Zuid-Kennemerland National Park
Zuid-Kennemerland is one of the best-known National Parks of the Netherlands. It was established in 1995, and roughly covers the area between Zandvoort and IJmuiden on the coast, and between Overveen and Velsen-Zuid inland. In between, the dune area is a protected nature reserve, where you will find typical dune vegetation and wildlife within a relatively small area of only 38 km². The result is a unique national park, within a very short distance of the urbanized area around Haarlem, easily accessible on foot, bike or horseback. It is a very popular area for day trips, and being so close to the coast, also attracts a number of visitors staying there for a beach holiday.
The park is managed by various nature conservation organisations as well as by water boards and local governments. A number of initiatives have been taken to increase the natural values of the area, including the introduction of semi-wild cattle and horses to keep vegetation under control, and landscaping to create artificial fens and drifting dunes, or to expand natural ones.
The Dutch dunes are a relatively recent phenomenon: they were formed from the Late Middle Ages onwards, and the drifting of sand was only stopped by concerted action in the 19th century, when pine forests and marram grass were planted to fix the dunes in place. Economically, the Dutch dune area has always been a marginal region. The sandy soils and windy conditions made it unsuitable for agriculture, although in same places you can still see traces of old fields where farmers tried to raise a meagre crop. Only after tourists started to frequent the coast in the late 19th century, the area became more popular for holiday makers.
The dune area is immensely important to the Netherlands as a protection against the sea, but also as a fresh-water reserve for the cities in the West of the Netherlands. To the south and north of the National Park, you will find large areas that are set aside for storing, filtering and pumping up fresh water, for which a pretty amazing hydraulic infrastructure was developed as early as the mid 19th century.
To Dutch standards, the dunes are decidedly hilly. The highest point in the National Park is 45 m above sea level. The undulating landscape with the typical longitudinal dune crests and valleys is very attractive, with changing views every few hundred metres. On the inland side of the park, they gradually give way to lower and more forested dunes. In these areas you will also find a few beautiful estates.
Flora and fauna
The park offers the full spectrum of dune vegetation of the Netherlands. Crossing the park from east to west you will see all the different vegetation zones, from the stately oak forests on the inland side, to the planted pine forests and dense dune shrub with stunted spindle trees into the more open areas dominated by buckthorn, and finally to the seaside where marram grass is almost the only thing that will grow in the salty wind.
The wildlife in the area is a mixed bag of imported and native species. Foxes in the dune area are becoming increasingly tame, although they will still keep some distance to humans. The wet dune valleys are home to multitudes of birds, especially the Vogelmeer lake is a popular spot for birdwatching. Semi-wild horses, deer and Scottish Highlander cattle can be encountered in various places. The most recent addition are European bisons, that were introduced as an experiment in 2007, and seem to be doing quite well so far. You can follow their exploits on the website of www.wisenten.nl.
The Dutch coast is somewhat windier and cooler than inland. It profits from more sunshine in Spring and early Summer, but it is usually wetter in Autumn.
To reach the park, it is almost inevitable for motorists to pass through Haarlem. From Amsterdam, follow the N200 to Haarlem, and from there follow the signs to Zandvoort. This is the major route to the seaside, so on warm Summer days it can be very busy, with traffic jams sometimes already starting in Haarlem. Get off at the exit to the Bezoekerscentrum (visitor centre) at entrance Koevlak, you can park your car in the car park there (€8 per day). If you drive on in the direction of the sea, you will eventually come very close to the coast at Bloemendaal, where you can turn right and drive up to Parnassia. There is a large car park there as well (€12 per day).
There are other entrances to the park, some even with free car parking facilities, but these are not (yet) indicated on the park website and will be more difficult to find if you don't have a map.
There are four train stations within short walking distance of the National Park: Overveen, Bloemendaal, Santpoort Zuid and Santpoort Noord. All are on the Sprinter line from Haarlem to Uitgeest. To get to the visitor centre, the Overveen station is closest. From Zandvoort train station (in direct connection with Amsterdam), you can also walk to the National Park, but it is slightly longer.
Bus 81 (Connexxion) runs from railway station Haarlem to Zandvoort and stops in front of the visitor centre.
The area is very well suited for cycling, but if you don't have your own bike, you should find a bike rental in Haarlem or Zandvoort. Despite the fact that there is a bike rental system (OVfiets) at train stations, you can't use it if you don't have a Dutch bank account.
Entrance to the park is free. At the visitor centre, you can find maps and information on activities.
The park is only accessible on foot, bike or horseback.
Signposted walking trails ranging in length from 2.5 to 11.5 kms will allow you to explore the park in all directions, but you can also devise your own routes. All routes are fairly easy and can be walked with sturdy walking shoes, although some climbing on sandy paths may be involved. The following trails have been set out:
Entrance Duin en Kruidberg
Entrance Bleek en Berg
Entrance Koevlak (visitor centre)
The visitor centre organizes plenty of excursions year round. You can consult the calendar here (in Dutch only).
The articial lake of 't Wed, close to the Koevlak entrance, is a popular place to go swimming and sun-bathing for families with small children, since the water is safer and warmer than at the seaside (and doesn't taste as bad). The other lakes in the area are off-limits for swimming!
Camping is not allowed inside the park, but there is a large camping site near the coast in Bloemendaal:
Straying off the paths is strictly forbidden!
There are no safety issues in the park.
To the south of the National Park, the dunes are managed by the Amsterdam Waterworks. These Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen are equally worth exploring on foot, bike or horseback.