The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, established as a national park in 1991, is one of the largest protected areas in Europe. It covers over 2,000 square kilometres, mainly in Abruzzo, but also stretching into Lazio and Le Marche. The park consists of two mountain ranges, Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga, divided by a valley through which runs 'The Grand Highway of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park'.
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The southern part of the park is dominated by the impressive Gran Sasso massif. The three main peaks of the massif are: Corno Grande which, at 2,912 metres, is the highest peak in the Apennines, Corno Piccolo and Pizzo Intermesoli. Their almost vertical walls provide some of the best mountain climbing in Europe. Below the Corno Grande lies the famous Calderone glacier, the southernmost glacier in Europe. Sadly, deglaciation is continually reducing its size and now threatens its future existence.
Pizzo di Sevo - photo: Mario1952
The northern part of the park is the Monti della Laga range. The highest peak is Monte Gorzano at 2,458 meters, just inside the region of Lazio. Other peaks include Macera della Morte (2,073 metres) located at the intersection of Le Marche, Lazio and Abruzzo, Cima Lepri (2,445 meters), Pizzo di Sevo (2,419 meters), Pizzo di Moscio (2,411 meters) and at the southernmost point of the Monti della Laga mountain chain, Monte di Mezzo (2,155 meters).
The landscape in the northern part of the park varies dramatically.
Lake Campotosto - photo: Idéfix
On the Marche side, the terrain is steeply rugged, Lazio features a series of steeply banked gorges and the Abruzzo side features undulating hills and valleys covered in Beech, fir, oak and chesnut forests. The shores of lake Campotosto are home to thousands of migratory birds.
Photo: Società Cooperativa Sherpa
The national park is one of the most biologically diverse areas of Europe and is home to many rare plant species and wildlife. Covered in snow during the winter months, the spring summer and autumn sees the pastures covered in wild flowers and the lower slopes of the Gran Sasso grazed by large herds of cattle, horses and flocks of sheep, tended by Maremmano-Abruzzese sheepdogs. The park is a nature lover's paradise. In addition to wild boar, foxes and snakes, the park is also home to golden eagles, peregrine falcons, goshawks, wolves, bears, wildcats and also the Abruzzo chamois, which has been brought back from the edge of extinction by a concerted effort betweeen WWF Italia and the park administration.
The winter months provide excellent skiing opportunities for visitors. The plateau of Campo Imperatore, lying to the east of Corno Grande, boasts Italy's oldest commercial ski operation. The area is also a haven for hikers and there are over 200 kilometres (120 mi) of horse trails that can be used to visit the park.