Merano is the gateway to two national parks. The tourist office in town provides information on them, as does the Club Alpino Italiano; both parks also have visitor centers within their boundaries.
Parco Nazionale Della Stelvio -- In this vast 520,000-hectare (1.3-million-acre) wilderness east of Merano, elk and chamois roam the mountainsides, and craggy, snowcapped peaks pierce the sky. A network of trails crisscross almost virgin wilderness, and some of Europe's largest glaciers provide year-round skiing. The official park office (tel. 0342-903-030), in the center of the park, is open March to November daily 9am to 1pm and 4 to 6pm; in winter, call tel. 0342-903-300. The office dispenses maps and lists of hiking trails and rifugi (huts where hikers can overnight) within the park; several buses a day travel from Merano to Silandro, at the park entrance, about 30km (19 miles) east via route S38.
Parco Nazionale Di Tessa -- This Alpine wonderland surrounds Merano with a pleasant terrain of meadows and gentle, forest-clad slopes. A relatively easy path, the southern route of the Meraner Hohenweg allows even the most inexperienced hikers to cross the park effortlessly (in 2 days if you wish to follow the entire route) and is conveniently interspersed with restaurants and farmhouses offering rooms. The northern route is much more isolated, difficult, and scenic, with snack bar-equipped rifugi conveniently placed every few hours or so along the route. The park office in Naturno, about 15km (9 1/4 miles) west on Route S44 (Via dei Campi 3; tel. 0473-668-201), provides a wealth of information on hiking trails, meals, and accommodations. Hourly buses run between Merano and Naturno in about half an hour.