If you like the outdoors and want to treat your family to a natural, down to earth experience, these parks may just be the thing for you. Barefoot parks or dedicated barefoot trails are set up mainly for barefoot walking and playing. These open parks provide families the opportunity to feel the natural ground or various other surfaces with their bare feet. During the last two decades, hundreds of these leisure places have been founded in European countries, but most barefoot parks are located in Germany and Austria.

Are you wondering why you should go barefoot?

When you walk barefoot, -and I mean walking barefoot on natural surfaces like grass, sand or even mud, the walking with your bare soles increases blood circulation and helps to strengthen your foot and leg muscles. It can also help with your posture, back issues, knees and any hip problems you may have. It can even help with varicose veins, so how is that for a light athletic activity? Some people even claim that when the bare soles come in contact with the electrons on the grounds topsoil, the electrons can change your body’s bioelectrical process, increasing your well-being and decreasing stress. On top of that, it is like getting a free massage for your feet.

You may be wondering, who comes up with these ideas and why… many podiatrists and foot experts have said for a long time now that wearing shoes all the time can be bad for foot development in children, foot health, and could cause foot issues or even deformities. Shoes like high heels are especially notorious, but even normal shoes can cause problems down the road. In fact, if you are out and about this summer, you will notice one of the first things Germans do is take their shoes off. It may not seem like it, but shoes do affect the intended way of how you are walking, running and even jumping. Muscles, joints and ligaments in the foot and legs are not used naturally and can weaken. The result can be tendonitis, corns, gait issues, calluses, hammertoes and even flat feet. Walking barefoot on different surfaces can retrain your muscles in your feet to work naturally again and no longer depend on shoes for proper support and strength. This can even reduce back problems and/or knee and hip pain.

So where do you look for a barefoot park, and what should you expect?

Germany and its neighboring countries have barefoot parks all over. Your best bet to find the closest one is to google it, Barefoot parks- or Barfußparks in German- and your city’s name and you should get a list of the closest to your location. There are a few in the Stuttgart vicinity like the Barfusspark Dornstetten. The Palatine forest has several that can be found here: http://www.barfusspark.info/laender/rheinl-pfalz.htm and the Bavarian mountain ranges are popular for parks like that, too. You can check them out here: http://www.barfusspark.info/laender/bayern.htm.The parks are all built after a similar set up. They are great for families, because they provide a safe place to play, walk, wade and climb barefoot throughout the park. Usually the parks or trails offer all or at least most of the following: trails constructed of different surfaces like smooth pebbles, mulch or sand. There are obstacles and equipment like bridges, balancing bars, climbing walls, stairs and ladders. Perfect for the summer are the parks that incorporate water in little streams, water wading trails, mud trails and slides. The parks also offer a changing station with lockers or shelves at the start to lock up your shoes and most important a washing station at the end to wash of your feet.

Surprisingly many of the parks are free to enter or charge only a couple Euros in entrance fees. The summer makes it a perfect time to check them out, and they are often open all the way into September.

So, if I have sparked your curiosity, then let me send you off with a couple tips and tricks to make your visit worth your while:

  1. wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes as well as pants you can roll up or shorts
  2. sunscreen and sunhats are a good thing to bring if you want to spend the day at a park
  3. bring a towel to dry off your feet
  4. bug spray can be a life-saver
  5. be adventurous
  6. leave expensive footwear at home

And the day can be finished perfectly with a picknick after the fun hike or, even better, a stop at one of the many local ice cream parlors spread all over Germany.

Happy exploring!