Even though wild camping is prohibited in Germany, cave camping or boofen has an exception at the Saxon Switzerland National Park.
Sleeping outdoors under a rock, waking up surrounded by towering sandstone columns and being in the heart of Germany’s most beautiful national park. It sounds like the daily morning of an extinct cro-magnon. Well, in Saxon Switzerland this activity is allowed and for those adventure seekers willing to try it, it ends up becoming the highlight of the trip.
A 100-year tradition in Saxon Switzerland
Coming from the colloquial German word for deep sleep, “pofen”, boofen started at the beginning of the 20th century – or even before. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains were considered an area for thrill seekers and alternative climbers, who came here from all over Europe with the desire to explore the most hidden corners of the park. It was a time when Deutsche Bahn did not reach the mountains, hiking paths were not open to the public and google maps didn’t even exist yet.
The only way to see the astonishing views of the Schrammsteine was entering deep in the wild forest, bringing some ropes, and free climbing all the way up. However, since carrying all that heavy gear to the base of the rock from the closest town took most of the day, climbers simply spent the night on a safe space inside a cave and climbed the next day early in the morning.
100 years later, boofen is still alive and the activity of spending the night in the cold, under the rock and with only a sleeping bag at Saxon Switzerland became an exception in the German law code and a tradition in respect for the climbing culture in the park.
Saxon Switzerland is also one of the first places where people started free climbing and up to this day it has some of the most exciting and beautiful climbing routes in the world.
Read more: Europe’s most beautiful national parks
The best way to get in touch with nature
Sunrises in Saxon Switzerland are different than anywhere else in the country. The views will leave you speechless and the journey is like no other. You hike for at least one hour in complete darkness and then another hour at dawn. You can barely see what’s around and once you get to the top, you just wait until the first rays of sunlight appear.
Even though I had an exceptional sunrise experience, I wasn’t wild camping in Saxon Switzerland. I slept in a camper van outside the premises of the park and started to hike at 4am after a very short and uncomfortable night. Furthermore, since it was my first time inside that section of the national park, I took the wrong way several times and I almost missed the sunrise.
A boofen experience is way more remarkable. You stay at one of the 58 designated areas, wake up some minutes before the sun goes out and find a nice spot to witness the first light of the day. You are surrounded by nature and in most cases completely alone.
There is no signal inside the national park, so you don’t have to care about an email from work, a missed phone call or the latest news.
NOTE: Visitors in Saxon Switzerland can spend the night outdoors in the Conservation Area. However, only sleeping bags are allowed and setting up a tent is completely banned.
Map of the designated boofen areas inside Saxon Switzerland
A complete list of boofen areas, photos of the locations and their coordinates is also available at the German blog Wandern Sächsische Schweiz.
Strict rules in favor of conservation
With the number of “boofers” increasing rapidly each year, there is not an exact answer how boofen will change in the future.
It is considered an activity with a “code of honor”. Travelers staying overnight inside the national park can’t bring tents to set up, are only allowed to make fires in some specific areas and the places for boofen should be left as clean as they were before.
However, the number of illegal wild campers is affecting this activity and the park rangers have seen an increased threat to the nature and the environment at Saxon Switzerland.
Many wild campers get fined each year by the park rangers for sleeping outside the boofen area and, to be honest, Saxon Switzerland is way too big for giving the rangers another problem to deal with.
If the bad conduct of these individuals continues, there might be an absolute ban for this tradition that was alive for so long.
Boofen is one of the most interesting and beautiful practices in Germany. It is really the opposite of this overly bureaucratic culture the country has, where everything needs a permit and there are 1001 rules for anything you do.
Today, articles in favor of banning boofen at Saxon Switzerland are appearing each week and it is really in our hands if we want to keep this tradition in the future or not.