The Bohemian Forest is a low mountain range in Central Europe. Geographically, the mountains extend from South Bohemia in the Czech Republic to Austria and Bavaria in Germany. They create a natural border between the Czech Republic on one side and Germany and Austria on the other. For historical reasons, the Bohemian and German sides have different names: in Czech, the Bohemian side is called Šumava (IPA ) and the Bavarian side Zadní Bavorský les, while in German, the Bohemian side is called Böhmerwald (literally, 'Bohemian Forest'), and the Bavarian side Bayerischer Wald (literally, 'Bavarian Forest'). In Czech, Šumava is also used as a name for the entire adjacent region in Bohemia.
This article deals primarily with the Bohemian side of the Šumava; for additional information on the Bavarian side see Bavarian Forest.
The Bohemian Forest is the dividing range between the watersheds of the Black Sea and the North Sea, where water collected by the Vltava, Otava and Úhlava rivers flows. These rivers all spring from the Bohemian Forest. Owing to heavy precipitation (mostly snow), the peat bogs and the Lipno water dam, the Šumava region is an important water reservoir for Central Europe. More important for their aesthetic value than for holding water are several lakes of glacial origin.
As a border region, the Bohemian Forest has had a complicated history. In the 20th century it was part of the Iron Curtain, and large areas were stripped of human settlement. Even before that, settlement was sparse and for centuries forests dominated over human dwellings and pathways. These unique circumstances led to the preservation of unspoilt nature and forest ecosystems relatively unaffected by human activity. On the other hand, many habitats dependent on farming activity are slowly turning into forest.
In the Czech Republic, the most valuable area is protected in the Šumava National Park and Protected Landscape and the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Part of the German section is protected as the Bavarian Forest National Park. The Bohemian Forest is a popular holiday destination because it is excellent hiking country. Most interesting natural and cultural sights are connected with more than 500 km of summer marked trails and many bike trails. However, park administration is not always successful in its task, and many believe the rapid growth of tourist accommodation and services is destroying the former calm of the Šumava region. Šumava National Park is also suffering problems connected with bark beetles, and there is heated debate about how to deal with it.