Nature in the dark or during the night is often considered an unpleasant place. Modern hikers naturally search for warm, safe and dry destinations for their trips. If we transfer this attitude to overnight trips in nature, it is no surprise that even so called “nature lovers” hesitate and prefer day hikes or safe and comfortable sleeping spots, e.g. mountains huts.
However, in reality it is not easy to understand the importance of protecting nature, if you do not have any first-hand nature experience, including overnight stays. The current way of life discourages people from getting such experiences. Nevertheless, we can still find and experience nature, or at least elements of it, in many areas across Europe. Particularly wildlife watching is a popular way to get such an experience, because an overnight stay outside massively improves chances to spot animals.
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A cabin in the woods
Besides truly bivaking in nature, there are several options how to experience nature overnight. One of such options is usually a small wooded house, often inherited from the past and used as overnight shelter for protected area rangers.
Visitors rarely use simple cabins. These public cabins located in remote places provide only basic conditions to survive the night, such as a roof, simple bedding and a stove. People usually have to use their own sleeping bag and food, and carry everything in and out in a backpack, including garbage. Nevertheless, these remote destinations offer a unique overnight experience for brave nature lovers.
These small remote cabins also offer a sleeping place in a case of emergency. However, a good example how to elevate this cabins can be found in Borjomi Kharagauli National Park, Georgia. In Borjomi Kharagauli, a network of cabins provides great experiences to explore the extensive park territory overnight.
Network of chalets
Another, more frequent option for overnight stays are public chalets offering more advance standards, often including information, accommodation and food. These are well spread not only all over the Alps, but also in the Carpathian or Bulgarian Mountains, e.g. Rila National Park.
A chalet (also called cottage, lodge or hut) is usually a medium-size house made from wood or stone inside the mountains. Chalets sometimes offer motorised access and the benefit of having a comfortable accommodation and good food. Simultaneously, a chalet gives easy access to explore nearby natural attractions, usually only accessible on foot.
Tourist information centres are usually located either in cities or villages nearby the border of protected areas. Their role is to provide visitors with information on the area’s attractions, lodging, maps, safety and rules of behaviour. One particular task is to inform visitors about proper behaviour, when heading out into nature. This is especially important in areas with presence of natural predators such as wolf, lynx or bear.
If you are looking for an exciting experience in nature, an overnight stay outdoors is perfect. You can observe the night sky, track large carnivores and other wildlife. In information centres you can also learn more about the area and its nature.
Example from Slovakia: Combination of chalet and info centre
Slovakia has a long tradition of offering overnight stays inside protected areas. Besides, the most famous tourist destinations like Tatra National Park offer unique experience to explore, enjoy and learn. One such case is in Muranska Planina National Park. Their combination of chalet and information centre offers simple overnight accomodation and touristic as well as nature conservation information. Staff provides information on the history of the surrounding area, nature conservation, wilderness potential and on the conditions for hiking and horse riding. The staff also organizes environmental education for the public and offers possibilities to observe nature.