a lovely vibe. They also offer a bed and breakfast and a few cabins. 

When I was cycling through the park one day I came by a beautiful campground next to a very pretty lake. It’s called nature campground De Knotwilg. It looked like a great place to stay. You need to be a member however to camp there. Have a look at the page of the green book, you’ll find prices and what else you need to know right there.

Visitor centres

Biesbosch - visitor centerThe park has three visitor centers, wildly varying in quality. The one in Werkendam is the newest of the three, but as a visitor center it doesn’t have much to offer. Unless you decide to pay for the museum (which I haven’t done, so no idea if it’s any good). The visitor center in Dordrecht I liked best. It has a lot of information about the life in the Biesbosch. The last in Drimmelen was very disappointing. It offered a map of the park and a few taxidermied animals. In all three I never felt very welcome. No staff that is up for a chat about what makes the Biesbosch worth your time. They only care, it seems, if you’re there to bring your money.

Hikes

My favourite way to explore a piece of nature is by hiking. So I hiked as many trails as I could. The hike I enjoyed best started from the parking area located at the intersection of Spieringsluis and De Hilweg. Another great place to hike from is at the parking lot further down Spieringsluis (see link below of business close to this big parking).

The hike that I did from the visitor centre in Dordrecht was also fun. I took the boat to the opposing island and hiked around it. There are more places where this can be done, but online information about it is scarce. The national park has a list of all official hikes in the park but I had a hard time figuring out which hike was where. 

Ranger programs

If you want to experience the Biesbosch with a guide you could join one of the ranger programs. Most are not for free, the most expensive ones are around 15 euros per person, kids usually cheaper. Check out the website below for a list of up to date programs. However not all programs are in this list.

Biesbosch - ranger programThe national park often works with local organizations. The organization arranges everything and the park offers a guide. I joined a beaver tour from Vissershang. I heard that others saw beavers most often on that trip. It was a great trip with a volunteer guide who knows a lot about the Biesbosch. At the end of the tour, when it was almost dark, we were lucky enough to spot two beavers. The trip was about 3 hours long with a solar powered boat. Coffee and tea was offered halfway through the tour and at the point we saw the first beaver everybody got a shot of a local liquor.

What else to do

Since the park is quite large, for Dutch standards, a great way to explore it is by bike. It is possible by car but on a bicycle you can take in nature a lot better. The ferries can take you across to the next piece of land, ready for exploring. And the cycle paths are comfortable to be on, away from the cars. I explored more on foot than by bike, but I did enjoy the places I got to see, I wouldn’t have ended up there if I would have hiked.

Biesbosch - birdingOne of the fun activities of the park is canoeing / kayaking. Perspective changes when you switch from land to water. One of the things that’s still on my list is paddling to a pole camp site. This is one of the few places in the Netherlands where you can pitch your tent in the wilderness for free. I hope to do this in the future. I heard from someone that the sites are small and can be quite busy in the main season. If you want to feel like you’re there on your own you might want to go for a week day in the off season.

One day when I was out for a hike a bit earlier in the day, I came across many people leaving with huge cameras and binoculars. They got up early to watch the birds in the park. Since the area is affected by tidal differences, pieces of land are in turn above and underwater. When the water recedes the birds come out to feed on the little beings crawling in the mud. Best location I believe is at the lake you can see from Bandijk, Werkendam. Close to the Knotwilg campground.

Websites

General info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biesbosch_National_Park

General info: https://np-debiesbosch.nl/english-information/

Ferry Lage Zwaluwe: https://www.leeuweveerke.nl/

Campground: https://www.groenecampingindepolder.nl/en/

Campground Knotwilg: https://www.natuurkampeerterreinen.nl/terreinen/noord-brabant/de-knotwilg/

Green book: https://www.natuurkampeerterreinen.nl/word-natuurkampeerder/het-groene-boekje/

Visitor center Dordrecht: https://www.biesboschcentrumdordrecht.nl/

Visitor center Werkendam: http://www.biesboschmuseumeiland.nl/index.php?knop=home&titel=English

Visitor center Drimmelen: https://www.biesboschcentrum.nl/

Parking for hiking: https://goo.gl/maps/R45Vit39xQn3aG3m9

Hiking: https://np-debiesbosch.nl/te-doen/wandelen/

Ranger programs: https://beleefdebiesbosch.nl/agenda/-/biesbosch/

Vissershang: https://www.vissershang.nl/

Pole camp site info: http://biesboschbevers.nl/?page_id=1108

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